24 Jul 2009

Flow of Creation. Creative Evolution. Bergson. Ch.1 Part 1: Of Duration in General

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

[Central Entry Directory]
[Bergson, Entry Directory]

[Other entries in the Bergson Creative Evolution series]

[Paragraph headings are my own]

Flow of Creation

Henri Bergson

Creative Evolution

Évolution Créatrice

Chapter 1

The Evolution of Life – Mechanism and Teleology

Chapitre Premier

De l’évolution de la vie. – Mécanisme et finalité.

1: Of Duration in General

1: De la durée en général

§1 We Know We Exist,

But Do We Know What Existing Is?

We have only external and superficial knowledge of objects. But we have internal and profound knowledge of our own existence. Hence we know our own existence better than any other one. Bergson will now summarize some conclusions from previous works (Time and Free Will and Matter and Memory)

§2 We Live Change-to-Change,

OK, So Now Let’s Change Our Idea of Change

We pass from one distinct state to another: “I am warm or cold, I am merry or sad, I work or I do nothing.” (1) Each movement from state-to-state makes-up our lives, and gives it variety. We are always changing. But is change so simple?

Sensations, feelings, volitions, ideas such are the changes into which my existence is divided and which colour it in turns. I change, then, without ceasing. But this is not saying enough. Change is far more radical than we are at first inclined to suppose. (1)

§3 Gradual Change & the Thresholds We Notice

We change from one state to the next, so we think. Hence we presume that each state is like “block” that forms a “separate whole.” (1d) So change for us only happens between our different states.

the change seems to me to reside in the passage from one state to the next: of each state, taken separately, I am apt to think that it remains the same during all the time that it prevails. (1d)

But let’s consider any one feeling, idea, volition etc. Do we not always find that they are already changing, and so there are no transitions between? For, “if a mental state ceased to vary, its duration would cease to flow.” (2a)

So let’s consider for example a stable internal state: we are viewing some motionless object extending out before us. Our perception of it is always changing, if only because our perceptions are found at different times.

The object may remain the same, I may look at it from the same side, at the same angle, in the same light; nevertheless the vision I now have of it differs from that which I have just had, even if only because the one is an instant older than the other. (2ab)

Our memories project themselves upon our current perceptions and modify them. Gradually our mental states swell and billow out as memories continually gather together.

My memory is there, which conveys some thing of the past into the present. My mental state, as it advances on the road of time, is continually swelling with the duration which it accumulates: it goes on increasing rolling upon itself, as a snowball on the snow. (2b)

Even though the changes are continuous, we only notice them once they reach a threshold.

it is expedient to disregard this uninterrupted change, and to notice it only when it becomes sufficient to impress a new attitude on the body, a new direction on the attention. Then, and then only, we find that our state has changed. The truth is that we change without ceasing, and that the state itself is nothing but change. (2)

§4 Rivers of States

So, no matter what state we are in, we are already in the process of changing from it. Hence it means the same to say either that we are in one state or that we are passing one from the next. In both cases, we are already undergoing alteration: “the transition is continuous.”

But we do not notice this continuity. Rather, the continuous changing will alter our state to such a point that we notice a difference.

The apparent discontinuity of the psychical life is then due to our attention being fixed on it by a series of separate acts: actually there is only a gentle slope; but in following the broken line of our acts of attention, we think we perceive separate steps. (3a)

Now also consider how sometimes our state-changes are unpredictable. For that reason they seem discontinuous. Nonetheless, there are merely points along a continuous motion.

True, our psychic life is full of the unforeseen. A thousand incidents arise, which seem to be cut off from those which precede them, and to be disconnected from those which follow. Discontinuous though they appear, however, in point of fact they stand out against the continuity of a back ground on which they are designed, and to which indeed they owe the intervals that separate them ; they are the beats of the drum which break forth here and there in the symphony. (3)

When it serves our interests, we distinguish different concrete states, but really “each of them is borne by the fluid mass of our whole psychical existence.” (3) These differences that we notice are just points along a flow:

Each is only the best illuminated point of a moving zone which comprises all that we feel or think or will all, in short, that we are at any given moment. It is this entire zone which in reality makes up our state. Now, states thus defined cannot be regarded as distinct elements. They continue each other in an endless flow. (3, emphasis mine)

§5 Some Wrongly Think the Ego is the ‘Thread’ that Links Discrete-State ‘Beads.’

So we artificially divide-up our flow of states. But we then need some way to bring them back together. So we then come to assume we have an ego that remains constant through the changes.

