Randall E. Auxier is Associate Professor of Philosophy and Director of the Institute of Liberal Arts at Oklahoma City University in Oklahoma City, OK 73106 He is also Editor of the journal, The Personalist Forum. Email: email@example.com.
The following article appeared in Process Studies, pp. 301-338, Vol. 28, Number 3-4, Fall-Winter, 1999. 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.
Bergson’s account of intuition and his method of intuitive calculus provide us a way of experiencing and describing what is there between the "frames." (Analogous to the space between motion picture frames).
"Prior to the science of geometry, there is a natural geometry whose clearness and evidence surpass the clearness and evidence of other deductions."1
In this paper I take it as prima facie established that Professor Gunter is correct. Bergson placed a high importance on the role of the calculus for grounding contemporary science in an intuitive but rational way. Gunter is also correct, I think, is holding that what Bergson meant by "intuition" includes both qualitative and quantitative aspects. I take it as established that, for Bergson, calculus is more than just a handy metaphor or analogy, but rather, he indeed aimed at framing an approach to the organicist world hypothesis that employs the calculus as its actual method of discovery (i.e., differentiation) and explanation (i.e., integration), and that every discovery is the inverse of an explanation and every explanation the derivative of a discovery. And I take it as established that Hausman has shown a means whereby we can understand Bergson’s approach as both metaphorical and rational2 As I am certain the reader does, I have questions I would like answered in light of their important insights and these interpretations of Bergson, but the issue I will examine presently is how Gunter’s thesis and Hausman’s elaboration might affect our understanding of Bergson’s influence on Whitehead.3 The view of Bergson Gunter seeks to supplant is very widely held, and indeed was held, (if not really defended) until recently even by Professor Hausman (see the "Dialogue" below). In this regard Hausman found himself in good company: Mead, Whitehead, Russell (if that is good company), Santayana and Henry Nelson Wieman to name only a few, also saw Bergson as having sold out, to some degree, the conceptual, structural and/or rational element of thought for a more immediate and fluid grasp of pure becoming.4
I will expand upon Gunter’s investigation, then, specifically by posing and partially answering the question as to whether and how Bergson’s views on creativity and other related subjects have been taken up into Whitehead’s philosophy, and how the connection to the calculus helps us grasp something that was so obvious to Whitehead that he left it unstated. 5 I would then like to show how Gunter’s interpretation makes a difference to our usual way of approaching the relationship between the two thinkers. Along the way it will be necessary to gore a familiar ox or two; however, since my analysis points to the conclusion that Victor Lowe and those who follow him have understood the questions surrounding Whitehead and Bergson in terms too narrow to accommodate the whole truth in this matter, including Gunter’s thesis. It is time, I will argue, to revise Lowe’s thesis about Bergson’s "influence" on Whitehead.
I. Historiographical Levels
Taking an ordinary historiographical approach (and I want to question later whether this is wise for process philosophers), there are at least four lines we might take regarding Bergson’s influence on Whitehead’s philosophy each with increasingly less historical authority, in the traditional sense. Victor Lowe, who has written more about this issue than anyone else, insisted from the beginning that a very high standard of evidence ought to be adopted in investigating this question of historical influence. A vague similarity of ideas fails to establish "influence" of any kind, for Lowe. Indeed, Lowe insisted that if we wish to attribute a "decisive influence" of Bergson upon Whitehead (as many early interpreters of Whitehead did), this "requires evidence that [Whitehead] derived from [Bergson] either some of his problems or some of his essential solutions."6 Even though I do not agree that this standard of evidence is appropriate to the outlook of process philosophy I will indeed suggest some very specific problems and essential solutions that Whitehead almost surely "derived" from Bergson’s philosophy I am interested more in the issue of creativity than other ideas, but I think Lowe’s careful and valuable life’s work warrants a more thorough answer than a treatment of one counter-example. Naturally, the question about creativity is a special instance of the more general account which can be given of Bergson’s influence on Whitehead. I will focus on creativity to some degree, but as Gunter’s essay clearly illustrates, one cannot speak of Bergson’s account of creativity without bringing in the other central ideas related to it.
Initially, we can discuss matters at these three levels: (1) what Whitehead said himself about Bergson; (2) what those who knew Whitehead said on this matter; and, (3) what other well-informed scholars have said since. Actually a fourth and least authoritative line of inquiry might be added, consisting of (4) "Mere Rumors and Things Said by Bertrand Russell on this Subject" postmodernist readers may wish employ the same four lines of inquiry, and simply reverse the amount of attention given to each, and they might also add an account of the telling things that no one said or thought about Bergson and Whitehead. There is also a fifth, more detached, philosophical way of looking at these issues without appealing to "direct historical influence" as if it were some sort of causal connection as Lowe claims it is.7 Of course the fourth line and fifth lines are outside ordinary present-day historiographical research, excepting undergraduates in general education courses (who seem inevitably to find, in spite of the odds in a fair-sized library, Russell’s History of Western Philosophy first, and then cite it liberally). But the fifth line is highly controversial. Virtually all historians these days acknowledge the primacy of interpretation, and the role of philosophical assumptions in historiography, but many are (perhaps wisely) unwilling to give themselves over to philosophy as if history just is a sort of philosophy. I think no serious historian since Ranke has sincerely claimed to be able to translate "true history" directly onto the page, giving all the definitive causes of the events. But in spite of the intractable controversy over it, this fifth line may turn out to be the most fruitful approach of all for process thought (admittedly giving philosophy rather than history the central voice), even though some will say it is "unhistorical." I would assert that this last line may not turn out to be unhistorical if history is understood from a process perspective, rather than from a perspective embracing most of what was mistaken in the Enlightenment’s overly optimistic view of the power of human reason. In any case, leaving aside the fourth for future studies by undergraduates, let us examine each of these levels in turn and see what might be said for them.
II. In Whitehead’s Words
Whitehead says some remarkable things about Bergson, and a handful of Whitehead’s most important ideas are linked directly to Bergson’s philosophy explicitly. I want to mention here two of these ideas that are of a critical nature -- tools for criticizing the tradition -- and another that is more constructive. The critical ideas come first in Science and the Modern World when Whitehead is expressing his basic agreement with Bergson regarding the fallacy of simple location, and in that context he also introduces his notion of the fallacy of misplaced concreteness. He simply attributes the former idea to Bergson.8 With respect to the latter, Whitehead senses that there may be some disagreement between him and Bergson, in that Whitehead thinks Bergson believes that "such distortion [as results from the intellect abstracting] is a vice necessary to the intellectual apprehension of nature."9 Hence, while Whitehead and Bergson share a suspicion about the over-intellectualization of reality Whitehead thinks Bergson is committed to some sort of necessity about this "built-in" to the nature of the human intellect. Whitehead later made his view about this even clearer (quoted below), and it suggests a criticism that Bergson has been burdened with ever since he wrote Creative Evolution that the intellect necessarily distorts reality by spatializing it -- precisely the criticism Gunter and Hausman have now laid to rest. This is not exactly what Whitehead said above, but it is what he means.
Beyond what Gunter and Hausman have already said, what may be said in Bergson’s defense, explicitly as it applies to Whitehead’s version of the criticism? This is actually important to understanding Bergson’s influence on Whitehead. A standard approach to historical influence would almost certainly take the view that if Whitehead misunderstood Bergson regarding certain points, as I think he did, then how can Bergson have "influenced" Whitehead regarding those points? If the two thinkers end up to be actually advancing the same ideas, even when the latter believes he is disagreeing with the former, is this "influence"? But this question presupposes a very narrow sense of "influence." Provocation, even if it is based on misunderstanding, is a defensible sense of the term "influence," although it is not, taken alone, the meaning best suited to process thought. It is clear that "divine lure" is also an important sense of the term "influence" that interpreters like Lowe seem unwilling to entertain at all in their accounts.10 But I think another sense of the term is most appropriate and useful here. Let me answer Whitehead’s charge against Bergson, and in the course of this, and the ensuing discussion, I think I can suggest a sense of the term "influence" that is not only appropriate to this case, but to many process-oriented histories.
Did Bergson hold that the intellect "necessarily" spatializes and thereby distorts all that it "knows"? Gunter and Hausman have already done much to suggest that spatializing is not to be equated strictly with distortion and falsification of reality, but they said nothing about "necessity." For Bergson, like many process thinkers (Peirce, James and Dewey come particularly to mind), the entire concept of "necessity" only makes sense when applied internally to abstractions the intellect has already devised.11 Of course, one can tell an evolutionary story about how the human intellect came to be a separable function of consciousness that emphasizes abstraction (indeed, that is what Bergson does in Creative Evolution), but if one were to say that the course of development described in that story had to occur (i.e., necessarily) as it did, then one would be very far from Bergson’s view (CE 218, 236, 270). Not only is the development of consciousness into intellect contingent in the evolution of the cosmos, the precise form it took was utterly unforeseeable, and the story one tells about it is always revisable in light of future emergences (as Hausman has so effectively argued). And if there is no metaphysical necessity in the process by which intellect came into concrete existence, and none in the story one tells about that process, then how can any of the features or modes of the intellect (e.g., that it distorts reality) be treated as having any greater necessity? Granted, we might say that the proposition "if x is an intellect, then x distorts reality by spatializing it" is an analytical truth akin to "if x is a bachelor, then x is unmarried," and Bergson would even accept this (CE 270), so long as we are simply drawing implications about things we have already defined.12 But Bergson does not treat any definition as unrevisable, absolute or permanent. The necessity in the analytical formulation above is merely internal and logical and derives from the way the intellect has already defined the concepts it is using. Are those definitions the only possible ones? No, not for Bergson. Are any terms and definitions adequate to the phenomena they strive to capture? Logically adequate perhaps, when viewed as internal to a system the intellect has already devised, but never metaphysically adequate. And logical adequacy seems to depend on something like integration and differentiation. Metaphysics for Bergson strives to minimize the mediation of all symbols (like words and concepts), and although metaphysics "claims to dispense with symbols," it cannot dispense with them entirely.13 Hence, since it requires reflection and articulation (in spite of being based on intuition) metaphysics will always be required to genuflect at the door to the sanctuary of the intellect (even though the immediacy of Being, analogous to the Holy Spirit in a Christian sanctuary is supposed to be present in intuition), and it is in the moment of genuflection that the idea of logical necessity infiltrates metaphysics and becomes an unhappy resident alien. But there is no such thing as pure metaphysical necessity for Bergson; only instances of people forgetfully importing logical necessity into our discussions of metaphysics. The whole notion of descriptive metaphysics, such as we find worked out in Whitehead, Dewey, and Bergson is an effort at the deportation of that resident alien.
Yet, one must assume that the claim we are considering -- that the intellect necessarily distorts reality by spatializing it -- is supposed to say more than "intellect is defined as a mode of consciousness that distorts reality by spatializing it." The point I think Bergson’s critics are trying to make is "Bergson holds that the cosmos is such that necessarily nothing recognizable as intellect can ever grasp anything real without distorting it through spatialization." But as we have seen, Bergson denies (at least in the works that could have influenced Whitehead) that there is any metaphysical necessity like this. He is describing the intellect, not prescribing first principles when he says the things that have led to this misinterpretation. If we ask whether there could be a sort of intellect that abstracts without at least partially distorting, I think Bergson would reply that we have no experience of anything like that, and any such idea would be highly speculative and would risk missing the meaning of the terms "intellect," and "abstraction," since these terms are employed based on an experience we really have. Would an intellect that can abstract without partializing still be recognizable as an intellect? "Who knows?" That would be Bergson’s measured response, I am confident. Gunter and Hausman have already defended Bergson against this sort of charge, but for the moment I simply take Whitehead to be mistaken in thinking that he and Bergson disagree regarding "necessity" in the intellect’s distortion of what it apprehends. Beneath this apparent difference is agreement between Bergson and Whitehead that all products of the mind are partial and do distort the wholes (to which they correspond) by presenting a part for the whole.14 Abstraction is just such a useful distortion.)15 And indeed, we may say this for all mental activity for Whitehead, since it is a "reversion" that is the undoing of the synthesis exhibited in the ground.
