Bergson in a Digital Age

Henri-Louis Bergson (1859-1941), the nineteenth-century French philosopher, would have had a lot to say when it comes to the territorial disputes between science (and within science, between physical and natural sciences) and philosophy which became unbridgeable with the postmodern condition. A conversation with Bergson in the aftermath of Sokal Affair of 1996 would have, at first, entailed a hearty laughter at the calibrated attempt by the two physicians to ridicule the twentieth-century philosophers-celebrities and their presumably obscure jargon. Perhaps then it would have moved in the direction where Bergson would highlight the asymmetry that science and philosophy has come to imbibe with regard to the nature of reality. Bergson also grappled with the different orientations that physical sciences and natural sciences obtained in his times making it difficult to look at the organic totality (cosmological and cosmogonic) what Bergson later recognised to be the ‘absolute’ in his own works. The meta-stable universe handed to us by Sir Isaac Newton who defined space and time as the inert theatre where the planets, the sun, the earth revolved around in a perfect manner suggesting a celestial symphony was taken as the static reference system for any kind of measurement. Space was absolute and infinite and so was time in this all-embracing universe. This all-embracing concept of infinite space and time rendered any question about creativity, a life force unintelligible because this stable universe was perceived as incapable of change.

The sublunary world, on the other hand, was buzzing with change. Somewhere in the middle of the nineteenth century, time came to break away from the Newtonian mentality and to speculate about evolution, about change and the process of becoming. A new understanding of time emerged divorced from the physicist’s point of view. Bergson arose to declare ‘duration’ as opposed to the homogenous time which boringly catered to an unborn future. Bergson declared an openness to the future. Against the stated arguments of fixed and frozen moments which can be easily plotted on the Euclidean scale, Bergson proposed a possibility to think beyond the human condition. Bergson countered Immanuel Kant’s view that science (specifically Newtonian mechanism) had defined the limits to metaphysics making all knowledge relative to the faculties. He contended that the physical sciences was based on the conventional ways of measurement based on human intellect and led to ‘artificial’ rules to define the ‘real’ movement of reality. Bergson suggested a move away from ordinary language to understand the abstract nature of thinking. Against the Kantian possibilities where the mind is determined by the external stimuli and things are determined by mind itself and somewhere in between these two there lies an agreement, Bergson said that over a period of time, the agreement remains unexplainable as ever and the other two take up a common form so much so that it becomes difficult to distinguish the mind from the matter and vice-versa. And so, Bergson made it his personal task to bridge the philosophy of knowledge with philosophy of life. It was his belief that the philosophy of life gradually becomes visible when the frames of knowledge become enlarged and attain harmony with each other. The homogenous time and space which Kant viewed as the transcendental forms presuppose “duration” which extends and provides coexisting multiplicity to every successive moment. The debate then shifts from the binary of noumena and phenomena to the partial knowledge of the real and the organic totality.

The disciplinary quarrels are, more or less, on the same lines. Each supposes an relatively absolute knowledge of the real world without taking into consideration the other. If only these disciplines could change their fixed states and participate in the process of becoming, Bergson would say, then the doctrine of real movement would emerge.bergson


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