Henri Bergson.

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out of its eternity and thereby coincide with all this knowledge and all
these things. Its immutability is therefore, indeed, the cause of the
universal becoming.

Such was the point of view of ancient philosophy in regard to change
and duration. That modern philosophy has repeatedly, but especially in
its beginnings, had the wish to depart from it, seems to us
unquestionable. But an irresistible attraction brings the intellect back
to its natural movement, and the metaphysic of the moderns to the
general conclusions of the Greek metaphysic. We must try to make this
point clear, in order to show by what invisible threads our mechanistic
philosophy remains bound to the ancient philosophy of Ideas, and how
also it responds to the requirements, above all practical, of our

* * * * *

Modern, like ancient, science proceeds according to the
cinematographical method. It cannot do otherwise; all science is subject
to this law. For it is of the essence of science to handle _signs_,
which it substitutes for the objects themselves. These signs undoubtedly
differ from those of language by their greater precision and their
higher efficacy; they are none the less tied down to the general
condition of the sign, which is to denote a fixed aspect of the reality
under an arrested form. In order to think movement, a constantly renewed
effort of the mind is necessary. Signs are made to dispense us with this
effort by substituting, for the moving continuity of things, an
artificial reconstruction which is its equivalent in practice and has
the advantage of being easily handled. But let us leave aside the means
and consider only the end. What is the essential object of science? It
is to enlarge our influence over things. Science may be speculative in
its form, disinterested in its immediate ends; in other words we may
give it as long a credit as it wants. But, however long the day of
reckoning may be put off, some time or other the payment must be made.
It is always then, in short, practical utility that science has in view.
Even when it launches into theory, it is bound to adapt its behavior to
the general form of practice. However high it may rise, it must be ready
to fall back into the field of action, and at once to get on its feet.
This would not be possible for it, if its rhythm differed absolutely
from that of action itself. Now action, we have said, proceeds by leaps.
To act is to re-adapt oneself. To know, that is to say, to foresee in
order to act, is then to go from situation to situation, from
arrangement to rearrangement. Science may consider rearrangements that
come closer and closer to each other; it may thus increase the number of
moments that it isolates, but it always isolates moments. As to what
happens in the interval between the moments, science is no more
concerned with that than are our common intelligence, our senses and our
language: it does not bear on the interval, but only on the extremities.
So the cinematographical method forces itself upon our science, as it
did already on that of the ancients.

Wherein, then, is the difference between the two sciences? We indicated
it when we said that the ancients reduced the physical order to the
vital order, that is to say, laws to genera, while the moderns try to
resolve genera into laws. But we have to look at it in another aspect,
which, moreover, is only a transposition, of the first. Wherein consists
the difference of attitude of the two sciences toward change? We may
formulate it by saying that _ancient science thinks it knows its object
sufficiently when it has noted of it some privileged moments, whereas
modern science considers the object at any moment whatever_.

The forms or ideas of Plato or of Aristotle correspond to privileged or
salient moments in the history of things - those, in general, that have
been fixed by language. They are supposed, like the childhood or the old
age of a living being, to characterize a period of which they express
the quintessence, all the rest of this period being filled by the
passage, of no interest in itself, from one form to another form. Take,
for instance, a falling body. It was thought that we got near enough to
the fact when we characterized it as a whole: it was a movement
_downward_; it was the tendency toward a _centre_; it was the _natural_
movement of a body which, separated from the earth to which it belonged,
was now going to find its place again. They noted, then, the final term
or culminating point ([Greek: telos, akmê]) and set it up as the
essential moment: this moment, that language has retained in order to
express the whole of the fact, sufficed also for science to characterize
it. In the physics of Aristotle, it is by the concepts "high" and "low,"
spontaneous displacement and forced displacement, own place and strange
place, that the movement of a body shot into space or falling freely is
defined. But Galileo thought there was no essential moment, no
privileged instant. To study the falling body is to consider it at it
matters not what moment in its course. The true science of gravity is
that which will determine, for any moment of time whatever, the position
of the body in space. For this, indeed, signs far more precise than
those of language are required.

We may say, then, that our physics differs from that of the ancients
chiefly in the indefinite breaking up of time. For the ancients, time
comprises as many undivided periods as our natural perception and our
language cut out in it successive facts, each presenting a kind of
individuality. For that reason, each of these facts admits, in their
view, of only a _total_ definition or description. If, in describing it,
we are led to distinguish phases in it, we have several facts instead of
a single one, several undivided periods instead of a single period; but
time is always supposed to be divided into determinate periods, and the
mode of division to be forced on the mind by apparent crises of the
real, comparable to that of puberty, by the apparent release of a new
form. - For a Kepler or a Galileo, on the contrary, time is not divided
objectively in one way or another by the matter that fills it. It has no
natural articulations. We can, we ought to, divide it as we please. All
moments count. None of them has the right to set itself up as a moment
that represents or dominates the others. And, consequently, we know a
change only when we are able to determine what it is about at any one of
its moments.