Thus in the birth of the mental occasion the consequent of ideal novelty enters into reality and possesses an analytic force over against the synthetic ground. Ideal forms thus synthesized into a mental occasion are termed concepts. Concepts meet blind experience with analytic force. Their synthesis with a physical occasion, as ground, is the perceptive analysis of the blind physical occasion in respect to its degree of relevance to the concepts. 16
In any case, at least the fallacy of simple location, and in part the fallacy of misplaced concreteness, two of Whitehead’s most important critical ideas, arise from and are explicitly attributed to Whitehead’s reading of and engagement with Bergson’s philosophy.17 Indeed, these two critical ideas about failings in the history of philosophy are addressed by both Bergson and Whitehead with the same twofold strategy: (1) a common method designed to minimize the distortion that enters into our metaphysical descriptions while allowing us still to generalize (extensive abstraction); and (2) a common descriptive postulate or tool (the epochal occasion). We shall have occasion to say more about these later, when we examine Victor Lowe’s claim that Bergson had no epochal theory and the method of extensive abstraction was alien to Bergson’s thinking, but for the moment, we must concede that Whitehead does not explicitly credit as a source Bergson for these two features of his philosophy. Indeed, one finds in others whom Whitehead read, such as James Ward, similar ideas about epochal occasions. But extensive abstraction seems peculiar to Bergson and Whitehead, and a moment’s pause ought to convince the reader that the only sort of metaphysician who needs something like extensive abstraction as a method is one who wants to retain the operations of the intellect in the extended (i.e., concrete) world. I remind the reader of a passage from Gunter’s essay above:
Bergson believes that the chemicals, energies, and physical principles without which life could not exist are misconstrued by us as being perfectly spatial, not as possessing degrees of spatiality (i.e., as characterized by their "extensity"). It is thus easy to understand the extent to which these factors, extensive and durational, could be believed by Bergson to be brought together into forms possessing broader durations. (283-284)
The broader the duration, the more an entity can take account of its history in its unfolding, and the more its history is taken account of in its present, the more "conscious" a concrete entity can be. As Gunter says:
Matter possesses a kind of history. But it is the history of an unbecoming:
. . . changes that are visible and heterogeneous will be more and more diluted into changes that are invisible and homogeneous, and . . . the instability to which we owe the richness and variety of the changes taking place in our solar system will gradually give way to the relative stability of vibrations continually and perpetually repeated (CE 243). (272)
This process results in a continual extension of matter into space (CE 203), a process never completed. There are, therefore, "degrees of spatiality" (CE 205) in nature. As matter descends towards space, it becomes more homogeneous, its successive moments become less mutually continuous, its stability increases. But if matter "stretches itself out in the direction of space (CE 207), it never reaches this limit.
Thus, extensive abstraction for Bergson (although Bergson did not call it this), as for Whitehead, is an effort to describe how consciousness is concretely in the physical world and is taking account of it in its "route." The spatialization of the things a mind is thinking about and the actual concrete process by which a mind does what it does have to be kept distinct, and yet the process of conscious thinking does give rise to the product, i.e., thought. Mind has thus a spatial aspect which distorts the real in spatializing it, and an aspect which is part of the real, i.e., extended in both space and time. So extension is not to be identified with space in Bergson and Whitehead.
Although Whitehead never credits Bergson explicitly with these insights, it is clear that thinkers within a process framework are the ones who are obliged to come up with a solution to this sort of problem, while more traditional thinkers do not often or ever worry about the ways in which the intellect distorts reality by subsuming it in a spatialized conceptual scheme, or how the concrete process of thinking is distinct from thought. In short, one must decide that simple location and misplaced concreteness really are fallacies before such a method as extensive abstraction or a metaphysics of epochal occasions will recommend themselves. As I have suggested, Whitehead says he takes the critical ideas from Bergson. Does it not make sense to suppose that the ordered pair of the criticism and its solution are both plausibly due to Bergson’s influence? But since it is apparent that Whitehead did not realize he and Bergson agreed on this point about the spatializing effects of intellect, the sense of the term "influence" will have to be broader than "conscious, causal imitation of an idea." So much for a discussion of the two critical ideas.
The constructive idea Whitehead says he has taken from Bergson is even more central to his project. It is the idea of "process" itself. In The Concept of Nature, Whitehead writes:
It is an exhibition of the process of nature that each duration happens and passes. The process of nature can also be termed the passage of nature. I definitely refrain at this stage from using the word "time," since the measurable time of science and of civilized life generally merely exhibits some aspects of the more fundamental fact of the passage of nature. I believe that in this doctrine I am in full accord with Bergson, though he uses "time" for the fundamental fact which I call the "passage of nature."18
Hence, in a very- real sense, even though Whitehead popularized the term "process philosophy," Bergson is closer to being its source.19 This key acknowledgment of direct historical "influence" seems difficult to evade, and one would play it down only if one had serious reasons. And indeed, when Lowe set out to refute the idea that Whitehead was a Bergsonian, I think Lowe had serious reasons. Lowe wrote his major work on Bergson’s influence on Whitehead at a time (1949, right after Whitehead’s death) when Whitehead’s originality as a thinker was not taken for granted, as it is today. Indeed, Lowe contributed significantly to establishing the reputation of "original thinker" for Whitehead. Bergson on the other hand had come to he seen as yesterday’s news in 1949, his "vitalism" (never a good name for his view, in my thinking) was out of favor, and was held by many to have been discredited by later developments. In science, Lowe may have even held some of these negative views about Bergson himself, but without seeking to divine his motives, it is safe to say that a reasonable person might well have come to believe, under such circumstances, that the survival of Whitehead’s thought might depend on getting some distance between Whitehead and Bergson. And who knows? Maybe that was true.
Yet, subsequent science has not been nearly as unkind to Bergson as the positivism of the mid-20th century was.20 And today we no longer need to throw the passengers and cargo overboard to save the ship of Whitehead’s thought from the stormy vicissitudes of history. Thus, we no longer need to adopt a strategy of dismissing what Whitehead says in print about his own "influences" for his own good. If we were going to be responsible historiographers of the contemporary sort, we might be far more suspicious of Lowe dismissals of Bergson than of Whitehead’s acknowledgments of Bergson influence (see below). Methinks Professor Lowe protesteth too much.
Furthermore, given the centrality of the concept of "process" to Whitehead’s view of creativity; the appropriate procedure for discovering its provenance seems to recommend that a philosopher or intellectual historian would do better to assume similarity in viewpoint except where explicit differences can be made out between the two thinkers. This notion of influence as confluence is a process notion, and traceable to Bergson. The idea is clearer In French, where a reflexive verb form may be employed. Judith A. Jones has noticed this in comparing Bergson and Whitehead on the matter of the "psychical" experience of duration. In that context she quotes a helpful passage from Sartre’s L’Etre et le neant:
. . . cette durée psychique qui ne saurait être par soi doir perpétuellement être etée. Pérpetuellement oscillante entre la mutiplicité de juxtaposition et la cohésion absolue du pour-soi ek-statique, cette temporalité est composée de <maintenant>, qui out gui demeurent i La place qui leur est assign&, mais gui s’influencent à distance dans leur totalité; cest ce qui la rend assez semblable à la durée magique du bergsonisme.21
Jones goes on to comment:
. . . the individual atomic actuality is a temporally reiterated subject-object whose locations cohere as "one" despite their physical "distance" from one another as absorbed in other things. The way in which the reflexive verb is presented in the French suggests a tighter, internal immediacy than what we may be tempted to read into the English . . . "s’influencent" sounds much less like an actual multiplicity than does the phrase "influence each other."22
If we generalize Jones’ insight here, recalling such familiar process phrases as "mutual immanence," we recognize that issues of "influence" are also issues of "confluence," which is the English word I would choose for "s’influencent." It is a more immediate relation than causation, and yet immediacy is not to be confused with physical contiguity. Confluence has to do with a simultaneity of mutual influence, and I suspect it has much in common with what the Jungians mean by "synchronicity," but without the air of self-important mysticism. This notion of "influence" profoundly affects our efforts at historical interpretation. Lewis Ford summarized nicely what will result from treating influence as confluence, although I confess to appropriating his words to ends and views he has not endorsed: ". . . we should begin with the retention of everything past, and then explain what has been excluded. For example, it is not remembering that needs to be explained, but forgetting."23 By the same token, those who see influence as confluence are not so much expecting to explain how an influence occurred, since influence is the norm. Interesting questions surrounding modes of influence could be addressed here, but the real difficulty in addressing a problem of "influence" in my sense of the word would lie in trying to account for the absence of such influence in a given case. We assume Bergson and Whitehead’s "inluencent" and we would only have a problem were it otherwise. Then the important questions are all questions of modes and means of "s’influencent." The reverse procedure of assuming Whitehead and Bergson differ except where similarity’ is explicitly acknowledged, and perhaps not admitting influence even then (as Lowe argues) would seem to be a failure not only to take Whitehead’s explicit statements with adequate seriousness, but a failure to grasp something fairly basic about how process philosophy differs from previous philosophies, and how its historiography ought to proceed. I take Jones to be making a sound assertion, for example, in the following:
The quantitative aspect of intensity, whereby pattern is the primitive feature of existents, receives elaboration in regard to perception by Alexander and Bergson, in a manner that may certainly have influenced Whitehead, inspiring him at the same time to devise a revisionist scheme in which unnecessary distinctions between quantitative and qualitative patterns could be maintained by a firmer metaphysical grasp of the nature of intensity per se (particularly its ontological rescuability from infection by the notion of measurable extensive quanta).24
However, the question of "influence," even on this first level of what Whitehead explicitly says, is far more complicated than I can indicate here.
One of the many complications comes in the realization that, apparently, Whitehead did not understand Bergson as well as he might have, and thus, may have believed he was further from or closer to Bergson than he really was.25 In fact, Gunter’s thesis depends on this latter conclusion, since Whitehead’s stated view of Bergson is contrary to Gunter’s thesis about Bergson; hence, Gunter is wrong if Whitehead is right. And, if Whitehead is right, then he differs fundamentally’ from Bergson on this crucial point. However, if Gunter is right, then Whitehead has misunderstood Bergson, and may be closer to Bergson’s views than he realizes.
If the latter is the case, and I think it is, then it may be possible to reconcile many of the differences between the two thinkers with some creative interpretation, such that, whether they realized it themselves, Whitehead and Bergson were profoundly similar in basic philosophical outlook. But, in either case, assuming similarity of viewpoint where there is no stated difference is not to be taken lightly. Even the important, explicitly acknowledged similarities must be investigated and justified, and in turn, explicitly acknowledged differences might in fact be profound similarities. We now begin to see something of the true complexity of this issue, and the unstated implications of Gunter’s view. I do not believe Whitehead was so deeply enthralled by Bergson’s thought as to be extremely careful about getting the details right. At least one clear example of this carelessness about detail is evident above in the passage from The Concept of Nature where Whitehead say’s that he means by "the passage of nature" what Bergson means by "time." This cannot be correct because it is not sufficiently specific; what he probably means is "lived time," since the context makes it clear that he cannot mean "clock time." Still, it seems clear to me that Whitehead speaks in a more objective mode than is appropriate to any notion of time or duration one finds in Bergson (excepting clock time, which isn’t really time at all, but rather space). Yet Whitehead thinks he agrees with Bergson. This is a significant clue.
