6 Dec 2009

Minding Time.Ch. 3. Concerning the Nature of Time. Duration and Simultaneity. Henri Bergson

by Corry Shores
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[The following summarizes part of chapter 3 in Bergson'sDuration and Simultaneity. Paragraph headings are my own. My personal commentary is in brackets.]

Minding Time

Henri Bergson

Duration and Simultaneity

Ch. 3. Concerning the Nature of Time

In the first chapter Bergson discussed the relativity between a moving system and a fixed system. In the second chapter he explained how we can see all things as relative, without there being a fixed system of reference.

§34 The Melody of Time

We are discussing time. Bergson says there is a continuity to our inner life. This is duration: "That of a flow or passage, but a self-sufficient flow or passage, the flow not implying a thing that flows, and the passing not presupposing states through which we pass; the thing and the state are only artificially taken snapshots of the transition; and this transition, all that is naturally experienced, is duration itself" (30b) [For example, see Bergson's Time and Free Will, in particular, §7 and §8 among others]. Bergson claims that time is "at first identical" with this duration.

He says duration is a form of memory. Such memories are not things that are separable from what they remember. They retain the past, but they are not distinct from it. Rather, "it is a memory within change itself, a memory that prolongs the before into the after, keeping them from being mere snapshots and appearing and disappearing in a present ceaselessly reborn" (30bc). [See this entry on Bergson's contraction and crystallization of the past and present]. Bergson says that we feel this pure passing of duration when focusing on a melody: "A melody to which we listen with our eyes closed, heeding it alone, comes close to coinciding with this time which is the very fluidity of our inner life; but it still has too many qualities, too much definition, and we must first efface the difference among the sounds, then do away with the distinctive features of sound itself, retaining of it only the continuation of what precedes into what follows and the uninterrupted transition, multiplicity without divisibility and succession without separation, in order finally to rediscover basic time. Such is immediately perceived duration, without which we would have no idea of time" (30cd).

§35 Duration & Universal Consciousness

So we experience this sort of inner time. But things external to us also have a temporality. Now consider when we perceive the physical world. On the one hand, this perception is an internal state of consciousness. But on the other hand, the perception seems to make contact with the world outside us, on "a surface film of matter in which perceiver and perceived coincide" (30-31). So there are moments in our inner lives. And there are moments in the world around us. For each inner moment there would then correspond a respective moment in "all environing matter that is 'simultaneous' with it; this matter then seems to participate in our conscious duration" (31a). We thus extend to the whole physical world this duration we experience inside us. The whole universe seems to have a duration. [And because duration is a product of consciousness,] "Thus is born the idea of a duration of the universe, that is to say, of an impersonal consciousness that is the link among all individual consciousness, as between these consciousnesses and the rest of nature" (31a.b). This universal consciousness would be able to grasp "in a single, instantaneous perception, multiple events lying at different points in space; simultaneity would be precisely the possibility of two or more events entering within a single, instantaneous perception" (31b).

Bergson will now evaluate this belief.

We feel:
a) our consciousness enduring
b) our perception being a part of consciousness, and
c) "something of our body and environing matter enters into our perception." (31bc)

We experience our inner duration participate in the world around us. But we do not know the nature of this participation. [Recall one of Bergson's pendulum examples in Time and Free Will §68. Our minds experience the inter-permeation of moments of consciousness. Outside our minds is a swinging pendulum. It is never in more than one place at once. So duration causes it to change each instant, giving it a different physical place from moment-to-moment. Our perception of these placements corresponds to moments of our inner duration. The pendulum's placements mark physically different locations in space. We then use these physically-separate locations to mark places in our mental durations, which indicate the extensive time that intervenes between them. Yet really, there is no spatial extension to inner time.] Of course it is possible for example for different living beings to experience duration in another way. So there could perhaps also be a multiplicity of durations in the physical universe as well. But Bergson says given the knowledge we have now, he would favor the theory that "physical time is one and universal" (31-32). From this we conclude: "All human consciousnesses are of like nature, perceive in the same way, keep in step, as it were, and live the same duration" (32a italics mine). However, we can still imagine there being many human consciousnesses scattered throughout the whole universe. Yet, their conscious experiences may still be linked, even if at the outer fringes. And hence "Through this connecting link, then, they are reunited in a single experience, unfolding in a single duration which will be, at will, that of either of the two consciousnesses" (32b). Hence all consciousnesses taken together can be said to experience an "impersonal time in which all things pass" (32bc). So we see that we may begin with our own consciousness. Then we imagine it extending further towards other consciousness with their own experiences of duration. But as we continue to extend it, we find "the singleness of an impersonal time" (32d). Bergson believes this also to be what Einstein has in mind: "We maintain that it could as readily be considered Einstein's and that the theory of relativity was, if anything, meant to bear out the idea of a time common to all things" (32d italics mine). Bergson will devote much of this text to showing why this is so. Yet Bergson is making another point now. He wants to say that "we cannot speak of a reality that endures without inserting consciousness into it" (33a italics mine). Mathematicians might not be interested with the nature of time. They merely want to measure it.

