28 Jan 2010

Determinism's Hollow Music TF §90 To Prove Conscious States Determined, We Should Have to Show... Bergson. Time and Free Will

by Corry Shores
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Determinism's Hollow Music

Henri Bergson

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

The Organization of Conscious States; Free Will
De l'organization des états de conscience: la liberté

Part XXX: Physical Determinism

Previously Bergson noted a determinist theorem based on the law of conservation of energy. Bodies in motion are determined by forces. For a body to act freely, that would require extra energy to be added into the system, so that the body may act against the forces already acting upon it and determining its motion. But according to the law of the conservation of energy, the energy in a system stays the same. Extra energy cannot spontaneously arise. Hence there cannot be free action. Bergson will adopt this thesis, and show that still our conscious states are not determined by prior ones.

§90 To Prove Conscious States Determined, We Should Have to Show a Necessary Connexion between Them and Cerebral States. No Such Proof

Bergson will begin by assuming a theorem. Our brains are made of atoms. The atoms move according to predictable forces. Some try to conclude from this that there is no spontaneous action in our minds. Bergson claims that we cannot draw this conclusion.

The first problem is proving that a certain strictly determined psychic state corresponds to a definite cerebral state. But this has not yet been done. We normally do not require such a proof. We think that exterior influences, like a certain pitch sounding from a tympanum, mechanically cause our ear-drums to send a signal to our brains that we perceive as a note. Hence in these cases there seem to be "a fairly strict parallelism between the physiological and the psychological series" (146d).

If we were to say that all such mind-state/neural-state series are parallel, then we would be saying even before obtaining empirical evidence that there is no freedom [Bergson writes, "to extend this parallelism to the series themselves in their totality is to settle a priori the problem of freedom" (147a)]. Bergson says that many great philosophers have taken this position. However, they did not make such a claim because they believed in a strict physicalism [He writes, "it was not for reasons of a physical order that they asserted the strict correspondence between states of consciousness and modes of extension" (147a).] Leibniz thought there was a pre-established harmony between the series. But he "would never have admitted that a motion could give rise to a perception as a cause produces an effect" (147b). For Spinoza, there is one substance that is expressed through many different sorts of qualities, thought and physical extension being two of them. But a modification in thought and one in extension never influence one another; "they only express in two different languages the same eternal truth" (147bc).

However, the determinist theories of Bergson's time were not as clear and geometrically rigorous. Such determinists "point to molecular movements taking place in the brain: consciousness is supposed to arise out of these at times in some mysterious way, or rather to follow their track like the phosphorescent line which results from the rubbing of a match" (147cd). We might also imagine an actor on stage. He hits a keyboard, which itself makes no sounds. But backstage there is a musician who is playing for him. In the same way, such determinists seem to consider our consciousness to come from elsewhere and superpose upon "dumb and dark" physical states.

we are to think of an invisible musician playing behind the scenes while the actor strikes a keyboard the notes of which yield no sound: consciousness must be supposed to come from an unknown region and to be superimposed on the molecular vibrations, just as the melody is on the rhythmical movements of the actor. (147d)
Ou bien encore on songera à ce musicien invisible qui joue derrière la scène pendant que l'acteur touche un clavier dont les notes ne résonnent point : la conscience viendrait d'une région inconnue se superposer aux vibrations moléculaires, comme la mélodie aux mouvements rythmés de l'acteur. (113d).

Now, we can explain the movement of one body as resulting from other movements acting on it. But we cannot offer reasoning for how a mental state can result from a physical event. We can only find such a correlation through observation. And in fact, there have only been but a few experiments which have demonstrated such a correspondence. Also, these experiments do not involve a person exercising her will. So regardless of the metaphor we employ, we still do not prove that "psychic fact is fatally determined by the molecular movement" (148a).

Images of the pages summarized above, from the English translation [click to enlarge]:

Images of the pages summarized above, from the original French [click to enlarge]:

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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