Mod+ Henri Bergson - Free Will, Dualism, Evolution, Time, Mechanistic Fallacies, etc [Resources]



Seemed like a worthwhile thread for my 4,000th post. One of the major philosophers in history, who actually did end up considering things like Psi, the afterlife, and other favorite subjects we talk about around here.

Mod+ because I think resource threads should have limited commentary in them so that readers can have access to stuff without going through conversations they might not be interested in. I figure a few comments make sense as commentary, but after a point it's polite to create a new thread that the reader could follow if they so choose.

I highly recommend the book Living Consciousness for some good insight into Bergson's work. I'm going to post PDFs of a few of his major works, and when I complete Living Consciousness - likely more than a few months from now - I'll come back and get into these some more.

Matter & Memory

This book affirms the reality of spirit and the reality of matter, and tries to determine the relation of the one to the other by the study of a definite example, that of memory. It is, then, frankly dualistic. But, on the other hand, it deals with body and mind in such a way as, we hope, to lessen greatly, if not to overcome, the theoretical difficulties which have always beset dualism, and which cause it, though suggested by the immediate verdict of consciousness and adopted by common sense, to be held, in small honor among philosophers.

These difficulties are due, for the most part, to the conception, now realistic, now idealistic, which philosophers have of matter. The aim of our first chapter is to show that realism and idealism both go too far, that it is a mistake to reduce matter to the perception which we have of it, a mistake also to make of it a thing able to produce in us perceptions, but in itself of another nature than they. Matter, in our view, is an aggregate of `images.' And by 'image' we mean a certain existence which is more than that which the idealist calls a representation , but less than that which the realist calls a thing; - an (pg xii) existence placed half-way between the `thing' and the ‘representation.' This conception of matter is simply that of common sense.

It would greatly astonish a man unaware of the speculations of philosophy if we told him that the object before him, which he sees and touches, exists only in his mind and for his mind, or even, more generally, exists only for mind, as Berkeley held. Such a man would always maintain that the object exists independently of the consciousness which perceives it. But, on the other hand, we should astonish him quite as much by telling him that the object is entirely different from that which is perceived in it, that it has neither the colour ascribed to it by the eye, nor the resistance found in it by the hand. The colour, the resistance, are, for him, in the object: they are not states of our mind; they are part and parcel of an existence really independent of our own. For common sense, then, the object exists in itself, and, on the other hand, the object is, in itself, pictorial, as we perceive it: image it is, but a self-existing image.
Time & Free Will

We necessarily express ourselves by means of words and we usually think in terms of space. That is to say, language requires us to establish between our ideas the same sharp and precise distinctions, the same discontinuity, as between material objects. This assimilation of thought to things is useful in practical life and necessary in most of the sciences. But it may be asked whether the insurmountable difficulties presented by certain philosophical problems do not arise from our placing side by side in space phenomena which do not occupy space, and whether, by merely getting rid of the clumsy symbols round which we are fighting, we might not bri ng the fight to an end. When an illegitimate translation of the unextended in to the extended, of quality in to quantity, has introduced contradiction into the very heart of, the question, contradiction must, of course, recur in the answer.

The problem which I have chosen is one which is common to metaphysics and psychology, the problem of free will.

What I attempt to prove is that all discussion between the determinists and their opponents implies a previous confusion (xxiv) of duration with extensity, of succession with simultaneity, of quality with quantity: this confusion once dispelled, we may perhaps witness the disappearance of the objections raised against free will, of the definitions given of it, and, in a certain sense, of the problem of free will itself. To prove this is the object of the third part of the present volume : the first two chapters, which treat of the conceptions of intensity and duration, have been written as an introduction to the third.
Creative Evolution (Earned Bergson a Nobel Prize in Literature)

Must we then give up fathoming the depths of life? Must we keep to that mechanistic idea of it which the understanding will always give us—an idea necessarily artificial and symbolical, since it makes the total activity of life shrink to the form of a certain human activity which is only a partial and local manifestation of life, a result or by-product of the vital process? We should have to do so, indeed, if life had employed all the psychical potentialities it possesses in producing pure understandings—that is to say, in making geometricians. But the line of evolution that ends in man is not the only one. On other paths, divergent from it, other forms of consciousness have been developed, which have not been able to free themselves from external constraints or to regain control over themselves, as the human intellect has done, but which, none the less, also express something that is immanent and essential in the evolutionary movement. Suppose these other forms of consciousness brought together and amalgamated with intellect: would not the result be a consciousness as wide as life? And such a consciousness, turning around suddenly against the push of life which it feels behind, would have a vision of life complete—would it not?—even though the vision were fleeting.

It will be said that, even so, we do not transcend our intellect, for it is still with our intellect, and through our intellect, that we see the other forms of consciousness. And this would be right if we were pure intellects, if there did not remain, around our conceptual and logical thought, a vague nebulosity, made of the very substance out of which has been formed the luminous nucleus that we call the intellect. Therein reside certain powers that are[Pg xiii] complementary to the understanding, powers of which we have only an indistinct feeling when we remain shut up in ourselves, but which will become clear and distinct when they perceive themselves at work, so to speak, in the evolution of nature. They will thus learn what sort of effort they must make to be intensified and expanded in the very direction of life.
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Sadly still never finished that book. :)

Henri Bergson and the Perception of Time

When I started reading Bergson’s works, I immediately took to his philosophy and writing style, although there are places where his argument is not easy to follow and some of the subtler nuances of his thought get lost in translation. Despite this, it was like reaching an oasis of wisdom after fruitless wanderings in arid deserts claiming the noble name of ‘philosophy’, which are in some cases branches of grammar, linguistics or casuistry – modern secular versions of counting angels on pin-heads.

Henri Bergson was born in Paris in 1859 and died there in 1941. His mother was Anglo-Irish and his father Polish and an accomplished musician. Bergson uses musical analogies and writes with gallic panache and imagination, drawing freely from the metaphysician and artist in himself. One can see why his style, imagery and free usage of terms such as ‘soul’ and ‘spirit’ did not appeal to the logical positivists.
His doctoral thesis was on Time and Free Will: An Essay on the Immediate Data of Consciousness (1889). Here Bergson distinguished between time as we actually experience it, lived time – which he called ‘real duration’ (durée réelle) – and the mechanistic time of science. This, he argued, is based on a misperception: it consists of superimposing spatial concepts onto time, which then becomes a distorted version of the real thing. So time is perceived via a succession of separate, discrete, spatial constructs – just like seeing a film. We think we’re seeing a continuous flow of movement, but in reality what we’re seeing is a succession of fixed frames or stills. To claim that one can measure real duration by counting separate spatial constructs is an illusion: “We give a mechanical explanation of a fact and then substitute the explanation for the fact itself”, he wrote.
Clearly there is vastly more in a given occasion of consciousness than in the corresponding brain state. This is surely a perfectly natural, normal, everyday part of human experience – a common-sense, empirical fact of life. We don’t really experience life as a succession of separate conscious states, progressing along an imaginary line. Instead, we feel time as a continuous flow, with no clearly demarcated beginnings and ends. We should not therefore confuse an abstract, arbitrary notion of practical convenience with the underlying truth that is continuously confirmed by our own experience.