It imagines, therefore, a formless ego, indifferent and unchangeable, on which it threads the psychic states which it has set up as independent entities. Instead of a flux of fleeting shades merging into each other, it perceives distinct and, so to speak, solid colours, set side by side like the beads of a necklace; it must perforce then suppose a thread, also itself solid, to hold the beads together. (3-4)

So in fact we never notice the continuous substratum of our changing states. So it is not even real for us.

this substratum has no reality; it is merely a symbol intended to recall unceasingly to our consciousness the artificial character of the process by which the attention places clean-cut states side by side, where actually there is a continuity which unfolds. (4b)

Consider instead the more common presumption. Normally we think there is an ego that remains the same throughout discrete changes of states. But if the ego does not change, then it does not endure. So such a psychic state is not replaced by following ones. Hence if we presume that there is an ego that threads distinct states, then we cannot explain our sense of duration.

§5 We Are Continuous Tendencies

We experience more than just the present. We also experience the past prolonging into what is becoming actualized, and we experience evolution, and concrete duration. Hence, duration is more than just one instant replacing another. It is continuous. It moves forward and grows.

Duration is the continuous progress of the past which gnaws into the future and which swells as it advances. (5a)

A memory is not an item we tuck-away in a drawer for future use. It is always integrated into our current perceptions. And this is a sort of ‘passive synthesis.’ (5b)

In reality, the past is preserved by itself, automatically. In its entirety, probably, it follows us at every instant; all that we have felt, thought and willed from our earliest infancy is there, leaning over the present which is about to join it, pressing against the portals of consciousness that would fain leave it outside. (5bc)

Our past is always a part of our present. But at any one given moment, we do not need all the resources our memories provide. So our minds “drive back into the unconscious almost the whole of this past, and to admit beyond the threshold only that which can cast light on the present situation or further the action now being prepared in short, only that which can give useful work.” (5) Who and what we are is the combined total of all our history. And when we think, we might only make use of certain parts of our past. But we desire, will, and act by means of our entire past amassed together with “the original bent of our soul.” (5-6) Hence we are not ever aware of our whole past. But we feel it as our tendencies of behavior.

Our past, then, as a whole, is made manifest to us in its impulse; it is felt in the form of tendency, although a small part of it only is known in the form of idea. (6a, emphasis mine)

§6 We Are Always a New Self,

and We Can Never Go Back to Being an Old Self

Each new moment adds something to the entirety. That means at a prior instant, there was less than there is now, and hence every present moment will be different from every past one. As well, the future moment will have one more addition to the whole than does the present one have. So every present moment will always be different from the moments to come. For this reason, our lives involve a movement through a continuum of state changes, none of which ever repeat. But because the contraction of the entire series makes-up our character, who we are is in constant alteration.

Our personality, which is being built up each instant with its accumulated experience, changes without ceasing. By changing, it prevents any state, although superficially identical with another, from ever repeating it in its very depth. (6b)

Each new state contracts with all the rest, thereby creating a new one. For this reason, we cannot then subtract any from the whole to uncover the way we perceived something in the past: “Duration is irreversible.” (6bc)

§7 We Cannot Predict the Ways We will Contract in the Future,

So We Cannot Predict Who We Will Become,

and What State We Will be in.

So we see that we are always growing and evolving as selves.

Thus our personality shoots, grows and ripens with out ceasing. Each of its moments is something new added to what was before. (6c)

During our present experience, all our past memories have contracted together with our present perception. We have a perception. Memory already has contracted with it. This produces a new sum total, that is organized in some way. We will not be able to separate the present memory from the past, because they have contracted together. In the next moment, this new sum total will be projected into the present perception again. They will contract in some unique way. Now, consider instead if the parts did not contract. Then we might be able to predict what will happen, just by thinking what will become added to a chain of discrete units that have retained their order and individuality. But Bergson’s model is different. The coming perception will contract with the previous totality. We do not know in what way it will organize itself into the indivisible whole. And that integration is precisely the state we will come to be in. So because we cannot predict the new integrations, we cannot foresee what state we will be in, and what sort of a person we will become.

§8 Life Continually Creates Its Creating

An artist creates. That means what she brings-forth was not already there.

The finished portrait is explained by the features of the model, by the nature of the artist, by the colours spread out on the palette; but, even with the knowledge of what explains it, no one, not even the artist, could have foreseen exactly what the portrait would be, for to predict it would have been to produce it before it was produced – an absurd hypothesis which is its own refutation. (7)

We are like artists creating our lives. The artist herself develops through her creating. One creation will influence the way she produces the next one. She is a new artist with every creation.

It is then right to say that what we do depends on what we are; but it is necessary to add also that we are, to a certain extent, what we do, and that we are creating our selves continually. (7cd)

Images from the English translation [click to enlarge]:

Images from the original French [click to enlarge]

Bergson, Henri. L'Évolution Créatrice. Ed. Felix Alcan. Paris: Librairies Félix Alcan et Guillaumin Réunies, 1908. Available online at http://www.archive.org/details/levolutioncreatr00berguoft

Bergson, Henri. Creative Evolution. Transl. Arthur Mitchell. London: MacMillan and Co., 1922. Available online at: http://www.archive.org/details/creativeevolutio00berguoft

No comments:

Post a Comment