3 Feb 2009

Bergson, Time and Free Will, Chapter 1, §49 "Thus Intensity Judged..."

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 XV: Intensity and Multiplicity

§49 "Thus Intensity Judged (1) in Representative States by an Estimate of the Magnitude of the Cause (2) in Affective States by Multiplicity of Psychic Phenomena Involved"

Bergson will summarize the first chapter.

We found that intensities present themselves in two forms:

1) as states of consciousness which represent external causes, and

2) as states of consciousness which are not caused by something external and are instead self-sufficient states.

In representative states, we estimate the intensity by measuring the cause. We do this by correlating some change of the stimulus' magnitude with some qualitative sensation-change that the stimulus brings about. (72d)

But in the case of self-sufficient sensations, we quantify them by calculating the number of constituent states that contribute to the qualitative sensation under examination.

Emotions are self-sufficient states. And, they contain many simpler constituent states. [Consider that when we feel grief, we also might feel slightly nauseous and weak in our legs. Hence] a self-sufficient psychic state also consists of many constituent states that are representative. [As well, in some cases when we feel nauseous, we might also grieve that we cannot attend to our normal obligations or social commitments. So] representative states often include a multiplicity of psychic phenomena.

Hence the meanings of the terms "representative state / affective state" and "self-sufficient state" often intermingle. (73a)

The idea of intensity is thus situated at the junction of two streams, one of which brings us the idea of extensive magnitude from without, while the other brings us from within, the fact from the very depths of consciousness, the image of an inner multiplicity. (73b)

Now we will be concerned with what we mean by "inner multiplicity." Is it the same as number? Or is it different than number?

We saw that a state of consciousness or sensation was made-up of a variety of constituent states. Whenever we would characterize one such plurality as having a certain quality to it, we would consider only those constituent states that were similar, ignoring the variety of other ones that were dissimilar [see this entry for a colorful illustration.] However, in the next chapter we will begin to consider conscious states as totalities of many dissimilar constituent states, that is, in their "concrete multiplicity, in so far as they unfold themselves in pure duration." (73d)

Before, we noted that when we do not take into account the cause of a representative sensation, we no longer see it as quantitative, but rather only as qualitative.

Consider also that space is something we consider to have extension. And we often understand time in terms of space. Hence we usually consider duration as something extensive. Previously, we found sensation to be qualitative once we purified it of the quantities that we confuse with it. Likewise we will now find duration to be non-extensive once we purify it of the spatiality that we confuse with time.

To mix-up the quantitative with the qualitative does not present any real problems in our lives. It merely obscures the nature of sensation and consciousness.

But, the way we conceive duration influences how we understand and feel our own freedoms, movements, and internal and external changes. So misconceiving duration could have damaging effects on some of the most important things in our existence. And, we might grossly distort the nature of time by conceiving it spatially. Thus "by invading the series of our psychic states, by introducing space into our perception of duration," we "corrupt" some of the most essential things in life. So confusing space with time is far more problematic than mistaking the qualitative for the quantitative. This more egregious error, in fact, leads to Zeno's paradoxes and the the problem of free will.

Before solving this problem, Bergson will first explain why it is a mistake to conceive duration in terms of space. (74b)

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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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