Of Time and Lamentation

Reflections on Transience

Raymond Tallis

£75.00  |  $99.00
ISBN 9781911116219
£25.00  |  $35.00
ISBN 9781788211741
£25.00  |  $35.00
ISBN 9781911116226
736 pages   |  234 x 156mm   |  18 May 2017


"There is hardly a thinking person who has not been struck, at some stage in life, by the deep mystery of time. How is it that things come into being and then pass away? What is a moment, and what flows as the moments succeed each other? What is it to exist in time, and is time another dimension, like the three dimensions of space? Can time be recaptured, replayed, or is all time unredeemable? Does time as described by the theory of relativity square with time as experienced by you and me? All these questions and many more besides well up in the minds of thinking people as soon as they begin to reflect on the nature of time, and in this book Raymond Tallis spells them out clearly, systematically and sympathetically, so as to give the fullest examination to date, both of time as part of the fabric of reality, and of time as the condition of self-conscious experience. He does not solve the mystery, but his argument deepens it in a fascinating way. Written with scholarly rigour and lively humour, this study of the greatest source of our metaphysical anxieties will provide hours of pleasure and instruction to all who delve into it." – Professor Sir Roger Scruton

“I applaud Tallis’s assault on scientism (not to be confused with an assault on science), and am glad (and relieved) to see philosophy defended by someone other than an academic philosopher. His view of the nature and purpose of philosophy is both insightful and beautifully expressed . . . ‘Truly’, observes Larkin, ‘though our element is time, we are not suited to the long perspectives open at each instant of our lives.’ But the balm for the agonies of memory he alludes to may be to take an even longer perspective – a perspective on the nature of time itself – as Raymond Tallis does in this fine book.” – Robin Le Poidevin, TLS

". . .astonishing magnum opus, the product of decades of scrupulous, far-reaching, and detailed engagement with a huge range of interlocking disciplines, from medicine and psychology to physics, history, theology and philosophy. It asks the biggest questions, and offers big and challenging answers. Tallis is renowned as one of the most poly of contemporary polymaths, and in Of Time and Lamentation he has produced the sort of book that absolutely requires to be read closely and digested over time." – Adam Roberts, The New Atlantis

"Of Time and Lamentation aims at 'rescuing time from the jaws of physics'. It is a worthy goal and a persuasive argument. . . an absorbing book that will reward the patient reader with a deeper insight into the problem of time." – Andrew Crumey, Wall Street Journal

"'One always tends to overpraise a long book simply because one has got through it.' This observation by E. M. Forster must be heeded by any reviewer of a book as long as Raymond Tallis’s latest offering. But praise it one must, because it succeeds in something that has defeated many before him. He manages to rescue the study of time from the scientists’ arid reductionism, and give it a human face. Tallis has been described as one of the world’s leading polymaths, with a gift for communicating complex ideas with a lightly worn but persuasive authority. He is not afraid of appealing to mystery as a respectable notion at a time when theories purporting to explain everything in physicalist and mathematical terms are to the fore. Above all, he never loses sight of his, and his readers’, lived experience as crucial to making sense of what science can describe but not fully explain." – John Saxbee, Church Times

"‘You affirm’, wrote Albert Einstein to his best friend Michel Besso, that the transition from ‘lived experience to objectivity… is accompanied by suffering, which – if one interprets as a physicist – is tied to irreversible processes’. The physicist befuddled by the complexity of the question simply replied, ‘I do not know how to help you’. Now Raymond Tallis takes on the challenge, bravely going where few have ventured, investigating the painful nature of time’s passage, one intimately felt yet stubbornly denied by numerous scientists. Of Time and Lamentation is an important philosophical investigation, at the same time personal and scholarly – a bold and original experiment where art and poetry are given as much importance as science, measurements and equations." – Jimena Canales, Thomas M. Siebel Chair in the History of Science, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and author of The Physicist and the Philosopher

