22 May 2017

Bergson (4.4) Creative Evolution, “Form and Becoming [Part 1: Reification of the flux]”, summary


by Corry Shores


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[The following is summary. Boldface in quotation and bracketed commentary are my own. Proofreading is incomplete, so please forgive my typos. Citations give the pages for the 1941 French edition first; then the 1922 English; and finally the 1998 English. Or they will indicate the publication’s date before the page number. Paragraph and section divisions follow those in the French edition.]



Summary of


Henri Bergson


L’évolution creatrice

Creative Evolution



Le mécanisme cinématographique de la pensée et l'illusion mécanistique. — Coup d'oeil sur l'histoire des systèmes. — Le devenir réel et le faux évolutionisme.

The cinématographical mechanism of thought and the mechanistic illusion – A glance at the history of systems – Real becoming and false evolutionism



Le devenir et la forme

Form and Becoming

[Part 1: Reification of the flux]




Brief summary:

We want to understand reality, which is in flux. Our consciousness is also in a durational flux, and it is somehow bound up with the durational flux of reality. So we will look at this flux of our consciousness. What we find is that in spite of this flux, our minds for certain purposes fabricate fixities, which misleads us to think that these reifications correspond to reality. For instance, our own physical motions are complex and under continuous variation. But when for example we lift our arm, we ignore all its component motions and attend primarily to the completed phase of the motion, corresponding to the purpose of the action. So we see our actions as involving leaps from one outcome to the next, when really there is a continuous flux of motional variation. And in order for our motions to be made with some assurance that they will obtain some outcome, we need to think of the material world, which is really in flux, as having certain stable states that the movements are trying to attain to. So just as we (erroneously) see our movements as going from act-to-act, we likewise (erroneously) regard the material world as going from state-to-state. Since our perceptions are coordinated with our motor movements in our actions, it should be no surprise that we perceive such fixities when really there is only flux. There are three sorts of movement or variation that our perception reifies. {1} Qualitative variation. The qualities that we perceive are varying each moment. But we come to see discrete qualities changing discontinuously from one to the next. We do this by condensing blocks of qualitative variability where the amount of variation is more or less negligible. {2} Evolutionary movement. Because things undergo constant qualitative variation, there are no inherent forms to things. We fabricate forms by selecting snapshot impressions from the flux and seeing them as presenting a phase of stability and thus a form. And when a succession of such snapshots shows a negligible amount of formal variation, we average out the differences so to fabricate our notion of the thing’s essence or of the substantial thing itself. {3} Extensive motion.  We reify simple movements by thinking of them in terms of their direction, which fixes their trajectory. If the motion is more complex, we think of it in terms of its overall purpose or expected outcome, which also reifies it. To these three types of change there correspond three sorts of representations {a} qualities, {b} forms of essences, and {c} acts. And to these types of representations correspond three grammatical categories: {i} adjectives, {ii} substantives, and {iii} verbs.








[As duration is inherent to consciousness, we cannot grasp duration from the outside but rather immediately using intuition.]


Bergson then wonders if we ever really think true duration (1941: 298; 1922: 315; 1998: 299). [The idea here seems to be the following. Duration is inherent to our consciousness. We use our consciousness to understand things. But since our consciousness is durational, we cannot have our consciousness approach duration as from outside it. Rather we need to grasp it immediately through a sort of intuitional mode of awareness.]

Mais pensons-nous jamais la vraie durée ? Ici encore une prise de posses­sion directe sera nécessaire. On ne rejoindra pas la durée par un détour : il faut s'installer en elle d'emblée. C'est ce que l'intelligence refuse le plus souvent de faire, habituée qu'elle est à penser le mouvant par l'intermédiaire de l'immo­bile.

(1941: 298. Copied from UQAC)


But do we ever think true duration? Here again a direct taking possession is necessary. It is no use trying to approach duration: we must install ourselves within it straight away. This is what the intellect generally refuses to do, accustomed as it is to think the moving by means of the unmovable.

(1922: 315; 1998: 299. Copied from Project Gutenberg)




[When we commit an action, like raising our arm, we do not think of the many complex muscle contractions involved. Rather, we have an idea of the outcome, and we mostly ignore the other motions, filling a gap between the initiation and completion of the action. We mentally go from one idea for an action-end to other, which seems like we make leaps between fixed positions, when really there is a continuity.]