Bergson uses one of his musical analogies to make the point: “As the symphony overflows the movements which scan it, so the mental/spiritual life overflows the cerebral/intellectual life. The brain keeps consciousness, feeling and thought tensely strained on life, and consequently makes them capable of efficacious action. The brain is the organ of attention to life.” (l’Energie Spirituelle 1910, p.47)
With the ascendancy of the mechanistic outlook throughout most of the twentieth century, ‘vitalism’ became a dirty word in scientific circles. For a biologist to be accused of vitalist tendencies was equivalent to a charge of heresy. When Rupert Sheldrake’s book A New Science of Life came out in 1981, the editor of a leading scientific journal used language more appropriate to the time of the Inquisition, in calling for it to be burnt.

The mechanistic view alone is singularly ill-equipped to understand the immense variety and depth of human experience, to say nothing of the more subtle aspects of the phenomenon of consciousness. Whenever any given outlook – scientific, philosophical, political, economic or religious – becomes closed and dogmatic, it sooner or later has to undergo its own creative evolution and become more open to new ideas and insights. The fact that a mechanistic approach is essential for many aspects of scientific research does not mean that everything in life can be accounted for in reductionist, nothing-but mechanistic terms.

From the 1960’s onwards, some scientists became increasingly aware that something vital was missing from the prevailing worldview. In his book The Living Stream, for example, the eminent marine biologist, Professor Sir Alister Hardy FRS, stressed the importance of non-material aspects of evolution. The subtitle reads: A Restatement of Evolution Theory and its Relation to the Spirit of Man. In order to investigate methodically this aspect of human experience, Hardy set up a research unit, originally at Oxford. It is now at the University of Wales at Lampeter and is named after its founder (The Alister Hardy Research Centre).

It was William James who had originally pioneered this work over a century ago and not much was done in this field until the Hardy unit was set up in 1969.

Bergson believed that mental and spiritual aspects of human experience were greatly neglected as a result of focussing so single-mindedly on the physical and material. He once speculated on how things might have developed had modern science devoted more attention to exploring the non-material realm. He believed that we would by now have had a psychology of which today we can form no idea, any more than before Galileo people could have imagined what our physics would be like. A biology quite different to ours would also have emerged: “A vitalist biology which would have sought, behind the sensible forms of living beings, the inward invisible force of which the sensible forms are the manifestations. On this force we have today taken no hold precisely because our science of mind is in its infancy ...” He went on to say: “Together with this vitalist biology there would have arisen a medical practice which would have sought to remedy directly the insufficiencies of the vital force: it would have aimed at the cause and not the effects, at the centre instead of at the periphery ...”
Bergson is sometimes claimed to have anticipated features of relativity theory. He wrote a paper on ‘Duration and Simultaneity with regard to Einstein’s Theory’ (1921). In the public debate between the two, it was generally held that Einstein ‘won’. But there aren’t really winners or losers in any debate about time.

The way we perceive time is surely a core perception, which affects all other perceptions. It determines our philosophy of life, matters of war and peace, how we perceive work and the amount of quality time we devote to the people and things that really matter.

Despite the recovery of a more vitalistic outlook in attitudes towards physical and mental wellbeing, the main underlying perception of our modern, urban-industrial society remains mechanistic and soulless. Over the years, the dominant western worldview has become de-vitalised and devalued, especially in politics and economics. Let’s suppose things had developed in a more balanced, Bergsonian way over the sixty years or more since his death: reason and intuition, intellect and imagination, matter and mind, the physical and the spiritual. Perhaps we would have learned from this a greater respect for all expressions of the life force, including our own species.
Our deeper needs are vitally real – not at all the same thing as contrived wants. One of our deepest needs is to find and express that vital creative spark that lies somewhere in all of us. If we saw ourselves as potentially creative artists of one kind or another, if this was the main view of ourselves and each other, we would spend more time creating our own images, writing our own stories, rediscovering our own myths. The artist is not a special kind of person. Every person is a special kind of artist.

In a society that put greater emphasis on creation than production, boredom would not even be an issue. Instead of fearing time and thinking of it as an endless space that has to be filled in, we would value it more and make sure we had time to express our own particular form of creativity, time to dream, time to do nothing in particular, to have a fallow period, time to sit silently, or walk mindfully.

In The Rebel (l’Homme Révolté, first published in 1951), Albert Camus observed that the society based on production is only productive, not creative. We’ve grown so used to living in a society ruled by production that we can barely even imagine one ruled by creation. Bergson enables us to envisage a society based more on creativity than the soulless, mechanistic, produce consume model. His philosophy offers a more integrated view of life, where science, technology, art, economics, politics and spirituality can all work together.

You do not need to subscribe to any kind of religious faith, or belief in the supernatural, to stand in awe at the creative beauty of the evolutionary life force in all its incredibly varied and wonderful manifestations. This sense of wonder comes as naturally to a person of scientific inclination as it does to an artistic or spiritually-minded person. Bergson’s philosophy has the effect of opening doors in the mind, enabling us to think more deeply about the nature of time and how we, in our western culture, perceive it – or rather, misperceive it. Above all, his philosophy provides a basis for a more creative, revalued and revitalized general outlook.


"If it no longer makes sense to conceive of the universe as consisting of various tiny lego-like building blocks arranged in different rigidly determined configurations, is there, nonetheless, some sort of workable metaphor that can help us to begin to make sense of the subatomic underpinnings of our sense experience? We have already seen how various contemporary physicists have drawn upon the metaphors of webs and weaving and dance in an attempt to correct our tendency to imagine the cosmos as consisting of a collection of disconnected chunks of matter. Bergson, however, offers us another, less visual, analog drawn from our daily experience: a musical melody. As we have already seen in section 1, Bergson frequently uses the metaphor of melody to help illustrate some of the qualities that can be found in the temporal onrush of our consciousness. So it is not surprising to find that Bergson would also be drawn to “hearing” the physical world as a complex interwoven symphony of sound in his post–Time and Free Will writings, especially in light of his decision to extend durée from the confines of our inner world into the external world as well.1

