Andrew C. Bjelland (Ph.D., St. Louis University, 1970) is Assistant Professor and Acting-Chairman in the Philosophy Department of Gonzaga University, Spokane, Washington 99202.
The following article appeared in Process Studies, pp. 180-189, Vol. 11, Number 3, Fall, 1981. Process Studies is published quarterly by the Center for Process Studies, 1325 N. College Ave., Claremont, CA 91711. Used by permission. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted and Winnie Brock.
Dr. Bjelland attempts to make Capek’s views more readily accessible by providing a concise, synthetic statement of his many-faceted interpretation. Bergson’s proto-mentalism, as interpreted by Capek, is perhaps best viewed as a generalized theory of agency erected upon a phenomenology of experienced succession.
The panpsychism displayed in Whitehead’s elaborated accounts of temporality, causality, perception, and the subject-object correlation is a frequently noted and discussed aspect of his philosophy of organism. Panpsychist or proto-mentalist interpretations of Bergson’s thought, by way of contrast, are most rare.1 To the best of my knowledge, Milic Capek, in his Bergson and Modern Physics, provides the sole detailed and systematic exposition of Bergsonian protomentalism available in English.
Capek traces Bergsonian proto-mentalism to its bases in a phenomenology of durational succession. His articulation of the experiential foundations for the applicability of proto-mentalist categories should be of general interest to students of process thought, whether or not their primary orientations are Bergsonian.
Although Capek’s interpretation is most thorough and coherent, its culminating expression in a chapter titled "Physical Events as Proto-Mental Entities: Bergson, Whitehead, and Bohm" (HMP part III, chapter 14) cannot be read as an independent and self-contained treatment of Bergson’s proto-mentalism. This chapter is quite brief and builds upon earlier lines of analysis and argumentation. Moreover, an understanding of the chapter is much enhanced by comments made in subsequent sections of the book.
This brief article attempts to make Capek’s views more readily accessible by providing a concise, synthetic statement of his many-faceted interpretation.2
Capek opens his discussion by citing a text which provides a strong statement of the panpsychistic strain evident in Bergson’s thought. This text, from Her son’s Duration and Simultaneity (1922). is of pivotal importance to Capek’s interpretation and demands extensive quotation:
What we wish to establish is that we cannot speak of a reality that endures without inserting consciousness into it. The metaphysician will have a universal consciousness intervene directly, Common sense will vaguely ponder it. The mathematician, it is true, will not have to occupy himself with it, since he is concerned with the measurement of things, not their nature. But if he were to wonder what he was measuring, if he were to fix his attention upon time itself, he would necessarily picture succession, and therefore a before and after, and consequently a bridge between the two (otherwise, there would be only one of the two, a mere snapshot); but, once again, it is impossible to imagine or conceive a connecting link between the before and after without an element of memory and, consequently, of consciousness.
We may perhaps feel averse to the use of the word "consciousness" if an anthropomorphic sense is attached to it. But to imagine a thing that endures, there is no need to take one’s own memory and transport it, even attenuated, into the interior of the thing. However much we may reduce the intensity of our memory, we risk leaving in it some degree of the variety and richness of our inner life; we are then preserving the personal, at all events, human character of memory. It is the opposite course we must follow. We shall have to consider a moment in the unfolding of the universe, that is, a snapshot that exists independently of any consciousness, then we shall try conjointly to summon another moment brought as close as possible to the first, and thus have a minimum of time enter into the world without allowing the faintest glimmer of memory to go with it. We shall see that this is impossible. Without an elementary memory that connects the two moments, there will be only one or the other, consequently a single instant, no before and after, no succession, no time. We can bestow upon this memory just what is needed to make the connection; it will be, if we like, this very connection, a mere continuing of the before into the immediate after with a perpetually renewed forgetfulness of what is not the immediately prior moment. We shall nonetheless have introduced memory. To tell the truth, it is impossible to distinguish between the duration, however short it may be, that separates two instants and a memory that connects them, because duration is essentially a continuation of what no longer exists into what does exist. This is real time, perceived and lived. This is also any conceived time, because we cannot conceive a time without imagining it as perceived and lived. Duration therefore implies consciousness; and we place consciousness at the heart of things for the very reason that we credit them with a time that endures. (DS 47-49; cited in BMP 302-03)
Although Bergson’s expression is somewhat poetic,3 he clearly is not engaged in mere anthropomorphic metaphor.
