READING BERGSON - III
READING BERGSON – III
D. R. Khashaba
Bergson heads Chapter 3 with a general outline of the conflict between mechanism and dynamism. I quote the opening paragraph in full:
“IT is easy to see why the question of free will brings into conflict these two rival systems of nature, mechanism and dynamism. Dynamism starts from the idea of voluntary activity, given by consciousness, and comes to represent inertia by gradually emptying this idea: it has thus no difficulty in conceiving free force on the one hand and matter governed by laws on the other. Mechanism follows the opposite course. It assumes that the materials which it synthesizes are governed by necessary laws, and although it reaches richer and richer combinations, which are more and more difficult to foresee, and to all appearance more and more contingent, yet it never gets out of the narrow circle of necessity within which it at first shut itself up. For dynamism facts more real than laws; mechanism reverses this attitude. The idea of spontaneity simpler than that of inertia.”
Independently of Bergson I have been asserting that causal necessity is a useful fiction of science and that all scientific laws are basically approximations. In place of dynamism I speak of creativity. In my philosophy creativity is an ultimate metaphysical principle. The simplest instance of becoming is creative and originative. To say that the antecedents cause the consequents is merely an empty manner of speaking that conceals the mystery of becoming; I say ‘empty’ because it is strictly meaningless. We are immediately aware of our spontaneity. The simplest voluntary act, though it requires its conditions and is inconceivable in the absence of its conditions, is yet creative and originative: it is a corruption of the term ‘explain’ to say that the antecedent conditions explain the act. When we come to the creativity of thought and the creativity of art it is only a superstition worse than all other superstitions that makes determinists deny what their immediate experience shows plainly. I have been saying this in all my writings: in “Free Will as Creativity” (The Sphinx and the Phoenix, 2009) I applied it to the pseudo-problem of the compatibility or incompatibility of freedom and causal determinism.
(Bergson’s terminology clashes with mine: I would never speak of “the fact as the absolute reality”, but that does not affect the fundamental agreement.)
Bergson’s further ‘explanations’ and his mixture of empirical investigations with philosophical elucidations confuse rather than clarify the issues. Philosophy should be concerned exclusively with creative notions that confer intelligibility on the dumb givennesses of experience. Further, as I affirmed repeatedly in my writings, the issue of free will is needlessly complicated by the confusion of free will and freedom of choice. Choice is an essentially human phenomenon; choice, like all happenings in nature, is always conditioned by its precedents and so is amenable to posterior reductionist empirical ‘explanation’, which does not however militate against its being in the end creative and originative like all happening and all becoming. Thus scientific ‘explanation’ reigns supreme in the fictional domain of scientific abstractions. Philosophy has nothing to do with all that beyond showing its fictionality.
The mind-body problem cannot be settled by controversy between the scientific and the philosophical outlooks. The mind is our inner reality; it is the integral integrative person, a metaphysical reality, not an entity localized in the brain or even in the whole soma. Every act, every feeling, every thought has an outside, an objective aspect that can, with sufficient sophistication, be subjected to objective observation and measurement, but however sophisticated, however ‘exhaustive’ our neurological observations and measurements may be they will never show the reality of the mind because that belongs to quite another dimension of being, the metaphysical dimension. Science studies the physical aspect, the outside side, of things; philosophy explores the inside that is inaccessible to objective observation and measurement. The scientific approach and the philosophical approach have no point of contact. Socrates said that two-and-a-half millennia ago but nobody is paying attention.
With Plato I call the subjective real, the only reality we know. I leave fact, existence, and truth to science. This clashes with common usage, but I find it necessary to separate the domains of scientific and philosophical thought, the confusion of which is harming both philosophy and science. Bergson’s futile arguments in defence of his philosophical insight provide evidence that mixing philosophy and science gets us nowhere. For instance, the principle of the conservation of energy is a fiction useful for the purposes of science, you can neither argue for it nor against it philosophically.
It is pointless to follow Bergson’s argument for “the hypothesis of a conscious force or free will” which may “escape the law of the conservation of energy”. This also goes for his arguments against psychological determinism.
The word freedom is unfortunate. The concept of freedom in connection with the free will issue is confused and confusing. Moral freedom is autonomy in Spinoza’s sense. But Spinoza accepted the Rationalist assumption of causal determinism unquestioningly. Autonomy does not preclude creativity and origination. On the contrary, autonomy is only intelligible as creative spontaneity. Kant too, for whom autonomy is the essence of morality, was misled by the assumption of causal determinism and futilely tried to reconcile freedom and physical causality. We have to realize that scientific causal laws are approximations that work well in the area of relative phenomenal regularities. That the sun will continue to shine is only true on the unexpressed proviso that no cosmic catastrophe befalls our galaxy. The concept of freedom has its proper place in politics and social life as absence of coercion.
Bergson says that “we are free when our acts spring from our whole personality”, which is to say when we act as free agents, but we are rarely that; most of the time we are fractions in a larger whole, physical, social, cultural. This is reminiscent of what is posited by scholars as the problem of Socrates’ ‘intellectualism’. Socrates says that when we know what is right we do what is right. To see the truth of this we have to equate knowing what is right with being a rational being, as Socrates does. When we are rational we act rationally. But when are we truly rational? The best of us only by fits and starts.
A section-rubric reads: “Fundamental error is confusion of time and space. The self infallible in affirming immediate experience of freedom, but cannot explain it.” I will leave aside the first statement for the moment. In my parlance, in our inner reality we are immediately aware of our intelligent creativity. This needs no explanation and can have no explanation because, like all reality, it is an ultimate mystery. I say we all have this experience; the humblest human beings know it; the sophisticated only deny it because they are deluded by the superstition of causal determinism. And to preclude a possible misunderstanding, let me emphasize that in speaking of superstition in science I am not anti-scientist; I am using ‘superstition’ as a technical term. All science is founded on fiction. Gravity is a fiction, inertia is a fiction. That 2 and 2 make four is a fiction because in creating the number series we made two and two to equal four: in nature there are no twos and no fours. This is implied in Kant’s affirmation that 5+7=12 is a synthetic a priori judgment. Scientific fiction is needed and useful in its proper sphere, but when applied where it does not belong it is superstition.
I cursorily glide over the rest of Chapter 3 without comment. Next we go to Chapter Four “Conclusion”. We will see if there is anything to add to what has already been said.
Cairo, October 25, 2015.