Reading Bergson

by Beth Metcalf

Bergson shows us how traditional science and philosophy have both remained trapped inside a ‘badly analyzed composite’. Space is conceived as already given and temporalized into one homogeneous composite of space-time. Numerically distinct objects are perceived in constant relations of variability. Corporeal objects are taken to be distinct and measurable quantities without any qualitative difference. Real difference of quality is cancelled in symbolic representations of speculative knowledge.

Science must use units of magnitude in order to make measurements. And when these magnitudes divide, there can be no difference in quality; because the quantitative units of measurement (numbers) are merely differences in degree, not kind. There can be only numerically distinct corporeal elements. No matter how objects and their parts may vary in relation to one another, there is externality of things in space -- merely external difference. There can be only difference in degree of generality because time is already spatialized in a ready-made form. And traditional philosophy, confusing itself with science, has suffered the same fate of being trapped inside a composite generality that is an already formed mixture of space-time. Philosophy has neglected its own possibilities of real incorporeal difference as lived. Philosophy had to be reminded that conscious states are not external to one another. Conscious states permeate each other because they are incorporeal. Conscious states reach real internal difference in kind.

Traditional psychometrics has worked under the assumption that incorporeal states of consciousness are commensurable with quantitative differences in degree. Then, both the corporeal extended magnitudes in space and incorporeal conscious states in duration are assumed to be super-posable quantities. With division of this homogeneous mixture, there could be no real change in quality. However, with Bergson’s method of intuition, conscious states are not mistaken to be numerically distinct quantities. Rather, they permeate in duration because they are incorporeal. They change quality of their nature without ceasing. With division, they necessarily change in quality. There are real qualitative degrees of difference, not merely quantitative difference in degree.

Therefore, because traditional philosophy has misunderstood it own vocation, it has confused conscious states in duration with extended magnitudes in space. Philosophy has confused itself with science. It has tended to assume that internal affective states are in relations of superimposition with external phenomena. However, Bergson points out that affective sensations are not super-poseable magnitudes, because they do not occupy space. Corporeal states are external differences in space. Incorporeal states of consciousness are internal differences in duration. These two lines must not be mixed into one homogeneous composite. So, Bergson introduces the method of intuition that decomposes composites into two tendencies. In one direction we have the plane of extended quantitative magnitudes in space. It is the plane of scientific measurement. It is the homogeneous plane of deterministic cause and effect and its symbolic representations. The other tendency is the metaphysical plane of philosophy. It is the plane of un-extended qualities. It is a sub-representative plane of qualitative conscious states in duration. It consists of all real heterogenous difference. Now, with the decomposition of the impure composite, we may no longer conflate philosophy and science. Philosophical duration intersects with the plane of science to introduce real difference according to what is of utilitarian interest. Now, each plane has its own type of multiplicity, neither of which allows us to speak of many objects that can be totalized into one closed whole. Science and philosophy are two types of multiplicities of real difference. With the intersection of the two types of multiplicities (the scientific multiplicities of extended space and the philosophical multiplicities of un-extended duration) science and philosophy each reach its own type of singular difference in an open whole. When philosophy no longer confuses its vocation with that of science, philosophy’s internal difference gives science a more adequate metaphysical foundation.

Badly analyzed composites have traditionally given rise to dualistic oppositions -- such as being/becoming, object/subject, many/one, order/disorder, mechanism/vitalism, determinism/freedom, realism/idealism, nominalism/conceptualism, etc. -- that lead to false problems. Philosophy has traditionally restricted itself to symbolic representations according to a badly analyzed composite of already formed spatialized time. Then there could be only many quantitative units and their relations into one conceptual image of representation. Traditionally, philosophers had the habit of perceiving phenomena only within a homogeneous composite -- an image of conceptual identity. However, with the intersection of the two types of multiplicities, space is temporalized with real difference. Consciousness is virtual interpenetrating moments of lived duration. On the virtual plane of duration, each degree of disparate difference is the transcendental condition of its own conditioned empirical actualization on the other plane. The virtual is actualized into disparate constituent oppositions that cannot be totalized into a universal generality. Therefore, Bergson shows us that conscious states unfold in pure duration and cannot be conceived apart from the space in which they unfold.

