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Thinking in Time (book review) Suzanne Guerlac

Updated: May 4, 2023

An Introduction to Henri Bergson

220701: (this is eleven years later reread) recent read (220625)[book:Bergson’s Philosophy of Self-Overcoming: Thinking without Negativity or Time as Striving|52736601], previous [book:Bergson: Thinking Beyond the Human Condition|38604347]. this has inspired me to read this intro a third (3) time, as I am in the process of downsizing my shelves and this must go. this time I realise I do not talk of her interrogation of [book:Matter and Memory|865540], which in some ways is his most significant work...

rather than conceptualising mind-matter dispute bergson insists on mind-memory. rather than the mind as engaged in epistemological searching the mind operates for the body as an organ of 'acting', not 'knowing'. and to this end b theorises 'pure perception', which is complete, instantaneous, theoretical, vs 'concrete perception', which is our usual experience of time, as informed by memory, limitations, actual, which is the way we live. 'pure perception' is impersonal, is pretext for memory, and 'concrete' interweaves past and present. there are two forms of memory: 'automatic memory' and 'image memory'. the first is at work whenever we do something without reflection, without thought, the second is when we 'imagine' or act voluntarily, which can be thought of as dream state though we do not need to be asleep...

b insists perception and memory are not 'degrees' of difference, that is, quantitatively, but difference in 'kind', that is, quality. we can only act in the present, but this does not mean the past does not exist, have affect, even if this is 'virtual', that is, not 'actual'... the past continues, 'lives' so to speak, in 'pure memory', and operates as the is no less illusion in time than space is illusion of valley over the horizon. there is reprint of the diagram b uses to visualise our encounter with the plane of the real, our actual contact, continuing into the past, continuing to be real but now virtual, as perception becomes memory...

b works with biology as known then, in conceiving the nervous system as reflecting the evolution of our human freedom to choose, according to 'delays' of 'imagining' memory, in his idea similar to switchboard allowing this impulse through to the mind, delaying this other. it is essential to understand that the mind is not the brain, does not operate from necessity, no matter how AI researchers try to simulate (and fail). this book is from 2006 so there might be some progress but it seems, from what is read, we are still beholden to the computational model of the brain, though guerlac does hold out hope this is being better understood as inadequate. there is conclusion of some quotes very useful:

sensation is the beginning of freedom

time is a form of energy

the past is a reality

my perception is outside my body

the same feeling, by fact of being repeated, is new feeling

memory does not consist in regression from present to past, but in contrary, in progress from past to present

questions relative to subject and object should be thought of as a function of time rather than space

perception is nothing but occasion for remembering

nothing is less than the present

movement is quality, not quantity

we only perceive the past

time is invention or nothing at all

020711: this is a later later later later addition: by now it should be apparent that bergson is one of my favorite philosophers. best on bergson i have read, given five, though partly sentiment as this is one of the first i read, partly more that i loved the philosophy more than just the book. this one concentrates on [book:Time and Free Will: An Essay on the Immediate Data of Consciousness|907548] and [book:Matter and Memory|865540] and not [book:Creative Evolution|379659], and though i do not imagine full comprehension there are others enjoyed of his thought: [book:Philosophy and the Adventure of the Virtual: Bergson and the Time of Life|115738] best total selection of bergson's work is: [book:Henri Bergson: Key Writings|115736]...

this is a later later later addition: why am I revisiting this review? well now I have read many more works, even some introductory analytic philosophy, tried deleuze and guattari, find them often opaque, often fascinating, and have read critical examination of Bergson's , not enough to fully critique yet but does deeply interrogate his entire metaphysics, enjoying that one such I bought it and will reread it...