Another very significant clue is in Process and Reality, where Whitehead says that "Bergson’s ‘intuition’ has the same meaning as ‘physical purpose’ in Part III of these lectures."26 This is not a comfortable match at all since, as Sherburne puts it, "physical purposes tend to be terminal -- they inhibit further integration, are devoid of consciousness, and characterize the primitive sorts of actual entities that are members of the kinds of societies we term inanimate objects."27 This is hardly what Bergson means by intuition -- it is closer to the opposite of intuition -- and the fact that Whitehead says otherwise indicates a fair gap in his grasp of Bergson. While some might think at this point that a strenuous argument that Whitehead does not understand Bergson on certain key points is ipso facto damaging to the other claim I am defending (that Bergson’s "influence" on Whitehead was very significant). But again, I remind the reader that "influence" is not a simple idea, and provocation (even the provocation that comes from misunderstanding) is an important sense of the word "influence."
In addition to giving great praise,28 Whitehead also say’s very critical things about specific aspects of Bergson’s philosophy; and he sometimes seeks to distance himself from "Bergsonism" in general. Using Whitehead’s statements alone, however, we get no clear answer to the question of where he stands relative to Bergson, since Whitehead said different things at different times. Perhaps it would be best at this point, then, to examine the views of other philosophers who were close by -- those who knew Whitehead and were his contemporaries.
III. In the Words of Whitehead’s Contemporaries
Among Whitehead’s contemporaries we find two conflicting views. On the one hand, Victor Lowe (who was close by towards the end of Whitehead’s life, after all) represents those who held that Bergson and Whitehead really are very different in viewpoint, while F. S. C. Northrop represents those who held that Bergson’s influence on Whitehead was so great that it can hardly be exaggerated.29
Looking at Northrop first, he claims that the heaviest Bergsonian influence on Whitehead came through H. Wildon Carr, and the suggestion is that Whitehead may have been getting "Bergsonized" through a sort of historico-intellectual osmosis, rather than by a studied effort. Indeed, such "osmosis," as long as it is not made into a full-blown metaphysical being like an Hegelian Zeitgeist is a sounder metaphor with which to approach the idea of "influence" in process philosophy than the stricter causal account Lowe sought. I cannot offer any’ causal historical verification of this claim about "osmotic Bergsonization" of Whitehead, other than Northrop’s own admirable credibility and keen observation, and that of his contemporaries, but "verification" of the sort that assumes a causal interpretation of the concept of "influence" is not relevant to my thesis (if I am correct). What is called for is a description of the confluence of historical consciousness regarding certain ideas.
Northrop observed such a confluence, and held that Whitehead and Berg-son differed only on one major point of doctrine: he alleges that, for Bergson, spatialization in science constitutes a falsification of experience, while he thinks this is not the case for Whitehead.30 There are two problems with this claim by Northrop. We have visited this territory already in discussing Whitehead’s early interpretation of Bergson’s view of the intellect, which turns out to be not a difference of doctrine, but a misunderstanding on Whitehead’s part of Bergson’s view. And this point is also relevant to the charge made by Hartshorne and others that, unlike Whitehead, Bergson’s attachment in continuity leads him unwittingly to deny any definite units of reality.31 And second, Whitehead does hold that spatialization, such as conceptualization and quantification require, falsifies experience. So, in being generally right about the relation of Bergson and Whitehead, Northrop mistakes a similarity for a difference, and misinterprets Whitehead. But let me address each in turn, the latter first.
Whitehead’s mature statement on the matter of whether spatialization is a sort of falsification seems to equate all merely partial accounts of reality (e.g., spatializations) with distortions. Whitehead says: "To know the truth partially is to distort the Universe. For example, the savage who can only count up to ten enormously exaggerates the importance of the small numbers, and so do we, whose imaginations fail when we come to millions."32 I think it is fortunate under the circumstances that Whitehead chose to illustrate his point with a numerical example, since he certainly does not deny that numbers are abstract and that they spatialize our experience. And numbers do distort reality by partializing it. In Process and Reality Whitehead says:
On the whole, the history of philosophy supports Bergson’s charge that the intellect spatializes the universe; that is to say, that it tends to ignore the fluency, and to analyze the world in terms of static categories. Indeed Bergson went further and conceived this tendency as an inherent necessity of the intellect. I do not believe this accusation; but I do hold that spatialization is the shortest route to a clear-cut philosophy expressed in reasonably familiar language.33
At least three things are worth noting about this passage. The first is that Whitehead repeats the charge he made ten years earlier, and which I have answered above. Second is the affirmation of Bergson’s charge that spatialization is a partialization of experience. What seems to differ is the attitude the two men take towards this phenomenon. Whitehead thinks that Bergson believes spatialization is a really bad thing, which is wrong; an understandable conclusion, perhaps, but not accurate, as Gunter and Hausman argue, and I will further demonstrate below. The third noteworthy thing is that Whitehead misses something absolutely crucial about Bergson’s account of the intellect -- that intellect is an indispensable contributing factor in the development of intuition (the other needed condition being instinct), and that either one of these taken wholly alone would fail to produce knowledge of any sort.34 Only an intelligent being has any need of intuition.
Given that intuition is Bergson’s favored approach to knowledge, it would be very surprising indeed if we were to learn that Bergson despised one of its founding conditions, i.e., intellect, as a source of knowledge. If Whitehead had been cognizant of this he would have realized that Bergson does not condemn the intellect wholesale, nor the activity of spatialization. In fact, Bergson and Whitehead have very similar orientations and attitudes towards the activity of spatialization. Take the following passage from Creative Evolution:
To act and know that we are acting, to come into touch with reality and even to live it, . . . such is the function of human intelligence . . . From the ocean of life, in which we are immersed, we are continually drawing something, and we feel that our being, or at least the intellect that guides it, has been formed therein by a kind of local concentration. Philosophy can only bean effort to dissolve again into the Whole. Intelligence, reabsorbed into its principle, may’ thus live back again its own genesis. But the enterprise cannot be achieved in one stroke. . . .35
This is hardly the sort of talk one would expect from an enemy of intelligence (the product of the intellect). It is certainly true that, insofar as intelligence and its operations constitute only a partial reabsorption of life within its own genesis, to the extent it is partial, it distorts the actual process in trying to comprehend it. This is hardly an evil in Bergson’s views given that the operation of such intellectual forces is also a condition for acting freely; in the complete sense.
This brings us to the second problem with Northrop’s claim that Whitehead and Bergson differ on the matter of whether spatialization constitutes a distortion of our experience. Not only does Whitehead himself reiterate Bergson’s critical claim that the intellect over-spatializes, he also uses it as a principle of construction in his own philosophy. Whitehead agrees that partializations and distortions are a significant factor in all philosophizing, especially systematic philosophizing. Before laying out his own categoreal scheme he warns the reader that all such formal schemes are strictly speaking false, due to an irremediable partiality of formulation.36 He explains in the same context that the only’ reason a categoreal scheme is even needed is to prevent philosophers from thinking too much like mathematicians regarding the clarity; completeness and certainty of their activities.37 Bergson would heartily agree. A bit of critical distance on the amount we can expect to accomplish with our spatializations is the least we should require of ourselves as philosophers. Bergson and Whitehead are both fallibilists, who choose descriptive metaphysics over prescriptive or transcendental metaphysics, and if there is a disagreement between them on the question of how spatialization distorts our experience, it is a difference of degree, not of kind. I would support this claim by calling attention to a short piece Whitehead delivered before the Aristotelian Society in 1922:
What I really doubt is whether there is any term sufficiently comprehensive to embrace the ultimate concrete fact. It seems impossible to obtain a term with positive content which does not thereby exclude. Our analysis is always by way of abstraction, thus we have Bergson’s urge of life, Haldane’s knowledge, Berkeley’s mind, and so on. Some of these terms are better than otters as being less misleading, but they are all too narrow. Against the background of the becomingness of existence we can only project various abstractions which are the product of the differing modes of analysis.
The ages pass with splendid fires
Trailing along their shadowy tread.
Behind the curtain of the dead
Life sits alone and still desires.38
A more profoundly Bergsonian sentiment can hardly be imagined, even though it is here stated in Whitehead’s idiom. This also confirms the way that partializing the truth (as we find in science’s quantification of experience) is for both Whitehead and Bergson a kind of falsehood, albeit useful and needed.
Therefore, in light of this and Gunter’s arguments, I see no irreconcilable, or even significant difference between Whitehead and Bergson on the point raised by Northrop regarding spatialization and distortion. Aside from this point, Northrop is willing to embrace an almost total philosophical companionship between Whitehead and Bergson. This I take to support Gunter’s general position also, which tells of a more Whiteheadian Bergson than we are wont to think about (or is it just the Bergson who always was, and a Whitehead who was more akin than he realized?).
The story is quite the contrary in the case of Victor Lowe, however. In his much read study Understanding Whitehead, Lowe undertakes an abbreviated version of his earlier systematic contrast of Whitehead and Bergson in which he aims "to make it impossible . . . to look upon Whitehead as Bergson’s mathematically trained alter ego."39 Since few people read Lowe’s entire 1949 article in which the details of his argument are really presented, I will select a few of the key contrasts Lowe reprinted in Understanding Whitehead, which contains an abridgement of the 1949 article, in an effort to show that Gunter has really answered them already rendering Whitehead not so much Bergson’s mathematical alter ego,40 as something more approaching his philosophical blood brother 41 According to Lowe, however, "it is fatal to the understanding of Whitehead’s constructive metaphysical effort to define it in Bergsonian terms."42 I believe that many of Whitehead’s second and third generation followers may have used this statement and the seemingly authoritative argument which follows it as an excuse not to read Bergson closely, or in a few cases, to ignore him altogether.43
In contrast to Whitehead, Lowe accuses Bergson of coming close to "swab lowing Cartesian natural science whole."44 This statement exhibits an mischaracterization of Bergson so extreme it defies words; if ever there was a more persistent opponent of Descartes’ conception of natural science than Bergson, I do not know who it might be -- with the possible exception of Bergson’s process blood brothers -- Peirce, Dewey, James, Whitehead and Hartshorne.45 In Lowe’s defense it might be said that the eight or ten books that do the most to establish just how non-Cartesian, and indeed revolutionary Bergson’s view of science was were all published after Understanding Whitehead. But Lowe’s effort to characterize Bergson as a Cartesian (something even Lowe admitted was a bit unfair.46) is not to be taken seriously by those who wish to be faithful to the text.
Lowe goes on in this context to make the following statement: "Whitehead comes to metaphysics as a Plato-loving theorist who wishes to construct an all-inclusive cosmological scheme; Bergson as a half-Cartesian intuitionist cleanly and systematically setting off his own meditation from other types and areas of thought."47 This is almost Rorty-esque in its cavalier vacuity, especially given that if one removes the questionable rhetorical epithets "half-Cartesian" and "Plato-loving," one could then switch the names of the two thinkers and still have a more or less accurate statement of their respective views. Lowe’s intense and laudable desire to save Whitehead’s originality overruns his sober historical judgment here.
