Barbour, Julian B. 1937–

Updated About encyclopedia.com content Print Article Share Article
views updated

Barbour, Julian B. 1937–

PERSONAL:

Born February 13, 1937, in Jerusalem, Palestine (now Israel); son of David Nevill and Violet Mary Barbour; married Verena Bastian, September 12, 1964; children: Boris, Jessica, Naomi, Dorcas. Ethnicity: "English." Education: Cambridge University, graduated (with second class honors); graduate study at University of Munich; University of Cologne, Ph.D. Politics: Liberal Democrat. Religion: "Agnostic."

ADDRESSES:

Home and office—College Farm, South Newington, Banbury, Oxfordshire OX15 4JG, England. E-mail—[email protected]

CAREER:

Independent researcher, physicist, and historian of science. Former translator of Russian periodicals for American Institute of Physics and Plenum Publishing Corp. Military service: British Army; became lieutenant.

WRITINGS:

Absolute or Relative Motion? A Study from Machian Point of View of the Discovery and the Structure of Dynamical Theories, Volume I: The Discovery of Dynamics, Cambridge University Press (New York, NY), 1989, reprinted as The Discovery of Dynamics: A Study from a Machian Point of View of the Discovery and the Structure of Dynamical Theories, Oxford University Press (Oxford, NY), 2000.

(Editor, with Herbert Pfister) Mach's Principle: From Newton's Bucket to Quantum Gravity, Birkhauser (Boston, MA), 1995.

The End of Time: The Next Revolution in Physics, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 2000.

Contributor to scholarly journals.

SIDELIGHTS:

Julian B. Barbour "wrote a classic study of the history of theories of motion. And as a physicist he has earned a place in that history," observed Simon W. Saunders in the New Times Book Review, adding that he "speaks with authority" in his more recent book, The End of Time: The Next Revolution in Physics. Recognizing one of Barbour's major scientific contributions, Saunders wrote: "In 1982 Barbour, with the Italian physicist Bruno Bertotti, solved a problem Newton thought insurmountable and Einstein failed to resolve: how to treat rotations—which seems an absolute, not relative—in relative terms."

In The End of Time Barbour argues "that time does not exist," reported an Economist reviewer, and explores how the concept of timelessness interacts with existing theories in physics. Ultimately, according to Barbour, by removing the existence of time, a "unified theory" of physics—one which ties gravity with quantum theory—can be formulated. As others have suggested in the past, Barbour treats time as "an illusion, a way of making sense of the universe," noted the Economist contributor. "Barbour's theory [states that] … the universe consists of a vast number of possible configurations arranged in a multi-dimensional state-space dubbed ‘Platonia,’" specified the Economist reviewer, continuing: "This is a timeless realm, but fixed paths through Platonia, passing though particular configurations, are experienced as the passing of time." "Platonia," defined Gilbert Taylor in Booklist, is "the set of every possible configuration of matter, energy, space, and time." "After a brief overview of this big idea," summarized the writer in the Economist, "[Barbour] provides potted histories of relativity and quantum mechanics, and then goes back to explain his theory in more detail."

The End of Time "is a challenging read, and [Barbour's] theory is, by his own admission, still sketchy in places," wrote the Economist reviewer, adding, however, that it should be reviewed. The End of Time is "a book that deserves serious study and consideration," observed Library Journal contributor Jack W. Weigel. While a Publishers Weekly assessment reported that the text "will confuse as many readers as [it] enlighten[s]," Taylor more positively described the work as "formidably challenging to laypeople, though clearly written." Although believing The End of Time to be "heavy going in places," the Economist reviewer reported that "what Mr. Barbour is saying is so remarkably counter-intuitive, that you keep on turning the pages." Although Barbour's notion of timelessness is not unique, he embraces it and announces it with unheard-of "gusto," noted the Economist reviewer. Saunders commented: "The End of Time is self-contained and really explains its central ideas. It is arduous work, but for determined readers, even those with little mathematics, the book is gold."

Barbour once told CA: "I have long been interested in basic questions of physics, in particular the problem of the origin of the law of inertia. I have been influenced strongly by the writings of Ernst Mach and Albert Einstein."

More recently he added: "I have spent my entire working life attempting to understand the way the universe works and what it is. I write to express my conclusions and those of other scientists."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

Booklist, December 1, 1999, review of The End of Time: The Next Revolution in Physics, p. 670.

Economist, March 18, 2000, review of The End of Time, p. 11.

Library Journal, December, 1999, Jack W. Weigel, review of The End of Time, p. 178.

New York Times Book Review, March 26, 2000, Simon W. Saunders, review of The End of Time, p. 10.

Publishers Weekly, January 17, 2000, review of The End of Time, p. 54.

Times Literary Supplement, November 3, 1989, review of Absolute or Relative Motion? A Study from Machian Point of View of the Discovery and the Structure of Dynamical Theories.

More From encyclopedia.com

You Might Also Like