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- Bergson and His Philosophy - 6/33 -


way; as pioneer of the sense of touch, it prepares our action on the external world. But, although for all practical purposes we require the notion of immobility as part of our mental equipment, it does not at all help us to grasp reality. Then we habitually regard movement as something superadded to the motionless. This is quite legitimate in the world of affairs; but when we bring this habit into the world of speculation, we misconceive reality, we create lightheartedly insoluble problems, and close our eyes to what is most alive in the real world. For us movement is one position, then another position, and so on indefinitely. It is true that we say there must be something else, viz., the actual passing across the interval which separates those positions. But such a conception of Change is quite false. All true change or movement is indivisible. We, by constructing fictitious states and trying to compose movement out of them, endeavour to make a process coincide with a thing--a movement with an immobility. This is the way to arrive at dilemmas, antinomies, and blind-alleys of thought. The puzzles of Zeno about "Achilles and the Tortoise" and "The Moving Arrow" are classical examples of the error involved in treating movement as divisible.[Footnote: Bergson in Matter and Memory examines Zeno's four puzzles: "The Dichotomy," "Achilles and the Tortoise," "The Arrow" and "The Stadium."] If movement is not everything, it is nothing, and if we postulate, to begin with, that the motionless is real, then we shall be incapable of grasping reality. The philosophies of Plato, of Aristotle, and of Plotinus were developed from the thesis that there is more in the immutable than in the moving, and that it is by way of diminution that we pass from the stable to the unstable.

The main reason why it is such a difficult matter for us to grasp the reality of continuous change is owing to the limitations of our intellectual nature. "We are made in order to act, as much as and more than in order to think--or, rather, when we follow the bent of our nature, it is in order to act that we think."[Footnote: Creative Evolution, p. 313 (Fr. p. 321).] Intellect is always trying to carve out for itself stable forms because it is primarily fitted for action, and "is characterized by a natural inability to comprehend life" and grasp Change.[Footnote: Creative Evolution, p. 174 (Fr. p. 179).] Our intellect loves the solid and the static, but life itself is not static- -it is dynamic. We might say that the intellect takes views across the ever-moving scene, snapshots of reality. It acts like the camera of the cinematograph operator, which is capable only of producing photographs, successive and static, in a series upon a ribbon. To grasp reality, we have to do what the cinematograph does with the film--that is, introduce or rather, re-introduce movement.[Footnote: Creative Evolution, pp. 320- 324 (Fr. pp. 328-332).] The stiff photograph is an abstraction bereft of movement, so, too, our intellectual views of the world and of our own nature are static instead of being dynamic. Human life is not made up of childhood, adolescence, manhood, and old age as "states," although we tend to speak of it in this way. Life is not a thing, nor the state of a thing--it is a continuous movement or change. The soul itself is a movement, not an entity. In the physical world, light, when examined, proves itself to be a movement. Even physical science, bound, as it would seem, to assert the fixity and rigidity of matter, is now of the opinion that matter is not the solid thing we are apt to think it. The experiments of Kelvin and Lodge and the discovery of radium, have brought forward a new theory of matter; the old-fashioned base, the atom, is now regarded as being essentially movement; matter is as wonderful and mysterious in its character as spirit. Further we must note that the researches of Einstein, culminating in the formulation of his general Theory of Relativity and his special Theory of Gravitation, which are arousing such interest at the present time, threaten very seriously the older static views of the universe and seem to frustrate any efforts to find and denote any stability therein.[Footnote: Consult on this Dr. Einstein's own work of which the translation by R. W. Lawson is just published: Relativity: The Special and the General Theory. Methuen, 1920.] In the light of these discoveries, Bergson's views on the reality of Change seem less paradoxical than they might formerly have appeared. The reality of Change is, for Bergson, absolute, and on this, as a fundamental point, he constructs his thought. In conjunction with his study of Memory, it leads up to his discussions of Real Time (la duree), of Freedom, and of Creative Evolution. We must then, at the outset of any study of Bergson's philosophy, obtain a grasp of this universal 'becoming'--a vision of the reality of Change. Then we shall realize that Change is substantial, that it constitutes the very stuff of life. "There are changes, but there are not things that change; change does not need a support. There are movements, but there are not, necessarily, constant objects which are moved; movement does not imply something that is movable."[Footnote: Translated from La Perception du Changement, Lecture 2, p. 24.]

To emphasize and to illustrate this point, so fundamental in his thought, Bergson turns to music. "Let us listen," he says, "to a melody, letting ourselves be swayed by it; do we not have the clear perception of a movement which is not attached to any mobility--of a change devoid of anything which changes? The change is self-sufficient, it is the thing itself. It avails nothing to say that it takes time, for it is indivisible; if the melody were to stop sooner, it would not be any longer the same volume of sound, but another, equally indivisible. Doubtless we have a tendency to divide it and to represent it to ourselves as a linking together of distinct notes instead of the uninterrupted continuity of the melody. But why? Simply because our auditive perception has assumed the habit of saturating itself with visual images. We hear the melody across the vision which the conductor of the orchestra can have of it in looking at his score. We represent to ourselves notes linked on to notes on an imaginary sheet of paper. We think of a keyboard on which one plays, of the bow of a violin which comes and goes, of the musicians, each one of whom plays his part in conjunction with the others. Let us abstract these spatial images; there remains pure change, self-sufficing, in no way attached to a 'thing' which changes."[Footnote: Translated from La Perception du Changement, pp. 24-25.]