In his argument, Lowe repeatedly makes the same point about spatialization that Northrop made, and which I will not treat again. But Lowe also claims that Whitehead’s treatment of teleology is "un-Bergsonian." However, if one examines what Whitehead says on this matter in Process and Reality, one finds something rather near to Bergson’s expressed view in Creative Evolution. Bergson says that "finality" (choosing this word over "teleology") is one of the two kinds of "order" -- the kind that, while it "oscillates around finality," still cannot be strictly defined as "finality." He continues:
In its highest forms [this kind of order] is more than finality, for a free action . . . may. . . show a perfect order, and yet . . . can only be expressed in terms of ideas approximately, and after the event. Life in its entirety, regarded as a creative evolution, is something analogous; it transcends finality, if we understand by finality the realization of an idea conceived or conceivable in advance. The category of finality is therefore too narrow for life in its entirety.48
Whitehead says in Process and Reality that:
There are two species of process, macroscopic process, and microscopic process. . . . The former process is efficient; the latter process is teleological. The future is merely real without being actual; whereas the past is a nexus of actualities. . . . The present is the immediacy of teleological process whereby reality’ becomes actual. The former process provides the conditions which really govern attainment; whereas the latter process provides the ends actually attained.49
The vocabulary is different, but the analogy being set up (microcosm/macrocosm) has the same essential feature: the inadequately narrow scope of microcosmic teleological processes due to their dependence upon macrocosmic conditions which were not of their own making. Unless one regards Bergson as some sort of absolute enemy of finality (which is another common misperception -- unsupportable in the text),50 then one is not tempted to suppose that he makes no place for it in his view; perhaps as ample a place as Whitehead makes for teleology in his own view.
Lowe further claims that Whitehead’s and Bergson’s views of order and disorder are at odds. As evidence he cites a few pages from Creative Evolution saying that "Bergson repudiates the notion of disorder, and divides order into two kinds, vital and geometrical."51 With this statement he leads us to think that Bergson does not believe there is any such thing as disorder at all. All that Bergson really says is that we cannot know disorder without making it into an order of some sort first, and points out that the relation between the "two directions of order" is really a continuum that we distinguish on the basis of its extremes (completely free activity and geometrical mechanism, or integration and differentiation, to use the terms Gunter recommends) for the purposes of talking about this issue. After distinguishing the two directions of order in our thought, Bergson says:
Now, whether experience seems to us to adopt the first direction, or whether it is drawn in the direction of the second, in both cases we say there is order, for in the two processes the mind finds itself again. The confusion between them is therefore natural. To escape it, different names would have to be given to the two kinds of order, and that is nor easy, because of the variety and variability of forms they take. The order of the second kind may be defined as geometry, which is its extreme limit. . . . As to the first kind of order, it oscillates no doubt around finality; and yet we cannot define it as finality; for it is sometimes above, sometimes below.52
Whitehead would not disagree with this obvious epistemological point, and indeed, it is hard not to see in this Whitehead’s own distinction between causal efficacy’ and presentational immediacy. But interestingly, I think Gunter may have really provided the mater key to this difficult issue by seeing at its core the complementary processes of integration and differentiation. These are ways of speaking about processes, not the processes themselves, for both Whitehead and Bergson. While it is certainly true that Whitehead spends more energy on the metaphysical status of disorder than Bergson does, this hardly establishes a profound difference of viewpoint. And with a bit less rigid posture for reading the two thinkers, it seems fair to suggest an instance of influence as confluence here, and to remind the reader that one would really only need a historical explanation of this similarity if one were to claim that is not a case of influence.
Lowe’s next charge is that Bergson denies the intellect any access to "metaphysical penetration," completely ignoring the fact that intelligence is one of the necessary conditions for the advent of intuitive thinking (from which all metaphysics proceeds).53 This charge has been answered by Gunter, by Hausman, and earlier in this essay by me. We need no longer take this charge seriously.
Lowe claims that "Whitehead, by means of the method of extensive abstraction which he had invented, constructed the scientific concepts of space and time. The term refers to the observed extending of one event over another which is part of it."54 Lowe claims that Whitehead "had adopted a very’ un-Bergsonian approach: extension was to express the interconnectedness (both spatial and temporal) of nature, rather than -- as in the classical materialism which Bergson took to be correct in its own sphere -- disconnection only."55 Lowe claims Bergson has nothing like the method of extensive abstraction, which I have suggested earlier is not only false, but chances are Whitehead even took the idea for extensive abstraction from Bergson, apparently both having been "influenced" (in my sense of the term) by one of William James’ insights. Gunter says:
Thus, in Creative Evolution Bergson develops a theory already proposed in Mailer and Memory; namely, that matter is (a term proposed by William James) "extensive." It does not have pure spatial extension: it is neither as extended as geometrical space nor, simply, extra-spatial. "Extensity" is used to described nor only matter, but mind. Bergson denies that mind is entirely unextended, thus denying a Cartesian dogma which has dominated modern philosophy. Rather, Bergson argues, mind is dipolar.
This ought to lay to rest Lowe’s contention. But Gunter continues:
From the viewpoint of applied mathematics [Bergson’s] theory has obvious advantages As noted above, it gives an objective basis to counting (since there is a real aspect of discreteness to the epochs or rhythms). It also provides such a basis for measuring temporal breadths (e.g., frequencies), so long as these are taken not as absolutes but as quasi-discrete. Temporal boundaries would have also been taken as approximative, that is, as limits. The same would hold for spatial location and extent, and for motion. But for Bergson, these limits are strictly ideal. Taken in themselves (as mathematical points and instants) they do not exist.
This brings to mind Whitehead’s explicit embracing of Bergson’s notion of "limit" as "canalization" in The Principle of Relativity.56 Gunter continues:
This account of systematically approximative character of mathematical descriptions will doubtless appear familiar to readers of Whitehead. Both Bergson and the early Whitehead conclude that, to quote Whitehead, ". . . an abstractive set as we pass along it converges to the ideal of all nature with no temporal extension, namely, to the ideal of all nature at an instant. But this ideal is in fact the ideal of a nonentity."57 Though Bergson did not develop an elaborate theory’ of extensive abstraction, it is not surprising that he should have viewed Whiteheads The Concept of Nature, in which this theory’ is given its classic formulation, as "one of the most profound (works) ever written on the philosophy of nature."58 (279)
The issue of extensive abstraction is also tied up in the epochal theory of occasions, which was discussed earlier in this essay’. Lowe asks "What is there in Bergson’s thought that corresponds to the three conceptions -- of actual entity, prehension, and nexus -- with which Whitehead tries to assure the correctness of his own?" The fact is that Bergson does not hesitate to speak of matter as "elementary vibrations, the shortest of which are of very’ slight duration, almost vanishing, but not nothing."59 If that may pass as analogous to an actual entity; Gunter has supplied us earlier with the quotation which answers the remainder of Lowe’s rhetorical inquiry. There is a progression from these elementary vibrations, these ". . . beings that vibrate almost in unison with the oscillations of the ether, up to those that embrace trillions of these in the shortest of their simple perceptions."60 Here we have a prehending nexus of actual entities in mutual immanence if ever I saw one. I do not claim that Whitehead got the ideas of prehension and nexus from Bergson, but only influence as confluence -- the ideas are so closely analogous as to warrant the assumption of influence unless an account can be given that excludes the possibility’ of influence. Clearly Whitehead is more focussed on the pluralistic (i.e., differential) side of process, and Bergson more focussed on the monistic (i.e., integral) side, when it comes to some questions. Yet, just as Whitehead included both the Many and the One (along with Creativity, or in Bergson’s terms, elan vital) as the three "notions" which "complete" the Category of the Ultimate, Bergson answers with the same insight about categories:
Thus, intuition may bring the intellect to recognize that life does not quite go into the category of the many nor yet into that of the one; that neither. . can give a sufficient interpretation of the vital process . . . By the expansion of consciousness [intuition] brings about, it introduces us into life’s own domain, which is reciprocal interpenetration, endlessly continued creation.61
Here we have the one and the many treated as necessary but not sufficient conditions for understanding the vital. The extra condition needed for sufficiency is on-going creation, and if one adds that the vital is for Bergson the Ultimate, then the analogy with Whitehead’s first category is quite clean.62
Gunter spent his energy attempting to counter the charge that Bergson is hostile to the Many and is a mere apologist for the Eleatic One. In my estimation, he succeeds because in fact Bergson is no enemy of the Many; nor does Bergson fail to appreciate the influence of the Many upon Creativity. On this point, the failure of philosophers to understand Bergson thoroughly and sympathetically seems almost universal. It may seem at this point that I must have answered every charge Lowe made, but I have not. However, I believe the important charges have been answered, and although I expected to concede some things to Lowe’s position when I began researching this topic, I now believe every single charge can be answered, and that even without altering the concept of "influence" as I have done, the account I have given is more historically plausible than Lowe’s. I do not see a single argument Lowe has made regarding Bergson’s influence on Whitehead as beyond dispute, but I grant that Lowe’s work on Whitehead has been a great service to thinkers everywhere. Whitehead’s followers, who should (in my estimation) genuflect humbly before Bergson’s portrait and should deeply study his works, habitually do nothing of the sort. I do not claim that there are not important differences between the two thinkers, but understanding their differences is more complex than Victor Lowe thought. The best treatment of the differences between Whitehead and Bergson of which I am aware is one that acknowledges the full weight of Bergson’s influence, and then goes on to ask how and where these ideas were modified in the philosophy of the organism.63 Hartshorne, the author of that article, eventually concludes that "synthetic psychical creativity" is Whitehead’s most original insight; one not to be found in Bergson. Hartshorne does not, however, go on to make out systematically where Bergson might stand on this idea, and perhaps even here there is room for influence as confluence. That would be a worthwhile undertaking which unfortunately must be put off until another time. Hartshorne does, however, leave us with a statement of commanding authority about the relationship between Bergson and Whitehead on creativity:
. . .prehension is a radically one-way dependence of an actuality upon "antecedent" conditions, that is, temporally prior actualities prehending is a form of including, whereby reality is enriched, "increased" in multiplicity of factors. "The many become one and are increased by one." Reality is protean and cumulative, as Bergson said. If any Whiteheadian statement conflicts with this, then I think it is to be discarded. For the formula just quoted is said to characterize the "ultimate" principle. And if this principle goes, then I see nor much need for Whitehead.64
Still, my conclusion is that creativity for Whitehead is likely to be shallowly understood until creativity in Bergson is more deeply understood -- which it presently is not.65 Indeed, if Judith Jones is correct, Whitehead has left us without some of what we needed in order to give the full story; in particular:
. . . thought must ask itself: In what sense is something discriminated in any given method of abstraction (or, more importantly, any verbal designation) being conceived as possessing a mode of conceivable individuality or particularity that it has only because of its selection in thought as a numerically single item of consideration? This is the question Whitehead’s satisfactory completion of the conception of the commensurability of the two modes of analysis would have helped address. As it is, his own discussions are replete with references to things in the realm of the actual as individuated or individually conceivable in a manner that undermines his more careful recognition of the merely derivative status of numerical unity from forms of intensive unification. Thought not only tends to "spatialize," to use Bergson’s terms, it more fundamentally tends to treat its subject matters as numerically distinct in a manner that cannot help but distort the intensive character of unity as it is ontologically. Numerical unity is an abstract (i.e., it eliminates aspects of actuality) form of quantity that tends to infect any statement, because every sentence requires a subject that thereby purports to have an individual status that it may or may not. Whitehead’s exceedingly strong distinctions between subjective and objective dimensions of the transmission of feelings, and the final and efficient causality therein involved, fall into the category of this infection of thought by modes of discrimination between individually conceivable things or elements of things.66
Ironically, this would mean that, in fact, Whitehead is actually guilty of the error everyone associates with Bergson, while Bergson is a help to prevent the error, and what Whitehead left undone regarding "the commensurability of the two modes of analysis," Bergson may have accomplished in creating a version of the calculus neither committed to strictly quantitative nor strictly qualitative notions of unity, a method to be used in metaphysics. We have already seen that Whitehead did not grasp what Bergson was doing on this front, but it is at least debatable whether Bergson surpassed Whitehead regarding these issues, and Whitehead never caught up. 67
