7 Feb 2009

Bergson, Time and Free Will, Chapter 2, §69 "Two Elements in Motion..."

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 XXII: Is Motion Measurable?

§69 "Two Elements in Motion: (1) the Space Traversed, which is Homogeneous and Divisible; (2) the Act of Traversing, Indivisible and Real only for Consciousness"

Space is a homogeneous medium. So when we spatialize duration, we homogenize it. We think of time then as a homogeneous movement in an ideal space or "fourth dimension." The concept of motion, Bergson says, is the "living symbol" of the homogenized duration. Previously we analyzed time in order to distinguish duration from space. Now we will analyze movement so to differentiate our motion-sensation's qualitative intensity from the moving object's quantitative extensity.

We think of space as homogeneous and divisible. And there are objects in space. These objects move from place to place. But no object can be in two places at once. Rather, things may be in only one place at once. But then nothing in space is ever changing place [see Zeno's paradoxes, II.B] In a sense, there is no motion in space. But we do perceive motion. So movement is possible by means of some conscious act. (111a) We perceive the places that the object traverses. And we keep those places in our mind. Then, we synthesize them together.

The question is, how does this synthesis occur?

One possibility is that we retain the past positions. Then, we abstract those points and place them in ideal space. Finally, we connect the lines so to represent the motion. But then, all we have done was create something that is merely spatial. A line does not move. But could it be that we then transpose the points of this line to another ideal dimension somehow intersecting with the first? No, because as soon as we synthesize together those new points extending through the new dimension, we again obtain a stagnant line (or plane). So our sense of motion cannot just be a sense of extension or quantity. There must also be a qualitative component, or a "feel" of motion that we obtain as well. (111bc)

Bergson invites us to conduct a demonstration. We close our eyes. Then we dart our closed eyes quickly and briefly. We had a sensation. But we did not perceive any distance of motion. Now we recall the last time we saw a shooting star. Here again our eyes darted. Likewise we obtained a qualitative sensation from that movement. But we also perceived the space that the shooting star crossed in the sky. Bergson says that when we see motion, we instinctively distinguish the extensive (non-temporal) space traversed from the "absolutely indivisible sensation of motion or mobility." (111-112)

So we distinguish two elements in motion:

1) the extension of [a-temporal] space that the moving body crosses. This is a homogeneous quantity that exists in real space. And,

2) our mental synthesis of the points crossed. This element only has reality in our consciousness. We may consider it a quality or an intensity (112b)

Now, we might think that we can consider half of the shooting star's motion. But here we are really just thinking of half the distance it travelled. For, the shooting star's motion comes about through a mental action. And mental acts inter-permeate, and they do not extend in spatial-like way. So they are not divisible. But this means that when we divide motion, we incorrectly intermingle the intensity or quality of our motion-sensation with the extent of the motion.

Also, we tend to place time and space together in an interlaced continuum, so that the motion seems to make a continuous line through time-space. To do this, we spacialize different moments, and place them along-side each other. But then a progress in space would involve the past co-existing with the present. We saw that temporal continuity is only possible through a mental synthesis. So when we think of motion this way, we are erroneously letting the extent of the motion intermingle with the intensity or quality of our movement-sensation.

So in other words, intensity and extensity seep together in these above two ways. Hence there is an endosmosis of sorts.

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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.

Available online at:


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