17 Jan 2009

Bergson, Time and Free Will, Chapter 1, §5 "Attempt to Distinguish Intensities by Atomic Movements...."

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

Bergson, Time and Free Will

Chapter I, "The Intensity of Psychic States"

Part I, "Intensity and Extensity"

§5 "Attempt to Distinguish Intensities by Atomic Movements. But It is the Sensation which is Given in Consciousness, and not the Movement"

[One water-wave is larger than another because its molecular parts move at a higher amplitude.] Mechanical and kinetic theories explain sensible properties by determining the movements of their ultimate parts.

For Bergson, one sensation is qualitatively different from another. Thus, our sensations are the intensive differences of qualities. But many sciences recently have been reducing phenomena to constituent atomic motions. Someday sensations might be explained as well by the extensive differences between the changes underlying them. So we might account for a more intense sound by its "ampler vibrations which are propagated in the disturbed medium." (6bc)

Also, we might say that all states of consciousness correspond to disturbances in our brain tissue. Then, we could measure sensation according to the quantity of disturbance. (6d)

However, what we experience is a sensation and not the motion of our brain tissue. And it is by the intensity of the sensation that we judge the amount of activity that must being happening in our brains. So we still have not answered the question, on what grounds do we say that one sensation is more or less intense than another? (6-7)

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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]:

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

Available online at:


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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