Henri Bergson

Matter and Memory

The subject of the essay is really the mind-body problem.

He believes that common sense and the immediate verdict of consciousness both adopt dualism. This book tries to determine the relation of spirit to matter by studying the definite example of memory. The difficulties of dualism are due to the different conceptions, realistic and idealistic, of matter. His view (what he thinks is the common sense view) is that matter is an aggregate of images, i.e. an existence more than a representation but less than a thing. Common sense rejects realism and idealism, for it the object exists in itself, pictorally, as we perceive it: image it is, but self-existing image. A mind ignorant of the disputes of philosophers would believe that matter exists just as it is perceived, as image, as so would in itself be an image. He wants the reader to forget the dissociation between existence and appearance. He says that Berkeley was right that the secondary qualities have at least as much reality as the primary qualities, but that he went too far in Idealism, that Berkeley couldn't account for the success of physics and was forced to regard the mathematical order of the world as mere accident. Bergson says that Kant's criticism, of limiting the range and value of our senses and understanding, thereby sacrificing metaphysics to give our physics back a solid foundation, was only necessary in reaction to the actions of DesCartes and Berkeley, but would not have been necessary if matter was left where it is seen by common sense. There are two basic psychophysiological theories: 1) soul-body relation is seen as irreducible and inexplicable, and the body is instrument of the soul, 2) epiphenomenalism and parallelism, both of these end in the same practical outcome, that investigating a brain will tell us what is in consciousness. He questions whether the facts really suggest #2 if they are examined without any preconceived idea. Coat and nail relation objection.

pg. 12 When philosophy pleads ... scientific inquiry.

When we apply to facts to help us solve the problem we use our memory. Memory is the intersection of mind and matter, it throws the most light on their relationship, and even more particulary the memory of words. His solution is that he argues the only info one could gather about consciousness from looking at brains is the physical movements that the person might envision or imagine themselves making, but it would not reveal anything else like abstract knowledge. Actor-stage analogy. The relation between the mental and cerebral is not a constant, so that our psychic life is sometimes nearer sometimes further from action, according to the degree of our attention to life. This is a ruling idea of the book, that greater complexity of psychical state is a greater dilatation of the whole personality; which is normally narrowed down by action, as if squeezed smaller by a vice. Psychological disorders are a loosening or breaking of the tie between the psychic life and its motor accompaniment, an impairing of attention to outward life.

pg. 15 Many problems ... inner meaning.

Two principles to be used to understand the complexity of the work: 1) in psychological analysis we must never forget the utilitarian character of our mental functions, which are essentially turned towards action, 2) habits formed in action find their way up to the sphere of speculation, creating fictitious problems, and metaphysics must begin by dispersing this artificial obscrurity.

pg. 17 One image is distinct, my body, in that I know it from without and from within, by affections, always interposed between external excitations and the movements I'm about to perform. Bergson analyzes his past experiences, he finds each affection contains an invitation to act or do nothing, he finds actions begun but not executed, but finds nothing constraining choice; he finds this same sensibility when organisms learn of dangers in their environment through sensation; he finds consciousness present every time he takes the initiative but that it fades and disappears when his activity becomes automatic and no longer needs consciousness. Therefore, these appearances are either deceptive or the act in which the affective state issues is not determined and so with it something new is added to the universe, through the body. Nerves, the brain, and their reactions are all images. If brain disturbances beget external images, the image of the brain disturbance should include the external images the beget, in one way or another, so that the representation of the whole universe would be implied in the brain's molecular interactions, which is absurd. His body is a center of action, it cannot give birth to a representation. Laws of nature dictate how images effect each other, so that my body must have a priveledged position among images if it is able to enact a new action on them. The surrounding images rank themselves according to the power of my body and indicate uses to my body's benefit from which my body chooses its influence among several possible material outcomes. My body also changes the other images' size, shape, color, effectiveness on other images and usefulness by moving closer or further away from them.

pg. 21 [horizon, background] The images around my body reflect my body's possible and eventual actions upon them. So if I cut all the afferent nerves of my nervous system the rest of the universe remains the same but it makes it impossible for my body to extract the quantity and quality of movement to act upon the images around my body, affecting my action alone through the vanishing of my perception. That means my perception displays the eventual or possible outcome of my body.


1) matter - aggregate of images.

2) perception of matter - images referred to the eventual action of my body.

Nature, position, and movement of objects effect the interior movements of molecules in my perceptive centers but my perception is also changed, the latter depends, is a function, of the former, a representation to myself of the former. But this would be meaningless since I represent the whole universe to myself but the entire nervous system is only a material object.

pg. 22 They show us a ... matterless though.

