31 Jan 2009

Bergson, Time and Free Will, Ch 1, §29 "The Purely Representative Sensations are Measured by their External Causes"

by Corry Shores
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[The following is summary; my commentary is in brackets.]

Bergson, Time and Free Will

(Essai sur les données immédiates de la conscience)

Chapter I, "The Intensity of Psychic States"

Part IX: "Representative Sensations"

§29 "The Purely Representative Sensations are Measured by their External Causes"

When we have an affective sensation, we as well have a sensation that "represents" the affective one. This representative sensation often misleads us to believe that the primary sensation was one that may be considered greater-or-lesser than another sensation. As the affective sensation fades, so too do our reactions to it fade, even though the representative sensation tends to linger a bit longer. But as our reactions fade, we either

1) come to perceive the external object that caused the affective sensation, or

2) recall it, because we just momentary perceived it. (41-42)

Throughout our lives, a variety of stimulations each cause us a different qualitative sensation, although none of these sensations are greater-or-less than another. However, we also notice that these causes themselves are measurable in terms of greater-or-less. Thus we come to mistakenly associate the quantity of the cause with the quality of its effect on us. In this way, the qualitative intensity erroneously becomes a magnitude.

To understand how an increasing extensity of a cause really effects qualitatively different sensations, Bergson has us imagine ourselves pricking our arm with a pin. At first it tickles. Then we push harder. We feel pain at that localized point. As we continue to push the pin into our arm with greater force, we feel the pain spread into the surrounding zones. We think that the pain increased, because we felt ourselves pushing harder on the pin. But really we experienced a wide range of qualitatively different sensations. (42c.d) In this way, we interpret quality as quantity, which leads to us believe that intensity is magnitude.

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Images from the pages summarized above, in the English Translation [click on the image for an enlargement]:

Images from the pages summarized above, in the original French [click on the image for an enlargement]:

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Bergson, Henri. Time and Free Will: An Essay on the Immediate Data of Consciousness, Transl. F. L. Pogson, (New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 2001).

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French text from:

Bergson, Henri. Essai sur les données immédiates de la conscience. Originally published Paris: Les Presses universitaires de France, 1888.


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