We must conceive reality as a continual flux, then immobility will seem a superficial abstraction hypostatized into states, concepts, and substances, and the old difficulties raised by the ancients, in regard to the problem of Change, will vanish, along with the problems attached to the notion of "substance" in modern thought, because there is nothing substantial but Change. Apart from Change there is no reality. We shall see that all is movement, that we ourselves are movement--part of an elan, a poussee formidable, which carries with it all things and all creatures, and that in this eternity--not of immutability but of life and Change--"we live and move and have our being."[Footnote: La Perception du Changement, concluding paragraph, p. 37.]

CHAPTER III

PERCEPTION

Images as data--Nerves, afferent and efferent, cannot beget images, nor can the brain give rise to representations--All our perception relative to action. Denial of this involves the fallacies of Idealism or of Realism--Perception and knowledge--Physiological data--Zone of indetermination--"Pure" perception--Memory and Perception.

From the study of Change we are led on to a consideration of the problems connected with our perception of the external world, which has its roots in change. These problems have given rise to some very opposing views--the classic warfare between Realism and Idealism. Bergson is of neither school, but holds that they each rest on misconceptions, a wrong emphasis on certain facts. He invites us to follow him closely while he investigates the problems of Perception in his own way.

"We will assume for the moment that we know nothing of theories of matter and theories of spirit, nothing of the discussions as to the reality or ideality of the external world. Here I am in the presence of images, in the vaguest sense of the word, images perceived when my senses are opened to them, unperceived when they are closed. ... Now of these images there is ONE which is distinct from all the others, in that I do not know it only from without by perceptions, but from within by affections; it is my body."[Footnote: Matter and Memory, p. 1 (Fr. p. 1).] Further examination shows me that these affections "always interpose themselves between the excitations from without and the movement which I am about to execute."[Footnote: Matter and Memory, p. 1 (Fr. p. 1).] Indeed all seems to take place as if, in this aggregate of images which I call the universe, nothing really new could happen except through the medium of certain particular images, the type of which is furnished me by my body."[Footnote: Matter and Memory, p. 3 (Fr. p. 2).] Reference to physiology shows in the structure of human bodies afferent nerves which transmit a disturbance to nerve centres, and also efferent nerves which conduct from other centres movement to the periphery, thus setting in motion the body in whole or in part. When we make enquiries from the physiologist or the psychologist with regard to the origin of these images and representations, we are sometimes told that, as the centrifugal movements of the nervous system can evoke movement of the body, so the centripetal movements--at least some of them--give rise to the representation, mental picture, or perception of the external world. Yet we must remember that the brain, the nerves, and the disturbance of the nerves are, after all, only images among others. So it is absurd to state that one image, say the brain, begets the others, for "the brain is part of the material world, but the material world is not part of the brain. Eliminate the image which bears the name 'material world,' and you destroy, at the same time, the brain and the cerebral disturbances which are parts of it. Suppose, on the contrary, that these two images, the brain and the cerebral disturbance, vanish; ex hypothesi you efface only these, that is to say, very little--an insignificant detail from an immense picture--the picture in its totality, that is to say, the whole universe remains. To make of the brain the condition on which the whole image depends is a contradiction in terms, since the brain is, by hypothesis, a part of this image."[Footnote: Matter and Memory, p. 4 (Fr. pp. 3-4).] The data of perception are external images, then my body, and changes brought about by my body in the surrounding images. The external images transmit movement to my body, it gives back movement to them. My body or part of my body, i.e., my brain, could not beget a whole or part of my representation of the external world. "You may say that my body is matter or that it is an image--the word is of no importance. If it is matter, it is a part of the material world, and the material world consequently exists around it and without it. If it is an image--that image can give but what has been put into it, and since it is, by hypothesis, the image of my body only, it would be absurd to expect to get from it that of the whole universe. My body, an object destined to move other objects, is then a centre of action; it cannot give birth to a representation."[Footnote: Matter and Memory, p. 5 (Fr. p. 4).] The body, however, is privileged, since it appears to choose within certain limits certain reactions from possible ones. It exercises a real influence on other images, deciding which step to take among several which may be possible. It judges which course is advantageous or dangerous to itself, by the nature of the images which reach it. The objects which surround my body reflect its possible action upon them. All our perception has reference, primarily, to action, not to speculation.[Footnote: Cf. Creative Evolution, p. 313 (Fr. p. 321).] The brain centres are concerned with motor reaction rather than with conscious perception, "the brain is an instrument of action and not of representation."[Footnote: Matter and Memory, p. 83 (Fr. p. 69).] Therefore, in the study of the problems of perception, the starting- point should be action and not sensation. All the confusions,


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