4 Feb 2009

Bergson, Time and Free Will, Chapter 2, §58 "The Impenetrability of Matter is not a Physical but a Logical Necessity"

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

Bergson, Time and Free Will

Chapter II, "The Multiplicity of Conscious States," "The Idea of Duration"

Part XVI: Numerical Multiplicity and Space

§58 "The Impenetrability of Matter is not a Physical but a Logical Necessity"

Previously we spoke of two types of multiplicity:

1) the multiplicity of material objects, which we may directly enumerate

2) the multiplicity of mental states, which we can only enumerate by representing them in ideal space.

[A hammer drops. The anvil rings. Solid bodies do not interpenetrate. How could they?] But matter is particulate. We might then imagine solid bodies penetrating each other. To do so, we envision one object's particles filling the spaces between the other's particles. And the only way the particles may interpenetrate each other is if "one of them divides in order to fill up the interstices of the other; and our thought will prolong this operation indefinitely in preference to picturing two bodies in the same place." (88b)

So we cannot imagine two bodies sharing one place. This is something bodies cannot do. It is one of their negative properties. But our senses only tell us the way things are. They cannot tell us the way things are not. So we cannot obtain negative properties from our senses. However, our senses never confirm the counter-claim that bodies do share the same space. So our senses make absurd the claim "two bodies may share the same space." Thereby, we logically deduce that two bodies can never be in the same place at the same time. (88d)

So our mind's use of logic discovers this physical fact. But what causes us to think it? Recall that in previous sections we established that we are only able to count numbers by placing images or representations into different spaces, either ideal or real. The idea of '1' does not need any juxtaposition. But as soon as we want to count '2,' we need to place two things in different locations. In other words, numerical multiplicity presupposes impenetrability. But we did not obtain our knowledge of matter's imprenetrability from the senses. Rather, we attribute a property of number to the things around us. Hence to say that two bodies cannot share the space is to "state a property of number rather than of matter." (89c)

But now consider that we also count such non-spatial things as feelings, sensations, and ideas, which all "permeate" each other. However, as we have already seen, we must spatialize them in order to count them.

Hence the physical property of impenetrability is not something we conclude from observation. Rather, it is a logical consequence following from our concept of number.

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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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