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Edge 60

A Talk With Julian Barbour [8.16.99]

Introduction by
John Brockman

Julian Barbour, a theoretical physicist, has worked on foundational issues in physics for 35 years. He is responsible for a radical notion of "time capsules which explain how the powerful impression of the passage of time can arise in a timeless world".

He lives on a farm north of Oxford village and for the past 30 years he has made a living translating Russian while pursuing his interests in physics.

"I've been working for myself, following my ideas," he says. I wanted to be independent because I'm not the sort of person who can produce a lot of research papers with equations, on a regular basis — I've got quite a good intuition, at least it seems to me I'm always coming up with ideas at least for myself, and some of them stand up to the test of colleagues. I just wanted to be away of all pressure to publish just for the sake of having a publication.

In a profile in The Sunday Times (October, 1998), Steve Farrar wrote: "Barbour argues that we live in a universe which has neither past nor future. A strange new world in which we are alive and dead in the same instant. In this eternal present, our sense of the passage of time is nothing more than a giant cosmic illusion. 'There is nothing modest about my aspirations,' he said. 'This could herald a revolution in the way we perceive the world.'" Cosmologist Lee Smolin notes that Barbour has presented "the most interesting and provocative new idea about time to be proposed in many years. If true, it will change the way we see reality. Barbour is one of the few people who is truly both a scientist and a philosopher."

— JB

JULIAN BARBOUR is the author of Absolute or Relative Motion? and the forthcoming The End of Time (Weidenfeld & Nicholson).

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