When we take actions, we are interested in the end we are trying to accomplish. We then are fixated on this outcome, and we give less attention to “the movements constituting the action” (298-299; 315; 299). [These actions somehow involve an idea, which might be the idea of the outcome, or maybe it is the idea of the action itself. I am not sure. But this notion of idea is important, because Bergson begins this paragraph by saying, “The function of the intellect is to preside over actions.”] Bergson gives an example: we lift our arm. There are a number of muscle contractions involved. But do we conceive each and every one? No. We instead have a more general idea of where the arm needs to go, and some other part of our mind or body fills in the gaps in that conception. Bergson then notes how these ends are points of rest [coming at the end of a complex series of motions], and thus the intellect conceives them as such. And our mind turns us from one action-end to the next, putting aside the intervening motions. It thus seems like “our activity is carried by a series of leaps”.

Le rôle de l'intelligence est, en effet, de présider à des actions. Or, dans l'action, c'est le résultat qui nous intéresse ; les moyens importent peu pourvu que le but soit atteint. De là vient que nous nous tendons tout entiers sur la fin à réaliser, nous fiant le plus souvent à elle pour que, d'idée, elle devienne acte. Et de là vient aussi que le terme où notre activité se reposera est seul repré­senté explicitement à notre esprit : les mouvements constitutifs | de l'action même ou échappent à notre conscience ou ne lui arrivent que confusément. Considérons un acte très simple comme celui de lever le bras. Où en serions-nous, si nous avions a imaginer par avance toutes les contractions et tensions élémentaires qu'il implique, ou même à les percevoir, une a une, pendant qu'elles s'accomplissent ? L'esprit se transporte tout de suite au but, c'est-à-dire à la vision schématique et simplifiée de l'acte suppose accompli. Alors, si aucune représentation antagoniste ne neutralise l'effet de la première, d'eux-mêmes les mouvements appropriés viennent remplir le schéma, aspirés, en quelque sorte, par le vide de ses interstices. L'intelligence ne représente donc à l'activité que des buts à atteindre, c'est-à-dire des points de repos. Et, d'un but atteint à un autre but atteint, d'un repos à un repos, notre activité se trans­porte par une série de bonds, pendant lesquels notre conscience se détourne le plus possible du mouvement s'accomplissant pour ne regarder que l'image anticipée du mouvement accompli.

(1941: 298|299. Copied from UQAC)


The function of the intellect is to preside over actions. Now, in action, it is the result that interests us; the means matter little provided the end is attained. Thence it comes that we are altogether bent on the end to be realized, generally trusting ourselves to it in order that the idea may become an act; and thence it comes also that only the goal where our activity will rest is pictured explicitly to our mind: the movements constituting the action itself either elude our consciousness or reach it only confusedly. Let us consider a very simple act, like that of lifting the arm. Where should we be if we had to imagine beforehand all the elementary contractions and tensions this act | involves, or even to perceive them, one by one, as they are accomplished? But the mind is carried immediately to the end, that is to say, to the schematic and simplified vision of the act supposed accomplished. Then, if no antagonistic idea neutralizes the effect of the first idea, the appropriate movements come of themselves to fill out the plan, drawn in some way by the void of its gaps. The intellect, then, only represents to the activity ends to attain, that is to say, points of rest. And, from one end attained to another end attained, from one rest to another rest, our activity is carried by a series of leaps, during || which our consciousness is turned away as much as possible from the movement going on, to regard only the anticipated image of the movement accomplished.

(1922: 315|316; 1998: 299||300. Copied from Project Gutenberg)





[In order for us to trust that the ends of our actions would correspond to a state of affairs in the world that is related to the purpose of that action, we need to assume that corresponding to the fixed positions of motion (at their completion) are fixed situations or states in the world. We thus see material reality as passing from state-to-state in conjunction with our activities leaping from act-to-act.]


[Bergson’s next idea is difficult but very interesting. It might be something like the following. We raise our arm to accomplish something, like raising a drink to our mouth. If we did not assume that the drink would have a certain set of fixed properties, which we crave or need in order to drink it, then we would not have initiated the action in the first place. Instead, we must assume that the world around us finds itself in fixed states or situations, and these follow one after another. I am not sure how this might work in the drink example. I have the sense Bergson would not be referring here to the drink being the same at both the initiation and completion of the action. From what is written, it would seem instead that the states are different in each case. So perhaps we assume that the drink will go from one spatial position to another, ignoring the positions between that do not concern us for the end we have in mind. He ends by questioning if this is how matter really presents itself.]