The virtual is actualized into practical uses according to our needs and interests, but the two planes do not resemble each other. There is externality without succession on the plane of homogeneous space. There is succession without externality on the plane of heterogeneous duration. These two types of multiplicities intersect. On the scientific plane, ‘intensity’ means difference in degree of one general form -- a different form with each actualized use. On this plane, quantitative degrees of 'intensity' divide without any change in nature of what is divided. However, on the philosophical plane, ‘intensity’ has a new sense. Philosophical 'intensity' is disparate degrees of incorporeal duration. When disparate heterogeneous degrees of ‘intensity’ divide, there must a change in nature -- in quality of what is divided. Deleuze calls this new sub-representative sense of ‘intensity’ (DR222) “….the properly qualitative content of quantity”. This is the new sense of ‘intensity’ Deleuze finds in Bergson. Only when the differences of duration come up through the middle of an interval to intersect with the plane of science do we reach two types of multiplicities. Without that intersection, both science and philosophy were thought to be a closed whole that Bergson calls a 'badly analyzed composite' and Deleuze calls the 'dogmatic image of thought'. Then there could be only theories of causal determinism. There could be no way for philosophy to conceive of real difference -- of human freedom that we experience or the creative novelty science observes in nature.

A badly analyzed composite could not provide science with an adequate foundation for an evolutionary theory of real creative transition. Nor could it provide philosophy with a way to narrow its possibilities -- to say what is actually true within its own virtual-singular conditions. When science and philosophy are homogenized into a composite, both types of difference -- the virtual conditions of philosophical duration and the conditioned actualizations of scientific reference frames -- are erased. A badly analyzed composite gives us only abstract speculative knowledge.

Therefore, science and philosophy are two types of multiplicities that are in need of each other. They must no longer be conflated into one closed totalizing composite. When we use a method of intuition to divide the composite into two tendencies, we include a plane of sub-representative difference. It is the plane of incorporeal duration that allows no closed image of oppositional relations in a totalizing space. Philosophy is now able to recognize its own vocation of being the plane of interpenetrating incorporeal qualities. We live the experience of duration as difference in quality. No recollection can be separated from another without change in quality. With division, there is necessarily a change in nature – in quality. No moment may be repeated without difference. Repetition is difference without ceasing.

With the decomposition of the impure composite, there is real creative novelty that is unforeseeable and unpredictable when duration is lived as flowing. There is determinism of cause-effect when time is thought as already flowed. Time can’t be divided into discrete parts without stopping or slowing down the flow, as science needs to do in order to gain reference. In order to reach repetition with real difference, there must be two types of multiplicities that intersect. So, Bergson is not against science. Bergson critiques Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. But he is criticizing only a closed totalized impure composite of already spatialized time that leaves out the virtual conditions of the theory's reference. Bergson sees his method of intuition as providing a more adequate metaphysical foundation for scientific theory.

With our actions according to our needs and interests, singular uses of scientific reference become actualized. These multiplicities of use cannot be totalized into a universal generality. Disparate singular conditions on the virtual plane become actualized uses on the other plane. Science works toward its goal of human well-being according to our needs and practical interests. But philosophy must not have a predetermined origin or final goal. Philosophy must not assume a predetermined form if it is to allow for free will and creative novelty. Philosophy must be disinterested.

Of course, qualitative difference is real whether philosophy can conceive of its possibility or not. But now, with the decomposition of badly analyzed composites, philosophy can conceive of novel possibilities, even those thought to be impossible according to our prior concepts. Freedom of human agency and creative novelty in nature become conceptually possible. In one sense, all recollections differ from a present perception. However, in another sense, any present perception may find some intensive degree of similarity with any recollection. Any intensive content (matter) may be coupled with any intensity of expression (memory) on the philosophical sub-representative plane of duration, because there is no prior concept to tell us what is possible and what is not. Now, Bergson's philosophy makes it possible to conceive of real creative novelty. Now, philosophy gives a more adequate foundation for the real transitional differences that are observed by science.

