24 Jul 2009

Billowing Contractions, Attention in Memory. §55, Matter and Memory. Bergson

[Search Blog Here. Index-tags are found on the bottom of the left column.]

[Central Entry Directory]
[Bergson, Entry Directory]

Billowing Contractions,

Attention in Memory

Henri Bergson

Matter and Memory

Matière et mémoire

Chapter II

Of the Recognition of Images. Memory and the Brain

Chapitre II

De la reconnaissance des images la mémoire et le cerveau

§55 The number and complexity of these images will depend on the degree of tensions adopted by the mind.

Previously Bergson has discussed his reasoning for why he thinks that attention is more a bodily attitude then a concentration of psychic intensity.

When we attend to something, we are perceiving something external to us. While doing so, our memories project upon our perception some resembling image from the past. In this way, memory “creates anew the present perception; or rather it doubles this perception by reflecting upon it either its own image or some other memory-image of the same kind.” (123) Memory also expands our current perception by drawing from other related perceptions, which in turn may expand further with each new additional recollection. The process may continue indefinitely, “memory strengthening and enriching perception, which, in its turn becoming wider, draws into itself a growing number of complementary recollections.” (123c) Hence our minds are not a light source that may be concentrated more-or-less here-or-there. Rather, it is like a telegraph clerk who wants to check the accuracy of a message she receives. She does so by sending that message back to its source for confirmation that it is accurate.

To bring-forth the recalled perception from the past, we must reproduce it by means of synthesis. We do so by choosing the proper memory which is the most similar to our current perception. This we accomplish by means of mimesis: our bodies mimic the ways we perceived the previous perceptions, and we see if that matches-up with how we currently are undergoing our present perception.

Hence attentive perception is reflexive: We actively re-create a remembered image. We project it outside ourselves. And, it molds-upon the present perception; for, they resemble each other.

So to attend to a perception we are having now means that

a) Our senses send to our mind an initial perception image.

b) We then hold our attention, and to do so, our mind projects onto our current perception the remembered image from a previous similar perception.

c) This recalled image contracts with the perceived one, to produce a perception image with more features than are actually there. This is because the recalled-images are slightly different, and thus their differences contract into the perception image, and become a part of our new perception.

d) This new contracted image will also be sent back to our minds, which will likewise produce additional memory-images to superpose and contract again with the already modified perception image.

e) The circuit continues cycling for as long as we attend to the (continually modifying) perception.

Now in section 56, Bergson clarifies the distinction between his circuit model of attentive perception and the competing rectilinear ones.

Normally attention is considered as a sequential series of processes falling one-after-another in ‘single file:’

a) first we sense the object,

b) our sensations evokes some idea,

c) that idea evokes another idea,

d) the chain of idea-association continues, taking our attention further and further away from the object we are sensing.

In this way, the mind veers off from the object, never to return to it.

Bergson’s model is circular. Consider an electrical circuit. The current never stops at any of the components. Electricity enters the light bulb. Some energy is dissipated, and the rest goes out the other end. So there are tensions on both side of the light bulb that draw the power through it. When we perceive an object, that automatically creates a tension pulling-back on the mind to send-back a memory image; hence “no disturbance starting from the object can stop on its way and remain in the depths of the mind: it must always find its way back to the object whence it proceeds.” (127a)

[Bergson wrotes in the previous section:

Our distinct perception is really comparable to a closed circle in which the perception-image, going towards the mind, and the memory-image, launched into space, career the one behind the other. (126b)]

Now consider again instead the linear model, which is radically different from Bergson’s. There is a mechanical series of accidental events, each new one adding to the rest [like additional rail-car coupled upon a train.] So we have the perception. That evokes an idea, which adds to the first. Then that evokes an idea from even ‘deeper’ in the mind, which adds to those two. But we still have a sequence of different images strung together. In this linear model, new links in the chain do not change the whole sequence, it only makes it longer. So the new additions do not disturb the way we regard that first link, which was our initial sense-perception:

At each moment of an attentive perception , for example, new elements send up from a deeper stratum of the mind might join the earlier elements, without creating thereby a general disturbance and without bringing about a transformation of the whole system. (127bc)