IV. Constructive Suggestions
Perhaps some writers would have the good sense to stop with what has been said, count themselves victorious and move onto the next victim. I cannot, however, justify to myself this exercise in criticism without making some constructive progress out of the effort. It is far easier to criticize than to create, and still easier to criticize a critic than to create a criticism of one’s own. If the reader will indulge me for a few pages more, I would like to offer some insights I have come upon as a result of this opportunity to ponder the thoughts of Gunter and Hausman, and to look with some systematicity at the relation of Bergson and Whitehead to science and mathematics. In many way’s the crux of what Gunter, Hausman and I have all been discussing boils down to what is to follow. When Dorothy Emmet considered the problem (and make no mistake, this is the problem with interpreting Bergson), she went back to A. E. Taylor’s formulation of it. Taylor formulates understandably the very problem regarding the relation of space and time that Bergson’s use of the calculus had answered, but fails to see how Bergson’s philosophy addresses it (precisely the issue Gunter has resolved). This is an extended quote, but addresses so perfectly the issue that it is worth reproducing in full. I ask the reader to bear in mind that in the development of calculus, the x and y axes of the Cartesian co-ordinate system are allowed to represent space and time respectively,68 and that the phrase "angular measurement" is simply used as synonymous with one of the major functions of the calculus:
. . . it seems a subordinate falsification of the facts to say, as Bergson apparently does, that the whole "distortion" effected by the intellect in its attempts to deal with time arises from the dependence of all measurement on the primary measurement of segments of straight lines. All measurement is not measurement of lengths on a straight line; there is a second most important measurement of intervals, independent of such measurement of lengths, the estimation of angles, or, what comes to the same thing, of ratios and arcs of circles to the whole circumference, In point of fact, it is by angular measurement that we habitually estimate temporal intervals, whenever we appeal to a watch or clock, and in the prehistoric past the first rough estimates of intervals within the natural day must presumably’ have been made, independently of measurement of lengths, by this same method, with the sky for clock-face. Measurement of temporal intervals is thus primarily angular measurement, and angular measurement Is, in its origin, independent of measurement of straight lines.69 It is true, of course, that when we come to the construction of a complete metrical theory, we find ourselves driven to establish a correlation between these two, originally independent, systems of measurement. For in practice I can only assure myself that two angular measurements are equal by reference to the circle, the one plane curve of constant curvature, and I satisfy myself that my curve of reference is a circle by’ ascertaining the equality of length of its diameters, and this is done by the rotation of the measuring-rod. This consideration suggests two observations. One is that the problem which has attracted Bergson’s special attention is not tightly conceived when it is spoken of as the translation of temporal into spatial magnitude, or the imposing of spatial form on the non-spatial. It is only’ one case of the more general problem of the "rectification of the circular arc," which, of course, meets us in metrical geometry itself, independently of any application to the estimation of temporal intervals. The only inevitable "deformation" which arises in connection with measurement, so far as I can see, is the element of approximation and error introduced when we attempt to find an expression for the length of an arc of a curve, and this "deformation," as I say, has no necessary- correlation with time. The difference between durée réelle and "mathematical" time must therefore be due to some other cause than the alleged artificial establishment of a correlation between temporal intervals and intervals on a straight line, It must come in already in the first attempt to apply angular measurement to temporal lapses, if it comes at all.70
Taylor at this point takes himself to be disagreeing with Bergson, but as Gunter has shown, he is making a point Bergson well appreciates and has addressed in his method itself. Taylor continues:
It should be further observed that the estimation of linear intervals themselves, apparently assumed by Bergson to be the special function of the intellect, and therefore to involve no difficulty or mystery, presents a real problem on its own account.72
We know now that Bergson does recognize the problem presented in suggesting that intuition is already involved in conceptual or reflective activity when it endeavors to grasp a time-span or an interval of duration, or lived-time. Taylor formulates the problem thus:
Measurements made with different straight lines as axes can only be compared if we presuppose that the rotation of a measuring-stick, or its transference from one point of application to another, either makes no difference to its length, or affects it in a way which we can precisely determine. If our measuring-rods can change length as they are turned through an angle, or carried from one place to another, and that to an unknown extent, there is an end of all comparison between segments of different straight lines. We have to postulate that our measuring-stick either remains of a constant length during the process of transference from one position to another, or, at any rate, that if it changes its length during the process, it does so in accord with some knowable law of functional dependence.73 For this reason, some reference to time would appear to be involved in any set of postulates of spatial measurement, The complication of space with time is thus more intimate than it would be on Bergson’s assumption that measurements primarily form an exclusively spatial framework into which duration is subsequently and, in fact, accidentally inserted, with a good deal of deformation, by the misguided "surface" intellect. This is what I had in mind in saying above that Bergson’s doctrine seems to me, after all, nor to get to the heart of the real problem.74
Taylor in fact expresses Bergson’s actual view as a criticism of the view he wrongly believes Bergson holds. But the important thing is Taylor’s solution to the dilemma:
It is just here, as I think, that the broad philosophical implications of the theory of Relativity come to our aid, and would still be forced upon us as metaphysicians, even if there were not well-known specific difficulties in the details of physical science, which seem to be most readily disposed of by the theory. The general implications of which I am thinking are, so far as I can see, independent of the divergences between the versions of "Relativity" advocated by individual physicists; their value as I think, is that they enable us to formulate the problem to which Bergson has the eminent merit of making the first approach in a clear and definite way, and to escape what I should call the impossible dualism to which Bergson’s own proposed solution commits him. So long as you think, as Bergson does, on the one hand, of an actual experience which is sheer qualitative flux and variety, and on the other of a geometrical ready-made framework of sheer non-qualitative abidingness, there seems to be no possible answer to the question how such a "matter" comes to be forced into the strait-waistcoat of so inappropriate a "form," except to lay the blame on some willful culpa originis of the intellect.75
We now know that Bergson does not dichotomize as Taylor believes, and does not try to solve the problem in the way Taylor claims. As Emmet notes, while surveying Taylor’s formulation of the problem, Taylor
. . . suggests that Bergson’s problem is answered by the theory of relativity, showing that it is impossible to locate an experience in time without reference to space. So the "geometrising" of the intellect consists in the cutting loose of location in time and space from each other, when in actual fact they are given together; though such separation in thought is necessary for communication. I do not feel certain that Bergson would accept this solution, or whether he would say that the time which is wedded to space is simply mathematical, spatialized time.76
Emmet’s hesitations are warranted, but this leaves us still with the question "how is space time and time space?" Or, otherwise put, "how is matter made vital in a process?" The question has two aspects, only one of which I want to address. The first aspect deals with the givenness to consciousness of spacetime and how thinking separates them. This is a question phenomenologists took on, and with reference to Bergson, especially what he says in Time and Free Will and Mailer and Memory. Both Sartre and Merleau-Ponty build on Bergsonian along with Husserlian foundations and succeed in answering, to a significant degree the questions surrounding this first concern.77 The second aspect is the metaphysical issue of the concrete relation of the vital and the inert (or being and non-being, if you prefer a traditional vocabulary), including the role of consciousness treated as "a substance spread out through the universe," to use Merleau-Ponty’s description of Bergson.78 In the first aspect we ask what consciousness does and what it experiences or "knows" as a result, while in the second we ask about the relationship between what consciousness is (in relationship to everything else that is) and what that has to do with what it does.79
On this second front I have a suggestion for thought and further study, a principle I propose to call "metaphysical divisibility" which I take to be an application of the insight about the inverse relation of integrals and derivatives articulated by Gunter. I will say more about this momentarily, when I have defined more rigorously the problem to which this is offered as a solution. Bergson argues that life is essentially a process of becoming, which involves three different movements: qualitative, evolutionary and extensive.80 As we have seen, all three are grasped intuitively and articulated intellectually. The process of articulating these movements places limits on the accuracy of the account, but a method of articulation that follows the example of the calculus is more adequate to the task than one that follows either a strictly geometrical and determinate method, or a strictly "active" or creative method. But how does this method help? What does it look like in use?81 I think "metaphysical divisibility" helps here.
Bergson illustrates in some of his most famous passages how the mechanism of our ordinary knowledge is a "cinematographical" one. Moving pictures create the illusion that actually stationary things (the individual pictures on the reel) are in spontaneous motion, and hence appear to be alive -- to partake in or be a part of the vital order. According to Bergson, the intellect, taken alone (i.e., apart from its connection to intuition and qualitative immediacy) gets knowledge from an analogous process, turning a series it treats as static mental data (analogous to the pictures on the reel) into an apparently living stream of consciousness that, following James, is really islands in a not wholly continuous stream, in terms of its being. Some therefore ask something like the following questions: "Bergson believes that the continuity of each event and each sequence of events in our concrete lives overlap(s) with others and are thus continuous, in the sense of their existence or being, while in our knowing or experiencing there is actual discontinuity -- some gap between the "frames" in the moving picture show of our intellectual processes, or something that makes the individual bits of data actually discrete; so does the nature of "continuity" somehow contain the vital energy and/or matter that creates the gaps or discontinuities in our experience? Surely one cannot create something that is not. But if there are no gaps in being, then even the discontinuities in our experience must have being, so what is that being? Is it matter or vital energy or something else?"
This question is important for Whiteheadians also, since they regard actual entities as discontinuous at least insofar as they are discrete entities. And indeed, this is a really difficult question for all process thinkers. Hartshorne has spent the better part of seventy years criticizing Peirce for giving the "wrong" answer to the question, for choosing continuity. The reason this question is so difficult for Bergson’s interpreters is that it depends on how one interprets what Bergson finally means by "matter," "vital energy," and "continuity." I am not certain that Bergson is entirely consistent in his accounts of these concepts or in his use of the terms, but I do think a basically consistent account can be given that aligns itself with the "spirit of Bergson," if not with every single sentence he wrote.
By "matter" Bergson means two main things. First, metaphysically speaking, he means whatever exists that is dead or inert. Second, epistemologically speaking, Bergson means by "matter" the way in which the intellect approaches all things (whether vital or inert) as if they were simply the sums of their parts -- parts that are subject to being disassembled and re-assembled in any order whatsoever to serve the abstract ends of the intellect itself or the purposes of the organism that intellect serves. "Matter" in this sense exists as the intellect’s infinitely malleable servant. In the epistemological sense, all things (living or dead) are reduced to their material aspect by an act of the intellect. Thus, "matter" has an epistemological and a metaphysical meaning; the latter is what it is, and the former is what we know of it by thinking about it. Note that the epistemological sense of the word aims to include by reference both that which metaphysically is matter, and anything that might be matter (and that means everything there is, unless something exists that cannot be matter), so the epistemological sense aims to encompass the metaphysical sense of the term. This is a strictly verbal feature of the terms and their use, not of the phenomenon they are intended to describe. And I think that not everything that might be matter really is matter (see my exception to the Principle of the Conservation of Energy, where matter is energy; below), and so knowing actual matter involves sorting out what is matter from what only’ might be matter, but is not. Perfect knowledge in this domain would involve carrying out this activity for all times and places, and is obviously an ideal to be pursued. But if knowledge is real and the universe is finite, as Bergson holds, then every advance in knowledge at least brings us closer to the ideal (which we may regard as actual and ideal simultaneously -- Peirce’s notion of truth ought to be invoked here, just as Hausman suspects).