"Tallis is a true polymath and approaches his topic with a generosity of sweep that is breath-taking ... [he] touches on the philosophy of time and of science, on geometry, physics and neuroscience, on art and literature, on theology, on geological deep time, on the history of time measurement, on ethics, to name just the most prominent fields ... This allows him to present an argument which transcends the usual disciplinary limitations. At the same time, this is a deeply personal book, the result of the struggle of one individual to come to terms with his mortality and insignificance in the larger scale of things ... his book provides immense riches of different perspectives, theories and arguments, which he succeeds to present in a gripping way that will make even difficult concepts and ideas available to the lay reader ... a readable, highly informative and wide-reaching insight into some of the main problems, paradoxes and challenges of our personal, existential and theoretical engagement with time." – Irmtraud Huber, KronoScope


Time’s mysteries seem to resist comprehension and what remains, once the familiar metaphors are stripped away, can stretch even the most profound philosopher. In Of Time and Lamentation, Raymond Tallis rises to this challenge and explores the nature and meaning of time and how best to understand it. The culmination of some twenty years of thinking, writing and wondering about (and within) time, it is a bold, original and thought-provoking work. With characteristic fearlessness, Tallis seeks to reclaim time from the jaws of physics.

For most of us, time is composed of mornings, afternoons and evenings and expressed in hurry, hope, longing, waiting, enduring, planning, joyful expectation and grief. Thinking about it is to meditate on our own mortality. Yet, physics has little or nothing to say about this time, the time as it is lived. The story told by caesium clocks, quantum theory and Lorentz coordinates, Tallis argues, needs to be supplemented by one of moss on rocks, tears on faces and the long narratives of our human journey. Our temporal lives deserve a richer attention than is afforded by the equations of mathematical physics.

The first part of the book, “Killing Time” is a formidable critique of the spatialized and mathematized account of time arising from physical science. The passage of time, the direction of time and time travel are critically examined and the relationship between mathematics and reality, and the nature of the observer, are explored. Part 2, “Human Time” examines tensed time, the reality of time as it is lived: what we mean by “now”, how we make sense of past and future events, and the idea of eternity. With the scientistic reduction of time set aside and lived time reaffirmed, Tallis digs deeper into the nature of time itself in the final part, “Finding Time”. Questions about “the stuff” of time – such as instants and intervals – about time and change, and the relationship between objective and subjective time, open on to wider discussions about time and causation, the irruption of subjectivity and intentionality into a material universe, and the relationship between time and freedom.

For anyone who has puzzled over the nature of becoming, wondered whether time is inseparable from change, whether time is punctuate or continuous, or even whether time, itself, is real, Of Time and Lamentation will provoke and entertain. Those, like Tallis himself, who seek to find a place at which the scientific and humanistic views of humanity can be reconciled, will celebrate his placing of human consciousness at the heart of time, and his showing that we are “more than cogs in the universal clock, forced to collaborate with the very progress that pushes us towards our own midnight”.


Overture (mainly polemic): why time?
Part I: Killing Time
1. Introduction: Seeing Time
2. Time as “The Fourth Dimension”
3. Mathematics and the Book of Nature
4. Clocking Time

Part II: Human Time
5. In Defence of Tense
6. Living Time: Now
7. The Past: Locating the Snows of Yesteryear
8. Concerning Tomorrow (Today)
9. Beyond Time: Temporal Thoughts on Eternity

Part III: Finding Time
10. (What) Is Time?
11. The Onlooker: Causation and Explicit Time
12. Time and Human Freedom

Author Information

Raymond Tallis trained in medicine at Oxford University and at St Thomas’ Hospital London before becoming Professor of Geriatric Medicine at the University of Manchester. He was elected a Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences for his research in clinical neuroscience and he has played a key role in developing guidelines for the care of stroke patients in the UK. From 2011–14 he was Chair of Healthcare Professionals for Assisted Dying.

He retired from medicine in 2006 to become a full-time writer. His books have ranged across many subjects – from philosophical anthropology to literary and cultural criticism – but all are characterised by a fascination for the infinite complexity of human lives and the human condition. The Economist’s Intelligent Life magazine lists him as one of the world’s leading polymaths.

Purchase Options