3 Jan 2010

Deep Multiplicity. TF §78. There are therefore two forms of multiplicity, of duration and conscious life. Bergson. Time and Free Will

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

[Central Entry Directory]
[Bergson, Entry Directory]
[Bergson Time and Free Will, Entry Directory]

Deep Multiplicity

Henri Bergson

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

Ch. II, "The Multiplicity of Conscious States," "The Idea of Duration"
De la multiplicité des états de conscience : l'idée
de durée

Part XXVIII: The Two Aspects of the Self
Les deux aspects de moi

Previously Bergson discussed how duration is really heterogeneous and non-spatial, even though we commonly think of time in terms of an extent, as if time spanned a sort of temporal space. We obtain this mistaken impression, because we perceive the extensive world around us. Say for example we would like to count the number of times a hammer falls upon an anvil. The strikes did not happen all at once, but we want to numerically group them together. So we form an image for each one. They each serve as a symbolic token for a different strike. Then we conceive these symbolic tokens as if they were laid out in extensive space, side-by-side. This allows us to take them all together at once and count them, even though they were not concurrent. But each strike correlates to a moment in our consciousness. So we also come to see our conscious duration as having coincided along an extent of time parallel to the symbolic hammer strikes. Yet, consider our inner experience of duration. On this deeper level, we do not experience duration as a homogeneous linear continuum. Rather, it is a continuous qualitative change. And again, it only becomes a quantitative stable homogeneity on account of our experiences with the spatialized outside world. When we dream, we lose that contact. We only experience our inner duration. Can we measure time while dreaming? In dreams, past and present do not bear their normal logical relations. So we fundamentally experience our conscious duration as a pure qualitative flux. It obtains quantitative features only secondarily. For example, when Bergson is writing intently, the bell also tolls the hour. While pausing in his work, he wonders the time. All the tolls together were combined in his inner awareness, like how the notes of a melody cohere together. He cannot count the tolls by giving them symbolic places in ideal space, because he was not observing the tolls explicitly while they rang. But he can recall the qualitative feeling he had when he heard the last toll. It felt for example, like four tolls, and not three or five. He writes: "In a word, the number of strokes was perceived as quality and not as a quantity: it is thus that duration is presented to immediate consciousness, and it retains this form so long as it does not give place to a symbolical representation derived from extensity. / Bref, le nombre des coups frappés a été perçu comme qualité, et non comme quantité ; la durée se présente ainsi à la conscience immédiate, et elle conserve cette forme tant qu'elle ne cède pas la place à une représentation symbolique, tirée de l'étendue" (128a/97b).

§78 There are therefore two forms of multiplicity, of duration and conscious life

So we have two sorts of multiplicities:
1) consciousness as a continuously heterogeneous qualitative manifold and
2) consciousness as being divided-up into symbolic tokens that correspond to extensive space.

Below homogeneous duration, which is the extensive symbol of true duration, a close psychological analysis distinguishes a duration whose heterogeneous moments permeate one another; below the numerical multiplicity of conscious states, a qualitative multiplicity; below the self with well-defined states, a self in which succeeding each other means melting into one another and forming an organic whole. (128bc)

Au-dessous delà durée homogène, symbole extensif de la durée vraie, une psychologie attentive démêle une durée dont les moments hétérogènes se pénètrent ; au-dessous de la multiplicité numérique des états conscients, une multiplicité qualitative ; au-dessous du moi aux états bien définis, un moi où succession implique fusion et organisation. (97c)

Normally we concern ourselves only with the superficial "shadow of the self projected into homogeneous space" (128c). Language, society, and our natural tendencies all influence the way we think. As a result of them, our minds tend to break things apart into identifiable pieces. But afterward we then mistake our representations for reality.

Consciousness, goaded by an insatiable desire to separate, substitutes the symbol for the reality, or perceives the reality only through the symbol. As the self thus refracted, and thereby broken to pieces, is much better adapted to the requirements of social life in general and language in particular, consciousness prefers it, and gradually loses sight of the fundamental self. (128d)

La conscience, tourmentée d'un insatiable désir de distinguer, substitue le symbole à la réalité, ou n'aperçoit la réalité qu'à travers le symbole. Comme le moi ainsi réfracté, et par là même subdivisé, se prête infiniment mieux aux exigences de la vie sociale en général et du langage en particulier, elle le préfère, et perd peu à peu de vue le moi fondamental. (97d)

[Directory of other entries in this series.]

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:


French text from:

Bergson, Henri. Essai sur les données immédiates de la conscience. Originally published Paris: Les Presses universitaires de France, 1888.

Available online at:


No comments:

Post a Comment