« PreviousContinue »
are qualities, and, being mental states, are not extended in space and cannot be divided as everything extended in space can be. It follows that one sensation cannot be greater or less than another, for to say that one thing is greater than another means that it occupies more space. Yet we certainly regard one sensation as capable of being more intense than another; for instance, at one time I feel an intenser heat than at another. What, then, can this mean? After a long psychological discussion he decides that, when a sensation is said to grow in intensity, this means one or more of the following things : either that there occurs an increasingly large number of qualitatively different mental states, or that more and more reactions take place in the body, or that the external cause of the sensation is an increasing quantity.
Let us take a simple instance. It is misleading to say that, when I enjoyed my dinner more than my breakfast, I got a greater intensity of pleasure from the one than from the other. A correct statement of what happened would run to the effect that at dinner-time a greater number of changes took place in my nervous system or in my mind. But perhaps it will be objected that this is a circular definition: in defining what is meant by ' greater quantity of pleasure' as 'greater number of physical or mental changes,' are we not introducing again the very notion of quantity that we wanted to define ? To this objection, in so far as his proposal is to define intenser sensation' as meaning 'greater number of physical changes,' Bergson seems to have no clear reply; for he holds that quantity' is only another name for number as applied to physical things. But, in so far as the definition asserts that intenser sensation' means merely ‘more mental changes,' his reply consists in a theory which must be briefly noticed. According to this theory, the notion of quantity or number is never involved when we speak of a greater number of mental states'; for the words, in such a phrase as this, that seem to have a numerical meaning, really only have that meaning when used of physical objects. We must recognise, in fact, two kinds of multiplicity-one, which may be called 'quantitative' multiplicity, connected with numbers and counting ; and another, purely qualitative,' which alone is applicable to mental states.
It is important to distinguish clearly between these two kinds of multiplicity, since many fallacies as to the nature of reality spring from confusing them, though Bergson confesses that the notion of qualitative multiplicity cannot be translated into the language of common sense,' One point, however, is plain: his distinction between the two kinds of multiplicity is based on the view that mathematics depends upon space and counting. Counting material objects,' he says, 'means thinking all these objects together, thereby leaving them in space.' Number, in fact, is the juxtaposition of objects in space. Now mental states are not, like material objects, arranged in space side by side; hence they cannot be counted, and numbers do not apply to them. And observation bears this out. All our mental states run indistinguishably into one another; they are fused like the notes of a tune, and are not outside one another as are the parts of space and the objects in it. So, when I watch the beats of a pendulum, I do not really have, in the course of a minute, sixty distinct perceptions all exactly alike; what occurs is one complex mental event, unique in quality, with no sharp distinctions between its parts. But for purposes of convenience I count my perceptions; I put them side by side, that is to say, in a medium composed of exactly similar parts. This medium I call time; but, being • homogeneous,' it can be nothing but space. In other words, we vitiate all our mental processes by the introduction into them of the notion of space; this time'in which we spread our processes out into distinct parts is a spurious space, quite unlike real time or duration,' which is perfectly heterogeneous.' Space admits only of juxtaposition, not of succession; to understand true succession we must banish the idea of a homogeneous medium and turn to 'pure duration.'
Thus the true duration of our mental life is purely qualitative; it is not a 'static' thing, but a 'dynamic process, which cannot be broken up into parts or measured. And this shows, according to Bergson, that our minds possess a further property which distinguishes them from material objects--the property, namely, of not being subject to the law of causality. A mental state cannot be the effect of previous mental states; indeed, it cannot be the effect of anything at all,
because the only difference between two mental states is a qualitative difference (it is not even true to say that they are two'states), and one quality can never be inferred from another.
• The relation of inner causality' (he says)' is purely dynamic, and has no analogy with the relation of two external phenomena which condition one another. For, as the latter are capable of recurring in a homogeneous space, their relation can be expressed in terms of a law, whereas deep-seated psychic states occur once in consciousness and will never occur again. (Time and Free Will,' p. 219.)
In other words, the freedom of the will is a fact. But Bergson does not hold that all our acts are uncaused or free; indeed, free acts are exceptional, and many people never perform any at all. For freedom is a matter of degree, only those acts being perfectly free which, at the great crises of life, spring from the innermost core of our nature. This is connected with his doctrine that in each of us there are two different selves, one which we reach by deep introspection, and another, more superficial, which is its spatial representation. The latter is not free, and is subject to the laws of cause and effect.
