Matter and Memory – Henry Bergson part3


But this theory of “pure perception” had to be both qualified and completed in regard to two points. For the so-called “pure” perception, which is like a fragment of reality, detached just as it is, would belong to a being unable to mingle with the perception of other bodies that of its own body, that is to say, its affections; nor would it be able to mingle with its intuition of the actual moment that of other moments, that is to say, its memory. In other words, we have, to begin with, and for the convenience of study, treated the living body as a mathematical point in space and conscious perception as a mathematical instant in time. We then had to restore to the body its extensity and to perception its duration. By this we restored to consciousness its two subjective elements, affectivity and memory.
What is an affection? Our perception, we said, indicates the possible action of our body on others. But our body, being extended, is capable of acting upon itself as well as upon other bodies. Into our perception, then, something of our body must enter. When we are dealing with external bodies, these are, by hypothesis, separated from ours by a space, greater or lesser, which measures the remoteness in time of their promise or of their menace: this is why our perception of these bodies indicates only possible actions. But the more the distance diminishes between these bodies and our own, the more the possible action tneds to transform itself into a real action, the call for action becoming more urgent in the measure and proportion that the distance diminishes. And when this distance is nil, that is to say, when the body to be perceived is our own body, it is a real and no longer a virtual action that our perception sketches out. Such is, precisely, the nature of pain, an actual effort of the damaged part to set things to rights, an effort that is local, isolated, and thereby condemned to failure, in an organism which can no longer act except as a whole. Pain is, therefore, in the place where it is felt, as the object is at the place where it is perceived. Between the affection felt and the image percieved there is this difference, that the affection is within our body, the image outside our body. And that is why the surface of our body, the common limit of this and of other bodies, is given to us in the form both of sensations and of an image.
In this interiority of affective sensation consists its subjectivity; in that exteriority of images in general, their objectivity. But here again we encounter the ever-recurring mistake with which we have been confronted througout this work. It is supposed that perception and sensation exist for their own sake; the philosopher ascribes to them an entirely speculative function; and, as he has overlooked those real and virtual actions with which sensation and perception are bound up and by which, according as the action is virtual or real, perception and sensation are characterized and distinguished, he becomes unable to find any other difference between them than a difference of degree. Then, profiting by the fact that affective sensation is but vaguely localizde (because of the effort it involves in an indistinct effort) at once he declares it to be unextended, and these attenuated affections or unextended sensations he sets up as the material with which we are supposed to build up images in space. Thereby he condemns himself to an impossibility of explaining either whence arise the elements of consciousness, or sensations, which he sets up as so many absolutes, or how, unextended, they find their way to space and are coordinated there, or why, in it, they adopt a particular order rather than any other, or finally, how they manage to make up an experience which is regular and common to all men. This experience, the necessary field of our activity, is, on the contrary, what we should start from. Pure perceptions, therfore, or images, are what we should posit at the outset. And sensations, far from being the materials from which the image is wrought, will then appear as the impurity which is introduced into it, being that part of our own body which we project inot all others.


But, as long as we confine ourselves to sensation and to pure perception, we can hardly be said to be dealing with the spirit. No doubt we demonstrate, in opposition to the theory of an epiphenomenal consciousness, that no cerebral state is the equivalent of a perception. No doubt the choice of perceptions from among images in general is the effect of a discernment which foreshadows spirit. No doubt also the material universe itself, defined as the totality of images, is a kind of consciousness, a consciousness in which everything compensates and neutralizes everything else, a consciousness of which all the potential parts, balancing each other by a reaction which is always equal to the action, reciptocally hinder each other from standing out. But to touch the reality of spirit we must place ourselves at the point where an individual consciousness, continuing and retaining the past in a present enriched by it, thus escapes the law of necessity, the law which ordains that the past shall ever follow itself in a present which merely repeats it in another form and that all things shall ever be flowing away. When we pass from pure perception to memory, we definitely abandon matter for spirit.


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