Or, pour qu'elle se représente, immobile, le résultat de l'acte qui s'accom­plit, il faut que l'intelligence aperçoive, immobile aussi, le milieu où ce résul­tat s'encadre. Notre activité est insérée dans le monde matériel. Si la matière nous apparaissait comme un perpétuel écoulement, à aucune de nos actions nous n'assignerions un terme. Nous sentirions chacune d'elles se dissoudre au fur et à mesure de son accomplissement, et nous n'anticiperions pas sur un avenir toujours fuyant. Pour que notre activité saute d'un acte à un acte, il faut que la matière passe d'un état à un état, car c'est seulement dans un état du monde matériel que l'action peut insérer un résultat et par conséquent s'accomplir. Mais est-ce bien ainsi que se présente la matière ?

(1941: 299. Copied from UQAC)


Now, in order that it may represent as unmovable the result of the act which is being accomplished, the intellect must perceive, as also unmovable, the surroundings in which this result is being framed. Our activity is fitted into the material world. If matter appeared to us as a perpetual flowing, we should assign no termination to any of our actions. We should feel each of them dissolve as fast as it was accomplished, and we should not anticipate an ever-fleeting future. In order that our activity may leap from an act to an act, it is necessary that matter should pass from a state to a state, for it is only into a state of the material world that action can fit a result, so as to be accomplished. But is it thus that matter presents itself?

(1922: 316; 1998: 300. Copied from Project Gutenberg)





[When committing actions, our perception is coordinated with our motor movements. Just as our motor movements are concerned primarily with fixed ends, our perception is concerned with fixed states.]


[I may be mistaken about the next idea, but maybe it is the following. Our sensory organs and perceptual organs are coordinated, especially in committing actions, where we need the sensory information to guide the motor movements. Now, since our motor movements are concerned with fixed ends, our perceptions are as well. What Bergson says is a bit different, however: “if our activity always aims at a result into which it is momentarily fitted, our perception must retain of the material world, at every moment, only a state in which it is provisionally placed”. I am not sure what is meant by “provisionally [provisoirement] placed”. Is he saying that we need only attend to the states at the initiation of the action? At its completion? At moments between?]

A priori, on peut présumer que notre perception s'arrange pour prendre la matière de ce biais. Organes senso-| riels et organes moteurs sont en effet coordonnés les uns aux autres. Or, les premiers symbolisent notre faculté de percevoir, comme les seconds notre faculté d'agir. L'organisme nous révèle ainsi, sous une forme visible et tangible, l'accord parfait de la perception et de l'action. Si donc notre activité vise toujours un résultat où momentanément elle s'insère, notre perception ne doit guère retenir du monde matériel, à tout instant, qu'un état où provisoirement elle se pose. Telle est l'hypothèse qui se présente à l'esprit. Il est aisé de voir que l'expérience la confirme.

(1941: 299|300. Copied from UQAC)


A priori we may presume that our perception manages to apprehend matter with this bias. Sensory organs and motor organs are in fact coördinated with each other. Now, the first symbolize our faculty of perceiving, as the second our faculty of acting. The | organism thus evidences, in a visible and tangible form, the perfect accord of perception and action. So if our activity always aims at a result into which it is momentarily fitted, our perception must retain of the material world, at every moment, only a state in which it is provisionally placed. This is the most natural hypothesis. And it is easy to see that experience confirms it.

(1922: 316|317; 1998: 300. Copied from Project Gutenberg)




[Our perception fundamentally is of a total qualitative flux. But we condense temporal blocks of qualitative variability into what we regard as stable qualitative states, although in reality none exist.]