There are several reasons why the metaphors of music and melody are a natural way for Bergson to express his understanding of the nature of reality (besides the interesting fact, as we saw in the bio-historical preamble, that his father was himself a musician and composer). To begin with, by shifting the focus of our attention from sight to sound, Bergson attempts to catalyze a radical, if difficult to attain, alteration in how we orient ourselves to the world around us. As a species whose sense experience is primarily visual in nature, we are predisposed to make sense of the world through the medium and metaphors of sight. Our dependence upon sight means that we intrinsically focus our attention on, and tend to “see,” a world made up of an assortment of various permanent objects that stay basically the same, whether they are moving or at rest. For instance (drawing upon a helpful illustration by A. R. Lacey), let's say that we pick up a football and throw it. During the time that the ball flies through the air, our sense of sight tells us that it stays the same shape as it is thrown through the air. What we see is a solid, unchanging object that just happens to be moving. Our sense of sight convinces us, therefore, that the movement of the football is something that is incidental, something that has been added to it.2 However, as lacey goes on to point out, our sense of hearing reveals a very different world to us. For instance, if we listen intently to a young woman singing a song, what will we hear? if we listen attentively enough, we will hear a constant flux of sound manifesting as various changes in pitch, volume, and rhythm. We may, especially if we are musically trained, preconsciously chop up the music into a set of musical notes and hear those specific notes overlaid with our previous experience with musical scores. But if we resolutely return to the “raw material” of what our ears reveal to us and put to one side our visual prejudices and training, what we will hear is not a set of stable, utterly separate notes. Instead, we will hear a variety of constantly changing vibratory qualities that mingle and co-sound. In a way that is very different from our experience with sight, there are no constant, stable “things” that change in all of this sonic dynamism. Rather than hearing notes change, “noting” is happening, “toning” is happening. Substantive nouns do not work all that well in a sonic world of ceaseless flux.3

Understanding the world through the metaphor of music underscores the fact that reality is intrinsically temporal. A melody (like an energy wave) cannot, by its very nature, exist without time. A melody cannot just manifest itself in an instant, utterly complete and whole. Instead, it unfolds and appears over time, note by note, phrase by phrase. We might like to think that a melody can in fact exist, timelessly, in the form of a static collection of notes written on the paper of a score (in much the same way that we might prefer to believe that the physical universe is reducible, in theory, to a predetermined, highly complex series of mathematical formula). But as Bergson points out, notes on a sheet of music are not the melody itself, any more than scribbled mathematical equations on a page are the thickness and density of real experience. Both are simply highly abstract symbolic attempts to freeze a dynamic temporal reality into a static collection of manageable, replicable formulations; both are simply expressions of our inherent human tendency to see reality as a collection of separate and unchanging objects. The similarities between music/melody and the nature of physical reality (atleast as revealed by quantum physics) are striking. For instance, melody and physical reality (at least in its pulsational, vibratory, subatomic dimension) are both ever-changing, complexly organized, and inherently temporal. Both manifest themselves as an onrush of overlapping, interpenetrating, and resonant vibratory fields. In neither melody nor physical reality (at least, physical reality as it is understood from the perspective of both quantum physics and Bergson) do we find stable, unchanging objects (whether particles or notes) that have a specific, concrete location in space. (asking “where” the notes of a melody actually are can be an illuminating exercise in futility; unlike visually perceived objects in space, sonic realities seem to be nowhere and everywhere. During their time of sounding, are the tones that we hear “in” the body of the instruments or the singer's voice? are they “in” the air? are they “in” our ears? are they all of the aforementioned?) Imagining the universe as a vast, ongoing musical creation can also help to free us from the tyranny of an aristotelian “either/or” logic that, either implicitly or explicitly, pressures us to think that oneness cannot coexist with manyness, that change cannot coexist with continuity.

“Hearing” the world through the metaphor of music and melody, it becomes easier to grasp how the world might well be such that individuality (whether in persons, things, or events) can and does coexist with some sort of underlying, even if hidden, connection and continuity. For instance, while it is tempting to think of a melody as an aggregate of separate, clearly delineated tones, if we look (or rather, listen) more carefully, what we discover is that each individual tone, while it maintains its uniqueness and distinctness, is not abruptly cut off from the other tones. Instead, each tone, during the time while it physically sounds, infuses and overlaps with the other tones that are concurrently sounding. What is more, even after each tone has physically faded, it continues to linger in memory, it continues to persist in the mind—in fact, it is this very persistence in the memory that creates a melodic phrase.4 Melody, in order to be melody, needs both—the individuality and distinctiveness of particular notes and the ongoing continuity and connectedness of many notes brought together in the memory. In much the same way as the quantum reality is understood to be both particulate and field-like in nature, and in much the same way as our consciousness is a dynamic continuity of utter diversity, melody is an inseparable fusion of individual tones and the organic, ongoing gestalt created by memory...."

Barnard, G. William (2012-01-04). Living Consciousness
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"Men do not sufficiently realise that their future is in their own hands. Theirs is the task of determining first of all whether they want to go on living or not. Theirs the responsibility, then, for deciding if they want merely to live, or intend to make just the extra effort required for fulfilling, even on their refractory planet, the essential function of the universe, which is a machine for the making of gods."
-Bergson, Creative Evolution

“Fortunately, some are born with spiritual immune systems that sooner or later give rejection to the illusory worldview grafted upon them from birth through social conditioning. They begin sensing that something is amiss, and start looking for answers. Inner knowledge and anomalous outer experiences show them a side of reality others are oblivious to, and so begins their journey of awakening. Each step of the journey is made by following the heart instead of following the crowd and by choosing knowledge over the veils of ignorance.”
-Bergson, The Two Sources of Morality & Religion



Young is asked, "Would you expect scientists to come out with statements that would provide nourishment for people?"


From Gravitational Wave thread:

Was Einstein Wrong?

Adam Frank is a co-founder of the 13.7 blog, an astrophysics professor at the University of Rochester, a book author and a self-described "evangelist of science."

Last week's announcement of the direct detection of gravitational waves proved, once again, the enduring power of Albert Einstein's scientific vision. Once again, Einstein was right in that this theory accurately predicted the behavior of the world.

But with last week's triumph, a deep and fascinating question arises: Could Einstein be right about his science and still be wrong about the broader context into which we humans put that science?
In Bergson's philosophy, there was something greater to time than just measurements. Time was so central to human experience that fully unpacking it meant going beyond mere accounts of clocks or of even "psychological" perceptions. Instead, time was intimately connected to the bedrock of what it means to experience the world. It was, in some sense, the essence of human being and hence of being itself. For Bergson, that meant purely scientific accounts could not exhaust time's meaning or importance.

So, on that day in Paris, Bergson was not criticizing Einstein's theory. He was attacking a philosophy that had grown up around the theory — and that was being passed off as part of the science. It was the theory's hidden metaphysics that Bergson challenged. Bergson told Einstein that the only proper way to unpack the full meaning of time, in all its lived richness, was through explicit philosophical investigations.
Now, what are we to make of Bergson's claims?

I don't know enough about Bergson's explicit philosophy of time to take a stand one way or another, but I do think his separation between valid scientific theories and the metaphysics that grows around them is worth considering.

The physicist David Mermin once pointed out that we physicists have a way of turning our mathematical equations into "things" existing in the world. We take their success at describing aspects of the world (like the behavior of read-outs in an experiment) to mean the equations are fully interchangeable for real things (often unseen) existing out there independently in the real world.

But for Mermin, the equations are always abstractions. They are immensely powerful and immensely useful stories we tell about the world that capture some essential truthbut not all truth.