However, suppose they begin to wonder what exactly it is they are measuring. They will find that it is succession. That means, there is a before and an after. And more importantly, there would need to be a bridge between the before and the after; for "otherwise, there would be only one of the two, a mere snapshot" (33a). But, Bergson continues, "it is impossible to imagine or conceive a connecting link between the before and after without an element of memory and, consequently, of consciousness" (33b italics and boldface mine).

§36 Time is Mind

Bergson notes that to ascribe consciousness to objects seems like we are merely projecting a property of humanity upon things that do not naturally share that attribute. But Bergson will show that no transition of instants can occur without memory, no matter how near to each other these instants are. "Without an elementary memory that connects the two moments, there will be only one or the other, consequently a single instance, no before or after, no succession, no time. We can bestow upon this memory just what is needed to make the connection; it will be, if we like, this very connection, a mere continuing of the before into the immediate after with a perpetually renewed forgetfulness of what is not the immediately prior moment. We shall nonetheless have introduced memory" (33c). [In this sense, the world for Bergson is not mens momentanea]. Bergson says that we cannot distinguish
1) real perceived lived time vs. duration,
2) duration vs. the "continuation of what no longer exists into what does exist,"
3) this continuation vs. memory.
Hence time is always memory; "it is impossible to distinguish between the duration, however short it may be, that separates two instants and a memory that connects them, because duration is essentially a continuation of what no longer exists into what does exist. This is real time, perceived and lived. This is also any conceived time, because we cannot conceive a time without imagining it as perceived and lived. Duration therefore implies consciousness; and we place consciousness at the heart of things for the very reason that we credit them with a time that endures" (33d emphasis mine).

§37 Cutting the Folds of Time

We might conceive this enduring time as within us or instead as being outside us. Now, consider if we wanted to measure something. We will need to superpose one duration upon another, to see which one is larger. But different successive durations cannot be concurrent: "the one no longer exists when the other appears" (34a). Hence we cannot measure time. Also, such a measurement involves that we make definitive breaks or divisions in the flow of time. But just listen to a melody, without thinking about its representation on paper. We experience an unbroken flow: "Listen to a melody with your eyes closed, thinking of it alone, no longer juxtaposed on paper or an imaginary keyboard notes which you thus preserved one for the other, which then agreed to become simultaneous and renounced their fluid continuity in time to congeal in space; you will rediscover, undivided and indivisible, the melody or portion of the melody that you will have replaced within pure duration" (34ab).

It is true that while listening to the melody, our attention might avert somewhere else. Does that mean the duration was divided? Recall Bergson's example of the shooting star [see §69 and §121 of Time and Free Will]. Imagine you see its flash zip through the dark night-sky. It seems for an instant like a line, as if its beginning point and end point were simultaneous at least for an instant. Then he has us close our eyes, and dart our eyes just as if we were seeing a shooting star. We then do not see a line that we could divide. Instead, we have a sensation of motion that is indivisible. Bergson writes that when we try to cut duration, "it is as if we suddenly passed a blade through a flame — divide only the space it occupied. When we witness a very rapid motion, like that of a shooting star, we quite clearly distinguish its fiery line divisible at will, from the indivisibly mobility that it subtends; it is this mobility that is pure duration" (34bc). So really when we think of extensive time, as science does, we are fabricating an abstraction. "Impersonal and universal time, if it exists, is in vain endlessly prolonged from past to future; it is all of a piece; the parts we single out in it are merely those of a space that delineates its track and becomes its equivalent in our eyes; we are dividing the unfolded, not the unfolding" (34c).