"Vital energy;" on the other hand, is what happens when the élan vital enters into matter. When this occurs, matter is "energized," which is to say that for a finite time interval, two opposed natures are contained in the same entity, its material nature and its vital nature. This composite is what we call "energy." You, dear reader, are such a composite, as am I, and the desk, and the floor and the moon, and the sun, and everything else you ever encountered in your sensory awareness, and everything you ever could encounter, in all probability. Finite existence is energy. Neither pure élan vital nor prime matter "exist" alone. It would require us to use a sense of the word "exist" we cannot at all imagine or define to assert that they do "exist" apart. This is the issue that so vexed Aristotle (and his interpreters revisited), but the notion that the composite of élan vital (not form) and "matter" (in the senses defined above) is "energy"’ is not an idea Aristotle explored. For Bergson, as for Whitehead, there are various overlapping levels of organization in these entities, and only the more richly ordered are capable of imparting the vital aspect of their energy to other beings in reflective fashion, which is what we humans do when we create works of art, crafts, tools, artifacts of any kind. But these things do not subsequently grow. They deteriorate and the vital impetus is spent, diffused throughout "matter" in such evenly dispersed and minute quantities as to become ineffectual in propagating new forms of order. There is a gradual loss of complexity in the organizational form until they descend entirely into inert matter, with no energy (recalling that energy is the composite, not the élan vital). I say this in full awareness that anyone who defines matter as energy will claim I am contradicting the laws of thermodynamics. I do not take this lightly, but I refer such critics to the definition of matter above, remind them that I am trying to summarize a Bergsonian view (not entirely my own), and ask them to consider another law of thermodynamics, the law of entropy; and ask why (unless there is something dead or inert that resists the development of higher forms of complexity) should systems tend towards an equalized distribution of energy in spacetime? Why shouldn’t systems tend in precisely the opposite direction, towards a build-up and concentration of energy in greater and greater forms of complexity?83 This is not a scientific question; it is a metaphysical question. Such questions cannot be addressed by appealing to empirical evidence or empirically derived laws, and rearranging evidence and laws until they all seem to describe the phenomena. This procedure is inappropriate since the phenomena have nor been inquired after individually or in relation to one another; rather, all phenomena as a whole are placed in question when one asks a metaphysical question. The possibility of gathering evidence is only tangentially relevant, let alone specific evidence.
Following Bergson, the élan vital is obliged to interact with dead matter in order to actualize itself in the various finite forms it "wants to take" (I grant that speaking of the élan vital as if it has desires is a gratuitous personification, but it is difficult to avoid this manner of speaking, since the élan vital is the ground of all actual desire). The metaphysical cost of this interaction with matter to the élan vital is that it will dissipate itself in trying to vivify’ all this dead matter, and indeed, the élan vital (which Bergson insists is finite) will eventually’ burn itself out, exhaust itself.
The élan vital taken alone (i.e., abstractly’), is perfectly continuous; indeed, it is continuity itself, and the ground of all possible continuity. That is its form of "being." It suffers ruptures in its being when it enters into matter, but imparts a measure of continuity to the things it energizes, and thereby "creates." So we might say that there is Continuity’ (the being of the élan vital itself, conceived abstractly), and continuity (that which renders finitely existing entities continuous with one another in duration, or concrete, lived time). The question with which we began was "what is the being of the discontinuities in concrete existence?" I have to recast the question a bit in order not to mix epistemological issues (i.e., how does continuity affect our process of knowing what is?) with metaphysical ones (what is the relationship among continuity, matter and energy?). I have addressed the metaphysical issue to some degree, but let me make explicit how the things I have said point to an answer. Discontinuities in the being of concretely existing entities are due to the descending "pull" of matter. Matter pulls things down into less complex and more homogeneous forms. The homogeneity of less complex entities is commensurate with continuity, and hence, closer to the being of the élan vital Therefore, we should not be surprised that the simpler a life form is, the more prolific and ubiquitous it is.84 This point brings us to the principle of "metaphysical divisibility" I mentioned above that the more homogeneous a concrete form of existence is, the more divisible it becomes (in the sense that it can be divided without altering its form). I have already mentioned the proliferation of simpler forms of life, but let us consider something still less "organic." For example, cake is more divisible than, say, a houseplant. No matter how much I cut a cake, it is still cake (both linguistically and actually) until it is divided below the level of "crumbs." But houseplants, while divisible, are not nearly as divisible without altering their form (and here form is understood as the concrete, dynamic, and energized entity). Houseplants are divisible without a change of form, under particular circumstances -- if I carefully take a cutting, I can get it to grow, and the same thing happens in nature without intentional planning.
The circumstances required for sexual reproduction (different in kind from what I mean by "metaphysical division," although a different branch on the same path of interaction between matter and the élan vital) by more complex entities is of course still more particular (and improbable without the intentional element). But usually if I divide a plant the result will be an alteration of form describable as "simplification" or "homogenization" (from "plant" to a loose collection of less integrated entities for which their corporate past is more important than their combined individual futures, and memory is almost entirely rudimentary). With still less organic things like "elements" (e.g., lead or aluminum) one can divide them down to the molecular level without changing their form in this way. Those who accept traditional physics and thermodynamics look upon this sort of dividing as "releasing energy", although they are using the term "energy" equivocally here, in my’ view, since in part they mean "matter" (the energy’ retained in the parts), and in part they’ mean the difference between the energy required to maintain the integrity of the form (or "system") before it was divided, and the energy left in the parts. We have discovered the gap between the frames in our cinematographical film, and that gap is reflected in the principle of "metaphysical divisibility." It is not at all obvious that these two senses of "energy" -- even if they are commensurable with one another (which is debatable) -- taken together can exhaust what the entirety and integrity of the entity was prior to its division.
The result of metaphysical division is a derivative (in the sense of Gunter’s calculus) of the actual entity, which is its inverse. The question about whether the derivative or the integral is fundamental is moot. Every derivative is the derivative of some integral, and every integral has infinitely many derivatives. But the thing left out of the relation is that metaphysical division requires time in some sense. There is a metaphysical analogue to the operations of integration and derivation, and that is that no concrete entity can exist in the same time-lapse as its derivatives, and vice versa. A lapse of duration is requisite for the development of entities into a system, or of a system into derivative entities, and this duration is not nothing, but it is not something in particular, either. Something further than time is needed also to account for the ways in which energized matter, actual entities come together in some ways rather than others, but to consider this would take beyond the scope of this essay. Still, the idea of "God" is the one most frequently invoked by process thinkers to account for the general trajectory’ of creative synthesis.
Returning then, to the question of continuity and divisibility, at the molecular level, the principle of metaphysical divisibility -- that less complex entities are more divisible without changing form -- still holds, since more complex molecules are less divisible without changing forms than simpler molecules. Even supposing we could say without equivocating that the act of dividing the molecules "releases energy," the "energy released" is contributing to the integration of the entity’, and now contributes equally to its dissolution. Releasing it changes the form, or more precisely’, the release is the change of form. It is the act of metaphysical division, and it is an act, analogous to the operations in calculus. A Bergsonian would say this division diffuses and impedes the élan vital obliging it to find other opportunities for expression. Hydrogen is the simplest atom, and "releasing energy" in hydrogen atoms sets off a chain reaction in which all entities in the immediate spacetime region are obliged to undergo metaphysical division, and all more complex entities change their forms. The "releasing of energy" in the structure of hydrogen is so violent that we are inclined to see it emotionally as ripping a hole in the very fabric of being, but that is the élan vital perhaps. Analogous to Leopold’s biotic pyramid, the undermining of the less complex entities in the universe entails ipso facto the undermining of the more complex. Yet, we need not conclude that all the "released energy"’ was potentially contained in the individual hydrogen atom or the system of such atoms. We can also recognize that some continuities are more fundamental than others in terms of their required presence in holding together complex entities. The introduction of discontinuity at the more basic levels is catastrophic to the drive of the élan vital in its quest to create more complex life forms, to express vitality. I can see smirks spreading across the faces of unbelievers and confess to having invoked the other principle process philosophers so often use: the "god" principle. My sentence must seem like an incantation to them. So be it. They may be able to bring themselves only to take seriously what their intellects tell them, but I am doing metaphysics, and it is an intuitive activity. No intellect will affirm this idea. Those with greater intuitive powers may also smile, but it will be in agreement.
Below the level of atoms it becomes increasingly difficult to devise methods of dividing things, but anything that has mass (i.e., in Bergson’s language, all energy, all composites of matter and élan vital) can in principle be divided in principle be divided, and the principle of metaphysical divisibility should apply. Scientists until recently believed neutrinos had no mass (Bergson would regard this as a contradiction, I think), but recently’ it was discovered that neutrinos do have mass, which means they should be divisible in principle. At subatomic levels we find particles that are more functions than things, and I am not committed to saying that functions are subject to metaphysical divisibility, and I would point out that our language about these "forces" is highly metaphorical. The difference between energy’ in the form of a neutrino and energy in the form of a "z" particle is a fairly negligible difference of being; it is a difference of function. Both come close to being "pure energy," but as we have said, that is an ideal, not something that can he actual. At the subatomic level we may speak of tiny bits of mass and various forces (e.g., electromagnetism, gravity’, the strong force), but Bergson is betting that insofar as these forces really’ are forces, they are one force, and insofar as they’ are composites of matter and élan vital they are energy. In metaphysics the Grand Unified Theory has been achieved many times over (from Hebraic monotheism to Aristotle’s prime mover), but the issue is: "what are the features and characteristics of the thing that is in the strictest sense?" Bergson, like Aristotle, does not think scientific evidence (from the special sciences) can lead us to an understanding of this. We can now understand what it may mean to say’ that energy is the composite of matter and the élan vital in this sense.
I have suggested that divisibility without a change of form is potentiality for a sort of discontinuity that has positive existence. That is, as we move to simpler and simpler forms, the potential for positive discontinuity increases, and the simpler entities are obliged to rely less on continuity in order to retain their forms. Continuity becomes less relevant to the maintenance of form as existences become simpler, and more relevant to maintenance of form as complexity increases. At simpler levels, the parts refer to the form of the whole self-sufficiently, while in more complex forms the parts carry reference to the whole in an interdependent fashion. Thus, the idea of continuity as a vital principle is most meaningful where the form of a whole is not sustainable without strong (i.e., continuous) organic connectedness among the parts, all of which contribute in some way to the preservation of the form of the whole. Parts that do not so contribute are not "parts" of that organic whole in the fullest sense. Each true part has its connection to the whole and through it sustains its own form. Even though the whole is immanent in the part and the part contributes to sustaining the whole, these relations are not self-sufficient or a closed system. This is merely an interdependent set of relations, defined as relations which without continuity cannot exist (although they can be conceived).