And in spite of what one may think of Bergson's specific ideas about time as an "elan vital" driving life and evolution forward, there are other philosophical perspectives that take experience to be irreducible.
Being human, being at the center of our own worlds, is an immense and beautiful mystery. The explanations of science are one route to plumb that mystery — but not the only route.

If this is true, then what step do we take next?
See also neuroscientist-philosopher Tallis on the limits of physics in describing time, and physicist Lee Smolin on the reality of the Present.


Bergson section from Beyond Physicalism:

Henri Bergson Around the same time as James and Myers, the younger Henri Bergson (1859– 1941) was giving shape to his own version of the theory. For Bergson the key to understanding the spiritual dimension of human experience was memory, a phenomenon he regarded as irreducible to any brain substrate. In 1913, he gave the Presidential Address to the English Society for Psychical Research; in discussing the possibility of surviving death, he produced his version of the transmission theory. Study of aphasia led him to infer the resilience and irreducibility of mind. Aphasia, he observed, is an effect of cerebral lesion, but the lesion does not destroy the memory of the word. What is lost is the capacity to evoke the memories; the memories themselves remain intact.

Consider the common experience of feeling something on the “tip of your tongue”; you know but can’t recall it to full awareness. There is a barrier preventing the recall— the specter of Fechner’s threshold. You try but fail to recall the name of the author of a book you read so you quit trying and think about something else. Then, in a flash, the memory comes back. This is a common experience. The effort of trying to remember gets in the way of recall; once you cease making an effort, the memory pops into consciousness. The brain doesn’t create the memory; it creates “the frame,” Bergson says, that allows the memory to slip into awareness. Nothing is added; something is removed.

In a recently reported phenomenon, sufferers from Alzheimer’s, stroke, or other brain lesion are reported to regain their lost memories just before death. In such cases of terminal lucidity, nearing death apparently restores access to memories (Grosso, 2004, pp. 41– 43; Nahm & Greyson, 2009, pp. 942– 944). This seems to confirm Bergson’s argument that memories are not destroyed by brain lesions, but rendered inaccessible. Terminal lucidity deserves careful study; as it appears, in dying, consciousness begins to disengage from the damaged brain and regains memories that had become inaccessible. We might expect terminal lucidity to occur, if the transmission model were correct; the phenomena are unintelligible on the production theory.

Like James, Bergson rejected emergentism, the doctrine that consciousness is a brain creation; his views, expressed in Matter and Memory (1896), complement the basics of James’s transmission theory. “The truth is that my nervous system, interposed between the objects which affect my body and those which I can influence, is a mere conductor, transmitting, sending back, or inhibiting movement” (Bergson, 1908/ 1911, p. 40).

Far from identifying consciousness with the brain or any brain derivative, he says, “Speaking generally, the psychical state seems to us to be, in most cases, immensely wider than the cerebral state. I mean that the brain state indicates only a very small part of the mental state, that part which is capable of translating itself into movements” (p. xiii). Brains “store” patterns of motor behavior, but memory images, cognitions, and the sense of self are not brain-localized. If so, there is no reason to suppose that brain death automatically implies memory-and-consciousness death.

Bergson’s formulation is dynamic. In the struggle for existence, our attention is riveted to the “plane of life.” But sometimes the “whole personality, which, normally narrowed down by action, expands with the unscrewing of the vice in which it has allowed itself to be squeezed” (p. xiv). This corresponds to what James calls the “obstruction” that we erect against lowering our psychic defenses, lest we be swamped by waves from the “mother-sea.” Once we take note of this obstruction— the natural tendency to “screw ourselves down”— we can see why it is natural to recoil from the possibly disorienting excesses of consciousness.

Like James, Bergson strikes a therapeutic chord when he encourages readers to be aware of how mental activity continually seems to “overflow” the boundaries of our brains and bodies: feelings, memory images, intendings, reasonings, judgments of various sorts, none of which seem strictly localized in the brain. More dramatic yet are supernormal mental functions like ESP and PK that overflow the neural substrate by definition. The more we reflect on the fact that our mental life overflows our bodily life, Bergson wrote, the easier and more natural to entertain the idea of life after death.

According to this French thinker, all our memories are intact, despite the apparent blanket of oblivion that covers us most of the time; hardwired to focus on the steady onrush of our local future, it is difficult to project consciousess backward in time. But freed from fixation on the plane of life, whatever the proximate cause, we may see and feel everything quite differently.

Anticipating Bergson’s idea of “duration,” Boethius was in prison in Pavia in 524 CE when he wrote The Consolation of Philosophy (see Boethius, 1962, p. 15). He describes an experience he calls the nunc stans or eternal now, the totum simul or simultaneity of everything. For the Roman thinker this rare experience was “the whole, perfect, and simultaneous possession of endless life” (V. 6). Boethius tells of a visitation on death row of the goddess of philosophy who instructs him to dwell on the idea of eternity. Bergson’s theory of brain-liberated mind renders such strange talk somewhat more intelligible. According to Boethius, one’s mind may be “in full possession of itself, always present to itself, and [able to] hold the infinity of moving time present before itself” (V. 6). If there is a greater consciousness and we can under certain conditions experience it more fully, our ordinary sense of time is bound to be drastically altered.

(2015-02-19). Beyond Physicalism: Toward Reconciliation of Science and Spirituality


Rod Hemsell on Bergson and Aurobindo from his free book Mind & Supermind

Bergson pointed out, toward the end of his career, that the modern disciplines of anthropology, phenomenology, and psychology were strongly influenced by his work, and he had time to see this and remark on it in his lifetime. We can only appreciate his influence if we are somewhat familiar with his work, which is one of the reasons why I want to focus on it here, and also because it has an important bearing on the evolution of mind. Bergson was an experimenter on this path of evolution and attempted to set down some guidelines, as did Sri Aurobindo.

I have previously attempted to address Sheldrake’s philosophy of morphic resonance, which I would also like to review briefly here. His philosophy of evolution is based fundamentally on Aristotle’s philosophy, as is mine. But there has been a tendency in the 20th Century to reduce everything to “physics”, and Sheldrake’s system is definitely an example of this tendency, even though he is interested in psychic phenomena and cosmology. But it seems to me that to create a system of subtle forms to explain a system of concrete forms is to commit the fallacy demonstrated by Occam in the 13th Century. It doesn’t make much sense to create something abstract to explain something concrete, especially something so abstract that it can’t be seen. The idea of morphic resonance is an attempt to explain memory and learning, and the phenomenon of homeostasis which enables the form to persist, generation after generation, even though there is constant change and variation going on, until finally there is an accumulation of incremental changes that allows a new form to appear, which even then retains the basic structures and principles that had evolved in the previous form. This is a law of evolution, something which happens naturally and consistently in the process of evolution, which Darwin simply calls Nature. The attempt to explain the phenomenon of memory inherent in matter by the theory of morphic resonance isn’t necessary if we accept that memory is a fundamental principle of the material universe, as represented by the idea of citta in Sankhya philosophy.