Consider how Deleuze describes this in his Cours Vincennes Spinoza lecture from 20-01-1981.

can consider psychic states as close together as you want in time, you can consider the state A and the state A'‚ as separated by a minute, but just as well by a second, by a thousandth of a second, that is you can make more and more cuts, increasingly tight, increasingly close to one another. You may well go to the infinite, says Bergson, in your decomposition of time, by establishing cuts with increasing rapidity, but you will only ever reach states. And he adds that the states are always of space. The cuts are always spatial. And you will have brought your cuts together very well, you will let something necessarily escape, it is the passage from one cut to another, however small it may be. Now, what does he call duration, at its simplest? It is the passage from one cut to another, it is the passage from one state to another.

For this reason, Deleuze says that duration in a way is always "behind our backs." For, it is "between two blinks of the eye."

If you want an approximation of duration: I look at someone, I look at someone, duration is neither here nor there. Duration is: what has happened between the two? Even if I would have gone as quickly as I would like, duration goes even more quickly, by definition, as if it was affected by a variable coefficient of speed: as quickly as I go, my duration goes more quickly. However quickly I pass from one state to another, the passage is irreducible to the two states.
Bergson now wonders how it is that we fabricate extensive divisible time on the basis of our experience of indivisible duration. He puts the question in these terms: "How do we first pass from the unfolding to the unfolded, from pure duration to measurable time?" (34).

§38 Duration Unfolding

[Recall again Bergson's shooting star example in Time and Free Will §69 and §121. We had a sensation of motion as our eyes darted from one place to another. And it seemed to form a lasting line. But really, we cannot divide the continuous motion, because it partakes of heterogeneous duration. We mistakenly think so because we consider the line it seems to draw as lying in homogeneous divisible space].

To understand the difference between "the unfolding to the unfolded" and between "pure duration to measurable time," Bergson has us imagine we glide our finger across a sheet of paper. Although, as we do so, we keep our eyes shut. While performing this action, we "perceive from within, a continuity of consciousness, something of my own flow, in a word, duration" (34d). When we open our eyes, we see that our finger traces a line that is preserved on the paper "where all is juxtaposition and no longer succession" (34d).

So this is how Bergson illustrates the "unfolded:" The drawn line is spatially-homogeneous. Its various points are juxtaposed simultaneously. The line is divisible and measurable. When we divide and measure the drawn line, we in a way are also dividing and measuring the duration of the motion used to trace that line. Hence we measure time by means of motion, which serves as the intermediary: we do not measure time itself, but rather the motion that was made by means of a duration. [Consider how we think of time in terms of the movement of the watch-hands, which serve as the intermediary for how we measure time]. But this motion in the line example was a movement our bodies made. Because they are muscular sensations, they are a part of our conscious life. And hence they endure; they partake of our conscious duration. But also, we perceive them visually. So the motions "describe a trajectory, they claim a space" (35a). Hence these intermediary motions have a dual character.

Bergson now has us consider a creature that cannot perform muscular movements. He only has visual functioning. We also said that we need the sensation of motion to serve us in measuring duration. So can the seeing-but-unmoving creature measure time? For it to do so, it in the first place would need to perceive a motion outside of it that is unending [enduring like that of consciousness]. Recall also how we can separate the sensation of motion from the motion that draws the line. This creature would also need "to be able to extract from the motion perceived in space and sharing the divisibility of its trajectory, the 'pure mobility,' the uninterrupted solidarity of the before and after that is given in consciousness as an indivisible fact" (35ab). "Such a consciousness," he continues, "would have a continuity of life constituted by the uninterrupted sensation of an external, endlessly unfolding mobility" (35b).

The interrupted solidarity of movement is the unfolding, which is duration. Without this unfolding, we would only have space. And it would strip the lines in space of their durational motion, which means the lines would no longer represent time. (35b)

§39 Walking Duration

We just looked at an instance where we trace a motion, like a line on paper, and that serves us in measuring the duration inherent to the movement. We could also assume this, that we are always tracing such an uninterrupted motion in space. We always have, from birth, and we always will, until death. For example, we might be walking day and night, somehow. The whole journey would be "coextensive with our conscious life. Our entire history would then unfold in a measurable time" (35c).

