27 Jan 2010

Molecular Determinism. TF §88 Physical Determinism Stated in the Language of the Molecular Theory of Matter. 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]

[The following is summary; my commentary is in brackets.]

Molecular Determinism

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 summed-up the determinist theses. Our current states are necessitated by prior ones. And freedom is incompatible with the physical principle of the conservation of energy [we will soon see why]. Bergson then listed the points he will cover in the next sections.

§88 Physical Determinism Stated in the Language of the Molecular Theory of Matter

Bergson addresses physical determinism as it was conceived most currently in his time. This form of determinism is closely related to mechanical/kinetic theories of matter. Under this view, the universe is understood as a 'heap of matter.' Our imagination sees matter as made up of molecules and atoms. These particles move unceasingly, either by vibrating or moving from place-to-place. We then reduce a whole host of other phenomena to the molecular motion: physical phenomena, chemical action, matter's perceivable qualities, heat, sound, electricity and [magnetic or gravitational] attraction. Our body's organs are made of matter. So our nervous system is made of particles that obey the same laws as do the particles of all other material things (143d). We can then understand our mental states in terms of the brain's molecular state. The brain on the molecular level is "modified by the shocks which the nervous system receives from the surrounding matter" (143-144). We experience our sensations, feelings and ideas succeeding one another. So we may define these internal states as being what results mechanically from "the compounding of shocks received from without with the previous movements of the atoms of the nervous substance" (144a). [Note: Deleuze uses similar terms to describe sensation. 'the body without organs is flesh and nerve; a wave flows through it and traces levels upon it; a sensation is produced when the wave encounters the forces acting on the body, an "affective athleticism," a scream-breath' (Deleuze Logic of Sensation 2003 p.33b). While the idea of the internal/external encounter seem to be similar, for Deleuze the waves and forces change unpredictably.] There is however the opposite process: the molecules might behave in such a way as to produce a nervous reflex. These some people consider to be free and voluntary actions.

Bergson now references in a footnote Lange's History of Materialism. [See this entry for a more detailed explanation.] Lange considers the mechanistic view that regards the mind as being no more than the dynamics of its constitutent atoms. Because atoms of all materials are subject to deterministic laws of motion in this form of mechanism, its proponents believe that if we knew all the forces moving the brain's atoms, we could predict our coming thoughts and actions. It would be like how astronomers predict the motion of heavenly bodies. So, if our thoughts are reducible to our brain's atomic motions, then a free (undetermined) thought would require that some of the brain's molecules move spontaneously. But consider what would be required for one of the atoms to move spontaneously. There are already forces acting upon it and determining its motion. For it to work against these forces, it would require extra energy. So new energy would have to arise in the dynamics of our brain's molecular system. However, according to the law of the conservation of energy, there cannot be any more or less energy in a closed system than was already there to begin with. So those who uphold this atomic neural mechanist theory would say that on account of the law of the conservation of energy, there cannot be any free action. Bergson writes:

As, moreover, the principle of the conservation of energy has been assumed to admit of no exception, there is not an atom, either in the nervous system or in the whole of the universe, whose position is not determined by the sum of the mechanical actions which the other atoms exert upon it. And the mathematician who knew the position of the molecules or atoms of a human organism at a given moment, as well as the position and motion of all the atoms in the universe capable of influencing it, could calculate with unfailing certainty the past, present and future actions of the person to whom this organism belongs, just as one predicts an astronomical phenomenon. [ft1: On this point see Lange, History of Materialism, Vol. ii, Part ii.] (Bergson 144b.c/d, emphasis mine)

Comme d'ailleurs le principe de la conservation de l'énergie a été supposé inflexible, il n'y a point d'atome, ni dans le système nerveux ni dans l'immensité de l'univers, dont la position ne soit déterminée par la somme des actions mécaniques que les autres atomes exercent sur lui. Et le mathématicien qui connaîtrait la position des molécules ou atomes d'un organisme humain à un moment donné, ainsi que la position et le mouvement de tous les atomes de l'univers capables de l'influencer, calculerait avec une précision infaillible les actions passées, présentes et futures de la personne à qui cet organisme appartient, comme on prédit un phénomène astronomique. [ftI: Voir à ce propos Lange, Histoire du matérialisme, trad. française, tome II, 2e partie.] (110c.d/d, emphasis mine)

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

Deleuze, Gilles. Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation. Transl. Daniel W. Smith. London/New York: Continuum, 2003.

No comments:

Post a Comment