We have reviewed Sri Aurobindo’s Sankhya philosophy, presented most fully in Chapters 3, 4, 5 of The Synthesis of Yoga, in which the phenomena of memory, perception, and reason are shown to be fundamental aspects of mind rooted in the organic manifold, and we pointed out that matter itself has these three potentials of consciousness in it. We have a living manifold here, - in the human form - which carries on the activities of memory, perception, cognition and telepathy, so why do we need a system of subtle energies to explain what is happening, rather than to admit that what is happening contains the principles in itself? When we arrived at the idea of the “supramental knowledge” at the end of the previous lectures (6 and 7), we found that the way species maintain their consistency, and vary, and the way speciation takes place, and the way all of life unfolds, can only be explained ultimately by the intuition of the fact that it does it; the Self brings forth from itself, creatively, its potentials. The fact that a member of a species goes through all the same developmental stages that all of the other members of its species go through, and fills the niche in the biosphere that it has evolved to fill, indicates that the continuous reproduction of a species in association with other species is an expression of a potential, in a finite form, that fits homestatically and homeotelically with itself and all the other species, to maintain the evolutionary field “in and of itself”. The field manifests its forms.

Here we come to the fundamental principles of Indian psychology and cosmology: that there is Self and Nature. Nature is the expression of the Self which becomes conscious of itself at some point, but which is in any case “Consciousness” itself. In its infinite potentiality it is evolving on the physical, vital, and mental levels of existence, because it is ‘what is’. To add a principle of morphic resonance as a subtle causal pattern inside
things to explain what they are outside is simply unnecessary. And yes, this is a reduction to physics, or to principles that appear to be physical, which is a pattern in scientific thinking that has been going on for several centuries. We see something similar in the anthropic cosmological principle, which is being referred to popularly today in order to account for the emergence of consciousness and life within the context of a physical universe bounded by and defined by certain universal mathematical constants. It is a convenient causal explanation in order to avoid dealing with the idea of god or of metaphysics, which wants to explain something essentially spiritual by something essentially material. This is what is meant by “reductionism”. Everything is reduced to a plane of materiality and at the same time everything is explained by that principle.

What we will hear from Bergson and Sri Aurobindo is that Consciousness is prior, and these materialistic arguments have it all backwards. Bergson begins his thinking, and pursues it consistently for many decades, with the idea that there are basically two streams of thinking that the human being has evolved. There is the scientific, rational stream, and there is the intuitive, creative stream. Each has its own laws, and products, and importance. But our tendency is to rely almost exclusively on the materialistic rational stream because it enables us to organize and use material life. It is the practical mind, known in Sankhya philosophy as manas.

When we come to Darwin and post-Darwinian thinking, we find more and more frequently a recognition of the principle of creativity, and it is something other than the practical, rational intelligence. The problem is that all structures and functions on the horizontal plane can be described and explained rationally in terms of homeostasis, variation, adaptation, and selection, and Nature seems to have used these principles to produce all of the structures and functions of organisms. But there are vertical changes that are more than that; for example there is the emergence of the mammalian generation after the reptilian, the age of the dinosaurs. That is a vertical development, a leap in quality and complexity. The mammalian generation is a manifestation of “mind”. In the first series of lectures we often referred to the work of Konrad Lorenz who has shown innumerable examples of how all the higher animals behave similarly and are capable of generalization. This is the fundamental feature of mind; we categorize and generalize based on a certain constancy of experience from which we eliminate the contingencies and stick on the constancies, which we know as forms, things, principles, generalities. What we “know” are generalities. We know what a chair is. We don’t need to enumerate the vast variety of chairs we have seen in order to known this. We know the structure and functions of restaurants and museums and skeletal structures, etc. We focus on the generalities and abstractions which we call “knowledge”.

In Sankhya philosophy this is a step above manas, which is sense perception and intelligence that all animals have; it is the buddhi which is the function of mind that makes rational choices, and theories, and systems. It is the higher mind, higher reason, which does the same thing as manasand citta but on a more abstract level. Animals know things in terms of categories based on repeated experiences from which they learn, but they don’t have symbolic systems that help them remember and compare and analyze their experience. They just accumulate knowledge and act accordingly. They behave in predictable ways in the presence of known stimuli, but if the stimuli change the behavior will not be predictable. They do not transfer from one situation to another as quickly as we do, but have to relearn in the context of new stimuli. They are more present-bound than we are, and sensation and response bound, which is the principle of manas. We not only remember and transfer, but the buddhi is also rational. In the study of logic, Carnap has demonstrated that logic is largely based on spatial experience. It relates this point to that point and refers back to this point and reaches its conclusions based on logical, spatial relationships.

When we discuss the possibility of evolution beyond mind, we must have enormous respect for Nature having evolved that animal mind on the basis of the general disorder of matter. We are not rejecting that, but we are recognizing a dynamic in Nature that needs to move beyond the limits of rational mind. It has been fully developed and explored and it has brought us to this point. But we are beginning to feel the need to evolve beyond it because there are problems that it cannot solve. And we have an intuition of a realm of imaginable beauty and power and bliss that could be expressed in energy fields that currently don’t have common forms of expression, although they sometimes break through. Those acts of genius that we can perceive are indications of a realm of consciousness and expression that is generally out of reach but that can become normal. And how do we explain the existence of that realm? This is the subject of Supermind. Sri Aurobindo’s philosophy is a philosophy of Consciousness involved in matter, life, and mind, having emerged in those levels of evolutionary expression, but in its origin and function it is much more complex than anything we can now perceive or imagine, and it can achieve things that we cannot do, or understand, and does it with an amazing persistence and efficacy, which is beyond the power of mind as we know it.

We have to admit that there are many things in Nature that we just do not understand, like evolution for example. We can pinpoint stages of it and relate them to each other, which Bergson will tell us is the spatialization of mind; we are interpreting movement in time in terms of movement in space and missing an important feature of reality called Time. Time, as he defines it, is the intensity and duration necessary for something to be what it is. In order to put consciousness in direct touch with the duration and intensity of the being of the thing that is known requires something other than this fragmentary spatialization and analysis that the rational mind does habitually. Bergson is right to advocate an effort to achieve a direct perception of the creative flow of what is, rather than being preoccupied what we think about what was, which would entail a shift from the normal function of rational intelligence in the direction of intuitive mind. To understand something about what Bergson calls intuition, let us have a look at his text. (This text is from a lecture in 1920 that Bergson included in a collection published in 1934, titled in the English version, originally published in 1946, The Creative Mind.) There is value in referring to text, because with people like Bergson and Sri Aurobindo the text is more than text: it is the process of the mind discovering ‘what is’. If we follow him a bit, we may have our consciousness entrained to this track of thinking that he calls intuition.

“I should like to come back to a subject on which I have already spoken, the continuous creation of unforeseeable novelty which seems to be going on in the universe. As far as I am concerned, I feel I am experiencing it constantly.”

