3 Feb 2009

Bergson, Time and Free Will, Chapter 1, §48 "Psychophysics Merely Pushes to its Extreme Consequences the Fundamental but Natural Mistake..."

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 XIV: "Psychophysics"

§48 "Psychophysics Merely Pushes to its Extreme Consequences the Fundamental but Natural Mistake of Regarding Sensations as Magnitudes"

[Artificial light might brighten our mood and better allow us to function at night. So light is an important cause of effects we want to obtain. Although in the end we want the sensations, first we need the cause. We needs lights. So] we tend to prioritize external objects over the subjective states they cause. [Moreover, because we want to obtain these internal states, we want to develop a science that better determines how to obtain them. So we treat our internal subjective states as studiable objects. Hence,] we have a lot to gain by correlating the objectified inner state to some external objective caused.

And the more our knowledge increases, the more we perceive the extensive behind the intensive, quantity behind quality, the more also we tend to thrust the former into the latter, and to treat our sensations as magnitudes. (70d)

We use physics to calculate the external causes for our internal states. But physics is concerned more with the external stimuli than with the subjective sensations. Thus physics "constantly and deliberately" confuses the external causes with the internal effects. (71a) Already our common sense makes this mistake, but physics commits the error to a much greater degree. Hence psychophysicists such as Fechner try to measure sensations that are qualitative by means of causes that are quantitative.

But in order to assess one sensation as being greater than another, we have to superpose them upon each other to make the comparison. However, sensations cannot be superposed. Thus they cannot be directly quantified. But psychophysicists claim to have found indirect means, for example Fechner's "integration of infinitely small elements." (72a)

So if Bergson is correct, then sensation is a pure quality. But if the psychophysicists are right, then it is a magnitude that we should measure.

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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).

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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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