When 'difference' has a new criterion -- interest according to needs -- it will no longer form one identical intelligible concept. It will not constitute one totalizing form of many numerically distinct objects in a continuity of perceptible resemblances. No longer will there be many objects totalized into one universal structure of generality. That is, it will not form a prior determinate structure of genus and species. Rather it will, each time, form a new qualitative use of generality. No longer will one general structure determine mere difference in degree. 'Difference', as interest according to need, generates singular qualities. Free choices, lived and acted, contract different qualitative levels of memory into novel resemblances of perception. There is free creative novelty constructed as disparate uses of generality according to our interests.

No matter how different two images may be, we can always find some resembling link between them to create a novel similarity. A perception will not evoke a contiguous image unless there is an intermediate recollection. However discontinuous two images may appear, there is a relation of contiguity as long as there is a mediating resemblance between them. Any perception and any memory may eliminate enough detail between them to allow a new similarity to appear. There is no pre-determined similarity or contiguity. On the plane of memory-duration, we have difference in kind (disparate degrees of intensity), not merely difference in degree. Any intensive degree of contraction may find a similarity with any other to create new continuity. On the plane of duration, there is freedom and creative novelty, not determinism.

How does choice among an infinite number of recollections (which all resemble the present perception in some way) select one rather than another? Traditional theories of association are not adequate. Associationism claims that perception maintains cohesion of parts into a whole. But Bergson says we perceive a whole before parts. We begin with dissociation of the undivided unity of perception. Bergson’s theory of dissociation says that memory is an undivided whole with the double movement of contraction and expansion of its contents that extends matter in space according to our needs. This double movement corresponds to all possible degrees of contiguity and resemblance. There are degrees of contiguity and resemblance. But these are not differences of degree in space. They are degrees of difference in duration (a new sense of ‘intensity’) that, when divided, change in quality. Disparate intensive couplings create new similarities that produce new paths of continuity.

To dream life would be to remember every singular event of one’s past in pure recollection. There would be no generality of an idea. There would be only differences among things and no resemblances, on the plane of duration. On the other hand, to have no memory would be to act life, at each moment, according to habits that would determine actions in resemblance to the previous situation. The former is guided only by recollections of qualitatively singular events that differ. The latter is guided only by motor memory and perception of resemblances. The former is memory in duration. The latter is perception in space. But in normal life, these two extremes interpenetrate. Recollection of differences and perception of resemblances intersect in the generality of ideas. Continuity of recollections and perceptions of resemblance interpenetrate to form new uses of generality according to our needs and interest. The body does not store up recollections but chooses useful memories with a view to action. So, general ideas are formed by jumping between the two planes (two types of multiplicities) – the plane of action and the plane of memory. These two planes are no longer mixed in a badly analyzed composite. If there were only a plane of dream without action, there would be only arbitrary choice. If there were only a plane of sensory-motor action, there would be only causal determinism. But consciousness oscillates between these two extreme planes so that sensory-motor states guide memory according to our interests. No two memories are the same. All are singular events -- intensity of disparate difference. Any intensity of memory, as un-extended and incorporeal, may find some similarity in common with the present peak of Bergson's cone*. Anything can be associated because a resemblance can always be found when there is no prior concept of generality to regulate perceptions of similarity or contiguity. There is not merely difference in degree of an already general structure. New connections of similarity and contiguity create novel structures that are not predetermined. Freedom and creative novelty of thought become possible. The intersection of two types of multiplicities extends matter into space according to our needs. Memory and matter intersect as all degrees of expansion and contraction extend matter into space to create different forms according to our needs and interest.

Any intensive degree of memory may be joined with any present perception to be integrated into a new degree of similarity – a new ‘use’ according to our needs. Because “everything resembles everything else…..anything can be associated with anything” (Matter & Memory 168). Pure perception and pure memory are two extreme limits. Memory of the whole of the past intersects with present state of perception by two simultaneous movements, translation and rotation. Translation is contraction of memory with a present perception with a view to action. Rotation presents what is most useful to the present situation. I see translation as drawing new forms of qualitative similarity. I see rotation as drawing new lines of material contiguity. Together they construct new ‘uses’ of formed-matter according to our needs. Together they present unlimited possibilities for different systems of generality according to our interests. For Bergson, the brain is an interval between sensation and movement. The body has the function of directing memory toward useful actualizations in the present.