Now... unforeseeable novelty. We are usually stuck on what we have experienced and on what we know to be consistent with our experience and understanding, and what we are usually not doing is experiencing the on-going novelty that is being created right now. This thing that is happening now is something new. This energy that I am generating to bring these ideas into focus is something that I have been working on since 2009 and for me it is a continuum. I am able to say what I am saying and to create a kind of framework of understanding because of something that Bergson started in 1920 that goes back to Aristotle. When I read something from Aristotle in a moment, it will be a novel creation of something that began 2350 years ago and we will see that it hasn’t died. It has continued to evolve and diversify. And, as I have said many times, the whole of modern civilization is based on Aristotelian thinking. This view of the moment, as we will see in text from Sri Aurobindo in a moment, is a view of possibility, actuality, and eventuality, all together. In order to have that view it is necessary to not pin things down to spatial moments that have already ceased to exist.

“No matter how I try to imagine in detail what is going to happen to me, still how inadequate, how abstract and stilted is the thing I have imagined in comparison to what actually happens! The realization brings along with it an unforeseeable nothing which changes everything. For example, I am to be present at a gathering, I know what people I shall find there, around what table, in what order, to discuss what problem. But let them come, be seated and chat as I expected, let them say what I was sure they would say: the whole gives me an impression at once novel and unique, as if it were but now designed at one original stroke by the hand of an artist. Gone is the image I had conceived of it, a mere pre-arrangeable juxtaposition of things already known! I agree that the picture has not the artistic value of a Rembrandt or a Velasquez; yet it is just as unexpected and, in this sense, quite as original. It will be alleged that I did not know the circumstances in detail, that I could not control the persons in question, their gestures, their attitudes, and that if the thing as a whole provided me with something new it was because they produced additional factors. But I have the same impression of novelty before the unrolling of my inner life. I feel it more vividly than ever, before the action I willed and of which I was sole master. If I deliberate before acting, the moments of deliberation present themselves to my consciousness like the successive sketches a painter makes of his picture, each one unique of its kind; and no matter whether the act itself in its accomplishment realizes something willed and consequently foreseen, it has none the less its own particular form in all its originality. Granted, someone will say; there is perhaps something original in a state of soul; but matter is repetition; the external world yields to mathematical laws; a superhuman intelligence which would know the position, the direction, and the speed of all the atoms and electrons of the material universe at a given moment could calculate any future state of this universe as we do in the case of an eclipse of the sun or the moon. I admit all this for the sake of argument, if it concerns only the inert world and at least with regard to elementary phenomena, although this is beginning to be a much debated question. But this “inert” world is only an abstraction. Concrete reality comprises those living, conscious beings enframed in inorganic matter. I say living and conscious, for I believe that the living is conscious by right; it becomes unconscious in fact where consciousness falls asleep, but even in the regions where consciousness is in a state of somnolence, in the vegetable kingdom for example, there is regulated evolution, definite progress, aging; in fact, all the external signs of the duration which characterizes consciousness. And why must we speak of an inert matter into which life and consciousness would be inserted as in a frame? The ancients had imagined a World Soul supposed to assure the continuity of existence of the material universe. Stripping this conception of its mythical element, I should say that the inorganic world is a series of infinitely rapid repetitions or quasi- repetitions which, when totaled, constitute visible and previsible changes. I should compare them to the swinging of the pendulum of a clock: the swingings of the pendulum are coupled with to the continuous unwinding of a spring linking them together and whose unwinding they mark: the repetitions of the inorganic world constitute rhythm in the life of conscious beings and measure their duration. Thus the living being essentially has duration; it has duration precisely because it is continually elaborating what is new and because there is no elaboration without searching, no searching without groping. Time is this very hesitation, or it is nothing. Suppress the conscious and the living (and you can do this only through an artificial effort of abstraction, for the material world once again implies perhaps the necessary presence of consciousness and of life), you obtain in fact a universe whose successive states are in theory calculable in advance, like the images placed side by side along the cinematographic film, prior to its unrolling. Why, then, the unrolling? Why does reality unfurl? Why is it not spread out? What good is time? (I refer to real, concrete time, and not to that abstract time which is only a fourth dimension of space.) This, in days gone by, was the starting-point of my reflections. Some fifty years ago I was very much attached to the philosophy of Spencer. I perceived one fine day that, in it, time served no purpose, did nothing. Nevertheless, I said to myself, time is something. Therefore it acts. What can it be doing? Plain common sense answered: time is what hinders everything from being given at once. It retards, or rather it is retardation. It must therefore be elaboration. Would it not then be a vehicle of creation and of choice? Would not the existence of time prove that there is indetermination in things? Would not time be that indetermination itself?”

The point of the argument is that existence is creative; this universe is creative. And it is creative of itself; it is its nature to be creative. Now, can we know how and why specific limits occur in the process of creation, and how and why those limits get exceeded? Think about your own limitations. Can you know how and why you have the limitations that you perceive that you have, and how and why it might be possible to exceed them?

Well the answer is “yes, you can” and it requires a certain amount of analysis and contemplation and focusing yourself on your actual inner life. You can similarly focus your consciousness on the inner life of things around you, and you can start to perceive the nature of things as they are in themselves, without imposing on them judgments and preconceptions. The mind you already have is capable of this kind of identity and expanding beyond the confines of your cranium and your mortal experience. Your consciousness has this ability because it is also in those things; you don’t own it. It isn’t trapped in your cranium. Consciousness is a field, and the idea of Supermind is that mind and life and matter are fields, sometimes called planes, and we are in them and they are in us. The whole basis of Sankhya and Yoga philosophy is the idea that when we think that all of that is limited to this ego and its experience, this is an illusion. We have the illusion of the mental ego, the anatakarana, which bases everything on its own perceptions and limited experience, and it is practical to do that. This intelligence that pins things down in terms of spatial time is practical and it is social; it enables us to function successfully in society. As Bergson tells us, this practical intelligence which enables us to function in society is a product of social evolution.

It is a convenient rationalization to believe that what we see and feel and know is the truth, and that it is better than any other truth that can be imagined. It is a useful illusion. It enables us to justify, for example, going to war for the sake of territory or petroleum. But our bright new evolving consciousness tells us spontaneously that this illusion is not sustainable. We have filled every niche on the planet, which no other species has done before us. Other species have become extinct before that happened and have been replaced by new species that fit into a relative niche. But the human species has discovered how to innovate and adapt endlessly to every possible habitat.