Bergson now goes into more detail regarding our perception. He says that we initially distinguish qualities. And each quality gives way to another of the same kind: “Color succeeds to color, sound to sound, resistance to resistance, etc.” Each such quality appears to persist as it is until another variation supplants it. But if we really analyze each quality, we see that it is complex and under variation each moment: “Yet each of these qualities resolves itself, on analysis, into an enormous number of elementary movements. Whether we see in it vibrations or whether we represent it in any other way, one fact is certain, it is that every quality is change.” [Perhaps still we want to think there is some constancy involved, like that of the substrate whose qualities are varying. He says this is always done provisionally. I might be missing some of the point here. But the basic idea seems to be that] no matter how brief a moment we consider, the thing is under variation as is our perception of it. Thus we never arrive at self-same things or stable qualities. These stabilities are fabricated by condensing the variability. He then says that the more an animal species has the power of acting, the more elementary variations it is able to condense into one instant of consciousness. [It seems the implication here is that animals with less power to direct their actions live more in the flux of reality’s and perception’s variability. This seems similar to the discussion of affection and zones of indetermination in Matter and Memory.]

Dès le premier coup d’œil jeté sur le monde, avant même que nous y délimitions des corps, nous y distinguons des qualités. Une couleur succède à une couleur, un son à un son, une résistance à une résistance, etc. Chacune de ces qualités, prise à part, est un état qui semble persister tel quel, immobile, en attendant qu'un autre le remplace. Pourtant chacune de ces qualités se résout, à l'analyse, en un nombre énorme de mouvements élémentaires. Qu'on y voie des vibrations ou qu'on se la représente de toute autre manière, un fait est certain, c'est que toute qualité est changement. En vain d'ailleurs on cherche ici, sous le changement, la chose qui change ; c'est toujours provisoirement, et pour satisfaire notre imagination, que nous attachons le mouvement à un mobile. Le mobile fuit sans cesse sous le regard de la science; celle-ci n'a jamais affaire qu'à de la mobilité. En la plus petite fraction perceptible de se­conde, dans la perception quasi instantanée d'une qualité sensible, ce peu­vent être des trillions d'oscillations qui se répètent : la permanence d'une qualité sensible consiste en cette répétition de mouvements, comme de palpi­tations successives est faite la persistance de la vie. La première fonction de la per­ception est précisément de saisir une série de changements élémentaires sous forme de qualité ou d'état simple, par un travail de condensation. Plus grande est la force d'agir | départie à une espèce animale, plus nombreux, sans doute, sont les changements élémentaires que sa faculté de percevoir con­centre en un de ses instants. Et le progrès doit être continu, dans la nature, depuis les êtres qui vibrent presque à l'unissons des oscillations éthérées jusqu'à ceux qui immobilisent des trillions de ces oscillations dans la plus courte de leurs perceptions simples. Les premiers ne sentent guère que des mouvements, les derniers perçoivent de la qualité. Les premiers sont tout près de se laisser prendre dans l'engrenage des choses ; les autres réagissent, et la tension de leur faculté d'agir est sans doute proportionnelle à la concentration de leur faculté de percevoir. Le progrès se continue jusque dans l'humanité même. On est d'autant plus « homme d'action » qu'on sait embrasser d'un coup d'a-il un plus grand nombre d'événements : c'est la même raison qui fait qu'on perçoit des événements successifs un à un et qu'on se laisse conduire par eux, ou qu'on les saisit en bloc et qu'on les domine. En résumé, les qualités de la matière sont autant de vues stables que nous prenons sur son instabilité.

(1941: 300|301. Copied from UQAC)


From our first glance at the world, before we even make our bodies in it, we distinguish qualities. Color succeeds to color, sound to sound, resistance to resistance, etc. Each of these qualities, taken separately, is a state that seems to persist as such, immovable until an [300||301] other replaces it. Yet each of these qualities resolves itself, on analysis, into an enormous number of elementary movements. Whether we see in it vibrations or whether we represent it in any other way, one fact is certain, it is that every quality is change. In vain, moreover, shall we seek beneath the change the thing which changes: it is always provisionally, and in order to satisfy our imagination, that we attach the movement to a mobile. The mobile flies for ever before the pursuit of science, which is concerned with mobility alone. In the smallest discernible fraction of a second, in the almost instantaneous perception of a sensible quality, there may be trillions of oscillations which repeat themselves. The permanence of a sensible quality consists in this repetition of movements, as the persistence of life consists in a series of palpitations. The primal function of perception is precisely to grasp a series of elementary changes under the form of a quality or of a simple state, by a work of condensation. The greater the power of acting bestowed upon an animal species, the more numerous, probably, are the ele- | mentary changes that its faculty of perceiving concentrates into one of its instants. And the progress must be continuous, in nature, from the beings that vibrate almost in unison with the oscillations of the ether, up to those that embrace trillions of these oscillations in the shortest of their simple perceptions. The first feel hardly anything but movements; the others perceive quality. The first are almost caught up in the running-gear of things; the others react, and the tension of their faculty of acting is probably proportional to the concentration of their faculty of perceiving. The progress goes on even in humanity itself. A man is so much the more a "man of action" as he can embrace in a glance a greater number of events: he who perceives successive events one by one will allow himself [301||302] to be led by them; he who grasps them as a whole will dominate them. In short, the qualities of matter are so many stable views that we take of its instability.

