14 Feb 2010

The Science of Determination TF§94 The Idea of the Universality of Conservation Depends on Confusion... Bergson Time and Free Will

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

The Science of Determination

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 discussed the irreversibility of biological processes, especially consciousness, and he noted that the law of the conservation of energy can only describe reversible processes. Also, the law of energy conservation is the support for deterministic theories of the mind. Because the law would not apply to such irreversible processes as consciousness, that also suggests our minds might be free.

§94 The Idea of the Universality of Conservation Depends on Confusion Between Concrete Duration and Abstract Time

So the law of energy conservation is misapplied to psychological states. Bergson claims that to universalize this law is a psychological mistake rather than a 'wish to meet the requirements of positive science' (154a). Consider how we experience duration internally. And while experiencing duration, we observe things outside seem to undergo duration as well. As a result, we "are led to believe that real duration, the duration lived by consciousness, is the same as the duration which glides over the inert atoms without penetrating and altering them" (154b). And thus, we come to think that the same reversibility we ascribe to atomic motions also applies to our minds. We might as well assume then that if the same causes influenced someone's mental states, the same effects would result. Later Bergson will show this hypothesis is meaningless to begin with. For now he observes that to take-up this position is to universalize the law of the conservation of energy. Note that this universalization involves that we no longer distinguish the outer world of physical events and the inner life of our minds, even though this is already a fundamental distinction we need to make in the first place. And thus just as we think time contributes neither gain nor loss to the world around us (on account of its reversibility), so too we might universalize this principle and think that it makes no addition or subtraction to our mental lives.

Right now we can only wonder if the law of conservation applies to conscious states. Some day we might find evidence. But for now, we go too far to extend the law to mental life. Scientific investigation alone does not lead us to this conclusion. It is rather the result of taking-up a particular metaphysical stance regarding mind, time, and reality. Those who adopt this position suppose it first, and then await the evidence of psychological facts that might suggest otherwise. [In a sense, what we are doing is first assuming that mental states are determined. We also know intuitively that our minds undergo duration. We then extend the mind's temporality to the spatial world around us, and as well attribute our assumed determinism to the world around us also. So,] this involves we confuse lived concrete duration with the abstract spatialized time as it is represented in the sciences. And, we may reduce the supposed physical determinism to a psychological determinism, which Bergson will now examine.

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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