When we come to Sri Aurobindo, we will encounter the possibility that the principle of Mind is not a only a principle in the abstract sense, but it is something that explains everything else. He recommends that we begin to perceive things in terms of universal principles. We should make an effort of consciousness to not see things in terms of momentary particulars on the basis of which we make judgments, but that we teach ourselves to view even ordinary experience through the lens of universal principles. For example, right now in millions of classrooms there are people speaking to other people to bring about a common focus on values that they believe to be important. This is a widespread phenomenon of human culture, which is very essential. It is called teaching and learning: education. It is the human version of what is going on in every organism when they sense heat and cold and move in this or that direction; it is information processing, the utilization of energy for the purpose of survival. It goes on in every cell of life and it goes on at a very sophisticated level in graduate medical institutions where people are learning to perform brain surgery, for example. We are engaged in a phenomenon which is the product of certain universal principles such as propagation of values, goal oriented behavior, seeking understanding and harmony, and at the highest level we could call it Mahasaraswati, the principle or god of radiating universal beauty and knowledge through the products of culture and art and learning, in all of their diverse forms of expression. It is an actual energy of creativity, a divine Shakti, which we can celebrate and recognize in many forms – for example, in the form of the biosphere which is resonant with Mahalakshmi creating her wealth of energy and beauty and diversity throughout nature. We shouldn’t reduce our experience of life to the most mundane and meaningless sensations and perceptions. We should expand consciousness into the realm of universal energy fields that have meaning and purpose.

Sri Aurobindo recommends that first of all we analyze very carefully how our minds work. And within that field, we should be aware of how our will works to enact the things that our mind tells us, and then we should create some space within that field of perception of our own manifold, in which we can discover the Purusha or soul, and perceive in that soul- space, which is silent and empty, everything which is there, without any response or reaction. Then we can actually know ‘what is there’, the being of things can be known, directly and intensely, in us and beyond, and at the same time we do not think, make judgments, react... we perceive in the self what is there. The self is that. It is a mistake to think that the self is this time-bound, space-bound, experience-bound, personality-bound entity that has our name and birthdate and photograph on the passport. This is the first step that Sri Aurobindo recommends in the transition of Mind to Supermind. Let me prove it with a quote:

“The witness Purusha in the mind observes that the inadequacy of his effort, all the inadequacy of fact in man’s life and nature, arises from the separation and consequent struggle, want of knowledge, want of harmony, want of oneness. It is essential for him to grow out of separative individuality, to universalize himself, to make himself one with the universe. This unification can be done only through the soul by making our soul of mind one with the universal mind, our soul of life one with the universal life-soul, our soul of body one with the universal soul of physical nature. When this can be done, in proportion to the power, intensity, depth, completeness, permanence with which it can be done, great effects are produced upon the natural action. Especially there grows an immediate and profound sympathy and immixture of mind with mind, life with life, a lessening of the body’s insistence on separateness, a power of direct mental and other intercommunication and effective mutual action, which helps out the now inadequate and indirect communication and action that was till now the greater part of the conscious means used by the embodied mind.”

Sri Aurobindo will explain that this is the entry into the intuitive mind, the direct perceiving of the universal truths of things on all the planes on which we reside. And Bergson says that this is a perception of the duration and intensity of the creative becoming of things. We begin to perceive things in terms of the intensities and durations of what they are, instead of our prescreened conceptual understanding of things. There is another way of knowing that needs to gain some foothold and be entrained and habituated so that when we act in the world it is on the basis of that becoming and novelty and creativity instead of on the basis of something that has already happened and its past usefulness and understanding.

But before going further into Sri Aurobindo’s philosophy of Supermind, I wanted to review a bit of Aristotle. For the sake of winding up the subject of ‘what mind is’, I wanted to go back about 2000 years. We have heard Sri Aurobindo on the principles of citta, manas and buddhi from Sankhya philosophy, which can be understood as the patterns of unconscious memory and response on the physical level (citta), the sensations and perceptions of the practical mind (manas), and the rational faculty of abstraction and ethical judgment (buddhi) which emerges on the basis of thecitta and manas, with the possibility that it can gain a leverage that enables it to bring down the higher consciousness-force into the lower levels of mind. Then we are on the path of understanding what mind is, in order to know what the transition to Supermind might mean. Now, it has become legitimate to ask how and when this transition can be made? And we have heard from Sri Aurobindo that the universalization of consciousness is a first step. Now what is the basis in the reality of nature and consciousness that makes this transition possible?

In an earlier lecture, I quoted from a book of Aristotle titled De Anima, On the Soul, from which we learn that there is a perspective, or way of understanding things, that was prevalent over 2000 years ago and that continues to hold our attention. It has recurred in the 13th Century, and the 15th Century, and the 18th and the 20th Century; we have just heard it again in the passage we read from Bergson, and it seems in fact not to just belong to the past at all. Aristotle said, “Every class of things is made up of a matter which is potentially all the particulars included in the class.” This says that carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, and nitrogen are included in all members of the class of quadrupeds. That material base potentially can become what all living things are. “It is a cause which is productive in the sense that it makes them all. These distinct elements must likewise be found within the soul. Mind, as we have described it, is what it is by virtue of becoming all things. While there is another which is what it is by virtue of making all things. This is a sort of positive state like light. For in a sense light makes potential colors into actual colors. Mind in this sense of it is separable, impassable, unmixed, since it is in its essential nature activity. For always the active is superior to the passive factor, the originating force to the matter which it forms. Actual knowledge is identical with its object.”

So the originating force is mind, and it is matter that is formed into the elements and higher life forms. This is a fundamental belief of the ontological, intuitional stream in philosophy, and it is fundamentally opposite to the belief that is prevalent in analytical, scientific philosophy. I have heard it said many times that the mind cannot know what is going on in another mind, it can only construct from observed behavior an idea or impression of what is going on there, and then it preoccupies itself with the construct. The intuitive point of view says that mind is identical with the object that it knows. This is because, as Aristotle says, mind can become everything and mind causes everything to be what it is. So there are two poles of mind. One is the actual energy and active pole of everything, and the other is the principle at work in things to get knowledge and grow and develop into what they potentially are. This is the passive pole of mind, and the other is the active, unmixed, pure, radiant principle of mind.

Then Aristotle says, “Actual knowledge is identical with its object in the individual. Potential knowledge is in time prior to actual knowledge in the individual. But in the universe as a whole, (potential) knowledge is not prior even in time. Mind is not at one time knowing and at another not knowing. When mind is set free from its present conditions it appears as just what it is and nothing more. This alone is immortal and eternal and without it nothing thinks.” Then he will say that soul is the entelechy that drives the material form and vital form to have sensations and grow and reproduce, and soul is in mind on the mental level knowing the objects it perceives and thinks about. The evolving mind is thought of as the soul or essential entity in the physical and vital and mental being performing or becoming at each level the essential nature of what is seen outwardly as form. When the form is known, it is known by the level of soul we call mind, and it is knowable because it is the product of Mind. Each thing is what it is because of this essential nature of it, which is knowable. What is not knowable is the matter as such. The matter of stone is not taken into the mind, which is a pure spiritual entity, but it knows the stone in terms of its type, quality, structure, which is “stone”.

