Bergson on hope

What makes hope such an intense pleasure is the fact that the future, which we dispose of to our liking, appears to us at the same time under a multitude of forms, equally attractive and equally possible. Even if the most coveted of these become realized, it will be necessary to give up the others, and we shall have lost a great deal. The idea of the future, pregnant with an infinity of possibilities, is thus more fruitful than the future itself, and this is why we find more charm in hope than in possession, in dreams than in reality.

Time and Free Will

We can imagine all sorts of futures, even if they contradict one another. But once we realize one possibility, we can’t go back and retrieve all the other possibilities. We cannot experience contradictory or mutually exclusive things at the same time, just as two objects cannot occupy the same space at the same time. Also, time is not reversible. If we choose to taste chocolate ice cream, we can, of course, go back back and try other flavors; however, the experience of the other flavors must deal with the memory of the chocolate.

Things are different with mechanical, non-conscious objects because they have no memory. If I build a machine, I can dismantle it and build a different machine with more or less the same parts. The operation is reversible because the machine has no sense of time or duration. Bergson’s point is that we tend to mistakenly assume that what is true of non-conscious objects (e.g., lawn mowers) applies equally to conscious beings.

The question of free will comes into play because conscious beings have memory and the capacity to anticipate various futures. We are not strictly determined by past causes. For conscious beings, the same cause or event experienced at different times need not produce the same effect. For instance, if my mother dies when I am a child versus when I’m middle aged, I will not suffer in the same way.


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