The difference is profound. In fact, in a certain aspect it is radical.
But, from the point of view from which we are regarding it, it is a
difference of degree rather than of kind. The human mind has passed from
the first kind of knowledge to the second through gradual perfecting,
simply by seeking a higher precision. There is the same relation between
these two sciences as between the noting of the phases of a movement by
the eye and the much more complete recording of these phases by
instantaneous photography. It is the same cinematographical mechanism in
both cases, but it reaches a precision in the second that it cannot have
in the first. Of the gallop of a horse our eye perceives chiefly a
characteristic, essential or rather schematic attitude, a form that
appears to radiate over a whole period and so fill up a time of gallop.
It is this attitude that sculpture has fixed on the frieze of the
Parthenon. But instantaneous photography isolates any moment; it puts
them all in the same rank, and thus the gallop of a horse spreads out
for it into as many successive attitudes as it wishes, instead of
massing itself into a single attitude, which is supposed to flash out in
a privileged moment and to illuminate a whole period.

From this original difference flow all the others. A science that
considers, one after the other, undivided periods of duration, sees
nothing but phases succeeding phases, forms replacing forms; it is
content with a _qualitative_ description of objects, which it likens to
organized beings. But when we seek to know what happens within one of
these periods, at any moment of time, we are aiming at something
entirely different. The changes which are produced from one moment to
another are no longer, by the hypothesis, changes of quality; they are
_quantitative_ variations, it may be of the phenomenon itself, it may be
of its elementary parts. We were right then to say that modern science
is distinguishable from the ancient in that it applies to magnitudes and
proposes first and foremost to measure them. The ancients did indeed try
experiments, and on the other hand Kepler tried no experiment, in the
proper sense of the word, in order to discover a law which is the very
type of scientific knowledge as we understand it. What distinguishes
modern science is not that it is experimental, but that it experiments
and, more generally, works only with a view to measure.

For that reason it is right, again, to say that ancient science applied
to _concepts_, while modern science seeks _laws_ - constant relations
between variable magnitudes. The concept of circularity was sufficient
to Aristotle to define the movement of the heavenly bodies. But, even
with the more accurate concept of elliptical form, Kepler did not think
he had accounted for the movement of planets. He had to get a law, that
is to say, a constant relation between the quantitative variations of
two or several elements of the planetary movement.

Yet these are only consequences - differences that follow from the
fundamental difference. It did happen to the ancients accidentally to
experiment with a view to measuring, as also to discover a law
expressing a constant relation between magnitudes. The principle of
Archimedes is a true experimental law. It takes into account three
variable magnitudes: the volume of a body, the density of the liquid in
which the body is immersed, the vertical pressure that is being exerted.
And it states indeed that one of these three terms is a function of the
other two.

The essential, original difference must therefore be sought elsewhere.
It is the same that we noticed first. The science of the ancients is
static. Either it considers in block the change that it studies, or, if
it divides the change into periods, it makes of each of these periods a
block in its turn: which amounts to saying that it takes no account of
time. But modern science has been built up around the discoveries of
Galileo and of Kepler, which immediately furnished it with a model. Now,
what do the laws of Kepler say? They lay down a relation between the
areas described by the heliocentric radius-vector of a planet and the
_time_ employed in describing them, a relation between the longer axis
of the orbit and the _time_ taken up by the course. And what was the
principle discovered by Galileo? A law which connected the space
traversed by a falling body with the _time_ occupied by the fall.
Furthermore, in what did the first of the great transformations of
geometry in modern times consist, if not in introducing - in a veiled
form, it is true - time and movement even in the consideration of
figures? For the ancients, geometry was a purely static science. Figures
were given to it at once, completely finished, like the Platonic Ideas.
But the essence of the Cartesian geometry (although Descartes did not
give it this form) was to regard every plane curve as described by the
movement of a point on a movable straight line which is displaced,
parallel to itself, along the axis of the abscissae - the displacement of
the movable straight line being supposed to be uniform and the abscissa
thus becoming representative of the time. The curve is then defined if
we can state the relation connecting the space traversed on the movable
straight line to the time employed in traversing it, that is, if we are
able to indicate the position of the movable point, on the straight line
which it traverses, at any moment whatever of its course. This relation
is just what we call the equation of the curve. To substitute an
equation for a figure consists, therefore, in seeing the actual position
of the moving points in the tracing of the curve at any moment whatever,
instead of regarding this tracing all at once, gathered up in the unique
moment when the curve has reached its finished state.

