Monday, 13 March 2023

Bergson and the Sensorimotor Stage


Bergson’s theory of the move from the aggregate of images, what I have called the monistic cluster or that booming, blooming buzzing confusion of William James was an anticipation of the sensorimotor stage of development in early childhood  as understood by Piaget.  Here the child through single touch and double touch begins to discover where the world and himself begin to part company. Me/Not-Me stage takes two years so it’s not an immediate thing to grasp.  As the Subject/Object divide becomes established it seems to the individual knower to be a fundamental feature of reality.  It is not and again with Bergson’s  understanding of memory as not missing anything, as having all experience available for present use if the need arises certain reversions to that state can occur.  These can be like mystic states akin to a dissolution of the personality. Tennyson on the saying of his own name would lapse into such a condition:

. . . a kind of waking trance — this for lack of a better word — I have frequently had, quite up from boyhood, when I have been all alone. . . . All at once, as it were out of the intensity of the consciousness of individuality, the individuality itself seemed to dissolve and fade away into boundless being, and this not a confused state but the clearest, the surest of the surest . . . utterly beyond words — where death was an almost laughable impossibility, the loss of personality (if so it were) seeming no extinction, but the only true life. . . .

The savikalpa samadhi is somewhat like this from the accounts of yogis but they would probably reserve complete realisation as a gnosis that is an everyday thing, the sahaj samadhi.  Here in all states of mind the unity of being is never lost and even while in the subject/object mode of awareness realisation remains intact.  Ken Wilber who has reflected deeply on the nature of consciousness rejects the regression to the sensorimotor stage as a false samadhi.

Many theorists, following Jung, maintained that since mysticism is a subject/object union, then this early undifferentiated fusion state must be what is somehow recaptured in mystical unity. Being an earlier follower of Jung, I had agreed with that position, and had indeed written several essays explaining it. But as with much of Jung, it was now a position I found untenable. And more than that, annoying, because it unmistakably meant that mysticism is a regressive state of some sort of another. This was, as they say, a real sore spot with me.

I speculate that if the journals and notes of Bergson were available to us which they are not having been destroyed on his instructions, we might find evidence of odd and uncanny states of mind and experiences which led him later on to give credence to E.S.P.  It is likely that he destroyed his papers in order to not distract from his published works.

Friday, 10 March 2023

Bergson and the Aggregate of Images


Everything becomes clearer, on the other hand, (pg 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. For, on the one hand, this image always occupies the centre of representation, so that the other images range themselves round it in the very order in which they might be subject to its action; on the other hand, I know it from within, by sensations which I term affective, instead of knowing only, as in the case of the other images, its outer skin. There is then, in the aggregate of images, a privileged image, perceived in its depths and no longer only on the surface - the seat of affection and, at the same time, the source of action: it is this particular image which I adopt as the centre of my universe and as the physical basis of my personality.”

(Matter and Memory)

 Ariel archeology can discern features which are not apparent when on the ground but can be picked up ghosting through the land when the angle of the sun is low.  Reading Bergson flying in my Ariel Advaita machine non-dual features can be discerned.  At the same time the pull towards the dualistic interpretation are obviated. 

John Mullarkey, whose book on Bergson (Bergson and Philosophy) I have been dipping into, in his remarks on the passage above holds that there is quite clearly a deviation from monism.

Yet this return to a monistic purity is shown to fail almost immediately, for within this world of indiscriminate images there is said to be always one that can be immediately distinguished from the others: the image of my body.  An immediately given dualism is reinscribed within the realm of images, in that the body alone is known in two distinct manners: through the perception of its objective form  as just one body amongst others and through the 

affective experience of being incarnated within and possessing this body; the perspectival feeling that ‘it is my body’.

Is that a ‘gotcha’? Probably not if we consider that Bergson would hardly have fallen so easily into a retorsion. Scrolling back from the projection into the body as a center we come to what I have been calling the plenum viz.the aggregate of images. Here from my advaitic  perspective  I can discern an analogue of  the mechanism of superimposition is at work. 

The Bhagavad Gita  13:14 expresses it thus:

Shining through the functions of all the organs, (yet) devoid of all the organs; unattached, and verily the supporter of all; without quality, and the perceiver of qualities.

The aggregate of images is the device that Bergson uses to surpass the demands of both Idealism and Realism or internal and external views of knowledge. The primal state is one of self-luminous monism or an enclosed world of being which has not yet bifurcated. 

Everything becomes clearer, on the other hand, (pg 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.

Note that he uses the term ‘aggregate of bodies’ as an alternative to ‘aggregate of images’ because body and image denote the same experience which is between a representation and a material object in his ontology. Presumably he wishes to point to the monistic cluster in which there is as yet no separation. 


Saturday, 18 February 2023

Bergson's Qualia

So creeping alone the vast noetic continent of Matter and Mind accompanied by that man in the bowler hat whose piercing dark eyes have looked in things and felt the enigmatic gaze of silent objects.  Are they emanating their own qualia. Joel Dolbeault thinks so:

From the point of view of contemporary panpsychism, one can ask the following question: for Bergson, does matter have perceptions in the phenomenal sense of the term? The answer is positive because, for Bergson, qualia (i.e., phenomenal qualities) have an objective reality. By contracting the elementary material vibrations, the human perception does not make the qualia, appear, it only intensifies them (Bergson 1991, 182-183, 202-204). (Bergsoniana: )

Can this be right going by the normal acceptation of qualia as how things feel to us?  It seems an impoverishment of the personal and moreover contrary to cher maitre’s sense of memory as a personal hue that objects reflect even though we might think of our perceptions as entirely objective.  We live our own worlds and that is another name for soul.  What pops out or what is salient tells us what we are: for him who wears shoes the world is covered in leather.  