As Capek suggests (BMP 303, also see 216), Bergson’s text invites interpretation as a thought experiment designed to test the applicability of the notion of matter displayed in Leibniz’s formula: "Omne enim corpus est mens momentanea sive carens recordatione." ("Every body is an instantaneous mind or a mind lacking recollection.") This thought experiment terminates with the realization that even a perpetually perishing material process -- a process "which dies and is born again endlessly" (CE 220) after the manner of "a perpetually renewed forgetfu1ness"~must have a minimal temporal thickness. Not even physical events can be characterized, in the strict sense, as Instantaneous -- as externally related to their immediate past. Instantaneity is a limit concept.
Durational succession, as a "becoming of continuity," is a dynamic relation linking past and present -- is the dynamic "continuation of what no longer exists" as presently exercising its own immanent agency, "into what does exist" as presently exercising its own immanent agency. The succession of one physical event by the next involves the emergence of a novel present which, no matter how conformally continuous with its causal past, is not identical with that past. The advance of present over past, if highly conformal, may approach the identity of an atomic, durationless instant as an ideal limit, but, precisely as durational advance, cannot coincide with that limit. Achieved coincidence would entail the collapse of succession. Thus, the sheer advance of present over past involves the ascription of some minimal novel agency to the present event. Since "it is impossible to distinguish between the duration, however short it may be, that separates two instants and a memory that connects them," this emergent novel agency, internal to the present event, must be likened to memory.
Bergson’s proto-mentalism, then, is a natural extension of the experientially warranted doctrine that durational succession -- the relation of the immediate past to the emergent present -- is, as a relation, dynamic, asymmetrical, and internal. The notion that past and present are dynamically, asymmetrically, and internally related is of pivotal importance in the development of process thought and provides a common foundation for Bergson’s theory of duration and for Whitehead’s theory of prehensive concrescence. The distinctive features of this relation are displayed in Capek’s analysis:
the novelty of the present requires the persistence of the past as a necessary, contrasting background. But conversely, the pastness of the previous moment is impossible without the novelty of the present. . . . [T]he former present acquires the character of pastness by virtue of the emergence of a new present; it is only this emergence which really makes it ‘previous’. . . [I]t is equally true that it was the passing of the former present . . . which brought forth a new and immediately subsequent moment. (BMP 128)
The relation of succession is dynamic because both terms of the relation -- past and present, before and after -- arise only within the context of becoming; the dynamics of the relation exclude the coexistence of the relata -- exclude the reduction of durational succession to spatial juxtaposition. The asymmetry or irreversibility of the relation is a direct consequence of the dynamic ordering of the successive terms and entails the irreducibility of the causal order to the static logical order of antecendent and consequent. Capek expresses the internality of the relation in the following terms:
It is not an external relation, since both terms, despite their succession and despite their difference -- or rather because of it -- are not separated. The novelty of the present is within this relation, since it is created by the very act of becoming; but the same is true of the antecedent phase whose very pastness would become utterly meaningless without the contrasting background of the emergent novelty of the present. Thus . . . the qualitative difference "separating" two successive moments at the same time joins them. Consequently, two successive moments are never "two" in the usual arithmetical sense like two bodies in space or two ordinal numbers located on the axis of real numbers. Nor is it unqualifiedly one in the sense of the bare, undifferentiated unity of a single point. (BMP 130)
The relation, in terms of the very meanings of ‘past’ and ‘present’, is one of mutual internality: the past as past and the present as present are coherently meaningful only in virtue of a mutuality of qualitative contrast which is also the basis of their unique continuity precisely as successive. Past and present are successively related because of, not in spite of, the novelty which is the basis of their differentiation. (See BMP part II, passim, especially pp. 90f., 118-24, 128-31, 142-46; and part III, 302ff.)