§40 Earth's Rotation: Body of Duration

Recall how we sometimes refer to an impersonal time. If we trace an unbroken duration in space, as in the walking example above, that could be like an impersonal time. But there is more to the reality of the world then what we experience. There are other people and things in the world with their own durational experiences. So on the one hand, we could consider just our own duration as we individually and personally experience it. Or we might consider our own experience of duration along with another person's experience of duration. If one duration can take the place of another, then we are considering them as being contemporaneous. Bergson now distinguishes contemporaneous and simultaneous flows. Contemporaneous flows can be considered as one, two, or both, depending on how we divide or unify our attention to them. This is because we can substitute one duration for the other. They are both equal (somehow), like two peoples' durations. Simultaneous flows are originally grasped as one flow, and they may be differentiated afterward. They are not united because one can take the place of the other. Rather, they are together, because we originally apprehend them together. Bergson writes: "I call two flows 'contemporaneous' when they are equally one or two for my consciousness, the latter perceiving them together as a single flowing if it sees fit to engage in an undivided act of attention, and, on the other hand, separating them throughout if it prefers to divide its attention between them, even doing both at one and the same time if it decides to divide its attention and yet not cut it in two. I call two instantaneous perceptions 'simultaneous' that are apprehended in one and the same mental act, the attention here again being able to make one or two out of them at will." (35d)

[Because we see that time unfolds contemporaneously among different people], we regard the 'unfolding of time' as a motion that is independent of the movements our own body makes. Instead society places it in the motion of the earth. Nonetheless, time has its durational character for us only because we experience it originally in our own bodies. Bergson writes that if we accept the earth's rotation as the common source of duration, "and if we understand it as time and not just space, it is because a journey of our own body is always virtual in it, and could have been for us the unfolding of time" (36a).

§41 The Cosmic Computation of Universal Unwinding

So we have socially placed the recording mechanism of time outside our own bodies. "Thenceforth, time will seem to us like the unwinding of a thread, that is, like the journey of the mobile entrusted with computing it. We shall say that we have measured the time of this unwinding and, consequently, that of the universal unwinding as well" (36a).

§42 Our Mind is the Third Flow: The Flow of All Flows

So we view there being something like an unwinding of the cosmic thread. Also, we seem to think that an actual moment is like the tip of the thread. But both of these things involve us presuming a concept of simultaneity. Later we will examine simultaneity in Einstein's theory. For now we will clarify its psychological origin. Those who theorize about relativity speak of simultaneity as involving two instants. But there is a more intuitive sort of simultaneity, the simultaneity of two flows. We said before that we may divide our attention without splitting it up. So we may consider two flows as being either together or apart. But this involves a third party, our awareness which flows as well, and which flowingly regards the other exterior ones independently or unitedly. Simultaneity, then, is grounded on the third flow of a consciousness that apprehends other flows in one flowing act of awareness.

When we are seated on the bank of a river, the flowing of the water, the gliding of a boat or the flight of a bird, the ceaseless murmur in our life's deeps are for us three separate things or only one, as we choose. We can interiorize the whole, dealing with a single perception that carries along the three flows, mingled, in its course; or we can leave the first two outside and then divide our attention between the inner and the outer; or, better yet, we can do both at one and the same time, our attention uniting and yet differentiating the three flows, thanks to its singular privilege of being one and several. Such is our primary idea of simultaneity. We therefore call two external flows that occupy the same duration 'simultaneous' because they both depend upon the duration of a like third, our own; this duration is ours only when our consciousness is concerned with us alone, but it becomes equally their when our attention embraces the three flows of a single indivisible act. (36c.d, italics above are mine)

§43 The Recipe for Instantaneity

So let's continue with this idea of the simultaneity of flows. If we begin with such a perspective, we will not arrive upon the idea of the simultaneity of two instants. This is because real duration has no instants (36d). Yet, we also noted that we convert time into space. When we do so, we naturally form the idea of instants and their simultaneity. Bergson reasons why. A line terminates in a point. We will say that the line corresponds to a duration. Just as the line terminates at a point, the duration terminates at an instant. Hence an instant is an "extremity of duration" that "would terminate duration if the latter came to halt" (37). However, duration never comes to a halt. Real time does not have instants. We only have the spatial equivalent, the point, but there is nothing analogous in duration. However, [science still deals with a spatialized time with points of instantaneity. These would only have geometrical meaning, if it were not for duration supplying a means to ascribe to them at least a quasi-temporal meaning]. Hence there are two aspects to instantaneity:

1) duration, which is the continuity of real time, and
2) spatialized time, which is a line described by a motion that symbolizes time.