This is obviously very similar to the idea of Purusha and Prakriti; that Self and Nature are not separate but they are separable. We can draw back the soul from its involvement in matter and life and mental behavior and experience it as a pure being. This is the meaning of liberation in Sankhya and Yoga. And when that is done, this Purusha is capable of ascending into the level of Param Purusha which sees itself in all things, and it is in all things. Then it has a choice. It can involve itself in Prakriti, the forms and processes of Nature, or it can be dissociated from and liberated from Prakriti. If the former, it thinks of itself as the form, behavior, sensation, and loses sight of itself as such; if the latter, it withdraws and experiences itself as pure Self. Then, says Sri Aurobindo, in an important modification of the traditional Yoga teachings of Patanjali, the Param Purusha can re-enter mind, life, and body without losing its sense of pure Self and can transform these instrumental levels into the pure, inspired, luminous energy of a transformed Prakriti. Then it can be said that Purusha and Prakriti become one on all the levels of being.

Aristotle apparently didn’t see this possibility, (nor did Patanjali, although it seems to have been seen at various moments in the Hindu tradition), but he did seem to have an idea of the identity of the soul that forms the matter and the soul that is intelligent in the creature with the higher universal Mind that is manifesting through the soul on all its levels, and which enables mind to experience a gnostic identity with the objects known. Then Sri Aurobindo tells us that the term vijnyana buddhi in Sanskrit means gnostic consciousness, and this is a term that comes from Plato and Aristotle. This gnosis is the identity between the knowing and known. We gather that the Greeks were seeing something like the idea of the Supermind, or vijnyana, although the idea of its descent and the transformation of the lower levels of the soul and nature had not occurred in the original formulations of either tradition.

In the development of my thinking about the philosophy of evolution, this metaphysical or spiritual level of understanding isn’t necessarily prior to our knowing what evolution is about, but it does follow from a certain understanding of evolution, and eventually we come to the higher metaphysical understanding, as I think we can see in Bergson and Whitehead for example, who were not aware of the philosophy of Supermind. However, the idea of evolution being driven by an eternal energy or light, nous, in Plato and Aristotle, is not much different from the idea of Supermind; there is quite a perfect blend of these systems of thought in Sri Aurobindo.


Bergson and the Holographic Theory

Bergson’s model of time (1889) is perhaps the proto-phenomenological theory. It is part of a larger model of mind (1896) which can be seen in modern light as describing the brain as supporting a modulated wave within a holographic field, wherein subject and object are differentiated not in terms of space, but of time. Bergson’s very concrete model is developed and deepened with Gibson’s ecological model of perception. It is applied to the problems of consciousness, direct realism, qualia and illusions. The model implies an entirely different basis for memory and cognition, and a brief overview is given for the basis of direct memory, compositionality and systematicity
Bergson, Perception and Gibson

Bergson’s 1896 theory of perception/memory assumed a framework anticipating the quantum revolution in physics, the still unrealized implications of this framework contributing to the large neglect of Bergson today. The basics of his model are explored, including the physical concepts he advanced before the crisis in classical physics, his concept of perception as “virtual action” with its relativistic implications, and his unique explication of the subject/object relationship. All form the basis for his solution to the “hard problem.” The relation between Bergson and Gibson as natural compliments is also explored, with Bergson providing the framework that explicates Gibson’s concept of direct perception, with Gibson’s resonance model as a precursor to dynamic systems models of the brain and his reliance on invariance laws defining perceived events providing more detail for the mechanisms Bergson only envisioned from afar, and with Bergson providing the basis for an otherwise missing Gibsonian model of direct memory.


henri bergson writes about time

The memory of the debate still rankles. He had wanted to talk about science; the scientist, about philosophy. They said he didn’t understand physics; he knew they hadn’t understood philosophy. He hadn’t wanted to offend anyone, respected the German physicist and his work. He had said so, quite clearly. It was that relativity, he thought, wasn’t enough. In that story about the twins, the clocks wouldn’t slow. He listens to the clock tick tick ticking on the wall of his own study and knows that – regularly wound – it would neither slow nor speed wherever it were placed. But what those twins did, what they thought and experienced, that would surely be different, and that would interfere with their sense of time passed, passing and to come. The physicists hadn’t listened.

When Henri Bergson goes to drink the coffee, it has gone cold. The lack of warmth accentuates its bitterness. He screws up his face and spits it back into the cup. How long had it been sitting there, he wonders, for it to go so cold?

But science and philosophy had different jobs to do, though intricately related: two twins, perhaps, one catapulted into space, the other remaining with his feet firmly upon the Earth. He wonders if he may have an other, a strange twin-like creature out there somewhere, a multiple of himself, experiencing time differently.
Henri Bergson looks at the spools of ribbon on each side of the typewriter’s barrel. One unravels, time moving to its end, the other collects, accumulating continuously. Were he to remove and unspool it, the one on the right would bear the trace of all the words he had written, however few of them. It would remember as surely as the paper feeding under it remembered. The duration would be homogenous, not reflecting the time that had or hadn’t passed under the ribbon’s experience of his words. One could take the used part of the ribbon, and place it over the empty, unexperienced part and the two moments would become one somehow, yet the two experiences would be different. Henri Bergson thinks no two moments are ever identical, however much this quiet Monday morning slowly moving into afternoon is so similar to the Monday before, and will be like the Tuesday to follow. Only the Tuesday will be different, even though he will be sitting at his desk, not writing, wondering how long it takes his coffee to go cold, because tomorrow’s Tuesday will contain this Monday within it, like the imprint of the letters on the spool. Duration conserves the past. Duration is memory, and tomorrow he will remember how the light moves so slightly differently, at a different angle, longer now, the days beginning to stretch into summer. This moment, now, so different to the one only a second ago, because it bears the knowledge of that moment. The past gets bigger, the future, like the dwindling spool, worryingly smaller.

Henri Bergson looks at the notes he has written on the paper before him, and has difficulty deciphering his own handwriting. He has to squint as he reads. ‘Did I write this?’ he asks himself. ‘What was I thinking?’ He wonders if some other hand may have come and written the words for him, so alien to him do they seem now. Perhaps he should have some coffee, perhaps he is drinking too much coffee. He calls for the maid.

Henri Bergson tries to measure time and realises time can only be measured in decay. That of his own body, its heartbeat slowing again now, the tired ache in his fingers the signs of decrepitude that will one day, he fears, render him totally immobile. Henri Bergson wonders and worries what, where and how time is. How can that machine know of time? What does the clock know of what it counts out? Time is something humans have invented to put a measure, a fix, a hold on the infinite chaos of the universe and our lives. Time is in our bodies, and in our consciousness.
Henri Bergson accepts time as he understands it, and places himself firmly in the midst of duration. Everything that has happened is present here, now, though none of it affects what will come. He has freedom, space, mobility.
Henri Bergson sits at his desk and writes about time. He hears the sound of his pen scratching against the page, its lonely voice leaving marks which will one day be all that remains of him. He looks at the light on the floor, the motes of dust in the air, hears the silence between the ticks of the clock. There are no moments; there is no now. Only the past, passed, touching the what-will-be.