Such, then, was the directing idea of the reform by which both the
science of nature and mathematics, which serves as its instrument, were
renewed. Modern science is the daughter of astronomy; it has come down
from heaven to earth along the inclined plane of Galileo, for it is
through Galileo that Newton and his successors are connected with
Kepler. Now, how did the astronomical problem present itself to Kepler?
The question was, knowing the respective positions of the planets at a
given moment, how to calculate their positions at any other moment. So
the same question presented itself, henceforth, for every material
system. Each material point became a rudimentary planet, and the main
question, the ideal problem whose solution would yield the key to all
the others was, the positions of these elements at a particular moment
being given, how to determine their relative positions at any moment. No
doubt the problem cannot be put in these precise terms except in very
simple cases, for a schematized reality; for we never know the
respective positions of the real elements of matter, supposing there are
real elements; and, even if we knew them at a given moment, the
calculation of their positions at another moment would generally require
a mathematical effort surpassing human powers. But it is enough for us
to know that these elements might be known, that their present
positions might be noted, and that a superhuman intellect might, by
submitting these data to mathematical operations, determine the
positions of the elements at any other moment of time. This conviction
is at the bottom of the questions we put to ourselves on the subject of
nature, and of the methods we employ to solve them. That is why every
law in static form seems to us as a provisional instalment or as a
particular view of a dynamic law which alone would give us whole and
definitive knowledge.

Let us conclude, then, that our science is not only distinguished from
ancient science in this, that it seeks laws, nor even in this, that its
laws set forth relations between magnitudes: we must add that the
magnitude to which we wish to be able to relate all others is time, and
that _modern science must be defined pre-eminently by its aspiration to
take time as an independent variable_. But with what time has it to do?

We have said before, and we cannot repeat too often, that the science of
matter proceeds like ordinary knowledge. It perfects this knowledge,
increases its precision and its scope, but it works in the same
direction and puts the same mechanism into play. If, therefore, ordinary
knowledge, by reason of the cinematographical mechanism to which it is
subjected, forbears to follow becoming in so far as becoming is moving,
the science of matter renounces it equally. No doubt, it distinguishes
as great a number of moments as we wish in the interval of time it
considers. However small the intervals may be at which it stops, it
authorizes us to divide them again if necessary. In contrast with
ancient science, which stopped at certain so-called essential moments,
it is occupied indifferently with any moment whatever. But it always
considers moments, always virtual stopping-places, always, in short,
immobilities. Which amounts to saying that real time, regarded as a
flux, or, in other words, as the very mobility of being, escapes the
hold of scientific knowledge. We have already tried to establish this
point in a former work. We alluded to it again in the first chapter of
this book. But it is necessary to revert to it once more, in order to
clear up misunderstandings.

When positive science speaks of time, what it refers to is the movement
of a certain mobile T on its trajectory. This movement has been chosen
by it as representative of time, and it is, by definition, uniform. Let
us call T_{1}, T_{2}, T_{3}, ... etc., points which divide the trajectory
of the mobile into equal parts from its origin T_0. We shall say that 1, 2,
3, ... units of time have flowed past, when the mobile is at the points
T_{1}, T_{2}, T_{3}, ... of the line it traverses. Accordingly, to consider
the state of the universe at the end of a certain time _t_, is to
examine where it will be when T is at the point T_t of its course. But
of the _flux_ itself of time, still less of its effect on consciousness,
there is here no question; for there enter into the calculation only the
points T_{1}, T_{2}, T_{3}, ... taken on the flux, never the flux itself.
We may narrow the time considered as much as we will, that is, break up at
will the interval between two consecutive divisions T_{n} and T_{n-|-1};
but it is always with points, and with points only, that we are dealing.
What we retain of the movement of the mobile T are positions taken on
its trajectory. What we retain of all the other points of the universe
are their positions on their respective trajectories. To each _virtual
stop_ of the moving body T at the points of division T_{1}, T_{2}, T_{3},
... we make correspond a _virtual stop_ of all the other mobiles at the
points where they are passing. And when we say that a movement or any
other change has occupied a time _t_, we mean by it that we have noted a
number _t_ of correspondences of this kind. We have therefore counted
simultaneities; we have not concerned ourselves with the flux that goes
from one to another. The proof of this is that I can, at discretion,
vary the rapidity of the flux of the universe in regard to a
consciousness that is independent of it and that would perceive the
variation by the quite qualitative _feeling_ that it would have of it:
whatever the variation had been, since the movement of T would
participate in this variation, I should have nothing to change in my
equations nor in the numbers that figure in them.

