1 Jan 2010

The Life of Time. §79. Ch.4.One or Many Durations? Bergsonism. Deleuze

[The following summarizes parts of Deleuze's Bergsonism. My commentary is in brackets. Paragraph subheadings are my own.]

Gilles Deleuze

Le bergsonisme

Une ou plusieurs durées ?
One or Many Durations?

Bergson says that there is one universal duration. He also says that there is a plurality of durations each differing in their nature. Previously Deleuze explained how Bergson's concepts of virtuality explain why this is not a contradiction. We used two senses of the term 'virtual.' In one sense, the past is virtual, because it presents itself in the present and helps shape this present moment that it actualizes in. This virtual past might be contracted down to the present moment, like when we perform some behavior over-and-over until it becomes automatic. In this case we do not reflect on the past, although it manifests fully in our present action. Or, we might sit-back and ruminate on these past repeated behaviors. This expands the virtualities out in front of our mind's eye. The extent to which we expand or contract our virtual past helps determine the way time feels to us at that moment. Most likely your level of contraction differs right now from mine. So in one sense we might be feeling time's passing in a different way right now. Hence it is on account of this first sense of virtual that we may say there are a multiplicity of time fluxes. However, there is another sense of the term virtual at work here. Bergson says that your and my conscious durations are simultaneous only because they are taken together. And they can only be taken together by another consciousness that regards them both at the same time. Now, we can consider a network of consciousness that take their neighbors' fluxes together. So long as all of them are linked into the network, there would then be one common time flow shared by all members. But note that no flux is simultaneous with another unless some mind takes them together. That means the one universal duration is partly responsible for there being all the constituent different ones. Now we will address the other sense of the term virtual. This one duration is a multiplicity of qualitatively different fluxes (differing according to the contraction or expansion of their virtual pasts). However, as the prerequisite for the simultaneity of all the other fluxes, the universal duration is firstly unified. Only by means of a secondary mental act may we divide it up into different parts. So in the first place, for example, Achilles and the tortoise are running together in one flowing race, because there is a consciousness that in the first place conceives them as running alongside each other simultaneously. But we may secondarily consider each one's own flux individually. So the common durational flux is potentially made-up of qualitatively different parts. But because it requires a secondary act, these parts are distinctly different only virtually. After we conceive them as apart, they make-up an actual multiplicity rather than their original virtual multiplicity. So this second sense of 'virtual' refers to the primarily undifferentiated fluxes flowing together in one durational flow. And it is on account of the second sense of 'virtual' that the parts of universal duration are all together as one flow. But it was on account of the first sense of 'virtual' that we are able to secondarily divide the one flow up into many parts.

§79 The Life of Time

Deleuze will now explain how Bergson needs relativity theory to give clear demonstration to why there is one duration shared by all of us. Given what we have discussed, the unity of duration seems to be the most plausible idea. But let's see how the assumptions of relativity theory, taken strictly, make Bergson's theory compelling.

We first place our concepts into the context of relativity. [In footnote 19, or the single footnote on p.84 of the French, Deleuze cites parts of Duration and Simultaneity where Bergson lays-out the way he places his ideas into the language of relativity. The first is from §§62-63. Here Bergson speaks of two identical systems, system S and S'. They begin by overlapping each other, and they are perfectly identical to one another. Then, they break apart from each other, and move relative to each other in reciprocal motion. This means that we can say S moves away from S' just as much as S' moves always from S. The second reference is from §§81-82. In this part, Bergson explains that according to relativity, we might take either the perspective of S or of S', or even in fact some other system S''. So relativity theory would say that from the perspective of S, the time in S' has dilated without the observers in S knowing it. But relativity theory also says the inverse: from the perspective of S', the time has dilated in S. In cannot be both. But the fact that we may not say that either one is an absolute frame of reference means that they both are equally valid frames of reference. This also means then that their flows of time must coincide exactly, for otherwise we would be preferring one system over the other. Hence relativity theory demonstrates the unity of time rather than its plurality. The last reference is to §§123-125. In these passages, Bergson explains that when physicists choose one reference frame, they imagine the person in the other moving system, and then determine what their time flow must be from the physicist's perspective. But the physicist might instead consider this other observer as a conscious being who is conscious simultaneously. By doing so, he would conceive their consciousnesses as flowing simultaneously. Then, the physicist would realize that they share the same duration.]