There is no need to look in movement for anything more than what we see in its image. Cerebral vibrations are an image within the image of my body and only part of the representation of the universe, and are only the beginning movements intended to prepare the reaction of my body to the action of external images foreshadowing its virtual acts. Images cannot create images. So there is a mere difference of degree between the perceptive faculty of the brain and the reflex functions of the spinal cord. In either case the function of the nerve substance is to conduct, to coordinate, or to inhibit movements. The difficulty of the problem of how perceptions depend on the movements of cerebral substance is due to viewing grey matter as self-sufficient and independently from the rest of the universe, but in reality these movements are inseperably bound up with the rest of the material universe. My perception of the universe is a system of images that can be entirely altered and is conditioned by a slight change in a certain priveledged image, my body, occupying the center. The "universe" refers to all the images, each referring to itself, but effecting each other always proportional to its cause. How can these two systems coexist?

Bergson believes that by looking at the facts found within consciousness, the facts of memory throwing the most light on the relationship between spirit and mind, and coming to common sense conclusions based on those facts of memory, we can reconcile the problems of dualism. He says that the problems with dualism arise because of the metaphysical interpretations philosophers have been using, so he wants to start again, free from historical influences. He argues for viewing matter as an aggregate of self-existing images, since it does exist and appear for us as these, and claims this approach is a middle ground between the idealists' representation and the realists' thing. He asserts that we wouldn't be in need of distinction between its existence and appearance, if we just treat matter as images like common sense tells us. He says that there is no doubt that there is a connection between consciousness and body, but he denies that connection necessarily means the degree tath epiphenomenalism or parallelism assert. He says that the claim that scientific evidence supports parallelism is circular; connection is fact, parallelism is hypothesis that he questions the intelligibility of and says it is made because philosophy has told science that parallelism is the most probable and important for scientific enquiry. He says that memory is the intersection of mind and matter. He says that no one will deny that memory is in a privledged position to throw light on the mind-body relation, and that there is an enormous amount of evidence to support this including the observations on aphasia; and especially helpful is the memory of words. From what I can understand on the bottom pg 13-15, he is saying that there is like a line of thought with concern for or attention to life and action on one end and purely metaphysical or abstract thinking on the other and depending on where our thoughts are on this line the greater or lesser degree can we determine the thoughts by looking at the brain. He says from his point of view psychological disorders are a breaking of the tie that binds the psychic life to its motor accompaniment. He adds that psychology and metaphysics can help each other, as psychology is the study of the human mind working for practical utility and metaphysics transcends practical utility to view itself in its pure creative energy. He says there are two principles to keep in mind. 1) In psychological analysis we must remember that our mental functions are utilitarian turned towards action. 2) Habits formed in action find their way into speculation, where they create fictious problems, and that metaphysics must begin by dispersing this artificial obscurity. Chapter 1 - with the world we are in the presence of images which act and react upon one another in their elementary parts according to constant laws of nature, and are entirely predictable and determined. One of these images, however, is known both through perceptions and from within by affections: my body.

Creative Evolution

The Creative Mind

He says that all philosophical systems are too abstract, too vast, too imprecise, that they fit a description of reality too losely. They don't take account of plants, animals, different times of life (like infancy), direction of time, orientation of space, needs of life, dreams or daydreams, consequences too distant. They are so broad that they might include all that is possible and impossible. We should only accept explanations as satisfactory that fit tightly to its object and leaves no room where other explanations might equally be lodged. He says scientific explanations can be like this (involving absolute precision and complete or mounting evidence), but can this be said for philosophical theories? He thinks Spencer's philosophy is the closest in this regard though it had its defects and still sought its basis in vague generalities, it aimed at taking the impression of things and modeling itself on the facts in every detail. This lead him to consider time which he realized eludes mathematical treatment. Its essence being to flow, not one of its parts is there when another part comes along, therefore, superposition of one part over another part with measurement in view is impossible. An element of convention enters into any measurement, and it is seldom that two magnitudes, considered equal, and directly superposable one upon the other. Even then, this superposition must be possible for one of their aspects or effects which preserves something of them; this aspect then, is what we measure. But this doesn't work for time, for any effect of duration which will be superposable upon itself and consequently measurable, will have as its essence non-duration. He says he has been aware since his university days that duration is measured by the trajectory of a body in motion and that mathematical time is a line, but this contrasts with all processes of measurement, for it is not carried out on an aspect or an effect representative of what one wishes to measure, for it excludes it. The line one measures is immobile and complete, time is mobility. Time is what is happening and what is causing everything to happen. The measuring of time never deals with duration as duration; what is counted are moments or halts in time. [whole paragraph on page 3] Through this question he delved into domain of inner life, which hadn't interested him before. [associations of conception of the mind?]

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