This account of the nature of mind, then, is Bergson's first step in trying to give a general description of the contents of the universe; and a very surprising account it is. It is surprising, for instance, to learn that no one has ever, in the whole course of his life, had a sensation at one moment, and then after a definite lapse of time has had another sensation, since no one can be said, strictly speaking, ever to have had two sensations or to have had them at different times. I defer the question whether this account is true, as it will be more convenient first to complete the description of the contents of the universe as Bergson conceives them. He takes the second step in Matière et Mémoire,' which is occupied mainly with discussing the relations between the mental part of reality and the material part. His solution of the two great classes of philosophical difficulties which arise in considering the connexion between mind and matter is extremely complicated; but I think that its principal points can be put in a fairly simple way.
To begin with, it is evident that there really are two
kinds of difficulties, that the phrase the connexion between mind and matter' may be used about two different sets of facts. In the first place, there is that sort of connexion between mind and matter which is expressed by saying that our minds perceive or are conscious of material objects; it is well known that philosophers have been much concerned with explaining the precise nature of this kind of connexion between them, and have also tried to account for its origin. In the second place, our minds are attached in a special way to some among the material objects in the universe, namely, our bodies; and this more special connexion, which is evidently of a different kind from the first, has also been much discussed by philosophers; it may be called, in Bergson's phrase, the problem as to the union of body and soul. To anyone not used to philosophical discussions it may come as a surprise to hear that any difficulty is raised by either of these two kinds of facts. When I say that I see a table, I know perfectly well what I mean, and everyone who hears me knows; what is there that requires explanation ? So again, when I say that my mind is attached to my body, the meaning of this seems tolerably clear, and I believe that science can give me a great deal of correct information bearing on the connexion. I shall therefore mention shortly the difficulties, involved in both these kinds of statement, that Bergson seems to have chiefly in mind. In this way we shall be better able to understand his views as to the nature both of mind and of matter.
First, then, as to our perception of material objects : what is meant by 'I see a table’? Little reflection is needed to see that what seems so plain and simple is really far from easy to understand. For one thing, science tells me that the table is something very different from what I see; that, for instance, it is composed of an enormous number of particles vibrating with astonishing rapidity ; but of these particles and their movements I certainly see nothing. Again, I need only look at a part of the table under a microscope to satisfy myself that no part of it has the same colour that I see with my naked eye; and not only so, but what I see varies in size and shape according to my distance from the table and my point of view; yet it is hard to believe that the actual
table is not of a single definite size and shape. Thus there is a real difficulty as to what the object of perception is when I see a material object; so much so that, for these among other reasons, some philosophers have supposed that we cannot know that any material object exists independently of our minds, since all we can know is our own perceptions or sensations and the relations between them. But if this really is all that we know, it becomes necessary to explain how we come to think of material objects as extended in space; and this problem as to how we come to 'exteriorise' our perceptions, to put them out of our minds into space, is one of those on which Bergson proposes to throw light.
But, again, there is a difficulty, not only as to what the object of perception is, but as to what perception itself is. What exactly is this thing, my perception,' which is of material objects? Science tells me that, in part at least, it is caused by material objects. Every particle of matter in the universe is acting causally on every other particle ; and my perceptions seem to be caused by material objects in this sense at least, that, if impressions from outside were not transmitted by my afferent nerves to my brain (both nerves and brain being material objects), I should have no perceptions. Cut the nerves connected with my eyes, and material objects vanish; no visual appearance of them remains. Bergson dwells on the peculiarity of this fact. Is it not significant, he asks, that, though we know that in the rest of nature material objects do not cause one another to disappear completely, yet there is one set of such objects, namely the network of my nerves, which is such that a very slight change in them abolishes all the other material objects in the universe ?
It might seem natural to avoid this difficulty by saying that, when there is a lesion of my nervous system or brain-cells, what happens is, not that the material objects previously perceived by me cease to exist, but that they can no longer appear to me. But this, Bergson thinks, only lands us in a fresh difficulty. If what has ceased to exist in consequence of the lesion is not the external material object, but merely my perception of it, then we shall have to suppose that our brains store up and manufacture our perceptions. And there is a classical
Vol. 216.-No. 430.