1 Jan 2013

Pt2.Ch3.Sb3 Somers-Hall’s Hegel, Deleuze, and the Critique of Representation. ‘Bergson’s Method of Intuition.’ summary

Corry Shores
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[Note: All boldface and underlining is my own. It is intended for skimming purposes. Bracketed comments are also my own explanations or interpretations.]


Henry Somers-Hall


Hegel, Deleuze, and the Critique of Representation.

Dialectics of Negation and Difference


Part 2: Responses to Representation

Chapter 3: Bergsonism

Subdivision 3: Bergson’s Method of Intuition

Very, very brief summary:

Bergson’s method of intuition uncovers a multiplicity that is continuously-integrated and heterogeneous. It is based on mental duration, but it applies to biological processes like embryonic development.

Very brief summary:

Bergson’s method of intuition uncovers mismatches between the world and our knowledge of it, on the basis of our intuitions of duration. In the first phase, we sense something missing in a theory. In the second, we put aside our assumptions to determine the problem and offer an alternative. This method leads us to describe the duration of our mental life as being continuously self-integrated and heterogeneous rather than made of discrete atomic parts. It is based on Riemann multiplicities, and it applies to processes in the world as well. As an embryo develops, it generates new surfaces with topological properties not implied in prior surfaces.

Brief Summary:

Bergson’s method of intuition uncovers the mismatch between our world and our knowledge of it (primarily with regard to the concept of duration) and it has two stages. In the first part, we sense something inadequate about a theory without knowing explicitly what the problem is. In the second part, we put aside our assumptions to arrive at a more adequate theory. For example, Russell's theory of time sees only static states and not the durational character of change, and so our method leads us to a conception of a heterogeneous continuous time. We come upon an atomic discrete view of mental states when we misapply a homogeneous view of time upon our mental life. Einstein's Riemann-inspired theory of space rejects the Euclidean assumption that the metric of space is consistent throughout. So Bergson's space/duration dichotomy as well presents two models of multiplicity. The first kind is a multiplicity of externally relatable atomic parts. The other kind, based on duration, is a continuous manifold of heterogeneous parts, such that division produces two new entities rather than two parts of the same thing. Such of concept of duration applies not just to mental states but also to developmental process as well, for example embryonic development. Here surfaces transform into new surfaces that are completely unlike prior ones. Each surface change creates a new region with its own topological properties. We cannot on the basis of the parts given predict how they will develop, because that development is not implied in the motions of the parts like in systems of inert bodies. So they are like Riemann space. Living systems show a reverse trend than the second law of thermodynamics calls for, because rather than moving toward symmetry and homogeneity, biological systems under genesis move toward greater complexity, heterogeneity, and self-differentiation. Such multiplicities are nonatomistic, process based, heterogeneous, continuous, and involve  a non-external temporality.


Previously we examined Bergson’s concept of homogenous space as the medium for any sort of discrete thing (either physical or conceptual) to take up external relations with other discrete things. This could perhaps characterize Kant’s a priori space, but it more importantly characterizes Kant’s ‘I think’ which is the homogeneous medium (as it is always the same self) by which mental representations are regarded as atomic and take on external relations by means of the synthetic activity of the I.

Now we turn to Bergson’s method of intuition, which uncovers the mismatch between the world and our knowledge of it. It is “the name of a two-stage process whereby a particular conceptual scheme is at first recognized to be inadequate and then effectively bracketed in order to return to an understanding of the phenomenon itself (for Bergson, the phenomenon of duration).” (78) But this method presupposes duration, so we are already acquainted with what we are examining. To see why this is not paradoxical, we consider again Aristotle’s and Russell’s theories. In their systems, Deleuze finds points of catastrophe where their logical schema break down. For example these systems break down when dealing with the highest and lowest parts of the hierarchies. [In phenomenology, we are intentionally aware of objects. The object is transcendent to our consciousness. If phenomenology will study the givenness of the object, then an ego apart from that object would regard there being many different acts of awareness of it by the same ego. So this fragments consciousness. However, the object itself gives itself in continuous time as already self-unified. Our egos then are derived from this unity. So the unified ego is not transcendent from consciousness but rather immanent to it, as a byproduct of it.] Deleuze also recall the breakdown Sartre uncovers in “Sartre's argument that the transcendental ego in fact leads to the fragmentation of consciousness.” (79) Now also recall Russell’s portrayal of time. He says we can only speak of the states of something at times one, two, etc. Time is the difference between them. Russell’s theory is consistent. But the first half of the method of intuition discovers that something is missing from this representation of time. Russell does not explain the actual movement of time, its durational character. In the next part of the method of intuition, we give content to the intuition that something is wrong or missing in an idea. To do this, we “make a strenuous effort to put aside some of the artificial schemata we impose unknowingly between reality and ourselves. What is required is that we should break with certain habits of thinking and perceiving which have become natural to us.’ ” (citing Capek. 79) Russell holds that Zeno’s arrow does not move. This is counter-intuitive, which leads to us being able to think outside the conceptual scheme that leads to this conclusion. So we do presuppose an idea of duration, but only one that provides the opening and motivation for a more rigorous account, so this presupposition is not viciously circular.

