Bergson and Relativity

Posted by Ali Reda | Posted in | Posted on 10/05/2013

Time being mobile (continuous flow), it cannot be grasped through immobile concepts. unlike space, time is not measurable by an objective standard, in particular, it cannot be divided into a linear series of discrete instances. The experience of time requires something of an understanding of a continuum of movement, Hence Bergson decided to explore the inner life of man, which is a kind of duration, neither a unity nor a quantitative multiplicity.Duration is ineffable and can only be shown indirectly through images that can never reveal a complete picture. It can only be grasped through a simple intuition of the imagination. Two images from Henri Bergson’s An Introduction to Metaphysics may help one to grasp Bergson's term intuition, the limits of concepts, and the ability of intuition to grasp the absolute. The first image is that of a city. Analysis, or the creation of concepts through the divisions of points of view, can only ever give us a model of the city through a construction of photographs taken from every possible point of view, yet it can never give us the dimensional value of walking in the city itself. One can only grasp this through intuition; likewise the experience of reading a line of Homer. One may translate the line and pile commentary upon commentary, but this commentary too shall never grasp the simple dimensional value of experiencing the poem in its originality itself. The method of intuition, then, is that of getting back to the things themselves.

According to the Theory of Relativity, two twins, one who traveled outside the earth at a speed close to that of the speed of light and the other one who remained on earth, would meet each other and notice that time had elapsed differently for each of them. Their clocks and calendars would show disagreeing times and dates. The twin who had stayed on earth would have aged more rapidly; time would have slowed down for the one who had traveled. Bergson said Differences in clock times, which arose in connection with differences in acceleration, proved that something was different between the twins’ experiences of time. Acceleration created a dissymmetry, which in turn proved that the twins’ times were not equal in every sense. Although physically the twins times were equally valid, Bergson argued that philosophically differences could remain between them. Whose time would prevail back on earth would depend on how their disagreement was negotiated—not only scientifically, but psychologically, socially, politically, and philosophically. For Einstein, there is no such thing as “philosopher’s time”–the living duration in which subject and object co-emerge, as Bergson might say;It encapsulated Bergson’s main point: that philosophy had theright to explore the differences in time and distance that relativity had shown varied amongst observers. Instead, Einstein marks two kinds of time: psychological time, which is a subjective illusion generated by relative motion, and physical time, which is objective reality existing eternally in the mind of God.

Henri Piéron, an experimental psychologist, joined the debate by reminding listeners of the problem of the personal equation that arose in astronomical determinations of time: “For a long time now, astronomers have known that it is impossible to base precise determinations of physical simultaneity on psychological simultaneity. . . .” This example clearly illustrated the difference between psychological and physical conceptions of time. If the enormous speed of light had caused this realization to arrive slowly for physicists, the slow speed of nerve transmission had made it evident a long time ago for physiologists, psychologists, and astronomers. They had long known that perceptions of simultaneity differed from physical simultaneity.

Elan vital was translated in the English edition as "vital impetus", but is usually translated by his detractors as "vital force". It is a hypothetical explanation for evolution and development of organisms, which Bergson linked closely with consciousness. It was believed by others that this essence (élan vital) could be harvested and embedded into an inanimate substance and activated with electricity, perhaps taking literally another of Bergson's metaphorical descriptions, the "current of life". The British biologist Julian Huxley remarked that Bergson’s élan vital is no better an explanation of life than is explaining the operation of a railway engine by its élan locomotif ("locomotive driving force"). The same epistemological fallacy is parodied in Molière's Le Malade imaginaire, where a quack "answers" the question of "Why does opium cause sleep?" with "Because of its soporific power."

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