Therefore, continuity, as it exists (as opposed to continuity as it is known), does not "contain" energy along with matter or coeval with its matter. Rather, continuity sustains a relation between matter and the élan vital a certain locus of energy in a certain pattern, arrangement or form. It requires an enormous amount of cumulative "work" by the élan vital to create forms as complex as those presently existing (this is what Bergson’s concept of creative evolution is about). As far as the little discontinuities in the being of things is concerned, they must be attributed to the tendency of matter to lose energy. Matter resists the élan vital. Eventually the élan vital exhausts itself. Bergson does not believe those who claim the amount of energy in the universe is constant, and he does not believe that energy can neither be created nor destroyed. Those are handy scientific abstractions, but even if they were provable in the terms science allows, it would not show that no broader set of truths about the universe would not render these proofs a special case of themselves. Bergson thinks that the élan vital is finite, and is using itself up in the creation of finite existences. Its candle burns at both ends and will not last the night, but to its friends and foes it gives a lovely light. Therefore energy is finite also. The "discontinuities" in being, then, are due to the infinite divisibility of matter and its resistance to the élan vital. That is the metaphysical situation as we draw to the end of the story.
Yet, now an answer to the epistemological side of this question is also available (or at least a perspective on it). The space between the frames in the cinematographical show that plays before the mind is always already filled in by the metaphysical continuities of concrete existence. There is no necessity in this continuity that bridges distinguishable frames or episodes of knowing (or "being conscious of"), only contingent being. But when we try to give an account of those episodes, the need for metaphysical continuity forces itself upon us as an epistemological necessity, and we often misinterpret that epistemological requirement as if it were a metaphysical requirement. The universe looks back at our efforts to grasp it and says, "there is continuity for your use, but the continuity you use in your act of being conscious was not there yesterday, and will be gone tomorrow; today it is my gift to you."
Even if one’s intellect is unaware (or even incapable of being aware) of the actual continuity at the ground of one’s experience, that experience is nevertheless actually continuous. The "frames" themselves are only a tiny part of the story that has to be told about out lived experience. All we have to do in order to be respectably’ humble philosophers is to avoid identifying our lived experience with our knowledge of our experience. But so many would-be philosophers (and, more forgivably, psychologists and scientists) make this identification that it is disheartening. The Freudians and Jungians are good at convincing people that there is a distinction between conscious and unconscious experience, but they are of precious little help when it comes to discussing the metaphysical ground of that difference (the former growing reductionist and the latter mystical). Bergson, on the other hand, is quite good at discussing that issue, and Bergson offers us some hope of knowing (and even cultivating our ability to know further) what comes between the "frames" of our conscious awareness. If there is something there (and there is), why shouldn’t we be able to find a way, directly or indirectly to "know" it in some sense? Bergson’s account of intuition and his method of intuitive calculus provide us a way of experiencing and describing what is there between the frames.85
- Henri Bergson, Creative Evolution, auth. trans. Arthur Mitchell, intro. Pete A. Y. Gunter (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1983 ), 211.
- Christopher Perricone has provided an account of Bergson’s influence on philosophy through his use of non-rational metaphor in "Poetic Philosophy: The Bergson-Whitman Connection," in The Journal of Speculative Philosophy’, 10/1 (1996) 41-61. Bergson’s influence on literature (often through writers who misunderstood him) is well-documented. See for example, Shiv K. Kumar’s Bergson and the Stream of Consciousness Novel (London: Blackie and Son, Ltd.), 1962.
3. The term "influence" is problematic, and will be discussed below.
4. See G.H. Mead, On Social Psychology, ed. Anselm Strauss (Chicago: University’ of Chicago Press, 1964), 308-315. In spite of Mead’s deep admiration of Bergson, and notwithstanding Mead’s liberal use of Bergson’s insights in his own philosophy, Mead calls Bergson an irrationalist on (315). Cf. also Henry Nelson Wieman, The Source of Human Good (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1946), 194, where Wieman, while praising Bergson, feels obliged to disagree with him that "creativity has no structure and creates no structure" Cf. also Whitehead, Essay’s in Science and Philosophy (New York: Philosophical Library, 1948), 88.
5.This was Gunter’s own suggestion to me and it has proved a fruitful one, for which I offer him thanks.
6 Victor Lowe, "The Influence of Bergson, James, and Alexander on Whitehead," Journal of the History of Ideas 10 (1949), 267.
7. See Victor Lowe, Alfred North Whitehead: The Man and His Work, 2 vols. (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University’ Press, 1985, 1990), vol. 2, 178.
8. In this attribution, at least one historian of the philosophy of science concurs. See Milic Capek, "Bergson’s Theory of Matter and Modern Physics," in Bergson and the Evolution of Physics (Knoxville: University’ of Tennessee Press, 1969), 302.
9. See Whitehead, Science and the Modern World (New York: Free Press, 1967 [19251), 50-51.
10. For a fuller discussion of the importance of divine lure, see the two articles by Barry L. Whitney, "Process Theism: Does a Persuasive God Coerce?" in The Southern Journal of Philosophy, 17, 1(1979), 133-143; and "An Aesthetic Solution to the Problem of Evil," in International Journal for Philosophy of Religion, 35 (1994), 21-37.
11. In this regard we must be careful to distinguish abstract necessity’ from vital "need" (CE 261), but I should also admit that Bergson did not always consistently reserve the terra "necessity"’ for abstract necessity. As far as I can tell he did use the term this way in the books Whitehead read, but in The Two Sources of Morality and Religion, trans. R. Ashley Audra and Cloudesley Brereton (New York: Henry’ Holt & Co., 1935), 92-93, for example, Bergson does use the term "necessity"’ in the way Whitehead used it. This inconsistency is unfortunate, but Bergson just is not as systematic in his employment of terminology as his interpreters would like.
12.1 have argued elsewhere that all definitions, and indeed all deductive forms of logic, are circular for process philosophy, and particularly I give examples from Bergson, Dewey and Peirce. I no longer agree with all I said in this article, but the point about logic and definition I would still defend. See my "Concentric Circles: And Exploration of Three Concepts in Process Metaphysics," Southwest Philosophy Review 8/1 (Winter 1991), 151-172.
13. See Bergson, An Introduction to Metaphysics, auth. trans. T. E. Hulme (New York: Macmillan, 1913), 24.
14. See Whitehead, Adventures of Ideas (New York: Free Press, 1967 ), 242, for a discussion by Whitehead of "abstraction" that is congruent with Bergson’s actual view.
15. See Whitehead, Religion in the Making (New York: Fordham University Press, 1996 ), 78.
16. Whitehead, Religion the Making , 116.
17. I remind the reader of Gunter’s point above: "Throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries matter had been conceived as comprised of passive, simply-located particles whose most fundamental character is their imperviousness to change. Bergson takes a contrasting view, conceiving matter as ‘. . . modifications, perturbations, changes of tension or of energy, and nothing else’ (MM 266)."
18. Whitehead, The Concept of Nature (London: Cambridge University Press, 1964), 54. Lowe dismisses the idea that Whitehead really got his idea of process from Bergson, basically without an argument (Sec ANW, vol.2, 176-177). However, it seems that Whitehead’s own account should be taken as more authoritative. Lowe reports having asked Whitehead in 1937 about Theodore de Laguna’s review of The Principles of Natural Knowledge in which much was made of Bergson’s influence (see Philosophical Review, 29 , 269). According to Lowe, Whitehead replied that "he had read Bergson but was not much worried by him" (177; this same conversation is also reported by Lowe in his article for Whitehead’s volume in Library of Living Philosophers, and in his article for Journal of the History of Ideas). However, what ‘Whitehead said could mean a number of things, not the least of which is that he is not worried by Bergson because Whitehead is in more or less full agreement with him, just as he reported in 1919, and as Laguna said in print. Even if Lowe was right to take this remark as downplaying Bergson’s influence, it is the sort of question one gets from graduate students who may be overly eager to trace down connections instead of dealing with ideas, and Whitehead was never much for worrying about these sorts of things either. Perhaps this was a teacher’s way of saying to Lowe "you should deal with the idea of process (or whatever) and leave the historians to worry about details like who got it from whom." Another possibility Lowe does nor even consider is whether Whitehead’s own sense of his influences would be the same eighteen years later as it was in 1919, and whether he might not have gotten a significantly more enthusiastic discussion of Bergson from Whitehead at the earlier date. My own experience of professors of philosophy suggests to me that if Whitehead was at all typical of professors, the last book he read was foremost in his thinking, and the ones he read twenty years before had become a bit pale in comparison.
19. I am preceded in this conclusion by a number of scholars, such as Milic Capek in Bergson and Modern Physics (Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Reidel, 1971), 215, 307; and F. Bradford Wallack in The Epochal Nature of Process in Whitehead’s Metaphysics (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1980), 207:
Whitehead undoubtedly owes his conception of a becoming and perishing occasion to quantum physics; but he equally undoubtedly owes his conception of becoming and perishing as a process to Bergson. Bergson is really the pioneer for Whitehead’s conception of reality as a process of the very nature of which is the prehension of its origination. For process philosophy’, no quantum, no particle no material body no instance of actual concrete existence whatsoever is a permanently enduring body in absolute spacetime, simply located such that it is describable without reference to anything else, any time or place else.
20. A general review of the endnotes from Gunter’s paper reveals a fair number of sources who will corroborate the claim that Bergson’s scientific views are nor only not outdated, but go very’ much to the heart of current scientific methods and insights, but particularly, see A. C. Papanicolaou and Pete A. N. Gunter, eds., Bergson in Modern Thought Towards a Unified Science (New York: Harwood Academic Publishers, 1987), and for important background on how Bergson came to be seen as dated when he was not, see also, Milic Capek, Bergson and Modern Physics, (cited above) and The Philosophical Impact of Contemporary Physics (Princeton, NJ: Van Nostrand, 1961), and the volume edited by Gunter, Bergson and the Evolution of Physics (cited above). It is distressing, however, to see how deeply ingrained the misunderstanding of Bergson is among contemporary scientists --the all too few who know his work. Many more simply throw around half developed versions of Bergsonian ideas without enough historical understanding to realize these ideas have been thoroughly worked out before the present day. Even in this journal in a piece by a scientist I recently read said that "Bergson and others were right to emphasize biological events as inherently life-affirming, but wrong in mythologizing them." If Bergson can he cavalierly dismissed like this in Process Studies, what hope is there for an accurate statement of his views in less sympathetic contexts? The author continues: "In addition, Bergson did not emphasize the important sense of laboring in the natural world" (Jay Schulkin, "Evolving Sensibilities," in PS 27/3-4 ,246). This impression Schulkin reports, as if it were fact, must be something he learned out of a textbook (and written during the era of Bergson’s disfavor -- roughly 1945-1970). No one who has actually read Creative Evolution would say this, except perhaps Bertrand Russell, who was too literal minded to grasp the book at all.
21. Jean-Paul Sartre, L’Etre et le neant (Paris: Editions Gallimard, 1943), 210. For the translation, refer to Being and Nothingness trans. hazel E. Barnes (New York: Philosophical library, 1956), 170.
22. Judith A. Jones, Intensity: An Essay in Whiteheadian Ontology (Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press, 1998), 72.
23. Lewis S. Ford, The Emergence of Whitehead’s Metaphysics, 1925-1929 (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1984), 47. See Bergson, The Creative Mind 153, for the passages Ford is summarizing.
24. Jones, Intensity: An Essay in Whiteheadian Ontology, 158.
25. I do not take myself to be impious towards the Master here, since as late as his seventieth birthday, Whitehead himself confessed that his knowledge of Bergson was "thin." See Whitehead, Essays in Science and Philosophy (New York: Philosophical Library’, 1948), 88-89. This may have simply been an example of the excessive modesty Whitehead was famous for, but I incline to think it may be true. Whitehead obviously read Bergson, as he said in the conversation Victor Lowe so often reports from 1937 (see Lowe, Understanding Whitehead [Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1962], 193), but that does not mean he made a systematic and close study. Bergson is nor the sort of thinker one fully understands in a first reading, and in some cases, ant even after repeated readings.
