Monday, 21 November 2022

Bergson and Pure Perception (Samprajnata Samadhi)

 “(64) if we start from representation itself, that is to say from the totality of perceived images. My perception, in its pure state, isolated from memory, does not go on from my body to other bodies; it is, to begin with, in the aggregate of bodies, then gradually limits itself and adopts my body as a centre. And it is led to do so precisely by experience of the double faculty, which this body possesses, of performing actions and feeling affections; in a word, by experience of the sensori-motor power of a certain image, privileged among other images.” (Matter and Memory)

This is extremely interesting and has its analogue in certain yogic states of awareness.  As he says the central image that is taken to be the centre of perception i.e. my body, has not yet been lit on.  There is just awareness without that awareness having a strong sense of location.  It is not fully established in the body but remains rapt in the aggregate of images that is to say that both sets of images, my body and that of the world have not as yet split.  This pure perception will of course have a centre and a radius but they are lightly held.

Wordsworth holds that primal condition of pure perception to be the basis of the poetic immersion in the moment, those ‘spots of time’

that blessed mood,

In which the burthen of the mystery,

In which the heavy and the weary weight

Of all this unintelligible world,

Is lightened:—that serene and blessed mood,

In which the affections gently lead us on,—

Until, the breath of this corporeal frame

And even the motion of our human blood

Almost suspended, we are laid asleep

In body, and become a living soul:

(from ‘Tintern Abbey’)

Friday, 18 November 2022

The Image in Bergson


What is the best way to read Bergson?  I would say, no more than 3 pages at a time.  Anymore will cause overheating .  It will take an hour probably.  It is said that a matchbox full of Aristotle weighs as much as the world.  Bergson is like that.  He reads smoothly of course but that is no indication of ease of comprehension.

My interim understanding of the source of his 'image' and 'the aggregate of images'.

The image is something like the image in a mirror.  It's there but it's also part of a totality which includes the person that is standing in front of it.  It's a  totality that can be broken into the various elements that can be considered on their own as though they were subsistent or free standing. So when Bergson writes about affection and perception this sort of division is reflected.  As I understand it the image represents the totality that we are immersed it.  The perception is of a really out there as it is thing and the affection is bodily.  But the bodily affection is also an image.  However the affection is subtilised and becomes cerebral excitations. 
And then he gravels you.
"Affection is, then, that part or aspect of the inside of  our body which we mix with the image of external  bodies; it is what we must first of all subtract from perception to get the image in its purity.'

Thursday, 10 November 2022

Understanding Bergson

 “It is known to him to whom It is unknown; he does not know to whom It is known.  It is unknown to those who know well, and known to those who do not know.”  Kena Up. II.3

I was thinking of this when reading Bergson’s Matter and Memory again.  It’s a difficult book but the difficulty is of a different order to simple complexity and close reasoning.  You have to renounce your usual understanding of internal and external, idealism and realism by whatever name you call them.  Everything changes perceptually as I move my body around so to understand what is going on I have to begin with that central element.  Such is the common understanding, indeed the default position, when we turn our attention as thinkers to the problem.  When we are not thinkers and disciples of Descartes we find ourselves immersed in a non-dual world.  Bergson puts it thus:

Why insist in spite of appearances, that I should go from my conscious self to my body, then from my body to other bodies whereas in fact I place myself at once in the material world in general, and then gradually cut out within it the centre of action which I shall come to call my body and to distinguish from all others?

Saturday, 29 October 2022

Carl Truman on The Romantics (from The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self)


Carl Truman’s book The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self  had been suggested as The Closing of the American Mind  of our day so I thought to take a look.  One chapter on ‘The Unacknowledged Legislators’  suggesting that Shelley and other Romantics might have a part in the making of the modern mind seemed a place to dip my toe.  Just on that alone I decided to venture no further into the deeps of a long book.  It seemed too naive as though the author lacked an empirical acquaintance with original sin and was unaware that the libertine finds justification for the satisfaction of his desires everywhere and if countered turns the argument away as the mere prejudice of the rebarbative mind. 

Last page of chap:

"This is the point that Rousseau, Wordsworth, Blake, and Shelley understood.  It was why they used poetry as a means of achieving the moral reformation of individuals and of society..........And in a world in which the idea of universal human nature has been abandoned or attenuated to the point of being meaningless, it also means that those who shape popular taste exert the most moral power and set society’s moral standards.  While he no doubt would have retched at the thought, William Wordsworth stands near the head of a path that leads to Hugh Hefner and Kim Kardashian."

I only read ‘Playboy’ for the extracts from The Prelude. 

Take Shelley for instance.  Two Victorian sages express quite negative  judgments.  Thomas Carlyle writes:

"Shelley is a poor creature, who has said or done nothing worth a serious man being at the trouble of remembering.... Poor soul, he has always seemed to me an extremely weak creature; a poor, thin, spasmodic, hectic, shrill and pallid being. . . . The very voice of him, shrill, shrieky, to my ear has too much of the ghost! (from Invective and Abuse  by Hugh Kingsmill)"

Matthew Arnold in a review essay on Dowden’s  Life of Percy Bysshe Shelley wishes that he had been left with much less knowledge of the poet’s life.  He considers this letter to his abandoned wife Harriet writing from Troyes where he is resting on his travels with Mary Godwin:


"My dearest Harriet (he begins). I write to you from this detestable town; I write to show that I do not forget you ; I write to urge you to come to Switzerland, where you will at last find one firm and constant friend to whom your interests will be always dear—by whom your feelings will never wilfully be injured. From none can you expect this but me—all else are either unfeeling or selfish, or have beloved friends of their own.''