Friday, 10 February 2023

Bergson Madness

 This way lies madness I say to myself.  After poring over Matter and Memory for years you have finally begun to see some light dawn .Themes emerge from the fog and shapes at last settle into an intelligible form.  The next point of departure is to feel that nobody really understands Bergson but your own self.  Nevertheless there are false steps or a characteristic misprision that arises when there is interference from an overweening conceptual schema so established that it ignores Bergson’s order of business. As I wrote previously the aporiai generated by the internal/external; idealist/materialist were considered insuperable by him.  The alternative then is to move away from a subject/object schema to a plenum of consciousness in which the two are merged.  It is the interaction that is being conscious in a state of pure perception.  As the Vipassana Buddhist meditation instead of saying ‘I hear a song’ say ‘singing is singing’.  Of course this is a limit experience, memory that is linked to a point of view and a history particularises the personal.  Memory and perception work together but the fundamental ontology is of an immediacy that lays down experiences as they happen and is a permanent record.  Forgetting is then a device that cuts out of this plenum what is needed to act efficiently.    Its on a what we need to remember basis.  

What then of interpretations that stay within the rubric of internal/external, qualia and the like conundrums generated by the standard epistemology?  Whatever of my rough hewn farrago they are certainly straying from the master’s order of business.  

I rise from my couch and resume a vacant and pensive mood.  

Saturday, 4 February 2023

Bergson as a Dualist


In the introduction to ‘Matter and Memory’ Bergson states that his philosophy is dualist but having read his rejection of both Materialism and Idealism we are inclined to say ‘yes Henri, it’s dualism but not as we know it.  He starts from the common apprehension of a primal division between subject and object.  It’s perfectly natural and inevitable but the aporiai that it spawns sends him in a new direction.  Let’s take it that there is an interaction between a sensitive actor, the subject, and the world of sensible inputs. It is this interaction which is experienced as a plenum but not from the vantage point of a subject.  The natural tendency to place this experience in the subject is what the Advaitins call adhyasa or superimposition.  In Bergson’s panpsychist analysis memory pervades this interaction and lays it up never to be forgotten.  Now the perception which is a function of the superimposed subject has its images in a direct way in contrast to memory which is non-temporal but can insert its input.  This I think is the source of the notion of reality as the ‘aggregate of images’.  There is a pooling together from both sources.

I have previously mentioned  my intuition of the metaphor of mirror and images as being a source for his philosophy.  Metaphors instead of being merely an illustration of a point to be clarified can themselves be a higher realisation which hovers on the edge of the inexpressible.

More anon on that.

Tuesday, 10 January 2023

Henri Bergson on Recognition

 I am creeping along following  my reading plan for Matter and Memory by Henri Bergson.  No more that 3 or 4 pages at a time writing notes as I read as if each observation was a nail to hold it down.  I can see how this dilatory notation could have exasperated Samuel Johnson during his tour of the Hebrides but for a work like Bergson’s it induces the stasis that allows some of the profound insights to penetrate.  Like recognition as a foundational native power.  How do you know that this perception is similar to another that occurred in the past.  Looking for evidence for this knowledge is the reflex of empiricism but looked at closely it chases its own tail.  We can only recognise similarity if we already have it and in many cases familiarity precedes the memory of our previous encounter.

The advaitin Dharmaraja Adhvarindra writing on the Pramanas (means of valid knowledge)  devotes his shortest chapter to upamana  or comparison - “The instrument of the valid knowledge of similarity is comparison”.  Even those astute observers of the furniture of the mind did not see the difficulty involved in the comparison of what is a present experience with an experience which is past and thereby judge their congruence or not or slight resemblance etc.  Here epistemology trumps neuroscience’s engrams.

“But, along with this definite and perceived resemblance which (pg 107) consists in the common element seized and disengaged by the mind, there is a vague and in some sort objective resemblance, spread over the surface of the images themselves, which might act perhaps like a physical cause of reciprocal attraction.[13] And should we ask how it is, then, that we often recognize an object without being able to identify it with a former image, refuge is sought in the convenient hypothesis of cerebral tracks which coincide with each other, of cerebral movements made easier by practice,[14] or of perceptive cells communicating with cells where memories are stored.[15] In truth, all such theories of recognition are bound to melt away, in the end, into physiological hypotheses of this kind. What they were aiming at, first, was to make all recognition issue from a bringing together of perception and memory; but experience stands over against them, testifying that in most cases recollection emerges only after the perception is recognized.” Matter and Memory

Admit it: the ball joint of the philosopher’s neck is made wry by this confounding of the intuitive question - how do we know?  We just know.  A vertiginous prospect rejected by right thinking empiricists.

Tuesday, 3 January 2023

Amiel on Religion

 May 7, 1870.—The faith which clings to its idols and resists all innovation is a retarding and conservative force; but it is the property of all religion to serve as a curb to our lawless passion for freedom, and to steady and quiet our restlessness of temper. Curiosity is the expansive force, which, if it were allowed an unchecked action upon us, would disperse and volatilize us; belief represents the force of gravitation and cohesion which makes separate bodies and individuals of us. Society lives by faith, develops by science. Its basis then is the mysterious, the unknown, the intangible—religion—while the fermenting principle in it is the desire of knowledge. Its permanent substance is the uncomprehended or the divine; its changing form is the result of its intellectual labour. The unconscious adhesions, the confused intuitions, the obscure presentiments, which decide the first faith of a people, are then of capital importance in its history.

(from 'Amiel's Journal' by Henri Frederic Amiel