Bergson and multiplicities

This post continues an earlier post on quantitative and qualitative multiplicities. This is mostly just notes.

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on Bergson states,

In his “Introduction to Metaphysics,” Bergson gives us three images to help us think about the duration and therefore qualitative multiplicities (The Creative Mind, pp. 164–65). The first is that of two spools, with a tape running between them, one spool unwinding the tape, the other winding it up. Duration resembles this image, according to Bergson, because, as we grow older, our future grows smaller and our past larger. The benefit of this image is that it presents a continuity of experiences without juxtaposition. . . . Duration, for Bergson, is continuity of progress and heterogeneity; moreover, thanks to this image, we can also see that duration implies a conservation of the past. Indeed, for Bergson and this is the center of his truly novel idea of memory, memory conserves the past and this conservation does not imply that one experiences the same (re-cognition), but difference. One moment is added onto the old ones, and thus, when the next moment occurs, it is added onto all the other old ones plus the one that came immediately before. In comparison, therefore to the past collection of moments, it cannot be the same as the one immediately before, because the past is “larger” for the current moment than it was for the previous moment. . . .

The second image of qualitative multiplicity is the color spectrum. We saw in the first image of the spools that there is constant difference or heterogeneity. The color spectrum helps us understand this, since a color spectrum has a multiplicity of different shades or nuances of color. . . .

Bergson’s third image is an elastic band being stretched. Bergson tells us first to contract the band to a mathematical point, which represents “the now” of our experience. Then, draw it out to make a line growing progressively longer. He warns us not to focus on the line but on the action which traces it. If we can focus on the action of tracing, then we can see that the movement — which is duration — is not only continuous and differentiating or heterogeneous, but also indivisible. We can always insert breaks into the spatial line that represents the motion, but the motion itself is indivisible. For Bergson, there is always a priority of movement over the things that move; the thing that moves is an abstraction from the movement.

The unbroken movement is a qualitative multiplicity. It continually differs from itself.

On intuition,

In order to help us understand intuition, which is always an intuition of duration, let us return to the color spectrum image. Bergson says that we should suppose that perhaps there is no other color than orange. Yet, if we could enter into orange, that is, if we could sympathize with it, we would “sense ourselves caught,” as Bergson says, “between red and yellow.” This means that if we make an effort when we perceive orange, we sense a variety of shades. If we make more of an effort, we sense that the darkest shade of orange is a different color, red, while the lightest is also a different color, yellow. Thus, we would have a sense, beneath orange, of the whole color spectrum. . . . Thus Bergsonian intuition is always an intuition of what is other.

The color spectrum is indivisible. The shades cannot be unmixed. We can, however, look at the extremes of the spectrum and divide the shades analytically.

On the basis of the division into extremes or into a duality, one can then confront our everyday “mixtures” of the two extremes. Within the mixture, one makes a division or “cut” into differences in kind: into matter and spirit, for instance. Then one shows how the duality is actually a monism, how the two extremes are “sewn” together, through memory, in the continuous heterogeneity of duration. Indeed, for Bergson, intuition is memory; it is not perception.

Intuition is a memory rather than a perception; it a conservation of perceptions.

The following is complexity reduction. In systems-theoretical terms, a self-referential system selects from their environment only what is relevant to the system:

In perception — Bergson demonstrates this point through his theory of pure perception — the image of a material thing becomes a representation. A representation is always in the image virtually. . . . In any case, in perception, there is a transition from the image as being in itself to its being for me. But, perception adds nothing new to the image; in fact, it subtracts from it. Representation is a diminution of the image; the transition from image to pure perception is “discernment in the etymological sense of the word,” a “slicing up” or a “selection” (Matter and Memory, p. 38). According to Bergson, selection occurs because of necessities or utility based in our bodies. In other words, conscious representation results from the suppression of what has no interest for bodily functions and the conservation only of what does interest bodily functions. The conscious perception of a living being therefore exhibits a “necessary poverty” (Matter and Memory, p. 38).

Reduced complexity can be called a “necessary poverty.” Systems must ignore everything that is not relevant to their own moment-to-moment reproduction.


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