(1922: 317|318; 1998: 300||302. Copied from Project Gutenberg)





[The things we perceive undergo constant qualitative variation. It is so thoroughgoing that there are really no forms to things. We fabricate forms by regarding instantaneous snapshot images as presenting a stability in the continuous variation. And when a succession of such snapshots shows a negligible amount of variation, we average out the differences so to fabricate our notion of the thing’s essence or of the substantial thing itself.]


[Bergson will now claim that the bodies we sense have boundaries that are under continual variation. It seems the boundaries are not just spatial boundaries but are also perhaps the set of qualities (in their particularity) that a thing has at some moment. He then says that the body is pre-eminently the living body. I am not sure here if he means one’s own body or any living body, including all animal life and maybe plant life too. Let us assume it is our own body, and perhaps we extend this notion to other sorts of bodies too. He might be saying that we regard our own body as a relatively closed system, and it is in accordance with our bodies needs that we regard their being other relatively self-enclosed bodies in the world, including perhaps physical objects. I am not sure at this point if by body he means human organic body or any object, but my sense is that with the next points, we are to think of any object, because later he speaks of things. His point seems to be that fundamentally all bodies are under continuous variation at all times. But in our perception of other bodies, we chunk off blocks of variation. This is done when a certain quality or set of qualities varies past a certain threshold that we find it useful to regard the form of the thing as changing. But in reality all forms at all times are under deformation or transformation. As such, we could say that there is no form really, as the change is too continual to identify any substantial formations. What we mistakenly consider real forms are snapshots of transitions. [The next idea might be the following: And when there is negligible difference between successive snapshots, we in a sense average out the differences, and regard the smaller variations as changes to a more stable form. This averaged or mean of the variations we consider to be the thing’s essence or even the substantial thing itself.]

Maintenant, dans la continuité des qualités sensibles nous délimitons des corps. Chacun de ces corps change, en réalité, à tout moment. D'abord, il se résout en un groupe de qualités, et toute qualité, disions-nous, consiste en une succession de mouvements élémentaires. Mais, même si l'on envisage la qualité comme un état stable, le corps est encore instable en ce qu'il change de qualités sans cesse. Le corps par excellence, celui que nous sommes le mieux fondés à isoler dans la continuité de la matière, parce qu'il constitue un systè­me relativement clos, est le corps vivant; c'est d'ailleurs pour lui que nous découpons les autres dans le tout. Or, la vie est une évolution. Nous concen­trons une période de cette évolution en une vue stable que nous appelons une forme, et, quand le changement est devenu assez considérable pour vaincre | l'heureuse inertie de notre perception, nous disons que le corps a changé de forme. Mais, en réalité, le corps change de forme à tout instant. Ou plutôt il n'y a pas de forme, puisque la forme est de l'immobile et que la réalité est mouvement. Ce qui est réel, c'est le changement continuel de forme : la forme n'est qu'un instantané pris sur une transition. Donc, ici encore, notre percep­tion s'arrange pour solidifier en images discontinues la continuité fluide du réel. Quand les images successives ne diffèrent pas trop les unes des autres, nous les considérons toutes comme l'accroissement et la diminution d'une seule image moyenne, ou comme la déformation de cette image dans des sens différents. Et c'est à cette moyenne que nous pensons quand nous parlons de l'essence d'une chose, ou de la chose même.