Deleuze begins by assuming Einstein's hypothesis: systems S and S' do not share same time.
1) Even if they flowed at different speeds, the two times would differ only quantitatively. But that does not make them different in kind. [So we do not yet have grounds to say they exist separately. They could perhaps be different expressions of the same time-flow.]
2) If we take S as the system of reference, then the time of S' is slow. But if we take the perspective of S', then the time of S is slow. They cannot both be at the same faster and slower. So they both must be the same speed at the same time.

Deleuze then quotes a passage from §70. Here Bergson explains that the physicist in one system calculates a mathematical abstraction for the time of another's system. The difference in time is based on the physicist taking his own system as the reference-frame, and regarding the other system as being the one in motion. Consider if instead the physicist imagined being the observer in the other system. He would then consider his new self as being the reference-frame. Then his new self would see his original self on the previously stable system. Now from this new point of view, the transported physicist would then regard his original system as being the one in motion. And he would get the same calculations for time distortions in the other system. What we see then is that the calculations do not represent the reality of the time that flows in both systems. Rather, it is just expresses which system was taken as the reference-frame. Bergson writes [underlined is what Deleuze quotes]:

To be sure, Peter pastes a label on this time with Paul's name on it; but if he were picturing a conscious Paul, living his own duration and measuring it, he would by that very act see Paul as system of reference and therefore take his place within this single time, inside each system, to which we have just referred; by that very act, moreover, Peter would also take temporary leave of his system of reference, consequently, of his existence as a physicist, and consequently, of his consciousness as well; Peter would no longer see himself as anything but a vision of Paul's. But when Peter attributes a slowed time to Paul's system, he is no longer thinking of Paul as a physicist, nor even a conscious being. He is emptying Paul's visual image of its inner, living consciousness, retaining of the person only its outer envelope (it alone, in fact, is of interest to physics). Then, Peter takes the figures by which Paul would have designated the time intervals of his own system, were he conscious, and multiplies them by

so as to make these figures fit into a mathematical representation of the universe conceived from his own point of view and no longer from Paul's. To sum up, whereas the time attributed by Peter to his own system is a time he has lived, the time he attributes to Paul's is neither a time that either Peter or Paul has lived, nor a time that Peter conceives as lived or as capable of being lived by a living, conscious Paul. What is it, then, if not a mere mathematical expression meant to indicate that Peter's not Paul's system has been taken as the system of reference? (52b.d)

Sans doute Pierre colle sur ce Temps une étiquette au nom de Paul; mais s'il se représentait Paul conscient, vivant sa propre durée et la mesurant, par là même il verrait Paul prendre son propre système pour système de référence, et se placer alors dans ce Temps unique, intérieur à chaque système, dont nous venons déparier : par là même aussi, d'ailleurs, Pierre ferait provisoirement abandon de son système de référence, et par conséquent de son existence comme physicien, et par conséquent aussi de sa conscience ; Pierre ne se verrait plus lui-même que comme une vision de Paul. Mais quand Pierre attribue au système de Paul un Temps ralenti, il n'envisage plus dans Paul un physicien, ni même un être conscient, ni même un être : il vide de son intérieur conscient et vivant l'image visuelle de Paul, ne retenant du personnage que son enveloppe extérieure (elle seule en effet intéresse la physique) : alors, les nombres par lesquels Paul eût noté les intervalles de temps de son système s'il eût été conscient, Pierre les multiplie par

pour les faire entrer dans une représentation mathématique de l'univers prise de son point de vue à lui, et non plus de celui de Paul. Ainsi, en résumé, tandis que le temps attribué par Pierre à son propre système est le temps par lui vécu, le temps que Pierre attribue au système de Paul n'est ni le temps vécu par Pierre, ni le temps vécu par Paul, ni un temps que Pierre conçoive comme vécu ou pouvant être vécu par Paul vivant et conscient. Qu'est-il donc, sinon une simple expression mathématique destinée à marquer que ; c'est le système de Pierre, et non pas le système de Paul, qui est pris pour système de référence? (99-100)