For Bergson, the dynamic, asymmetrical, and internal order of durational succession is paradigmatically exemplified in the experience of human consciousness as embodied, intentional agency. The relational characteristics of succession are presented even when the field of consciousness is dominated by a phenomenon which exhibits a high degree of qualitative conformation to the past, as when we listen to a single sustained tone:
Although the sensory characteristics of the tone remain the same -- its pitch, timbre and intensity -- there is an indefinable and elusive change due to the simple fact that it endures. . . . [I]ts present phase differs from its antecedent phase by the mere fact of being older. What makes its present phase novel . . . with respect to its immediate anterior phase? Precisely the fact that the antecedent phase is still remembered; in other words, it is an immediate recollection which accounts for the qualitative difference between the present and the past and which we know by the name ‘novelty’. (BMP 128)
The embodied agency of consciousness, of course, is dynamically continuous with an encompassing field of successive physical processes. Even physical events, as durationally successive, introduce an element of novelty which prevents succession from collapsing into identity:
Although the element of novelty differentiating two successive events of physical (luration is negligible in our macroscopic perspective, it cannot be completely absent.... [T]here is an element of heterogeneity even in the physical world... [hf the differentiating element of novelty is due precisely to the survival of the antecedent moment within the present, then there must be an element of memory, that is, a certain degree of interpenetration of successive phases even in physical duration. (BMP 302)
Even with regard to physical events, the past, as causally efficacious, is immanent to the present, and the present, as novel, is asymmetrically related to the past. There can be no succession, in the uniquely temporal sense, unless the past is causally efficacious, and the past is causally efficacious as past only if the emergent present bears some stamp of heterogeneous novelty. If the emergent present does not introduce some minimal novel differentiation, then that present is nonsuccessive and therefore is not a present in any temporal sense whatsoever. As Capek notes, "the present deprived of novelty, and thus being qualitatively identical with the past, would not follow it since its consecutive character would be purely verbal" (BMP 223).
As Capek’s analysis indicates, Bergson’s proto-mentalism must be understood as a corollary of the experientially warranted theory that succession is a dynamic, asymmetrical, and internal relation. Succession is intelligible only in terms of the qualitative differentiation of present from past, which differentiation itself depends "on the fact of elementary memory, that is, on the elementary survival of the past in the present" (BMP 223). This survival of the past, however, is not entirely due to the causal efficacy of the past; the immanent agency of the present is also a necessary condition for such survival.
Thus, Bergson’s proto-mentalism is also interpretable as the positive face of the critique of simple location.4 The fallacy of simple location is the basis for the view, in both physical and logical atomism, that the "individuality of the atom [and of objects in general] is based precisely on its [or their] ontological separation from other simply located entities" (BMP 309). Analysis of the relation of succession grounds the contrary thesis that "the very individuality and uniqueness of each event is based on its connection with its cosmical context" (BMP 309). No two events, not even two physical events which from an abstractive human perspective are held to be qualitatively identical are completely identical. The qualitative identity of two similar physical events, whether the events be temporally successive or spatially contemporaneous, is never absolute. The critique of simple location finds positive expression in the thesis that differences in spatiotemporal relations entail lack of qualitative identity in a non-vacuous sense -- a lack of identity which cannot be the function of some mere accident, external to the concrete entities involved. This lack of identity, rather, must have its basis in the qualitatively distinct past histories and present internal constitutions of those entities. Concrete space-time niustbe distinguished from that abstract, conceptual space-time which serves as a pragmatic principle of differentiation other than qualitative differentiation, and which, as such, provides the matrix for generating the mathematical formulae of Newtonian mechanics. The space-time of concrete agency, unlike Newtonian space-time, is not a homogeneous container external to its contents.
This dynamic interpretation of space-time, of course, is founded upon the theory that durational succession is a dynamic, asymmetrical, and internal relation. This theory, unlike the chief competing theories, bears the warrant of experiential applicability.