Now, lines have the geometrical feature of being divisible into non-extending points. We sometimes ascribe this feature to the time-flow that the line represents. So we come to think of there being non-temporally-extending instants of duration. We have the tendency "to make the trajectory coincide with the journey, and then to decompose the motion over the line as we decompose the line itself; if it has suited us to single out points on the line, these points will then become 'positions' of the moving body (as if the latter, moving, could ever coincide with something at rest, as if it would not thus stop moving at once!). Then, having dotted the path of motion with positions, that is, with the extremities of the subdivisions of the line, we have them correspond to 'instants' of the continuity of the motion mere virtual stops, purely mental views" (37b.c). The human mind naturally makes this translation: "Its recipe is deposited in the language" (37c).

§44 Simultaneous Simultaneities

So we have discussed two sorts of simultaneity:

1) simultaneity of flow, and
2) simultaneity of instants.

Bergson explained that they are distinct yet complementary things. Recall these continuities:

a) the continuity of our inner life,
b) the continuity of a voluntary motion which our mind indefinitely prolongs, and
c) the continuity of any motion through space.

We considered these three continuities as interchangeable. But this is only possible if we first suppose the simultaneity of flow. [If we did not assume that there are simultaneous flows, we would not be able to say that the flow of our consciousness can correspond to motional flow through space.] Hence without flow-simultaneity, real duration and spatialized time could not be correlated. Also, we would have no way to correlate one person's duration with another person's. Hence, without flow simultaneity, also there would only be each one's own duration (37d). However, we also compute time durations. We do so by

I) noting the simultaneity of a phenomenon with a clock moment, then
II) note those instances when these clocked moments correspond with an action made in our duration, namely, the act of consciously pointing to the clocked moment. When we point to that moment, we create a moment of conscious duration.

[Consider for example Einstein's definition of simultaneous events: "We have to take into account that all our judgments in which time plays a part are always judgments ofsimultaneous events. If, for instance, I say, "That train arrives here at 7 o'clock," I mean something like this: "The pointing of the small hand of my watch to 7 and the arrival of the train are simultaneous events" (Einstein The Principle of Relativity 39, qtd. in Mook & Vargish 56bc).]

Because we need the simultaneity of the phenomenon with the clock motion, we see that we also need the simultaneity of the instant to compute spatialized durations. But without our conscious duration, the spatialized time-points would have no connection to flowing temporality. They would be temporally meaningless, at best just geometrical observations. "It is therefore the simultaneity between two instants of two motions outside of us that enables us to measure time; but it is the simultaneity of these moments with moments pricked by them along our inner duration that makes this measurement one of time" (38a emphasis mine).

§45 Relating Bergson's Theory to Relativity

We above distinguished two types of 'simultaneities of the instant.' Yet, neither of these is a simultaneity that we find in relativity theory, which is the simultaneity between two separated clocks. Relativity theory cannot work just with the two simultaneities we gave above. It needs a third one. Bergson will now show "how the readings of two separated clocks C and C', synchronized and showing the same time, are or are not simultaneous according to one's point of view" (38bc). Suppose that there is an event E. It occurs beside clock C. Let's think first of the psychological sense of the simultaneity between mental flows and exterior motions. Let's also assume that there is an event E' alongside clock C'. Now, if there is no one to read the clocks, then there is no comparison to be made between them. Hence the first simultaneity that we must admit is the simultaneity between mental duration and exterior events. "For if we did not begin by admitting a simultaneity of this kind, one which is absolute and has nothing to do with the synchronizing of clocks, the clocks would serve no purpose. They would be bits of machinery with which we would amuse ourselves by comparing them with one another; they would not be employed in classifying events; in short, they would exist for their own sake and not serve us. They would lose their raison d'être for the theoretician of relativity as for everyone else, for he too calls them in only to designate the time of an event" (38d). We would say that two flows occurring near each other can be simultaneous. Up until recently, we would also say that two flows separated by a distance would be simultaneous as well. We imagine "a consciousness coextensive with the universe, capable of embracing the two events in a unique and instantaneous perception" (38d).