Recall how in §50, Bergson defined time as being something that is livable or could possibly be experienced by some consciousness. If there is a time that could not possible be experienced by anyone, then it would not be a real time. What we found with Peter and Paul is that neither one could possible live the time that the other ascribes to them, because that leads to us concluding they live two times at once. But we do know that they live their own conscious durations. And these durations must be the same. Hence relativity theory demonstrates the unity of time. (84a)

In footnote 20 (the single one on p.85 of the French), Deleuze notes that we need to distinguish what Bergson means by image vs. a symbol (reference to be added later). Bergson does think it is legitimate to form an image to express the "various tensions and the relations between durations" (Deleuze 130). But this image represents something that we are living. However, the image that Peter forms for Paul's time does not represent a temporality that Paul could in fact live without also producing a contradiction. For, we saw that such an ascription of distorted time implies someone lives two different speeds of time at once. If we adhere to Bergson's terminology, we would not say that Peter forms an image of Paul's time (for that would mean to imagine his conscious experience of it as well), but instead that Peter forms a (numerical) symbol for it. Deleuze then quotes from the sixth chapter of Duration and Simultaneity (reference to be added later). Here Bergson is discussing how real physicists do not experience time and space permeating each other. It is only when a physicist imagines a fantasy observer in another system that time and space interpenetrate each other. Yet Bergson notes that the physicist does not imagine this other observer as being real (for, to do so would be to imagine someone like himself who does not experience time and space interpenetrate). Thus the imagined observer is more properly a symbol for an abstraction rather than an image of something real. Bergson writes [underlined is what Deleuze quotes]:

For this space and time which interpenetrate are not the space and time of any physicist, real or conceived as such. The real physicist makes his measurements in the system in which he finds himself, and which he immobilizes by adopting it as his system of reference; time and space there remain separate and mutually impenetrable. Space and time interpenetrate in moving systems in which the real physicist does not exist, in which there live only physicists imagined by him - imagined for the greater good of science. But these physicists are not imaged as real or able to be so; to suppose them real, to attribute a consciousness to them, would be to give; [sic] their system the status of a system of reference, to transport oneself there and become identical with them, to declare that their time and space have ceased to interpenetrate. (Bergson 119d)

Car cet Espace et ce Temps qui s'entrepénètrent ne sont l'Espace et le Temps d'aucun physicien réel ou conçu comme tel. Le physicien réel prend ses mesures dans le système où il se trouve, et qu'il immobilise en l'adoptant comme système de référence : Temps et Espace y restent distincts, impénétrables l'un à l'autre. Espace et Temps ne se pénètrent que dans les systèmes en mouvement où le physicien réel n'est pas, où n'habitent que des physiciens par lui imaginés, — imaginés pour le plus grand bien de la science. Mais ces physiciens ne sont pas imaginés comme réels ou comme pouvant l'être : les supposer réels, leur attribuer une conscience, serait ériger leur système en système de référence, se transporter là-bas soi-même et se confondre avec eux, de toute manière déclarer que leur Temps et leur Espace ont cessé de se compénétrer. (234c-235)

Bergson, Henri. Duration and Simultaneity. Ed. Robin Durie. Transl. Mark Lewis and Robin Durie. Manchester: Clinamen Press, 1999.

Bergson, Henri. Durée et simultanéité: A propos de la théorie d'Einstein. Paris: Librairie Félix Alcan, 1923. Available online at:http://www.archive.org/details/dureetsimultan00berguoft

Deleuze, Gilles. Bergsonism. Transl. Hugh Tomlinson and Barbara Habberjam. New York: Zone Books, 1991.Deleuze, Gilles.

Deleuze, Gilles. Le bergsonisme. Paris : Presses Universitaires de France, 1966.

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