So we will look now at Bergson’s critique of the mechanistic model of space and time. For Bergson, our thoughts are not discrete entities but rather form a fluid organic whole. We come upon an atomistic view of thought when we misapply a physical model of space to consciousness. While seeing thought this way is useful, it prevents us from a true understanding of mental phenomena. Einstein then discovers a sort of space that resembles how Bergson sees our mind. Because it is a case of reality conforming to our mind, it is reverse of Spencer’s theory that our mind gradually comes closer to reality. Displacement of bodies now does affect their size and shape, and “Einstein's general theory of relativity reduces spatial entities to convolutions of space itself” (80) At the astronomical scale, “both internally and externally, the model of a homogeneous space central to both the models of Russell and to Kant breaks down.” (80) Einstein rejects a Newtonian model of space, and with that he rejects a Euclidean model of multiplicities.

For Bergson, what is at issue is not the nature of Einsteinian space, but instead the understanding of the relation between entities, which becomes radically transformed be tween an ontology that is based on | a Euclidean notion of multiplicity (Newton) and one that instead relies on Riemannian multiplicities (Einstein). (80-81) What is important Bergson in Riemannian geometry is “new possibilities of thought that are opened up by the new multiplicities.” (81)

With differential calculus, “the possibility of a new way of thinking of motion that is now opened up outside of the field of mathematics itself.” (81)

Deleuze’s renewed Bergsonism recognizes two concepts of multiplicity. This first kind is the spatial sort of externally related atomic parts. The other kind of multiplicity is grounded in the idea of duration. But first consider Aristotle’s and Russell’s spatialized conceptions of time, where time is broken down to parts that can no longer be divided. These parts are states of change. But time then is what happens between the states, so the states in a way are outside of time. Bergson’s duration, however, cannot be broken down into stable states, because it is thoroughly continuous.

If we take a quantity of inert matter, we can, on the classical model, break it down through a process of division until we reach a point at which no further division is possible. This is equivalent to the methods of logical analysis of Russell or Descartes. Given the fact that we have reached the simplest elements, we can now define change in the state of the original matter through displacement or the alteration of the external relations between these parts. Through this method of analysis, however, the state of the system remains, in a sense, outside of time: "A group of elements which has gone through a state can therefore always find its way back to that state, if not by itself, at least by means of an external cause able to restore everything to its place" (CE, 8). Such a concept of space also implies a parallel concept of time, | one that, as well as being in principle absolutely reversible, is also absolutely without duration. The concept of time is abstract, reduced to another dimension of space, so that we can conceive of time passing at whatever rate we fancy, in that it merely provides another axis along which events happen. In contradistinction to this conception, Bergson turns to systems that have a different kind of organization. "If I want to mix a glass of sugar and water, I must, willy nilly, wait until the sugar melts" (CE, 9). In this case, the time of the situation is not felt in the manner of an additional axis to the normal dimensions of space. Instead, my own reaction to the situation, my impatience, opens out onto a conception of time that holds out to me the experience of duration. The situation endures for me. Such a state does not have the same analytic structure. That it cannot be measured or broken down in the same way as the prior conception implies that a different form of metric is at work, and with this comes a conception of continuity opposed to the Russellian idea put forward in the last chapter. (81-82)

Čapek notes five main consequences in this move away from atomistic time.
[1] Processes are no longer viewed as having clearly defined elements external to one another.

[2] Processes can no longer ever be seen as complete.

For Bergson, the completion of a phenomenon can only make sense within the world of discrete objects and states. If a state is defined by discrete components, then there can also be no novelty, merely rearrangements of preexisting entities. Given a continuous becoming, novelty is a constant feature. If we consider a musical tone as reducible to a composite of discrete temporal intervals, then we are just presented with a brute repetition. If we see it as unfolding within time, each 'instant' will be different from the last, in that it will carry this past with it. (82)

[3] Time becomes heterogeneous. Changes in the durational qualities of the event, like Deleuze’s suggestion that we stir Bergson’s sugar water, create a new event, not the same event at a different speed.

[4] Because duration is heterogeneous, if we divide the event, we change the nature of that event [we obtain two new events rather than two halves of the first event].

[5] Time is no longer seen as a container in which events happen, so it is unlike the Newtonian model of time. Duration is just the unfolding of events itself.

The spatial concept of time is suited to systems containing just inert matter, and the durational conception of time applies to consciousness. Nonetheless, duration for Bergson is something that goes beyond consciousness and in fact applies to the world.