Bergson will grant something now to the scientist. Let's think of a clock that is right near the event. But for a microbe, the clock is incredibly far away from the event. So what we consider an absolute simultaneity is for the microbe a relative one. If all sizes are relative, then, there would seem never to be an absolute simultaneity. Nonetheless, Bergson says we should grant this theoretical possibility in the first place so that the theory may unfold, and after which it will allow us to understand these other situations.

Bergson now returns to his two propositions:
1) the simultaneities between two exterior motions allows us to measure intervals of time, and
2) the simultaneity of these motions with ones "dotted" along our inner duration is what makes this measurement a temporal one. (40a)

§46 The Mind of Motion

Consider how the simultaneity of the watch hand with the markings on the dial allows us to measure time. Hence we primarily measure space and not time when measuring spatialized time. Space is always the intermediary that allows us to measure time. The watch markings are spaced equally apart. We count the time by counting the spaces. Hence "As many simultaneities as we shall have established, so many units of time shall we record for the duration of the phenomenon. Measuring time consists therefore in counting simultaneities" (30b emphasis mine). Science deals with each simultaneity that marks an extremity of a duration. However, it does not deal with the duration itself that transpires in the meantime. "It may indefinitely increase the number of extremities, indefinitely narrow the intervals; but always the interval escapes it, shows it only its extremities" (40c emphasis mine). [For more see §72 of Time and Free Will. Also see the above reference to Deleuze's Cours Vincennes Spinoza lecture, 20-01-1981].

Now let's suppose that all the motions exterior to us accelerate. This would include the hands of the watch. So we would have no objective means to determine the acceleration. However, we would internally notice that we were receiving less somehow. We need there to be a spectator whose durational consciousness sets a standard for the temporal nature of motion. "If every motion in the universe was to accelerate in proportion, including the one that serves as the measure of time, something would change for a consciousness not bound up with intracerebral molecular motions; it would not receive the same enrichment between sunup and sundown; it would therefore detect a change; in fact, the hypothesis of a simultaneous acceleration of every motion in the universe makes sense only if we imagine a spectator-consciousness whose completely qualitative duration admits of a more or a less without being thereby accessible to measurement" (40d). Such changes only exist when there is a consciousness that may compare its inner flow to the flows of exterior things. From a purely objective scientific view, nothing would change. In fact, the universe could go at infinite speed, with everything happening in a 'stroke,' and "nothing would have changed in the eyes of science. Its formulae and calculations would remain what they were" (41a). [Also see how Bergson explains this in §§37-38 of Creative Evolution].

§47 Scientific Time Does Not Endure

Bergson evokes §68 of Time and Free Will. He explained there that the pendulum is never in two places at once. But we consider the successive positions of the pendulum to fall along a spatialized homogeneous extent of time. This time is really space, we noted. Hence we attribute to space a fourth spatial dimension, which is homogeneous time. "Only this fourth dimension allows us to juxtapose what is given as succession: without it, we would have no room" (41b). This extra dimension allows us to plot two moments of the pendulum's swinging on the same line. Then both events will be there before us represented at the same time. In a sense, we render the two successive events into a simultaneous form by attributing this fourth spatial dimension to space itself. We may consider the two events as simultaneous, but also consider how once they are placed on the line, they are thought to remain there all while time continually extends the line further outward. So this fourth dimension of space also makes successive events eternal as well as simultaneous (41b). This would hold no matter if we think the universe has no dimensions, one, two, or three.

1) No dimension. The universe is a single point. This point however changes qualities. And we can imagine the succession of quality-changes becoming infinite so that they are all given at once, so long as we first give it a line along which all its time-points may be juxtaposed.

2) One dimension. The universe is a line. There are qualities along that line. We need another dimension that allows us to juxtapose one part of the line next to another part. This next dimension would be spatial.

3) Two dimensions. The universe is a surface. We will need another dimension to pile the surfaces up.

When the successions go at infinite speed, they all coincide at once. This requires that we place them along another spatial dimension that can be contracted in this way. What then would be a process of unfolding would instead become an unfolded state.

Science as we noted counts simultaneities but neglects intervals. For that reason, all the moments contract together into infinite time. This is "virtually conferring an additional dimension upon space" (41d). This is why science cannot account for the speed of time's unfolding.