this is a later later addition: so, reading him again, 3rd time, inspired by lawlor's [book:The Challenge of Bergsonism|1196665]. [book:Early Twentieth-Century Continental Philosophy|12973401] easy reading, maybe because some ideas are so familiar. could read him over and over. this after lawlor is interesting because in trying to see his pure perception, his memory and matter substrate, in how our experienced world is not resolved in timeless, undirected, abstract mathematical formulae. easier to read of him, like attending lectures, than read him without guidance. there is this wonderful idea we should see the world as essentially suffused in time, this time as duration, as how the future is freedom. have in some ways perhaps thought too much of new and not enough of persisting past. see lawlor.

this is a later addition: i have other texts by bergson- laughter, [book:Laughter|7824219]. [book:The Creative Mind|208057], [book:Time and Free Will: An Essay on the Immediate Data of Consciousness|907548], [book:Matter and Memory|865540] already read- others that i will read next, but then i suppose there might be deleuze, other more recent or contemporary continental thinkers. .now read [book:Creative Evolution|379659]

first review: i knew of bergson only as someone sartre and proust and merleau-ponty refer to. i am not studying him. i am not professionally astute enough to pass judgment on how accurate and helpful guerlac is here. i can only say that this is one of the few works of philosophy i am re-reading.

i am interested in continental thought, the sort Bergson works through, which deals with the world given as immediate data of consciousness, nothing more or less. i love the idea we have misunderstood time on a spatial thought-model: thinking in terms of a line or a circle. i am moved by his exploration of novelty. i try to connect this with buddhist concepts of time, with process, with change. this is one of those books that clarify how much more interested i am in continental rather than analytic philosophical work. i read it again, i read it anew, as one of the signal insights of bergson is every time is a new moment even if you have been there before- this is simply new with the memory of the old, so it is new.

think the difference between quality- that is, consciousness- and quantity- that is, the world- think of pure perception, of memory filling in the gaps of senses, of matter and memory. think difference between level of illumination versus brightness. think in time: difficult but rewarding, this is the theme of his metaphysics, to think of how indivisible is real duration, real time, rather than points on a line which plots history not act. in western philosophy we talk ourselves into dead end paradox by ignoring time. there are so many things to think of in here. time is real. time is heterogeneous, new every moment as quality, not homogeneous as matter and thus divisible...

intensity, multiplicity, duration- these are keys in Bergson, in recognition of freedom expressed not beyond categories of experience but in immediacy of time. which in error we conceptualize similar to space, a tendency embedded in our human project of living, a prejudice we must overcome. for there is the entire inner consciousness which does not exist as space but as time. which is not repeatable, never identical, not subject to conservation of energy but accumulates... how music or melody of song is an apt model for our experience of living time, of real duration, of past flowing into future...or something like that.

think in time. questions of subject and object should be understood not as space, as thing beyond perception, but as time. postructuralism heeds bergson's defining difference from the inanimate to living, much as thought must be seen not computational but active, not contemplative, not judgment.

think in time and there is a whole new way of seeing worlds physical and metaphysical: great intro.


[book:Time and Free Will: An Essay on the Immediate Data of Consciousness|907548]

[book:Matter and Memory|865540]

[book:Creative Evolution|379659]

[book:Henri Bergson: Key Writings|115736]

[book:Philosophy and the Adventure of the Virtual: Bergson and the Time of Life|115738]


[book:Bergson’s Philosophy of Self-Overcoming: Thinking without Negativity or Time as Striving|52736601]

[book:Bergson: Thinking Beyond the Human Condition|38604347]

[book:Deleuze, Bergson, Merleau-Ponty: The Logic and Pragmatics of Creation, Affective Life, and Perception|52669905]

[book:Henri Bergson|23168534]

[book:Thinking in Time: An Introduction to Henri Bergson|379665]

[book:The Bergsonian Philosophy of Intelligence|42439211]

[book:Bergson and the Stream of Consciousness Novel|3553423]

[book:Morality in Evolution: The Moral Philosophy of Henri Bergson|22137889]

[book:The Crisis in Modernism: Bergson and the Vitalist Controversy|8583342]

[book:The Philosophy of Science Fiction: Henri Bergson and the Fabulations of Philip K. Dick|25990962]

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