19 Jan 2010

Duration and Deep Confusion. TF §79. The Two Aspects of Our Conscious States. Bergson. Time and Free Will

by Corry Shores
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Duration and Deep Confusion

Henri Bergson

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

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 explained how on the deeper level of consciousness, we experience duration as a flow of continual qualitative alteration. But for a variety of reasons, we symbolize moments of duration, then we place those symbolic tokens alongside each other for comparisons, groupings, and so forth. This makes moments that happened uniquely then become simultaneous, because their symbols are all taken together at once. We see this for example when we count the number of tolls of a bell. None of the tolls happen at the same time, so we create symbols for them, then juxtapose them all at once in order to count them. By placing the symbols alongside each other, we are regarding moments of duration as if they resided in separate places in homogeneous space. Observe for example the graphs in science with an axis that represents time and marks different events. We may see the whole axis at once, even though the events along the line occurred distinctly. Hence there are two main aspects of conscious life. There is the one that constructs homogeneous extensive time by means of symbolic representation, and there is our deep inner selfhood that experiences the pure heterogeneous flow of continuous qualitative alteration.

§79 The Two Aspects of Our Conscious States

Bergson now will explain how we may "isolate the fluid inner states from their image" so to "recover this fundamental self". We must employ "a vigorous effort of analysis" in order for "the unsophisticated consciousness" to perceive our fundamental selves. (129a)

As we noted, our inner selves experience a heterogeneous flux that is distorted through the symbolic representations we use to determine objective temporal moments. Hence, "our perceptions, sensations, emotions and ideas occur under two aspects: the one clear and precise, but impersonal; the other confused, even changing, and inexpressible, because language cannot get hold of it without arresting its mobility or fit it into its common-place forms without making it into public property" (129b).

Recall from before that we distinguished both aspects in terms of their being multiplicities. The homogeneous level is a "discrete multiplicity" / "multiplicité distincte" because in it we create distinctly different symbols for moments of our conscious duration (129c/98b). However, on the more fundamental level, the moments of duration that our consciousness experiences each 'melt' into one another. [This would be because duration is a continuous heterogeneity for Bergson. See this entry regarding Riemann's influence on Bergson's notion of multiplicity.] Hence contrary to the discrete multiplicity, duration is fundamentally experienced as a "confused multiplicity" / "multiplicité confuse" (129c/98b). On this deeper level, time is qualitative and under production. Then by means of symbolic mediation, it is projected into homogeneous space and becomes quantitative. (129bc)

[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).

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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:


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