Henri Bergson ( – ) introduced new life to French philosophy, examining the non-mathematical sciences from a philosophical stance. He introduced. Henri Bergson, Duration and Simultaneity: Bergson and the Einsteinian Universe Time, Duration and Freedom – Bergson’s Critical Move Against Kant. Duration and Simultaneity. Henri Bergson Henri Bergson in 20th Century Philosophy Concepts of Simultaneity: From Antiquity to Einstein and Beyond.

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Duration and Simultaneity

This made me want to read Bergson and judge for myself, which I duly did and soon saw how wrong Russell was. I eventually wrote an introductory booklet on Bergson entitled A Living Philosophy Now out of print, although most of the text is still available in another publication.

Henri Bergson was born in Paris in and died there in His mother was Anglo-Irish and his father Polish and an accomplished musician. Bergson uses musical analogies and writes with gallic panache and imagination, drawing freely from the metaphysician and artist in himself. Quite early in his professional teaching career, Bergson had one of those life-changing eureka moments. I saw, to my great astonishment, that scientific time does not endure. His doctoral thesis was on Time and Free Will: An Essay on the Immediate Data of Consciousness This, he argued, is based on a misperception: So time is perceived via a succession of separate, discrete, spatial constructs — just like seeing a film.

To claim that one can measure real duration by counting separate spatial constructs is an illusion: His next major work, Matter and Memorywas an essay on the relation between mind and body. In his preface, Bergson affirms the reality of mind and the reality of matter and tries to determine the relation of the one to the other by the study of memory, which he saw as the intersection or convergence of mind and matter.

He regarded the brain as an organ of choice, with a practical role. Its main function is to filter mental images, allowing through to consciousness those impressions, thoughts or ideas that are of practical biological value. Time and Free Willp. He spent five years researching all the psychological, medical and other literature then available on memory.

He focussed in particular on the condition known as aphasia — ximultaneity of the ability to use language. The aphasiac understands what people are saying, knows what he or she wants to say, suffers no paralysis of the speech organs, and yet is unable to speak. This, Bergson argued, shows that it is not memory as such that is lost, but the bodily mechanism that is needed to express it. From this observation he concluded that memory, and so mind, makes use of the physical brain to carry out its own purposes.

Clearly there is vastly more in a vuration occasion of consciousness than in the corresponding brain state. This is surely a perfectly natural, normal, everyday part of human experience — a common-sense, empirical fact of life. Instead, we feel time as a continuous flow, with simultaenity clearly demarcated beginnings and ends.

We should not therefore confuse an abstract, arbitrary notion of practical convenience with the underlying truth that is continuously confirmed by our own experience. Bergson uses one of his musical analogies to make the point: The brain keeps consciousness, feeling and thought tensely strained on life, and consequently makes them capable of efficacious action.

The brain is the organ of attention to life. In his best known work, Creative EvolutionBergson made it clear that he accepted evolution as a scientifically established fact. He was born the year The Origin of Species was published and Creative Evolution adds a vital missing dimension to Darwinian theory. He believed that the failure to take into account the real time underlying the whole process results in the failure to appreciate the uniqueness of ajd.

Full text of “Duration And Simultaneity Henri Bergson”

Evolution has at its very heart this life force or vital impulse. In An Introduction to MetaphysicsBergson expands on the bergaon role of intuition. The true purpose of knowledge is to know things deeply, to touch the inner essence of things via a form of empathy: Auscultation is listening to the internal organs through a stethoscope.


Bergson also served on French diplomatic missions and from acted as president of the committee on international cooperation of the League of Nations.

He was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in and in published his last major work, The Two Sources of Morality and Religion. The source of the former is the intellect and the source of the latter is intuition.

He acknowledged that his reflections had in fact brought him closer to the Roman Catholic position, which he saw as the fulfillment of his Judaic faith. But he never actually became a Catholic: Only weeks before his death in and despite being seriously ill, Bergson insisted on registering as a Jew, even though he had been offered exemption by the Vichy government.

For a biologist to be accused of vitalist tendencies was equivalent to a charge of heresy. The mechanistic view alone is singularly ill-equipped to understand the immense variety and depth of human experience, to say nothing of the more subtle aspects of the phenomenon of consciousness. Whenever any given outlook — scientific, philosophical, political, economic or religious — becomes closed and dogmatic, it sooner or later has to undergo its own creative evolution and become more open to new ideas and insights.

The fact that a mechanistic approach is essential for many aspects of scientific research does not mean bergsoh everything in life can be accounted for in reductionist, nothing-but mechanistic terms. In order to investigate methodically this aspect of human experience, Hardy set up a research unit, originally at Oxford.

