Julian Barbour is certainly one of the most fascinating personalities of contemporary science. The cliché about “thinking outside the box” does not begin to do justice to his 50+ years long career in theoretical physics. Call him a maverick, a heretic, or a “successful seer,”1 the insights he has offered from a modest farmhouse near Oxford have kept lit the torch of some of the longest-standing debates in the very heart of our understanding of the physical world. This especially applies to the dichotomy of “absolutism” vs “relationism” with respect to space and time.

The relational approach to space and time has traditionally been associated with Ernst Mach, although its philosophical roots originate deep in the past with the late Pythagoreans such as Hicetas of Syracuse and Philolaus of Croton. They allegedly argued that there is no way of determining whether Earth rotates and stars are fixed or vice...

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