The attempt to interpret succession as an external relation -- the mainline tendency of atomistic empiricisms, whether logical or psychological -- inevitably terminates, if consistently pursued, in the solipsism of the present moment. If past and present are only extrinsically related, then the past is at best a construction built-up from wholly present materials. This construction, moreover, is so arbitrary that we are led to see that an external relation, in a significant sense, is no real, objective relation at all. As Bertrand Russell, in a Humane mood, reminds us: If the relation of past to present were wholly external, then the hypothesis that "the world sprang into existence five minutes ago, exactly as it was then, with a population that ‘remembered’ a wholly unreal past" would be intrinsically irrefutable (HK 212).
The opposite tack, the attempt to interpret temporal succession within the context of a strong theory of internal relations which assimilates the causal to the logically implicative order, is the distinctive approach of rationalistic monisms and determinisms, whether materialistic (naturalistic) or idealistic (theological). This perspective reduces succession to the tenseless present of logical necessity. The encompassing visions of Laplace’s Demon and of Spinoza’s God are virtually indistinguishable. Both visions comprehend the essential identity and fixity of an eternal order, which order, from the finite perspective, takes on an illusory visage of differentiation, novelty, and passage. Sub specie aeternitatis, past, present, and future coexist. Contingency gives way to necessity. Against this backdrop, it is not surprising to find Russell, now perhaps in a Laplacian humor, noting: "it is mere accident that we have no memory of [the] future" (KEW 234)!5
In light of the foregoing considerations, we may conclude by noting that Bergson’s proto-mentalism, as interpreted by Capek, is perhaps best viewed as a generalized theory of agency erected upon a phenomenology of experienced succession. Each physical event is in virtue of its interior agency -- an agency analogous to memory as an active synthesis. Each physical event, moreover, precisely because of the memory-like character of its interior agency, possesses its unique opening upon that causal past which provides the distinctive context for its own emergent novelty. The past, as causally efficacious, is immanent to the present; the present, although emergent and novel, conforms to, but is not identical with, its past. The past is not so efficacious that it excludes the emergence of novelty; if it were, it would also exclude its own character as past. The novelty of the present is not a novelty which excludes contextual conformation; the physical present is novel in virtue of, not in spite of, elementary memory. The physical present must be understood as novel in virtue of that immanent, memory-like agency which presently enlivens a past which no longer exists as exercising its own immanent agency. Thus, each physical event immanently actualizes itself in virtue of its interior agency, but also transcends itself in its causal, prospective relation to an emergent future. The Bergsonian physical event, like the Whiteheadian actual entity, is subject-superject, and Bergson is in fundamental agreement with Whitehead’s comment: "An actual entity is at once the product of the efficient past, and is also, in Spinoza’s phrase, causa sui" (PR 150/ 228)6
BMP -- Milic Capek. Bergson and Modern Physics. Dordrecht, Holland: D. Reidel Publishing Co., 1971.
CE -- Henri Bergson. Creative Evolution, trans. Arthur E. Mitchell. New York: Random House, Modern Library, 1944.
CM -- Henri Bergson. Creative Mind, trans. M. L. Andison. New York: Littlefield, Adams, 1961.
DS -- Henri Bergson. Duration and Simultaneity, trans. Leon Jacobson. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 196g.
HK -- Bertrand Russell. Human Knowledge, Its Scope and Limits. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1948.
KEW -- Bertrand Russell. Our Knowledge of the External World. London: Unwin and Allen, 1914.
KPR -- Donald W. Sherburne, ed. A Key to Whitehead’s "Process and Reality." Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1966.
MM -- Henri Bergson. Matter and Memory, trans. Nancy Margaret Paul and W. Scott Palmer. London: George Allen and Unwin 1911.
* I would like to thank Professor P.A. Y. Gunter of North Texas State University, Denton, Texas; Professor Lewis S. Ford; and Sr. Mary Christine Morkovsky and Professor Douglas Rasmussen, both of Our Lady of the Lake University, San Antonio, Texas, for their helpful criticisms of an earlier draft of this paper.
1Proto-mentalist interpretations remain rare primarily because of a persisting tendency, even in process circles, to regard Bergson as a dualistic, psychologistic philosopher who as J.-M. Breuvart recently claimed ("Process Thought in Contemporary Europe," PS 9:5), "remained embedded in the Cartesian tradition." For a defense of the theses that Bergson, unlike James, was not primarily a psychologist, but was, rather, a speculative metaphysician and that he was in no sense a neo-Cartesian dualist who endorsed a split between durational consciousness and a nondurational material universe, see my: ‘Bergson’s Dualism in Time and Free Will," P54:83-106.