Traditional philosophy has not been able to provide an adequate foundation for the transitional change that science observes as the fact of evolution. If we think of nature as one impure composite of spatialized time, how can we account for any qualitative change in nature? Bergson's philosophy offers a more adequate metaphysical basis for evolutionary novelty. 'Elan vital' is a vital impulse that introduces real transitional difference into the theory of evolution. Philosophy is no longer restricted to concepts of already spatialized time that stop the flow of duration. Movement is no longer conceived as merely the augmentation of immobile positions with more immobile positions of static images. Evolution is the flow of qualitative disparate intensity that changes in nature with division. This process is not association and addition. It is dissociation and divergence. Divergent lines of evolution are actualized. Each divergent branch (for example, intellect or instinct) develops, in its own way, the advantages of the other. This is not a choice among predetermined outcomes. When space is temporalized according to external obstacles and internal needs, unforeseeable and unpredictable forms and functions may emerge. Bergson shows us that time can be represented in space only if we are thinking of time already past, not when we endure in time flowing. With the inclusion of the plane of duration, there may be freedom of will in human agency as well as creative evolution in nature.

Mivart challenged Darwin with the problem of incipient stages. Darwin said there are slight insensible variation that are accumulated by chance. But if these variations accumulate accidentally, how can such a mechanism remain coordinated enough for the organism to maintain its function, or improve it? Or, what if we suppose a finalism, like Lamarckian inheritance of acquired characteristics accumulated toward a purpose? Both mechanism and finalism are merely oppositions of a badly analyzed composite. Both are rejected by Bergson in order to find a resolution to Mivart's problem. Bergson says that life does not evolve by association, addition, or accumulation of elements on the spatial line. Life evolves by divergence, dissociation, and division on the line of duration -- that line in which division must change the qualitative nature of the species, their parts, and their function. This is what Deleuze means when he says that qualitative difference [of incipient stages] is pre-individual and singular. It is the disparate difference of intensive duration.

Movement is no longer thought to be distinct objects that change position in space. Movement has two aspects --- two types of multiplicities that intersect. First, there is movement in space among objects or parts of objects. This movement is expressed as a constant relation of variables of the scientific function according to a frame of reference -- a different actualized use each time. But secondly, there is also duration of the open whole. It is the inseparable variation of the philosophical concept. If the whole is mistaken to totalize sets and their parts in variable combinations, there can be no real change in the nature of the whole --- there can be no movement in space. We need to include heterogeneous duration in order to reach images that change contour in space while the whole changes nature in duration. The open whole is that which, with division or augmentation, necessarily changes in nature. As the whole changes in nature, objects change contour in space. With movement, objects are re-integrated into an open whole that changes in nature as the whole is re-differentiated into objects. There is intersection of the two planes of multiplicities. The movement-image divides the whole into objects and objects are reunited in a whole that changes nature. Traditionally, images of objects and their parts were merely immobile sections which varied their relations in space. Everything happened in a closed circle of reference. But Bergson includes duration of a whole whose change is expressed in movement-images.

Therefore, there are two kinds of movement. There is divisible homogeneous quantity in space traversed, and there is the indivisible qualitative conscious act of traversing in duration. The former is simultaneity in space. The latter is succession that changes quality in duration. Classical problems (like the Eleatic paradox) are due to a badly analyzed composite that leaves out heterogeneous duration. Such impure mixture ignores concrete perception where intensive duration intervenes to prolong and contract moments into a single intuition. Space homogenizes our perception of time in order to determine symbolic systems of use according to our needs. But heterogeneous duration must be lived. Movement as lived in duration makes freedom and creative novelty possible. If science and philosophy are both restricted to one impure composite, then there can be only theories of determinism and evolutionism.

When speculative knowledge is tethered to badly analyzed composites in space, there are no multiplicities. There are only oppositional dualisms of one supposed universal structure of generality. But with the intersection of the two types of multiplicities, difference is introduced through action according to our needs and interests. This intersection produces every degree of every kind of difference. There is no longer universal generality of speculative knowledge.