(This beautiful soul adds in conclusion some commissions)

"I wish you to bring with you the two deeds which Tahourdin has to prepare for you, as also a copy of the settlement. Do not part with any of your money. But what shall be done about the books ? You can consult on the spot. With love to my sweet little lanthe, ever most affectionately yours, S."

" I write in great haste ; we depart directly."

Arnold finds the English language lacking in the precision of invective that French supplies:

"But neither will I call the letter an odious letter, a hideous letter. I prefer to call it, applying an untranslated French word, a bete letter. And it is bete from what is the signal, the disastrous want and weakness of Shelley, with all his fine intellectual gifts—his utter deficiency in humour."

Can an Englishman say worse? 

Wednesday, 26 October 2022

Bergson Stirring a Cup of Coffee by Stephen E. Robbins


Stephen E. Robbins' interpretation of Bergson uses the concept of the holograph to delineate how the brain modulates the vastness of Memory.  Bergson himself writes of the brain as being like a valve.  Everything that you have ever experienced is out there laid down in temporal order compressed into the single plane of duration.  Nothing is missing but not everything is to the point so the brain as an organ of action extracts that which is germane.   The vastness of the totality of experience could not be stored in the brain.  Events are stored in their fullness in memory and it is only on analysis that we can separate out all the physics.  An example that Robbins gives is the stirring of a cup of coffee as an experimental event that is such that if something untoward or unexpected were to happen we would immediately spot it.  So we therefore have it all in memory otherwise it would pass unnoticed.   Robbins throws all his esoteric, to me, knowledge of physics at this event.  Adiabatics, vectors, rate of turn etc, etc.  But apply to the man himself:


Friday, 21 October 2022

Bergson and Transhumanism and Coathangers


Why is transhumanism a pipe dream?  If your brain has a chip installed in it to reroute input around a damaged section caused by a stroke is that an indication of the possibilities of a full machine human interface?  Questions like this arise out of a materialist view of the nature of the human person.  That the brain is a place where memories are stored seems to be a solid scientific fact but it is questioned by Henri Bergson.  He demonstrates through a close analysis of lesion induced aphasia and apraxis that things are not so simple.  He distinguishes between two different sorts of memory, rote memory and the fuller sort which reaches over the whole life of the person and is alway totally present to him.  Both however are focussed on the present moment the brain being an organ of action.  Recognition it will be readily accepted is essential for action.  This happened before and my reaction was successful then so here I go again.  Yes sort of.  Bergson picks this analysis apart:

On one theory, the recognition of a present perception consists in inserting it mentally in its ormer surroundings. I encounter a man for the first time : I simply perceive him. If I meet him again, I recognize him, in the sense that the concomitant circumstances of the original perception, returning to my mind, surround the actual image with a setting which is not a setting actually perceived. To recognize, then, according to this theory, is to associate with a present perception the images which were formerly given in connection with it. But, as it has been justly observed, a renewed perception cannot suggest the concomitant circumstances of the original perception unless the latter is evoked, to begin with, by the present state which resembles it.(page 185 'Matter and Memory')

It, the previous event, must be already here with you.  You did not have to go back to fetch it.  Isn't it the case that we recognize without having an image that we refer to.  Bergson again and again demonstrates his ability to turn a single observation into a revelation.  Every so often I have to read ‘Matter and Memory’ again to find new insights that I didn’t grasp before.  Here he is using a homely metaphor:

there is also a close connection between a coat and the nail on which it hangs, for, if the nail is pulled out, the coat falls to the ground. Shall we say, then, that the shape of the nail gives us the shape of the coat, or in any way corresponds to it ? No more are we entitled to conclude, because the physical fact is hung on to a cerebral state, that there is any parallelism between the two series psychical and physiological. When philosophy pleads that the theory of parallelism is borne out by the results of positive science, it enters upon an unmistakably vicious circle, for, if science interprets connection, which is a fact, as signifying parallelism, which is an hypothesis (and an hypothesis to which it is difficult to attach an intelligible meaning *), it does so, consciously or unconsciously, for reasons of a philosophic order : it is because science has been accustomed by a certain type of philosophy to believe that there is no hypothesis more probable, more in accordance with the interests of scientific inquiry. (Matter and Memory- Intro.)

Tuesday, 18 October 2022

Growing the Economy through A.I.


A.I. is a misnomer of course.  Machines don’t think because machines don’t dream.  They are incapable of those startling metaphors and analogies that dreams excel in due to their being the domain of pre-logical thought.  You cannot say NO in a dream; it has to be performed by doing and then undoing.  It always interesting to read myself in Google News as I do not always use that search engine.  There it is algo urged that I interest myself in the gardening tips of Monty Don and Ukranian artillery.  Like the Weird Sisters Big Algo seeks to win us by honest trifles and betray us in matters of deepest consequence.  This could be me.  What a charming profile.  Tips for the creation of the perfect compost and the terraced gardens of Tuscany.  How very me.  Bit by bit or byte one is husked and carefully layered on the heap which is put out in the Spring as base dressing.