It was William James who had originally pioneered this work over a century ago and not much was done in this field until the Hardy unit was si,ultaneity up in Bergson believed that mental simu,taneity spiritual aspects of human experience were greatly neglected as a result of focussing so single-mindedly on the physical and material.

He once speculated on how things might have developed had modern science devoted more attention to exploring the non-material realm. He believed that we would by now have had a psychology of which today we can form no idea, any more than before Galileo people could have imagined what our physics would be like. A biology quite different to ours would also have emerged: On this force we have today taken no hold precisely because our science of mind is in its infancy Over the past twenty or thirty years, there has been an ever-increasing growth in demand for many varieties of alternative healing, some of which are becoming part of medical practice, the durtion of psychosomatic medicine and many different therapies.

Quite apart from the efficacy of any given remedy or therapeutic technique, this growth represents a widespread revolt against reductionist, materialist, mechanistic fundamentalism.

Bergson is sometimes claimed to have anticipated features of relativity theory. The way we perceive time is surely a core perception, which affects all other perceptions. It determines our philosophy of life, matters of war and peace, how we perceive work and the amount of quality time we abd to the people and things that really matter.

Despite the recovery of a more vitalistic outlook in attitudes towards physical and mental wellbeing, the main underlying perception of our modern, urban-industrial society remains mechanistic and soulless. Over the years, the dominant western worldview has become de-vitalised and devalued, especially in politics and economics.

Henri Bergson and the Perception of Time

Perhaps we would have learned from this a greater respect for all expressions of the life force, including our own species. By now we would have had an environmentally-friendly form of global politics that we can barely imagine.

Had such a re-valuation of our natural habitat and its human, plant and animal inhabitants taken place half a century ago, our planet would probably be in much better shape today, allowing us to pass it on in a healthy state to our descendants.


Political and economic priorities would by now have changed radically and war would be seen as an absolute last resort. There can be no place in a genuinely ethical foreign policy for the doctrine that might is right. There could therefore be no question of any nation, however powerful, embarking on pre-emptive wars against any other nation. Siimultaneity a more vitalistic perception, the intrinsic value of simultanrity and of humanity as a whole would by now have become something so written into our lives that it would be that simulatneity harder to demonise those we disliked.

In order to exploit and abuse others and make war against them, you bergdon have to devalue them. Seeing them as of no greater value than devitalized machines is one way of doing this. He believes there duraton a direct line from Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq to millions of home computers across the western world. Pictures not at all dissimilar to the shocking images from Abu Ghraib are available as a form of home entertainment.

The production line mindset defines the consumer as a buying machine with an insatiable appetite, whose tastes, fads and fashions can be manipulated, via advertising, with artificially contrived, largely unnecessary and usually environmentally destructive, wants.

When one buying machine finally breaks down when a customer diesit is replaced by a new one, already well groomed in the dark arts of consumption. Underlying the consumerist juggernaut is the mechanistic view of time, the great fear of boredom that goes with it and the compulsion to fill up every waking moment with more and more graphic images, leaving less and less time for the things that really matter.

Our deeper needs are vitally real — not at all the same thing as contrived wants.

One of our deepest needs simultaenity to find and express that vital creative spark that lies somewhere in all of us. If we saw ourselves as potentially creative artists of one kind or another, if this was the main view of ourselves and each other, we would spend more time creating our own images, writing our own stories, rediscovering our own myths.

The artist is not a special kind of person. Every person is a special kind of artist. In a society that put greater emphasis on creation than production, boredom would not even be an anv.

Henri Bergson (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

Instead of fearing time and thinking wimultaneity it as an endless space ans has to be filled in, we would value it more and make sure we had time to express our own particular form of creativity, time to dream, time to do nothing in particular, to have a fallow period, time to sit silently, or walk mindfully.

Bergson enables us to envisage a society based more on creativity than the soulless, mechanistic, produce consume model. His philosophy offers a more integrated view of life, where science, technology, art, economics, simultaenity and spirituality can all work together. You do not need to subscribe to any kind of religious faith, or belief in the supernatural, to stand in awe at the creative beauty of the evolutionary life force in all its incredibly varied and wonderful manifestations. This sense of wonder comes as naturally to a person of scientific inclination as it does to an artistic or spiritually-minded person.

Above all, his philosophy provides a basis for a more creative, revalued and revitalized general outlook. ane

John-Francis Phipps lives in Oxfordshire. The most recent of his many books and pamphlets is Simultabeity Being Alive: Reflections After 11th September. This site uses cookies to recognize users and allow us to analyse site usage. By continuing to browse the site with cookies enabled in your browser, you consent to the use of cookies in accordance with our privacy policy.