§48 Simultaneity as Instantaneity

Hence "Immanent in our measurement of time, therefore, is the tendency to empty its content into a space of four dimensions in which past, present, and future are juxtaposed or superimposed for all eternity" (42a). We just are not able to measure time any other way. "These simultaneities are instantaneities; they do not partake of the nature of real time; they do not endure" (42a emphasis mine). A simultaneity is just a mental view that inserts virtual stops into conscious duration and real motion. We use the mathematical point to do so, and we carry it out from its place in space and insert it into time.

§49 Bridge of Times

So when science deals with time, it really attains only to space. Yet, our consciousness has an inner duration. Our minds move from this to an undivided motion that is bound-up with that duration. This motion draws spatial lines that we then use to measure duration. Then, we may use these spatial indicators to refer us back to the duration which lies at the heart of real time. In this way, consciousness "infuses living duration into a time dried up as space" (42b). We use the simultaneity of flows between our consciousness and exterior motions to make the passage between homogeneous and real time.

§50 We Never Experience Abstract Time,
So Let's Not Get Too Excited About it

Some take a different view. They think that duration exists already in this homogeneous form. And our conscious duration is merely an imperfect means of perceiving this ultimate time. If it our time-perception were more capable, it could see into the future. This view takes the future to already be constituted. Everything in a sense is always eternally there; "it is we who are passing when we say time passes; it is the motion before our eyes which, moment by moment, actualizes a complete history given virtually" (43b). This is the "metaphysic immanent in the spatial representation of time" (43bc). Bergson sees things differently. The universe does not have a preset future. This is because there is real duration, and not a pre-extending dimension of time. "We have explained elsewhere why we see in duration the very stuff of our existence and of all things, and why, in our eyes, the universe is a continuity of creation" (43c). It is much like Whitehead's "advance of Nature." Bergson wants to stick to experience primarily, rather than begin with theory and metaphysical constructions. "Real duration is experienced; we learn that time unfolds and, moreover, we are unable to measure it without converting it into space and without assuming all we know of it to be unfolded" (43d). So whenever we give even the least bit of spatiality to duration, we have already extended it throughout eternity. Because we cannot see into the future, we then wrongly consider "duration a pure negation, a 'deprivation of eternity'" (43d). This then brings us back to the Platonic theory. However, note that we cannot limit our spatial representation of time to just the past. It always extends into the future. But we cannot see into the future. Maybe it really is not determined. So we extend time into the future as though the future were preconstituted. This could be erroneous, because we do not know for sure if the future in fact is already determined. And we can be certain that this homogeneous extension of time is a mental construction. To avoid error and misrepresentation, Bergson advises us to remain with experience, namely, our inner experience of duration (44a).

§51 The Mind of Science

These conditions would hold if there was creative evolution. For this, two conditions must hold:

1) time is not empty space but rather is full of heterogeneous differences [Bergson writes specifically: "time has a positive reality"], and

2) at each instant, the whole of the past in virtual form is crystallized with an undetermined future ["the delay of duration at instantaneity represents a certain hesitation or indetermination inherent in a certain part of things which holds all the rest suspended with it" (44a).

When we suppose these things, we still can see how duration might translate into spatialized time. [We just do not see how spatialized time can translate into duration]. We can even see how real duration might come to be represented in Einstein's or Minkowski's space-time. However, this renders time into space. The time axis is just another extending spatial dimension. Time flow, however, is not spatial, but durational. Given that these abstractions of time mischaracterize it, Bergson suggests we begin instead with our actual experience of time. Bergson asks, "how can a physicist wholly reject inner experience if he operates with perceptions and, therefore, with the data of consciousness?" (44c emphasis mine). Science firstly accepts the "testimony of the senses" which is as well the testimony of consciousness. This allows us to identify elements so to obtain "terms" and their relations. From these relations they deduce laws and principles, and treat the original terms as non-existent. Doing this supposes a metaphysical perspective that takes the relations between perceived things to be what is more physically primary. Hence "this is a metaphysic grafted upon science, it is not science" (44d). But note also that we perceive the terms and relations simultaneously together in a continual flow of consciousness. It is only afterward in an act of mental abstraction that we separate the two. Yet, the flow is really the "only immediate datum of experience" (44d).