A chaque moment d'une perception attentive, par exemple, des éléments nouveaux, émanant d'une région plus profonde de l'esprit, pourraient se joindre aux éléments anciens sans créer une perturbation générale, sans exiger une transformation du système. (106)

However, in Bergson’s circuit model, the mind does not venture away from the perceived object like train cars added further-and-further down from the engine. Rather, the mind and the perceived object are in a closed circuit, resulting in a feedback process: each perception influences the mind, which modifies the perception, which influences the mind in a new way, which modifies the perception in a new way ... and the cycle continues for as long as we are attentive. So of course what is profoundly important is that for Bergson, our perception itself changes, and, our memories never cease being directly involved in the way we perceive present objects.

an act of attention implies such a solidarity between the mind and its object it is a circuit so well closed, that we cannot pass to states of higher concentration without creating whole and entire, so many new circuits which envelop the first and have nothing in common between them but the perceived object. (127c.d)

un acte d'attention implique une telle solidarité entre l'esprit et son objet, c'est un circuit si bien fermé» qu'on ne saurait passer à des états de concentration supérieure sans créer de toutes pièces autant de circuits nouveaux qui enveloppent le premier, et qui n'ont de commun entre eux que l'objet aperçu. (107c.d)

Bergson explains with a circle diagram.

So we perceive object O, and at the same time, we recall similar memory A, which is on its way towards contracting with the object of our perception.

This modifies object O, thereby creating a new object of perception, which we will call B’. But just as soon as we perceive B’, our memories project forth a memory-image resembling this new modified perception B’. We will call the new memory-image B.

The new memory-image B then modifies B’ to create C’.

Note that the original perception O did not inform our memory of what new recollection to produce. Rather, the whole new perception is B’, so we perceive B’ now and not O. As we go-on attending to our continually modifying perception, both the perception itself and the memories it recalls widen in their scope.

It is the whole memory, as we shall see, that passes over into each of these circuits, since memory is always present; but that memory, capable by reason of its elasticity, of expanding more and more, reflects upon the object a growing number of suggested images, -sometimes the details of the object itself, sometimes concomitant details which may throw light upon it. Thus, after having rebuilt the object perceived, as an independent whole, we reassemble, together with it, the more and more distant conditions with which it forms one system. (128a.d)

C'est le tout de la mémoire, comme nous verrons, qui entre dans chacun de ces circuits, puisque la mémoire est toujours présente; mais cette mémoire, que son élasticité permet de dilater indéfiniment, réfléchit sur l'objet un nombre croissant de choses suggérées, — tantôt les détails de l'objet lui-même, tantôt des détails concomitants pouvant contribuer à l'éclaircir. Ainsi, après avoir reconstitué l’objet aperçu, à la manière d'un tout indépendant, nous reconstituons avec lui les conditions de plus en lus lointaines avec lesquelles il forme un système. (108a.b)

Each of the modified perceptions, B’, C’, and D’, in a sense, lie behind the object we are perceiving, and they are “virtually given with the object itself.” (128d) Thus we create ever new objects of perception, but as well, we also create new systems of memory-recall that expand with each cycle, “so that in the measure in which the circles B, C, D represent a higher expansion of memory, their reflexion attains in B’, C’, D’ deeper strata of reality.” (128d)

Hence we might live one “mental life,” but it repeats an endless number of times across various levels of memory.

Images from the English translation [click to enlarge]

Images from the original French [click to enlarge]

Bergson, Henri. Matière et mémoire: Essai sur la relation du corps à l'esprit. Ed. Félix Alcan. Paris: Ancienne Librairie Germer Bailliere et Cie, 1903. Available online at:http://www.archive.org/details/matireetmmoiree01berggoog

Bergson, Henri. Matter and Memory. Transl. Nancy Margaret Paul & W. Scott Palmer. Mineola, New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 2004; originally published by George Allen & Co., Ltd., London, 1912. Available online at:http://www.archive.org/details/mattermemory00berg

No comments:

Post a Comment