Let us go further. Suppose that the rapidity of the flux becomes
infinite. Imagine, as we said in the first pages of this book, that the
trajectory of the mobile T is given at once, and that the whole history,
past, present and future, of the material universe is spread out
instantaneously in space. The same mathematical correspondences will
subsist between the moments of the history of the world unfolded like a
fan, so to speak, and the divisions T_{1}, T_{2}, T_{3}, ... of the line
which will be called, by definition, "the course of time." In the eyes of
science nothing will have changed. But if, time thus spreading itself
out in space and succession becoming juxtaposition, science has nothing
to change in what it tells us, we must conclude that, in what it tells
us, it takes account neither of _succession_ in what of it is specific
nor of _time_ in what there is in it that is fluent. It has no sign to
express what strikes our consciousness in succession and duration. It no
more applies to becoming, so far as that is moving, than the bridges
thrown here and there across the stream follow the water that flows
under their arches.

Yet succession exists; I am conscious of it; it is a fact. When a
physical process is going on before my eyes, my perception and my
inclination have nothing to do with accelerating or retarding it. What
is important to the physicist is the _number_ of units of duration the
process fills; he does not concern himself about the units themselves
and that is why the successive states of the world might be spread out
all at once in space without his having to change anything in his
science or to cease talking about time. But for us, conscious beings, it
is the units that matter, for we do not count extremities of intervals,
we feel and live the intervals themselves. Now, we are conscious of
these intervals as of _definite_ intervals. Let me come back again to
the sugar in my glass of water:[106] why must I wait for it to melt?
While the duration of the phenomenon is _relative_ for the physicist,
since it is reduced to a certain number of units of time and the units
themselves are indifferent, this duration is an _absolute_ for my
consciousness, for it coincides with a certain degree of impatience
which is rigorously determined. Whence comes this determination? What is
it that obliges me to wait, and to wait for a certain length of
psychical duration which is forced upon me, over which I have no power?
If succession, in so far as distinct from mere juxtaposition, has no
real efficacy, if time is not a kind of force, why does the universe
unfold its successive states with a velocity which, in regard to my
consciousness, is a veritable absolute? Why with this particular
velocity rather than any other? Why not with an infinite velocity? Why,
in other words, is not everything given at once, as on the film of the
cinematograph? The more I consider this point, the more it seems to me
that, if the future is bound to _succeed_ the present instead of being
given alongside of it, it is because the future is not altogether
determined at the present moment, and that if the time taken up by this
succession is something other than a number, if it has for the
consciousness that is installed in it absolute value and reality, it is
because there is unceasingly being created in it, not indeed in any such
artificially isolated system as a glass of sugared water, but in the
concrete whole of which every such system forms part, something
unforeseeable and new. This duration may not be the fact of matter
itself, but that of the life which reascends the course of matter; the
two movements are none the less mutually dependent upon each other. _The
duration of the universe must therefore be one with the latitude of
creation which can find place in it._

When a child plays at reconstructing a picture by putting together the
separate pieces in a puzzle game, the more he practices, the more and
more quickly he succeeds. The reconstruction was, moreover,
instantaneous, the child found it ready-made, when he opened the box on
leaving the shop. The operation, therefore, does not require a definite
time, and indeed, theoretically, it does not require any time. That is
because the result is given. It is because the picture is already
created, and because to obtain it requires only a work of recomposing
and rearranging - a work that can be supposed going faster and faster,
and even infinitely fast, up to the point of being instantaneous. But,
to the artist who creates a picture by drawing it from the depths of his
soul, time is no longer an accessory; it is not an interval that may be
lengthened or shortened without the content being altered. The duration
of his work is part and parcel of his work. To contract or to dilate it
would be to modify both the psychical evolution that fills it and the
invention which is its goal. The time taken up by the invention, is one
with the invention itself. It is the progress of a thought which is
changing in the degree and measure that it is taking form. It is a vital
process, something like the ripening of an idea.

The painter is before his canvas, the colors are on the palette, the
model is sitting - all this we see, and also we know the painter's
style: do we foresee what will appear on the canvas? We possess the
elements of the problem; we know in an abstract way, how it will be
solved, for the portrait will surely resemble the model and will surely
resemble also the artist; but the concrete solution brings with it that
unforeseeable nothing which is everything in a work of art. And it is
this nothing that takes time. Nought as matter, it creates itself as
form. The sprouting and flowering of this form are stretched out on an
unshrinkable duration, which is one with their essence. So of the works
of nature. Their novelty arises from an internal impetus which is
progress or succession, which confers on succession a peculiar virtue or
which owes to succession the whole of its virtue - which, at any rate,
makes succession, or _continuity of interpenetration_ in time,
irreducible to a mere instantaneous juxtaposition in space. This is why
the idea of reading in a present state of the material universe the
future of living forms, and of unfolding now their history yet to come,
involves a veritable absurdity. But this absurdity is difficult to bring
out, because our memory is accustomed to place alongside of each other,
in an ideal space, the terms it perceives in turn, because it always

Online LibraryHenri BergsonCreative evolution → online text (page 27 of 34)