22 Jan 2009

Bergson with Ferrier's Finger on the Trigger: Extending Sensation Beyond Physical Forces

by Corry Shores
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Bergson argues that the intensity of sensation cannot be more or less. It can only be different. One reason people believe that there is more or less intensity, is because they experience more or less muscle effort in certain sensations. They attribute that to some non-extensive force or energy causing the muscle contractions. The more intensive energy, the more muscle strain, they think.

So Bergson wants to counter-argue this position, and he does so by attacking the premise that we have some awareness of an expenditure of force. He draws from a convincing demonstration David Ferrier describes, which the reader is invited to try.

Ferrier ask us to position our hand as though we were about to pull a gun-trigger. While keeping our muscles still, we are to imagine that we are pulling the trigger.

We perceive an expenditure of energy. Because our fingers never moved, we are led to believe that this is not an extensity, but rather an intensity. For, there were no changes in extensive space. But we did experience an increase - an increase of energy expenditure.

Then, Ferrier draws our attention to our throats while we imagine the trigger being pulled. You will notice that your glottis contracts whenever you imagine the trigger being pulled. And if you can control all peripheral muscle contractions, then you will no longer feel the expenditure of energy.

So we cannot say that there is an intensity involved in muscular efforts. There rather are only extensities, each qualitatively different. For, the way out throat feels is different then our dilating nostrils, and so forth.

Below is the text and the images of the relevant Ferrier material:

If the reader will extend his right arm and hold his fore-finger in the position required for pulling the trigger of a pistol, he may, without actually moving his finger, but by simply making believe, experience a consciousness of energy put forth. Here, then, is a clear case of consciousness of energy without actual contraction of the muscles either of the one hand or the other, and without any perceptible bodily strain. If the reader will again perform the experiment, and pay careful attention to the condition of his respiration, he will observe that his consciousness of effort coincides with a fixation of the muscles of his chest, and that, in proportion to the amount of energy he feels he is putting forth, he is keeping his glottis closed and actively contracting his respiratory muscles. Let him place his finger as before, and continue breathing all the time, and he will find that, however much he may direct his attention to his finger, he will experience not the slightest trace of consciousness of effort until he has actually moved the finger itself, and then it is referred locally to the muscles in action. It is only when this essential and ever-present respiratory factor is, as it has been, overlooked that the consciousness of effort can with any degree of plausibility be ascribed to the outgoing current. In the contraction of the respiratory muscles there are the necessary conditions of centripetal impressions, and these are capable of originating the general sense of effort. When these active efforts are withheld no consciousness of effort ever arises, except in so far as it is conditioned by the local contraction of the group of muscles towards which the attention is directed, or by other muscular contractions called unconsciously into play in the attempt.

Ferrier, David. The Functions of the Brain. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1886.
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