15 Oct 2009

The Duration of Creation. Creative Evolution. Bergson. Ch.1 Part 2: Unorganized Bodies and Abstract Time

by Corry Shores
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The Duration 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.

2. Unorganized Bodies and Abstract Time

2. Les corps inorganisés

Previously Bergson discussed how we undergo changes, and how we think they transpire between a beginning and an end state. This leads us to believe that there are states which remain the same for some period, until the next change transpires. But if we examine our feelings or perceptions, we see that there is never a moment when there is not some variation underway. It is not until the continuous changes reach a threshold that we notice a difference. These thresholds make us think the flow of duration is divided when in fact it is not. We then artificially unify these arbitrarily-determined sections by believing in an ego substrate. Also, we carry our whole past with us at all times as an implicit tendency [also see this entry on Bergson's virtual]. But because in every moment the content of our minds changes, we are a different person every instant. And we never know how the next experience will contract with the rest and transform the whole, so we cannot predict who we will become in the next instant. In one sense, we are a product of what has happened to us, but in another sense, we are artists of our lives who create ourselves through the actions we now perform.

§9 Rock of Changes

Instead of thinking about our own lives, consider some material object, [a rock for example]. It either will not change, or something will affect it. If we smash it, its parts will still remain, but in another arrangment. [Even if we chemically alter the rock with acid for example], we can still imagine its smallest sub-atomic parts remaining unchanged but now just rearranged.

§10 Dead Things Live Forever

[We can also imagine that the rock's parts become fused back together with heat or pressure. In fact,] the material object can change its state and return to it. [So the fundamental smallest parts are unchanging. And they are collected in a set of relations. That same set of relations can be broken and restored. In a sense,] the grouping itself "does not grow old. It has no history" (le groupe ne vieillit, pas. Il n'a pas d'histoire.) (9aj/9a). [Compare with what Deleuze says about Spinoza's modal essences: Expressionism Ch.13, Cours Vincennes 20/01/81, 10/03/81, 17/02/81. For Deleuze, an essence is like a formula that can be expressed in actuality. But for example, we are modes, and modes change. So does an eternal essence change? Deleuze says that the essences themselves have a range of variation. And they are eternally expressed at least implicitly, and are explicitly expressed in finite durations.]

§11 An Uncreated World

So the object's matter was already there and remained the same. As well, its arrangements are timeless, because they can come about any moment. Thus, writes Bergson, nothing is created, not form, not matter. We can imagine the same parts with their same relations manifesting again the same way in the future.

§12 Time without Duration

[Consider how science treats time (see §71 of Time and Free Will). There is a beginning simultaneity: the watch-hand is simultaneous with the beginning arrangement of bodies, for example. Both the clock-hand and the bodies move. Then, later in the movement, the scientist notes the arrangment of the bodies when the clock reaches a certain place in its movement. In other words, to gauge the span of time, we are interested in the next simultaneity of the watch and the bodies.] Time intervals in this sense are merely comparisons of simultaneities. For this reason, the way that time flows within that interval could be infinitely rapid, for all we care. [In a way, we believe that time is a dimension like space; we think for example that the temporal difference between a moving body at one time and at another is understood in terms of the space that the second-hand has moved. Both time and space in this way are extended. They are both homogeneous extensions. But think of how we say that something moves from point A to point B. Even though they are far apart, we can still ignore their distance between, because space, as homogeneous, is compressible. I can write:


or I can write:

12 a's

When something is homogeneous, we can contract it without any loss of information (for more on compression, look a little way into this entry on cellular automata.) But what if duration were heterogeneous and unpredictable? Can I compress the following?


Bergson's thesis is that duration is thoroughly heterogeneous, and so we falsify it when we spatially extend it in a form that can be compressible. Doing so ignores the fact that there is a plurality of irreducible differences that take place in those time intervals.]

§13 The Sweetness of Duration

So we know that in life, we cannot experience an interval of time all at once. Things occur in succession: "If I want to mix a glass of sugar and water, I must, willy-nilly, wait until the sugar melts" (Si je veux me préparer un verre d'eau sucrée, j'ai beau faire, je dois attendre que le sucre fonde) (10b/10c). Here time is not homogeneous and compressible like space. We must undergo it, in terms of our impatience for example, that is, as "a certain portion of my own duration, which I cannot protract or contract as I like" (10c). This duration is not something abstract that we conceive, it is rather something we live. It has little to do with relations of parts and corresponding simultaneities. The duration itself is all its own, it is "absolute."

§14 Science's Systematic Isolation of Systems

However, science's way of treating time has some objective foundation. Matter, Bergson writes, has the tendency to be in isolatable systems that we may treat geometrically. However, this is just a tendency, and matter never attains to any full state of isolation. When scientists observe a system, that system does not exist in some other realm, untouched by its material context. Our solar system is still part of a galaxy system, and so on. And the influences of the whole universe will have some effect on even its smallest parts.

§15 What Goes Up, Must Continue Ascending

And the universe does not happen all in one instant. It endures. This means there is creation every moment: "duration means invention, the creation of forms, the continual elaboration of the absolutely new" (durée signifie invention, création de formes, élaboration continue de l'absolument nouveau.) (11d/11-12). When a scientist demarcates a relatively independent system, the only reason it endures on its own is because it is part of the universe, which is doing the enduring. Bergson now mentions two opposite movements in the universe that he will later explain: ascent and descent. Descending things are like dominoes or the release of a spring. They might as well be accomplished instantaneously. But ascending movements are creative and enduring. They cannot be compressed. And they influence the descending movements. Such movements might be regular, but on a higher order, they occur according to the irregular rhythm of ascension.

§16 Science Should Not Be So Isolated

Because heterogeneous duration is inherent even to 'isolated systems,' science should include it in their studies. So too should they no longer consider systems as isolated. Some body has a border for us only because we intend to do something in particular that will require us to draw that distinction, [for example, distinguishing the glass from the table so we may have a drink]. But when we exclude these actions we have in mind, we also find that "the individuality of the body is re-absorbed in the universal interaction which, without doubt, is reality itself"(12c).

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 athttp://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

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