23 Dec 2009

Change without Duration. §144. In the External World We Find Not Duration but Simultaneity. Ch2. Time and Free Will. Bergson

by Corry Shores
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Change without Duration

Henri Bergson

Essai sur les données immédiates de la conscience
Time and Free Will: An Essay on the Immediate Data of Consciousness

Part CXVI: No Duration in the External World

§144 In the External World We Find Not Duration but Simultaneity

Bergson asks, what sort of duration exists outside us? He replies that there is merely the present, or we could say, simultaneity.

Now, exterior things change. And there are moments to these changes.

[But what makes one moment succeed another is that the previous one was retained and found to come before the following moment. Yet, this requires there be some consciousness to perform that retention. Hence] the moments of the changes in external things do not succeed each one another. They fall in succession only "for a consciousness which keeps them in mind" (227a).

When we observe the world around us at a given moment, we see "a whole system of simultaneous positions; of the simultaneities which have preceded them nothing remains" (227ab). [Yet it is common to think of succeeding moments falling along a line of time. This makes a prior moment and a later one coincide with each other on that same line. Hence] "To put duration in space is really to contradict oneself and place succession within simultaneity" (227b). Because external things do not have moments which succeed each other, we cannot say that they endure through time. Instead, there is something mysterious about external things which makes the matter more complex. Our own mind experiences a flowing duration. When we view external things, there will be different moments of our inner duration during which we are perceiving the objects. Each moment of our inner consciousness will always correspond to a perception of change in the external object we are observing. Bergson says that there is something we cannot grasp about external objects which causes us to perceive them as changing durationally, even though they do not endure.

Hence we must not say that external things endure, but rather that there is in them some inexpressible reason in virtue of which we cannot examine them at successive moments of our own duration without observing that they have changed. (227bc, boldface mine)

Il ne faut donc pas dire que les choses extérieures durent, mais plutôt qu'il y a en elles quelque inexprimable raison en vertu de laquelle nous ne saurions les considérer à des moments successifs de notre durée sans constater qu'elles ont changé. (175a.b, boldface mine)

We would only say the exterior changes involve succession only if we give succession a different meaning. [Bergson notes that science and common sense agree on this meaning. Reference to be added later].

In consciousness, however, moments melt into each other. [See §64 and §66 for description of how the notes of a melody melt into each other]. Bergson writes then,

Thus in consciousness we find states which succeed, without being distinguished from one another; and in space simultaneities which, without succeeding, are distinguished from one another, in the sense that one has ceased to exist when the other appears. Outside us, mutual externality without succession; within us, succession without mutual externality. (227c.d)

Ainsi, dans la conscience, nous trouvons des états qui se succèdent sans se distinguer ; et, dans l'espace, des simultanéités qui, sans se succéder, se distinguent, en ce sens que l'une n'est plus quand l'autre paraît. — En dehors de nous, extériorité réciproque sans succession : au dedans, succession sans extériorité réciproque. (175bc)

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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: http://www.archive.org/details/timeandfreewill00pogsgoog

Bergson, Henri. Essai sur les données immédiates de la conscience. Originally published Paris: Les Presses universitaires de France, 1888. Available online at: http://www.archive.org/details/essaisurlesdonn00berguoft

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