22 Jan 2010

The Laws of Fact and the Facts of Law TF §86 For Dynamism Facts More Real Than Laws: Mechanism Reverses This Attitude. Bergson. Time and Free Will

by Corry Shores
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The Laws of Fact and the Facts of Law

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 XXIX: Dynamism and Mechanism

Previously Bergson distinguished mechanism and dynamism. We find in our world complex arrangements and rearrangements of materials. Mechanism holds that any given arrangement could not have been otherwise. It was determined to be so on account of previous states and the fixed laws that governed their rearrangement. So even if more complex forms evolve, they would still be predictable from previous states, if we had enough knowledge of these prior conditions. Dynamism starts with the idea that consciousness can produce free actions. The less consciousness is a fact, the more inertia is a factor [so the more determined laws of physics prevail].

§86 For Dynamism Facts More Real Than Laws: Mechanism Reverses This Attitude. The Idea of Spontaneity Simpler Than That of Inertia

Bergson will now show that mechanism and dynamism are based on two very different assumptions regarding the relations between laws and the facts that these laws govern.

[Consider if we saw the spontaneous creative behaviors of an artist at work. We might there regard her consciousness as acting independently of mechanistic laws]. Dynamists think they discover facts that elude the governance of laws. Hence they "set up the fact as the absolute reality, and the law as the more or less symbolical expression of this reality" (141a). Mechanists however find laws operating within those facts. For them, "it is the law which becomes the genuine reality" (141a).

Bergson will now explain why mechanism assigns a higher reality to law, while dynamism assigns higher reality to fact. It is because they define the term simplicity in different ways.

For mechanists, a principle is simple when its effects can be foreseen and even calculated. [Inertia is a principle that can be explained by laws of physics. So] under this definition of simple, inertia is seen as a simpler principle than freedom. [Also, homogeneous conditions allow for clearer analysis and prediction, hence] the homogeneous would be simpler than the heterogeneous. [A mathematical abstraction of a real physical situation will give a consistent outcome, while the actual experiment of this situation will produce a margin of error. Thus for mechanists,] the abstract is simpler than the concrete.

Dynamists however would note that we all have an immediate knowledge of our own free spontaneity. Then, we acquire the notion of inertia secondarily by defining it in terms of what we already know, our own freedom. So inertia is a derived concept, and freedom is the immediately intuitable notion from which inertia is derived. (142a) So let's see how dynamists would look at the primitive notions in mechanism (inertia, homogeneity, abstraction). The dynamist sees these ideas as really being derived from a combination of several richer notions. When combined, these notions in a sense neutralize each other "just as darkness may be produced by the interference of two lights" (141d)

But under both views, we define the inertia of matter by saying that because of inertia, matter "cannot move or stop of its own accord, that every body perseveres in the state of rest or motion so long as it is not acted upon by any force" (142a-b). We see that [because the motion of a body changes only by means of something acting upon it,] activity is inherent to the idea of inertia. [Now, if for example we like the dynamists saw concrete facts as what is simple and primary, rather than abstract laws, then we might say that nothing can predetermine the changes of those states. So we would view human action as being free and spontaneous. But if instead we prioritized abstract laws, we would say that resulting states were the necessary consequence of the laws governing the prior states. Hence under this mechanistic view we would regard human action as determined. Thus Bergson writes that] "It is therefore natural that, a priori, we should reach two opposite conceptions of human activity, according to the way in which we understand the relation between the concrete and the abstract, the simple and the complex, facts and laws" (142b).

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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