Living Consciousness (book review) G. William Barnard

The Metaphysical Vision of Henri Bergson


271218: someone ‘liked’ this so i thought to read this review again. i recognize my arguments, remember reading, i have not reread the book but these have not changed. the only difference is perhaps in understanding bergson and critiques launched that in making ‘time’ everything he is in fact making it ‘nothing’. that is, if we talk of it as only quality and cannot symbolize it, we are making ‘time’ atemporal ‘nothing’ when obviously it is ‘everything’. we are claiming ‘time’ somehow is beyond logic and accessible only to intuition, the kind of non-philosophy of his latter thoughts, and so against all the practical ways we know the universe. this is ‘nothing’. to me this contradiction is typically western philosophy and logic. i like ‘nothing’, i call it ‘emptiness’, i think of it as obviously real, essential, logical as truth of our world is contradictory if it is anything... but then i am not a philosophical prof but amateur and no scientist but maybe artist...


061012 first review: this is a difficult rating- the first half, mostly on 'time and free will', is an exciting, insightful, exploration of the entire bergsonian metaphysical conception that perhaps surpasses in explanatory power those old rivals materialism and idealism. i give this a five. the second half, or rather its section elaborating and emphasizing implications of his thought from 'matter and memory', which are no less than religious, revolutionary for entire scientific realism, is less convincing. i give this a three...


i enjoy bergson's ideas and writing and argument style, somehow more than usual literature of characters, plots, themes- but this is a reflection of how i read philosophy in general, as ideas about ideas, as renderings of certain plausible or at least argued visions of 'what is'. this first part gently attempts to show bergson's power of thought, without doing too much violence to internal coherence, the perhaps not-yet-fully-appreciated reforming of essential philosophical logic from that which we are most familiar- 'space'- to that equally real but often disregarded reality of 'time'...


'space' can be conceived as divisible, corpuscular, is essentially homogeneous, measurable- 'quantity'- and in evolutionary and simple everyday common sense, understanding of our universe show the undeniable practical value of this orientation. 'space' underlies such human projects as the natural sciences. thinking of time on the same model is persistent, even if by now we are investigating sub-atomic particles which are not 'space' but only real through 'time' as waves also, as 'time'...


'time' is not infinitely or even immediately divisible, this illusion is as if saying that ticks on a clock are 'time' rather than simply our attempt to create 'time' as 'space', our attempt to think of 'time' as divisible, corpuscular, essentially homogeneous, measurable- 'quantity'- when it is too obvious time is a process of change, of how, of when- 'quality'- a question of 'dure'e'- Bergson's vision of time as an elemental aspect not in or before or after or above or below the resonation of 'space' through 'time'...


while bergson generally abides with his decision to avoid inventing terms and jargon, he uses 'dure'e' as somehow different and more than the english translation as 'duration', and perhaps this is because the word implies a completion of some sort, again from here to there, a spatial insistence embedded in an entirely temporal element. this book certainly focuses on how important this concept of 'time' in passing, rather than 'time' as passage, as history, is in bergson's vision...


there is here confrontation with the problem of the arrow of time in all physics, in science- the fact that all equations that describe our universe are essentially atemporal, that time is introduced only in our human perspective, that 'time' is disregarded, is only implied, yet our actual lived experience represents 'time' in only one direction, one arrow. a teacup shatters into many pieces when it is dropped, but we have no teacup spontaneously forming as it leaps up to the hand. this sentence only makes sense in one order, whereas as a physical process it should work forwards or backwards...


this book does not explore whatever explanations philosophers of science have come up with for this- but it suggests to me how metaphysics of scientific realism is somehow incomplete. this book helps describe how bergson in 'time and free will', shows how we as philosophers and in everyday life, through the radical relocation of thought from 'space' to 'time', can answer many concepts which show the general spatial model of physics ineffective. 'time' is not illusion, 'time' is not implicit, 'time' is not after the fact, but 'time' is the fact...


'time' is 'quality', 'time' is novelty, 'time' is not running out but running up- that is, becoming more- and the descriptions and uses of 'time' on graphs or in equations, as just another variable, betray our usual human compulsion to make 'quality' of 'time' into a 'quantity' of 'space'. duree is something more than either, but is not simply our mind creating the world- we are of the brain in the world, not the world in the brain- our sense of lived experience is according to how we are attuned to the world...


(just read that in brazilian portuguese a common phrase used to link thoughts is the question ‘te ligado?’ which is a condensation of the phrase 'are you tuned in?')


but this all leads to some of the problems i have with his elaborations mostly after 'matter and memory', which at the moment have intensity perhaps because i just finished the book. in a somewhat disheartened state. first, some engaging speculations about the filtering process of our minds, by which the overwhelming senses of the world are usually, in waking life, screened or abstracted to a manageable level of experience. so we are not flooded and drowned by the complete and unbroken senses or memories our body delivers to our minds. next, some speculations about the possible parallels between the mentally ill and the exceptional receptivity of shamans or artists or mystics et al...


okay, i can have an open mind about these thoughts... but when he refers to actual paranormal events in his or bergson's life, especially after he has consistently validated scientific reasoning and even brought in high-altitude concepts of ultimate conceptions of the real- of sub atomic particle/waves etc.- aside from simple confirmation bias of all the historical but not necessarily repeatable evidence, this speaks to me of why he or bergson might believe in these unusual events... but not why ‘i’ should believe. this is when he gets ‘vision’, this is where the tone switches from philosophy to something like 'new age' religious. he has presaged this turn by ending each previous chapter with biographical ruminations relevant in some way, and maybe it is just me: maybe i am unthinkingly prejudiced against religion as a way of understanding the real...


but as i have said (to friends...): the natural is fantastic enough there is never a need to add super- to it, the normal is fantastic enough you do not need to add para-.


finally, there is a perhaps minor metaphorical problem, of bergson as much as barnard, a poetic problem- and this is that in describing the essence of temporal thought, of duree, there is the unfortunate tendency to resort to spatial metaphors: of 'surface', of 'deeper', thoughts. i do not know what is the answer other than arbitrarily deciding these are the best ways of thinking metaphors of time and should not be burdened with spatial denotations...

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