2Since my aim is primarily expository, critical and comparative comments, br the most part, will he found in these notes, rather than in the body of this article.
3Bergson’s concluding claim, ‘we place consciousness at the heart of things for the very reason that we credit them with a time that endures," must not be written off as the product of poetic carelessness, however. Bergson means "we place consciousness at the heart of things," not "we place unconscious mentality at the heart of things." For Bergson, the term ‘unconscious’ is appropriately used solely to describe mental events which were once consciously apprehended, but of which there is no present awareness. If elementary memory provides the basis for the relation of a past physical event to the immediately successive present physical event, this elementary memory is not only proto-mental, it is proto-conscious -- it is an instance of elementary, minimal awareness.
The role assigned to elementary memory by Bergson closely parallels that assigned to positive physical prehensions or physical ‘feelings’ by Whitehead. Donald W. Sherburne provides the following derivation for the Whiteheadian term ‘prehension’: "Whitehead acknowledges an indirect debt to Leibniz in his use of this term [‘prehension’]. Leibniz employed the terms perception and apperception for the lower and higher ways, respectively, that one monad can take account of another, can he aware of another. While needing a set of terms like this, Whitehead does not wish to utilize the identical terminology, for as used by Leibniz the terms are inextricably bound up with the notion of representative perception, which Whitehead rejects. But there is the similar term apprehension, meaning ‘thorough understanding,’ and, using the Leibnizian model, Whitehead coins the term prehension to mean the general, lower way, devoid of any suggestion of either consciousness or representative perception, in which an occasion can include other actual entities, or eternal objects, as part of its own essence" (KPR 236).
Bergson, of course, shares Whitehead’s opposition to representative theories of perception; nonetheless, if Sherburne’s account is accurate (and I believe that it is), then Bergson and Whitehead may be cast as a twentieth-century Locke and a twentieth-century Leibniz engaged in a debate concerning the status of unconscious perceptions. Bergson sides with Locke and holds that the expression ‘unconscious present perception’ is a contradiction in terms. Whitehead, following Leibniz’s lead, claims that the expression is not contradictory once it is metaphysically interpreted as ‘positive physical prehension’ or ‘feeling’ -- "a mere technical term . . . chosen to suggest that functioning through which the concrescent actuality appropriates the datum so as to make it its own" (PR 164/ 249). Whitehead’s strategy is clearly Leibnizian: Just as Leibniz avoids contradiction by providing a metaphysical interpretation of ‘perception’ as meaning "any structured correspondence to, or expression of the universe," so Whitehead avoids contradiction by metaphysically interpreting ‘feeling’ as meaning "any appropriation of elements of the universe, which in themselves are other than the subject, and any absorption of these elements into the real internal constitution of its subject hy synthesizing them in the unity of an emotional pattern expressive of its own subjectivity." Concerning the Leibnizian strategy, see James Collins, A History of Modern European Philosophy (Bruce, 1954), p.279; for the Whiteheadian twist, see PR 275/ 420.
The gulf separating Bergson and Whitehead on this point cannot he minimized. Bergson’s elementary memory is not only an instance of proto-mentality, it is also an instance of proto-consciousness. Whitehead’s positive physical prehensions or ‘feeling’ , although they may be instances of proto-mentality, clearly are not instances of proto-consciousness. For Whitehead "consciousness presupposes experience and not experience consciousness" (PR53/83), with the result that "consciousness is the crown of experience, only occasionally attained, not its necessary base" (PR 267/ 408). For Bergson, the free act, as expressing an autonomous, integral personal consciousness, "is the crown of experience, only occasionally attained," and the proto-consciousness of elementary memory is "its necessary base." See MM 331f.