Consider for example the second law of thermodynamics. "the entropy of an isolated system not at equilibrium will tend to increase over time, approaching a maximum value ." (83) Somers-Hall illustrates it this way.

The law can be illustrated by the example of a room containing two gasses, for example, nitrogen and oxygen, each separated from the other by a central barrier. We can see such a system as presenting a high level of order, as each segment of the room contains just one kind of molecule. When the barrier between the two sections is removed, the free movement of molecules from one section to the other leads to a gradual mixing of the elements. Eventually, the system will reach a point of equilibrium, where the mixture of the molecules is relatively complete, meaning that the gas in the room has become homogenous. We can further represent this process as an increase in the symmetry of the system. The initial state of the system, differentiated into two defined areas, has a low level of symmetry, whereas, when the gas becomes mixed and reaches its equilibrium point, the amount of symmetry within the system has increased. (83)

However, in living systems we see the reverse trend. Instead of tending toward symmetry, they undergo differentiations. Hence a simple egg becomes a “manifoldly complex organism.” (83) But the second law does not contradict the formation of order, because order can result for example if it is added from outside the system. Bergson has an example where what seems like a dissipation is itself productive of new systematic processes and structures.

This is indeed Bergson's view of life: "Let us imagine a vessel full of steam at a high pressure, and here and there in its sides a crack through which the steam is escaping in a jet. The steam thrown into the air is nearly all condensed into little drops which fall back, and this condensation and fall represent a loss of something, an interruption, a deficit. But a small part of the jet of steam subsists, uncon- | densed, for some seconds; it is making an effort to raise drops which are falling; it succeeds at most in retarding their fall" (CE, 247). [83-84]

But this system can can be explained using the spatialized conception of time. Its events are determined, so it does not “exhibit the kind of novel creation of new forms that was one of the main characteristics of our second kind of multiplicity” (84). But consider instead the example of the egg. As this system changes, it undergoes radical alterations, differentiations, and emergences in its surfaces. [Because each surface change in embryonic development creates a new region with its own topological properties, it is like Riemannian multiplicity. We cannot on the basis of the parts given predict how they will develop, because that development is not implied in the motions of the parts like in systems of inert bodies.]

Returning to a more complicated system, the egg, we find, following Deleuze, "that the division of an egg into parts is secondary in relation to more significant morphogenetic movements: the augmentation of free surfaces, stretching of cellular layers, invagination by folding, regional displacement of groups" (DR, 214) . In this case, what is required is not a metric understanding of the space, but a topological understanding. What underlies the development of the embryo is not the arrangement of different molecules, but rather the folding of planes. While this can always be understood as the interaction of elements within a three dimensional Euclidean space, what such an approach cannot grasp is the fact that the motions that occur in the development of the embryo are not reliant on precise metric relations between discrete elements, but instead on relations of stretching and folding of a surface. While the mathematics of topology, which uses continuous rather than discrete functions, has been immensely successful in our understanding of the development of living systems, what is important is not the actual models themselves, but rather the fact that thinking in terms of Riemannian multiplicities, which underlie the topological approach, captures the sense of the transformations of the embryo in a way not possible through a metric analysis. What is of key importance in understanding these systems is therefore their process of generation, as it shows itself through this series of transformations. The embryo cannot be understood through the parts, but rather it must be seen through the process by which it has developed. "Take a division into 24 cellular elements endowed with similar characteristics: nothing yet tells us the dynamic process by which it was obtained--2 x 12, (2 x 2) + (2 x 10) , or (2 x 4) + (2 x 8) . . ." (DR, 216). In this case, therefore, the model of the mechanistic multiplicity has broken down. (84)

Also consider plant leaf generation. It “cannot be explained by a preestablished plan present within the genetic material of the plant. Instead we have a complex interaction of dynamic processes between the cells within the tip of the branches and the surface of the tip itself.” (84) In addition, “much modern work in embryology argues that many of the important processes in embryo development are the result of processes relying on differential speeds of development. The duration of the events is thus integral to their development.” (85)

Recall the previous five characteristics of Bergson’s new sort of multiplicity. We see that topological embrionic development expresses these characteristics. “It is nonatomistic, process based, heterogeneous, continuous, and also as the development of the organism takes place at a rate given by the differential relations of the various processes that form it, it no longer treats time as external.” (85) We would understand these phenomena using homogenous space and metrics, but this for Bergson imposes on them a logic not inherent to the nature of their workings. Because Hegel’s philosophy of productive contradiction also overcomes the limitations of static conceptions, we leave open questions regarding the relations between Bergson and Hegel. We now look more closely at Bergson’s two sorts of multiplicity.

Somers-Hall, Henry (2012) Hegel, Deleuze, and the Critique of Representation. Dialectics of Negation and Difference. Albany: SUNY.

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