Bergson: Time, Duration, and Change

Robert A. Boileau

Dr. Atherton Lowry PHL 303: Metaphysics I 12/05/06

Boileau 2 What is time? Can time be measured, and if so, to what intensity can it be gauged? Obviously, time can not now, nor has it ever manifested itself in a corporeal form. Understanding this testimonial, how is it that time can co-exist unto itself in a material world, claiming dominion over it; thus being unmovable and unavoidable in all aspects of nature? Time is prevalent throughout the existence of creation, and forever will be until the Parousia. How then, can creation fully partake in and dwell within time if there is virtually no concept of time itself? Duration of time is of particular importance in beginning to grasp the essence of time. Henri Bergson has perfectly well seen that time is not a “thing”; and in fact it is only a continuous passing of impermanent existence constituting a very particular sort of quantity1. In order that a clear comprehension of Bergson’s metaphysics of time can be absorbed, the notion of reality must be explained. Duration, for Bergson, is reality itself2. Time subsists within reality, and therefore will continue to endure along with reality, consequently implying the perception of duration of time as equivalent to reality. For Bergson, duration is simple time, what he calls concrete and genuine time3. Duration of time is confined within the limits of space, however it is important to recognize that time is not dependant upon space for survival. Assuming that all space would instantaneously cease to exist at this very moment, time would continue to elapse, independent of the existence of that space. In the same manner, space presently embraces time; however it does not rely on time to sustain it. Presuming the sudden lack of time’s presence within space, space as it has come to be known would still be present in its fullness. Nothing performed within the concept of time, while being confined to time, can independently have an effect on space. Only when time and space form a relationship and work

Boileau 3 together to sustain each other, do they have an effect upon themselves. As soon as there is movement or change, there is before and after, just as when there is space there is length, width, and depth4. This change occurs within space, and the before and after constitute what the human mind knows to be time, thus evidencing the relationship between space and time. This relationship clearly shows how time and space depend upon each other to ensure a proper flow of events, but one does not necessarily need the other to retain existence. Fundamentally, duration and the notion of time as time – cohabitating with space – can be assisted in its understanding by the idea of change. Bergson believes that if one were convinced of the reality of change and if one made an effort to grasp it, everything would become simplified, and philosophical difficulties, considered insurmountable, would fall away5. The dilemma with this lies simply in acknowledging the veracity of change, and understanding how change affects reality itself. The before and after phase of time implies that a change would have to have occurred within that particular time span, hence rendering change to be of a particular importance in allowing time to proceed within reality. The average human mind generally experiences a difficulty in comprehending this thought, due to a limitation of the senses. If the senses and the consciousness had an unlimited scope, if in the double direction of matter and mind the faculty of perceiving was indefinite, one would not need to conceive any more than to reason6. Due to sense limitation, however, simply using the ratio is not entirely sufficient in discerning the aforementioned thought. Change, similar to time and duration, is not corporeal, and therefore, while it can be partially identified with the senses, it can not be physically identified totally, while solely relying on the senses. In order that change be

Boileau 4 identified, one must realize and engage in a supernatural elevation of the intellect. As stated previously, however, not all change is entirely dependant upon the supernatural elevation of the intellect. For example, a change in space is plainly evident with the use of the senses when an object is moved from one point to another. This movement illustrates the use of the ratio in observing a variation of space, consequently illustrating change. On the other hand, a change in time can not be purely demonstrated by reason and sense perception alone, for if this was so, time would be reduced to simply being a “spurious concept”, due to the trespassing of the idea of space upon the field of pure consciousness7. Based on this implication, Bergson readily implies that time and space permeate each other in this manner, and when specifically recognizing “change” amongst the two, they simply cannot exist without each other. In an attempt to divulge into a greater knowledge of the understanding of time within reality, in its essential simplicity and its infinite complexity, Bergson relies on data pertaining to those of consciousness and movement. These data contain both immediate or direct, that is to say, seizable at a glance by intuition, without the middle term, which, as Aristotle would say, analytical thought always and necessarily makes use of, and consequently freed as far as possible from all that in cognition does not proceed from the object itself8. “If we are speculating about movement, we set out from the immediate consciousness of mobility, and so on… In short, my data are only those which everybody admits at the start”9. Essentially, Bergson elucidates the theory in which one will merely observe movement rationally, noticing the obvious change in space, however lacking in consideration for the change in time, and its overall effect to the object in motion and its relation to reality. Bergson certainly insists on the “openness” of the universe and its

Boileau 5 necessity for the real value of every object confined within time10. Knowing this, not only should one consider the apparent change in space upon the movement of an object, but also the not-so-apparent change in time, in which the object is corporeally sealed. By moving an object, its relation to the space in which it previously occupied is easily seen, but one must also be conscious of the genuine change in time which surrounds the object and upholds its very existence. For without time, nothing comprised of physical matter would be maintained in being; time sustains all that is intelligible through one’s use of the senses, and affects its very reality. At any particular moment, the consciousness of the mind will perceive a multitude of fixations contained within reality. The length of time spent on each individual fixation will surely vary depending on numerous factors, such as environment, preparedness, and awareness, among many others. The present is forever unforeseeable and new, though organized with the past and so animated by a common life that the whole soul may express itself in one state11. This continuity of change is what Bergson calls duration. Upon meditation on this thought, the question of “Can time be measured?” will undoubtedly arise. For Bergson, there is no definitive answer to this question. On one hand, duration of time can be measured insofar as speaking of the measurement of the amount of time spent engaged in a particular act or observing a particular event taking place. However, time in and of itself can not be measured, as it is not clearly observable by the senses. For the human mind, it appears as though time surpasses reality, although time is contained within reality – just as space is both contained within time and reality. Though, it is important to keep in mind that time is finite, meaning it did have a beginning, and will have an end, yet both of these aspects of

Boileau 6 time are unbeknownst to mortal minds. Because of the finite nature of time, reason alone would imply that a measurement should be attainable, but due to the shroud of mystery surrounding its duration, no accurate measurement can be achieved.

Boileau 7

1 2

Jacques Maritain, Bergsonian Philosophy and Thomism (New York: Philosophical Library, Inc., 1955), 172. Maritain, 172. 3 Henri Bergson, Time and Free Will (London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd., 1959), 99-132. 4 Maritain, 172. 5 Henri Bergson, The Creative Mind (Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1971), 154. 6 Bergson, The Creative Mind, 155. 7 Bergson, Time and Free Will, 98. 8 Jacques Chevalier, Henri Bergson (New York: Books for Library Press, 1928), 123-124. 9 Chevalier, 124. 10 Gustavus Watts Cunningham, The Philosophy of Bergson (New York: Longmans, Green And Co., 1916), 183. 11 Una Bernard Sait, The Ethical Implications of Bergson’s Philosophy (New York: The Science Press, 1914), 21.

Works Cited Bergson, Henri. The Creative Mind. Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1971. Bergson, Henri. Time and Free Will. London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd., 1995. Chevalier, Jacques. Henri Bergson. New York: Books for Library Press, 1928.

Cunningham, Gustavus Watts. The Philosophy of Bergson. New York: Longmans, Green and Co., 1916. Maritain, Jacques. Bergsonian Philosophy and Thomism. New York: Philosophical Library, Inc., 1955. Sait, Una Bernard. The Ethical Implications of Bergson’s Philosophy. New York: The Science Press, 1914.

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