Bergson’s life provides us with a telling example of such a rare act of freedom. The French philosopher -- a man who had long thought of himself as a Frenchman rather than a Jew, who found much to admire in the mystical tradition of Roman Catholicism, who was already in his eighties, and who was suffering severely from the crippling effects of rheumatoid arthritis -- rejected all efforts to exempt him from the Vichy laws regulating the conduct of Jews. Moreover, in his eighty-first year, just weeks before his death, he insisted upon leaving the sick-bed to which he had been confined for years, and upon personally standing inline, supported by a servant, to register as a Jew. By his action, Bergson taught that the integrity and courage of a lifetime can be expressed in a gesture as simple, as profound, as acutely motivated, and yet as free as that of pinning a yellow armband, emblazoned with the Star of David, on one’s sleeve.
4Whitehead explicitly acknowledges the parallels between Bergson’s reflections and those which led him to formulate his critique of simple location (SMW 74). For both thinkers durational succession -- the relation of the immediate past to the emergent present -- is dynamic, asymmetrical, and internal. These characteristics of succession tell against any theory which assigns concrete ultimacy to simply located material entities -- to entities which, as such, are supposedly interpretable "apart from any essential reference . . . to other regions of space and to other durations of time" (SMW 84). For both thinkers, "an instant of time … conceived as in itself without transition" (SMW 73) is an abstract limit concept; moreover, for both, durational succession, far from being a mere accident externally related to a material substance, is the essential note of material process. Whitehead’s fallacy of simple location is thus closely related to Bergson’s criticism of the spatialization of time -- that spatialization which reduces duration to a homogeneous medium, external to events, in which events are held to occur.
5Russell held that the two claims voiced in the foregoing quotations were intellectually defensible. From the process perspective they supply the raw materials for reductiones ad absurdum. See BMP 148f. for Capek’s comments concerning the manner in which "Russell’s hesitancies and discrepancies provide us with beautiful illustrations of two complementary fallacies, pointed out by Bergson, concerning the nature of time."
6In support of his claim that Bergsonian and Whiteheadian proto-mentalisms are fundamentally of the same cloth, Capek cites the following passage from Whitehead’s "Immortality" (1941): "When memory and anticipation are completely absent, there is complete conformity to the average influence of the past. There is no conscious confrontation of memory with possibility. Such a situation produces the activity of mere matter. When there is memory, however feeble and short-lived, the average influence of the immediate past, or future, ceases to dominate exclusively. There is then reaction against more average material domination. Thus the universe is material in proportion to the restriction of memory and anticipation.
"According to this account of the World of Activity there is no need to postulate two essentially different types of Active Entities, namely, the purely material entities and the entities alive with various modes of experiencing. The latter type is sufficient to account for the characteristics of that World, when we allow for variety of recessiveness and dominance among the basic factors of experience, namely consciousness, memory, and anticipation" (IS 262).
From the Bergsonian perspective, Whitehead’s claim that according to his "account of the World of Activity there is no need to postulate two essentially different types of Active Entities . . . the purely material and [those] alive with various modes of experiencing," would entail the conclusion that the notion of "the activity of mere matter" devoid of a "conscious confrontation of memory with possibility" is an abstract limit concept. For the Bergsonian, since every physical event, as durationally successive, is possessed of elementary memory, albeit "feeble and short-lived," there is no absolute domination of the material past -- if by such domination is meant the absolute exclusion of all qualitative novelty from the present. If such an interpretation of the passage were justified, Whitehead’s proto-mentalism would be in basic harmony with that of Bergson. In view of the discussion in note 3 concerning Bergson’s and Whitehead’s diverse accounts of the relation of experience to consciousness, however, I doubt that a Bergsonian reading of this text can be thoroughly justified. Perhaps we have reached the juncture where communication between Bergsonians and Whiteheadians inevitably breaks down.)
After reading an earlier version of this article, Lewis S. Ford made this comment concerning the passage from "Immortality": "While memory is basic to Whitehead’s mature view of physical prehension, which is always a present prehending of something past, I question whether reflection upon physical memory prompted him to become a pansubjectivist. Here future possibility played a much larger role. With the discovery of the epochal theory of becoming, eternal objects take on an enormously increased role in the later additions to Science and the Modern World. Previously they simply characterized events; now they are also transcendent possibilities influencing all occasions. This implies pansubjectivity, although that conclusion was not yet drawn. I would understand subjectivity as that which is capable of being influenced by possibility" (letter to the author, April 26, 1981). Ford suggests that Whitehead’s proto-mentalism is best understood as pansubjectivism -- the doctrine that all actual occasions, since they are influenced by the autonomous realm of eternal objects, enjoy subjectivity in the sense that they are capable of being influenced by possibility and are thus open to the lure of the future. If this be the case, I fear that the attempt to harmonize Whiteheadian and Bergsonian proto-mentalisms confronts another impasse.