§52 Relating Real Time to Relativity

Bergson has made his point. For duration to have the character of succession, it must be a full conscious experience of a heterogeneous flow. When we remove the heterogeneous contents of duration, so to constitute a homogeneous extensive time, we are dealing no more with succession but rather with juxtaposition. We might call this time, but it is not experienced time. It is instead "a symbolic and conventional time, an auxiliary magnitude introduced with a view to calculating real magnitudes" (44-45). There has been much difficulty in determining the philosophical meaning in Einstein's relativity theory. The reason for this might lie in the fact that when we try to understand relativity, we do not first take into account this more primary form of time. Many respond to Einstein's multiple times by saying they are no more than mathematical entities. Yet there are others who think that our reality is reflected in these mathematical abstractions. They think then that "Minkowski's and Einstein's space-time is reality itself, that all of Einstein's times are equally real, as much and perhaps more so than the time that flows along with us" (45b). Bergson does not think that Einstein's theory expresses all of the reality of time. But it does express some of its reality. It begins with a real time, then it applies formulae to produce another different time that is no less real. These formulae are perhaps merely "mathematical artifices" (45b). Yet they must bear some connection to the way things actually are. Bergson is trying to examine the relativity theory and see what parts of it reflect the reality of time, and which other parts are merely conventional mathematical apparatuses used to help us arrive at time's reality.

§53 A Real Time Shared by Philosophy and Science

Bergson will speak of the real. If we tried to define reality, that would necessarily place us in some philosophical school, some shade of realism and idealism. We also would need to distinguish what is real for philosophy as opposed to the real in science. For philosophy, the real is "the concrete, all charged with quality." But science "extracts or abstracts a certain aspect of things and retains only size or relation among sizes" (45cd). Bergson says we will concern ourselves primarily with just one reality: time. And we will only regard time using notions that can be acceptable to both philosophers and scientists. We will also not begin with ideas of time that are already put forth in philosophy and science.

§54 Conception of Succession

Everyone will agree on this aspect of time: there is a before and an after. Time is succession. But this means there must be some form of consciousness; "we have just shown that where there is not some memory, some consciousness, real or virtual, established or imagined, actually present or ideally introduced, there cannot before and an after; there is one or the other, not both; and both are needed to constitute time" (45-46 boldface mine). Thus, to distinguish a real from an imaginary time, we merely need to find-out if we can be conscious of the object in question.

Note how scientists will make something like color objectively determinable. First they personally perceive the color. Then they find some measurable property that gives it its color [the light-wave's frequency for example]. Afterward, they forget about their perception of the color as red, and consider red to be that measurable quantity itself. So scientists strip the experience from the property. But if they strip the experience of time from time itself, nothing durational remains; "what will be left of time if you take succession out of it? And what is left of succession if you remove even the possibility of perceiving a before and an after?" (46b). It is just a geometrical line, a mere conventional representation: "a line can be called time only when the juxtaposition it affords is convertible into succession; other wise you are arbitrarily and conventionally giving that line the name of time" (46).

Now let's consider two things.

1) Let's say we begin talking about a time that cannot "be perceived by a consciousness, either real or imaginary" (46c). But time we said is succession, which means that a consciousness with memory would need to be able to perceive it, for it to have a durational character.
2) Relativity theory does refer to an experienceable time. But it also makes use of times that if they were perceived, their measure would change. So these theoretical times must not be perceptible in order for them to exist.

Hence we see then that relativity speaks of times that we might say are not real, because they admit of no conscious experience which would endow them with the character of succession. Bergson will soon explain why the physicist still calls this time.

Some confuse the non-perceptible time from the kind that consciousness concretely experiences. This leads to paradoxes that make relativity seem untenable.

Bergson suggests that we consider real only what has "the property of being perceived or perceptible" (46d). It is possible that some real things may not have this property. But time we will treat as something that must be perceptible. (46d)

Bergson, Henri. Duration and Simultaneity. Ed. Robin Durie. Transl. Mark Lewis and Robin Durie. Manchester: Clinamen Press, 1999. The original French version is available online at: http://www.archive.org/details/dureetsimultan00berguoft

Deleuze, Gilles. "Cours Vincennes: 20/01/1981". webdeleuze.com. The lecture is available here:French and English.

Mook, Delo E. & Thomas Vargish. Inside Relativity. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1987.

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