(1941: 301|302. Copied from UQAC)


Now, in the continuity of sensible qualities we mark off the boundaries of bodies. Each of these bodies really changes at every moment. In the first place, it resolves itself into a group of qualities, and every quality, as we said, consists of a succession of elementary movements. But, even if we regard the quality as a stable state, the body is still unstable in that it changes qualities without ceasing. The body pre-eminently—that which we are most justified in isolating within the continuity of matter, because it constitutes a relatively closed system—is the living body; it is, moreover, for it that we cut out the others within the whole. Now, life is an evolution. We concentrate a period of this evolution in a stable view which we call a form, and, when the change has become considerable enough to overcome the fortunate | inertia of our perception, we say that the body has changed its form. But in reality the body is changing form at every moment; or rather, there is no form, since form is immobile and the reality is movement. What is real is the continual change of form: form is only a snapshot view of a transition. Therefore, here again, our perception manages to solidify into discontinuous images the fluid continuity of the real. When the successive images do not differ from each other too much, we consider them all as the waxing and waning of a single mean image, or as the deformation of this image in different directions. And to this mean we really allude when we speak of the essence of a thing, or of the thing itself.

(1922: 318|319; 1998: 302. Copied from Project Gutenberg)





[The motion of things in the world corresponds to changes in the Whole. We reify simple movements in terms of their direction, as it fixes their trajectory. More complicated motions involving a complex of linked movements we reify by considering their purpose or expected outcome. With the addition of this sort of motion, we thus have seen three types of movements, namely, qualitative, evolutionary, and extensive, corresponding to which are three kinds of representations, namely, qualities, forms of essences, and acts.]


[I may not have the following ideas right, but they might be the following. We may need to regard things or objects in terms of these relative stabilities where variation is averaged out, or maybe not. Either way, things affect one another by means of movement, and they also maybe have internal sorts of movements, both of which corresponding to changes in situations in the world as a Whole. Bergson next seems to make the following points. Our interest in the movement of things in the world should reflect its constant changeability. But instead we are compelled to impose artificial fixities on the movement. We note for example the direction of movement, which fixes the destination or trajectory more or less. If the movement is complex, then we simplify it to think of the overall purpose, intention, or expected outcome of the movements. (Perhaps we might think of the complex of activities involved in eating, including the series of motor processes and chemical ones, maybe also electrical ones if the nervous system is involved in a significant way. We think of this complex of actions simply in terms of the purpose of digestion and nourishment.) This more simplified conception of complex movements, understood in terms of purpose, intention, or outcome, is a “general plan” or “motionless design” that we think underlies the movement. Bergson notes that these plans or designs are states rather than changes.] So we have seen three types of movements: qualitative (continuous variation of qualities), evolutionary (continuous developmental variation of deformation), and extensive (movement from place to place, even if internal). Bergson has shown how in all three, our minds come to take stabilized views of inherent instabilities. And corresponding to these three artificial stabilizations are three kinds of representations: {1} qualities, {2} forms of essences, and {3} acts.

Enfin les choses, une fois constituées, manifestent à la surface, par leurs changements de situation, les modifications profondes qui s'accomplissent au sein du Tout. Nous disons alors qu'elles agissent les unes sur les autres. Cette action nous apparaît sans doute sous forme de mouvement. Mais de la mobi­lité du mouvement nous détournons le plus possible notre regard : ce qui nous intéresse, c'est, comme nous le disions plus haut, le dessin immobile du mouvement plutôt que le mouvement même. S'agit-il d'un mouvement sim­ple ? nous nous demandons il va. C'est par sa direction, c'est-à-dire par la position de son but provisoire, que nous nous le représentons à tout moment. S'agit-il d'un mouvement complexe ? nous voulons savoir, avant tout, ce qui se passe, ce que le mouvement fait, c'est-à-dire le résultat obtenu ou l'intention qui préside. Examinez de près ce que vous avez dans l'esprit quand vous parlez d'une action en voie d'accomplissement. L'idée du changement est là, je le veux bien, mais elle se cache dans la pénombre. En pleine lumière il y a le dessin immobile de l'acte supposé accompli. C'est par là, et par là seulement, que l'acte complexe se distingue et se définit. Nous serions | fort embarrassés pour imaginer les mouvements inhérents aux actions de manger, de boire, de se battre, etc. Il nous suffit de savoir, d'une manière générale et indéterminée, que tous ces actes sont des mouvements. Une fois en règle de ce côté, nous cherchons simplement à nous représenter le plan d'ensemble de chacun de ces mouvements complexes, c'est-à-dire le dessin immobile qui les sous-tend. Ici encore la connaissance porte sur un état plutôt que sur un changement. Il en est donc de ce troisième cas comme des deux autres. Qu'il s'agisse de mouve­ment qualitatif ou de mouvement évolutif ou de mouvement extensif, l'esprit s'arrange pour prendre des vues stables sur l'instabilité. Et il aboutit ainsi, comme nous venons de le montrer, à trois espèces de représentations : 1º les qualités, 2º les formes ou essences, 3º les actes.