My reading of Bergson has been influenced by my reading of Deleuze’s Bergsonism. So, when I read Bergson’s Time and Duration, Matter and Memory, and Creative Evolution, I see something similar to Deleuze’s Spinoza (although it is not Spinoza as Bergson saw him). I take Bergson’s ‘duration’ to be the real distinction of interpenetrating qualities (like ‘Substance’ in Deleuze-Spinoza’s sense). ‘Memory’ is the intensive contractions that, along with the expansions of matter, qualify duration with real singular difference (something like Spinoza’s attributes that qualify Substance). ‘Creative evolution’ is the life impulse of elan vital that actualizes singular difference according to modal uses in space.

The plane of duration is substance itself. It is the substance of being. But this substance has nothing to do with what has traditionally been called ‘substance’, because it is not the already formed substances of composite mixtures. Rather, duration is the real distinction of Substance. Real distinction is never a numerical distinction of already formed substances. Real distinction is all interpenetration of disparate incorporeal differences that, in any degree, is always a new singularity. Being is the intersection of all forms and the machine of all functions. So, Substance (duration) is all real distinction in every degree of singularity.

Just as Deleuze’s reading of Spinoza shows us that Substance must be qualified in the real distinction of the attributes (extension and thought), so Bergson’s Substance (duration) must be qualified by real distinctions of expansion and contraction (matter and memory). Matter and memory are really distinct. That is, the concept of one has nothing to do with the concept of the other. Any intensity of matter (content) may be coupled with any intensity of memory (expression) to create something new. This intensive tension between matter and memory qualifies space with real temporal difference. Creative novelty and freedom are conceptually possible with the inclusion of the plane of duration. Causal determinism applies only on the other plane -- the plane of scientific reference of spatialized time.

So far, we have seen how duration (Substance) is differentiated (qualified) in matter and memory (something like Deleuze-Spinoza’s attributes). But just as Spinoza’s modal essences are not yet separate from a qualified substance, so also Bergson recognizes that nothing can yet be actualized into a sensory-motor system when it is still the interpenetration of real distinction in duration. There must be dissociation or a disjunction that changes in nature to be actualized according to our interests on the spatial plane. In Deleuze's terms, the differentiated must be differenciated. I take this disjunction to be the function of Bergson’s translation and rotation. Is translation that by which memory contracts a useful level to create new qualities of similarity? Is rotation that by which memory presents a useful side to create new paths of contiguous matter? Is translation and rotation the creative process of differenciation into species and parts? Isn’t it a process of creation that has nothing to do with a pre-determined classification into genus and species?

With the intersection of the two planes, Substance (duration) fills space to intensive (disparate) degrees of difference. Space is temporalized with rhythms of difference. Multiplicities of disparate uses are created each time. The intersection of two types of multiplicities injects real difference of duration into space. Matter becomes expanded in space by contractions of duration-memory. The multiplicities may intersect any degree of difference with any difference in degree. Duration is the most contracted degree of matter. Matter is the most expanded degree of duration. Memory is difference in kind. Matter is repetition in degree. Memory is coextensive with any level of virtual duration. All singular difference is matter-memory. Matter fills space to different degrees of intensity.

Only when differences of duration come up through the middle of an interval to intersect with the plane of space – do we have two types of multiplicities. But Deleuze tells us that in order to reach univocity, the interval must be a pure empty form of time. It must be empty of empirical corporeal content. But Bergson’s interval is not truly empty. Its present co-exists with the past it has been. It is still filled with perception-images and related sensory-motor actions and reactions according to our interests. It is not truly disinterested. It constitutes actualizations of virtual recollection-images, but it does not reach the empty form of time. It does not reach disinterested counter-actualization. Bergson’s actualizations fulfill the first two syntheses of Deleuze's univocity, but not the third. That is it does not quite reach what Deleuze calls 'Univocal Being'. It is movement-image, but not time-image. However, Bergson's notion of the virtual and its actualizations are important in order for us to understand why philosophy must not be confused with science -- and why science and philosophy are in need of each other.

*Bergson's cone is reproduced on page 60 of Deleuze's Bergsonism.

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