Bergson, in his conviction that there simply is no Platonic or quasi-Platonic realm of ideal possibilities, very nearly out-Aristotles Aristotle. Bergson forcefully expresses his anti-Platonism in "The Possible and the Real": "Underlying the doctrines which disregard the radical novelty of each moment of evolution there are many misunderstandings, many errors. But there is especially the idea that the possible is less than the real, and that, for this reason, the possibility of things precedes their existence. They would thus be capable of representation beforehand; they could be thought of before being realized. But it is the reverse that is true. . . [I]f we consider the totality of concrete reality, . . . we find there is more and not less in the possibility of each of the successive states than in their reality. For the possible is only the real with the addition of an act of mind which throws its image back into the past, once it has been enacted. . . . Hamlet was doubtless possible before being realized, if that means that there was no insurmountable obstacle to its realization. In the particular sense one calls possible what is not impossible; and it stands to reason that this non-impossibility of a thing is the condition of its realization. But the possible thus understood is in no degree virtual, something ideally pre-existent . . . [It is] a truism to say that the possibility of a thing precedes its reality: by that you [mean] simply that obstacles, having been surmounted, were surmountable" (CM 99f., 102). Bergson is vigorously committed to the view that the possible is and is intelligible solely in relation to present and past actualizations. An event is judged to be really possible, in the strict sense, only after its actualization. Bergson, as a consequence, must be numbered among those thinkers least likely to engage in "possible-worlds" discourse. For him, the task of philosophy is not that of generating abstract theories concerning the conditions underlying all possible experience; the task, rather, is that of articulating the concrete, positive characteristics displayed in real experience.
This is not to say that Bergson wholly disregards the lure of the future. His proto-mentalism, as a generalized theory of durationally-situated-agency-in-process-of-actualization, accounts for the lure of the future in terms of the dialectical tensions immanent to the durationally thick present of actualization.
For the higher organisms, memory, imagination, and perception are dynamically interrelated. Past actualities are not only remembered, they are also subjected to spontaneous, dream-like, imaginative variations. Memory and imagination provide the subjective context for the organism’s response to the objective demand, more or less insistent, that something be done in the present perceptual environment. The result of the doing may emerge as a surprising novelty to the agent -- the emergent future may be startlingly novel because the context of present actualization, for unforeseeable reasons, either was devoid of those hindrances which had thwarted or restricted the agent’s earlier efforts, or was replete with heretofore unencountered obstacles. A markedly novel actualization, in all its surprising character, henceforth enjoys the status of a real possibility which may be tensionally related, via memory and imagination, to the ever renewed demands of the present perceptual environment. For the higher organisms, then, the lure of the future is experienced in the lived tensions which animate the present of actualization.
With respect to physical events, the tensional character of the present of actualization is minimal. The present of physical actualization is little more than a reiteration of the forms of the past. The reiteration effected by elementary memory, however, is minimally creative: Such reiteration, since it situates the forms of the past in an emergent present context, introduces some degree of qualitative novelty. The emergent present of physical actualization is not external to the reiterative agency of elementary memory; moreover, the emergent present, as novel, may provide the immanent basis for a markedly novel actualization of the reiterated forms. The agency of elementary memory and the present of physical actualization are thus immanently and tensionally related in the process-constitution of the physical event. If the present of actualization is dominated by obstacles to the novel manifestations of the reiterated past forms, the immediately successive present -- the emergent future -- will also be chiefly reiterative. Since the emergent present is novel, however, the dominance of such obstacles need not be the case. Thus, for Bergson, the reiterative agency of elementary memory is, in its tensional relation with the emergent present of actualization, open to the lure of the future.