(1941: 302|303. Copied from UQAC)


Finally things, once constituted, show on the surface, by their changes of situation, the profound changes that are being accomplished within the Whole. We say then || that they act on one another. This action appears to us, no doubt, in the form of movement. But from the mobility of the movement we turn away as much as we can; what interests us is, as we said above, the unmovable plan of the movement rather than the movement itself. Is it a simple movement? We ask ourselves where it is going. It is by its direction, that is to say, by the position of its provisional end, that we represent it at every moment. Is it a complex movement? We would know above all what is going on, what the movement is doing—in other words, the result obtained or the presiding intention. Examine closely what is in your mind when you speak of an action in course of accomplishment. The idea of change is there, I am willing to grant, but it is hidden in the penumbra. In the full light is the motionless plan of the act supposed | accomplished. It is by this, and by this only, that the complex act is distinguished and defined. We should be very much embarrassed if we had to imagine the movements inherent in the actions of eating, drinking, fighting, etc. It is enough for us to know, in a general and indefinite way, that all these acts are movements. Once that side of the matter has been settled, we simply seek to represent the general plan of each of these complex movements, that is to say the motionless design that underlies them. Here again knowledge bears on a state rather than on a change. It is therefore the same with this third case as with the others. Whether the movement be qualitative or evolutionary or extensive, the mind manages to take stable views of the instability. And thence the mind derives, as we have just shown, three kinds of representations: (1) qualities, (2) forms of essences, (3) acts.

(1922: 319|320; 1998: 302||303. Copied from Project Gutenberg)





[To qualities correspond adjectives, to forms of essences correspond substantives, and to acts correspond verbs.]


We can assign grammatical [or perhaps syntactical] categories of words these three ways of seeing the flux. To qualitative motion, represented as [fixed] qualities, belong adjectives. To evolutionary movements, represented as forms of essences, belong substantives. And to extensive movements, represented as acts, belong verbs. [I might not get his next two points right. He then says that adjectives and substantives symbolize states. Perhaps the idea here is that a thing, understood as reified in conjunction with a relatively fixed quality, is a state, as for example an apple’s being red. Or perhaps adjectives taken alone symbolize states (being red) and substantives alone symbolize states (being an apple). I am not sure. His last point is that “the verb itself, if we keep to the clear part of the idea it calls up, hardly expresses anything else.” I am not sure what he means. Perhaps the idea is something like the following. If we think the pure idea of “to run”, we do not have something that we can give much concrete conceptualization to, unless we think of one or another thing running.]

A ces trois manières de voir correspondent trois catégories de mots : les adjectifs, les substantifs et les verbes, qui sont les éléments primordiaux du langage. Adjectifs et substantifs symbolisent donc des états. Mais le verbe lui-même, si l'on s'en tient à la partie éclairée de la représentation qu'il évoque, n'exprime guère autre chose.

(1941: 303. Copied from UQAC)


To these three ways of seeing correspond three categories of words: adjectives, substantives, and verbs, which are the primordial elements of language. Adjectives and sub-|| stantives therefore symbolize states. But the verb itself, if we keep to the clear part of the idea it calls up, hardly expresses anything else.

(1922: 320; 1998: 303||304. Copied from Project Gutenberg)








Bergson, Henri. 1941. L’évolution créatrice. Paris: Quadridge / Presses Universitaires de France.

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Text copied from the 1907 edition, available at:



Bergson, Henri. 1922. Creative Evolution. Transl. Arthur Mitchell. London: MacMillan and Co.

PDF available at:


Text copied from the 1911 edition, available at:



Bergson, Henri. 1998. Creative Evolution. Transl. Arthur Mitchell. Mineola, New York: Dover.




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