26. Whitehead, Process and Reality, corrected edition, ed. David Ray Griffin and Donald W. Sherburne (New York: Free Press, 1979), 33.
27. Donald W. Sherburne, A Key to Whitehead ‘Process and Reality’ (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981), 234-235.
28. See for example Whitehead’s Process and Reality, xii, 209; and, The Interpretation of Science: Selected Essays, ed. A. H. Johnson (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1961), 217.
29. F. S. C. Northrop, "Whitehead’s Philosophy of Science," in The Philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead, ed. Paul Schilpp, 2nd ed. (New York: Tudor Publishing Co., 1951), 169. Northrop has a good bit of company among Whitehead’s contemporaries in making this claim of Bergson’s profound influence on Whitehead. I cannot discuss them all here, but the following references are a start: Theodore de Laguna, review of The Principles of Natural Knowledge in Philosophical Review, 29 (1920), 269; Bertrand Russell, review of Science and the Modern World in Nation and Athenaeum, 39 (May 29,1926), 207; Charles Hartshorne, Creativity in American Philosophy (New York: Paragon House, 1984), 5,32,279-280; and even though Stephen Pepper believes both Whitehead and Bergson are mistaken in their views, he believes they are extremely similar: see Pepper, Concept and Quality: A World Hypothesis (LaSalle: Open Court, 1967), 340-341. Add to this impressive list the list given by Victor Lowe: W. M. Urban, D. H. Parker, W. T. Stace, and A. H. Taylor in "The Influence of Bergson, James and Alexander on Whitehead," 269-270, 284. And more recently Richard Rorty has indicated sympathy with the idea that Bergson’s influence on Whitehead deserves our notice. See his "Matter and Event" in Explorations in Whitehead’s Philosophy, eds. Lewis S. Ford and George I. Kline (New York: Fordham University, 1983), 69-70. It is surprising that against such figures Lowe’s interpretation has prevailed, but it has.
30. Northrop, "Whitehead’s Philosophy of Science," 169.
31. Hartshorne, "Whitehead’s Novel Intuition," in George I.. Kline, Alfred North Whitehead: Essays on his Philosophy (Engelwood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1963 ), 19.
32. Whitehead, Adventures of Ideas, 243.
33. Whitehead, Process and Reality, 209. In claiming that spatialization is the shortest route to clarity and familiarity, Whitehead cannot, however, be accepting this route as the best one for a philosopher. Along with Bergson, he agrees that the deepest view is nor the shortest, nor the one which uses "familiar language." Hence, Whitehead does try to avoid spatialization as well, except insofar as it is necessary. In Religion in the Making Whitehead explicitly states that in metaphysics, theology and science there is really "no short cut to truth," 79.
34. See Bergson, Creative Evolution, 178.
35. Bergson, Creative Evolution, 191.
36. Whitehead, Process and Reality, 8.
37. It is important to note that Whitehead thinks even mathematicians are nor always justified in assuming that their abstractions are clear (8).
38. Whitehead, "The Idealistic Implication of Einstein’s Theory’," in The Interpretation of Science, 148.
39. Lowe, Understanding Whitehead, 262. In the 1949 article, Lowe said "I hope to make it really impossible to look upon Whitehead as Bergson’s mathematically trained alter ego" (283) whereas in 1962 he says "My concern has been to make it impossible then to look upon Whitehead as Bergson’s mathematically trained alter ego" (262). This shift in wording underscores the shift in Lowe’s confidence in his thesis, a confidence that had apparently waned in his last years (see below).
40. In a number of remarks Lowe tries to suggest that Bergson really was nor up to par in mathematics, reporting for instance Whitehead’s remark that Bergson "was not a mathematician or mathematical physicist" ("The Influence of Bergson, James and Alexander on Whitehead," 272). This insinuation that Bergson was not adequate in mathematics is almost so petty as to be beneath a response. But since it matters to some people, let me repeat what even a little bit of research into Bergson’s life and work shows. Bergson had in fact won the prize in mathematics (and in English, Latin, Greek and philosophy’) at the Lycee Condorcet in Paris, and as Gunter reports:
For a time [Bergson] considered a degree in mathematics. His mathematics professor, Adolphe Desboves, admired Bergson’s solution to the problem of the three circles, first posed by Pascal in a letter to Fermat, and published it in his Etude sur Pascal et les géomètres contemporaines (1878). The same year Bergson won a national prize in mathematics and saw his work published in the Annales de mathematiques. Elated by the facility with which his young scholar solved demanding problems, Desboves predicted for him an outstanding career in the sciences. Bergson, however, remained dissatisfied; he found mathematics "too absorbing" and chose a career m philosophy’ instead. "You might have been a mathematician," said the disgruntled Desboves, "but you will only be a philosopher." (Bergson and the Evolution of Physics, 3-4)
With a Professor like Desboves, who evidently was dismissive of philosophers and their concerns, it is no wonder Bergson chose to leave mathematics. Perhaps Whitehead had a better teacher in Thomson, and felt less confined. But Whitehead still left mathematics, later, and for reasons not altogether different from Bergson’s. Was Bergson a mathematician of Whitehead’s caliber? Of course nor (not five people in the 20th century were on that level), but it is quite possible Bergson had that level of greatness in him and chose nor to pursue it, in spire of Lowe’s groundless insinuations to the contrary. It is clear from Gunter’s essay in this focus section, and from Bergson’s work in Duration and Simultaneity that Bergson never underestimated the value of mathematical rigor in demonstration, in philosophic method, and in the achievement of knowledge (indeed, it was Spencer’s lack of mathematical rigor that inspired Bergson to attack him, see Gunter, Bergson and the Evolution of Physics, 6). One might as well try to say ducks know nothing of water as impugn Bergson’s mathematical understanding.
41. Unfortunately the 1962 abridged version of the 1949 article omits numerous concessions Lowe made about Bergson’s influence on Whitehead (see, 274, 277-278, 280-281, 284, 286). It is interesting how Lowe’s view of his own work on this topic progressed. In 1949, he regarded his article "The Influence of Bergson, James and Alexander on Whitehead" as a first rather than a definitive examination" (268). In Understanding Whitehead, Lowe essentially reprinted an abridged and subtly altered version of the longer article that he now regarded as quite definitive (262), but by the time Lowe wrote Alfred North Whitehead, The Man and His Work, it was the 1949 study he referred readers to (II, 178-179), and reminded them of the tentativeness of the conclusions. Unfortunately, it is Lowe’s 1962 book that most Interested people have read, and his more confident disposition there tends to show up in the secondary’ literature now as definitive intellectual history.
42. Lowe, Understanding Whitehead, 257.
43. For example, Paul Schmidt’s book, Perception and Cosmology in Whitehead’s Philosophy. (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1967) makes no mention of Bergson at all, and on a topic where it would be difficult to avoid him. Other examples include excellent book length studies by Jorge Nobo, John Berthrong, and John Lango. This is not so much a criticism of these writers as an indication of the influence of Lowe’s argument on Whitehead scholarship -- all four of these authors do refer to Lowe.
44. Lowe, Understanding Whitehead, 258.
45. This list is virtually the table of contents for Doug Browning’s and William T. Myers Philosophers of Process, 2nd ed. (New York: Fordham University Press, 1998).
46. Lowe, "The Influence of Bergson, James and Alexander on Whitehead," 288-289n; Understanding Whitehead 262n.
47. Lowe, Understanding Whitehead, 258.
48. Bergson, Creative Evolution, 223-224.
49. Whitehead, Process and Reality, 214.
50. See for example Creative Evolution, 40, where Bergson twice affirms that he intends to incorporate finalism into his view.
51. Lowe, Understanding Whitehead, 259.
52. Bergson, Creative Evolution. 223. my italics.
53. In speaking of intuition Bergson says: "But though it transcends intelligence, it is from intelligence that has come the push that has made it rise to the point it has reached. Without intelligence, it would have remained in the form of instinct. . . ." (Creative Evolution, 178).
54. Lowe, "The Influence of Bergson, James and Alexander on Whitehead," 276. This is a fairly hopeless over-simplification of what extensive abstraction is, but in Lowe’s defense, it was not his aim to give a full account here. For the fullest account, see Jorge Nobo, Whitehead’s Metaphysics of Extension and Solidarity (Albany: State University’ of New York Press, 1986), 205-250.
55. Lowe, "The Influence of Bergson, James and Alexander on Whitehead," 277.
56. See Whitehead, The Principle of Relativity with Applications to Physical Science (Cambridge: Cambridge University’ Press, 1922), 16.
57. Alfred North Whitehead, The Concept of Nature (Cambridge: Cambridge University’ Press, 1955 ), 61.
58. Bergson, Duration and Simultaneity, 62n. It would seem that influence as confluence is at least a two-way’ street.
59. Bergson, Creative Evolution, 201. A fair number of Whitehead scholars have noticed the resonance (pun intended) between Bergson’s theory’ of duration and Whitehead’s theory’ of events, and have (rightly.) taken for granted influence as confluence. Included on that list are Charles Hartshorne, Dorothy Emmet, Lewis S. Ford, Elizabeth M. Kraus, and F. Bradford Wallack.
60. Bergson, Creative Evolution, 301.
61. Bergson, Creative Evolution, 177-178. Bergson also later makes the following informative point:
I am then (we must adopt the language of the understanding, since only the understanding has a language) a unity that is multiple and a multiplicity that is one; but unity and multiplicity are only view’s of my personality taken by an understanding that dictates its categories at me. . . .(258)
62. This fundamental agreement has been previously noted by Milic Capek in "Bergson’s Theory of Matter and Modern Physics," 316.
63. See Charles Hartshorne, "Whitehead’s Novel Intuition," in Whitehead’s Philosophy, Selected Essays, 1935-1970 (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1972), 161-170.
64. Charles Hartshorne, "Ontological Primacy: A Reply to Buchler," in Explorations in Whitehead’s Philosophy, 299.
65. The most extensive comparison of Whitehead and Bergson on creativity is Newton P. Stallknechr’s Studies in the Philosophy of Creation with Especial Reference to Bergson and Whitehead (Princeton: Princeton University Press. 1934). I considered the idea of treating this hook in derail, but unfortunately it really is nor a yen’ good book. It has had little impact on subsequent scholarship, and for goon reason, so I have left it aside intentionally here. However, to Stallknechr’s credit he does recognize that Whitehead is (in his words) "rationalizing" Bergson (132), or as Don Sherburne more accurately put it, systematizing Bergson’s view. See Sherburne, A Whiteheadian Aesthetic. Some Implications of Whitehead’s Metaphysical Speculation (New Haven: Yale University’ Press, 1961), 10-24. Aside from Stallknechr, he most extensive treatment of Bergson’s view of creativity I have found in the literature is in the book by Ralph Tyler Flewelling, Bergson and Personal Realism (New York: Abingdon Press, 1920), 150-173. Flewelling is concerned here to reconcile Bergson’s view of creativity with the personalist conception of God, and does as well as one could expect from such a premise. Still, this is nor a substantive contribution to our current understanding of the derailed issue of creativity or influence. A goodly number of similarities between Whitehead and Bergson have been compiled (but nor analyzed) in the admirable notes of a book by J. M. Burgess entitled Experience and Conceptual Activity (Cambridge: M.I.T. Press 1965), 21 1-267. Edward Pols has pointed out the similarity in the two accounts of creativity, but has nor treated it extensively in his book Whitehead’s Metaphysics: A Critical Examination of ‘Process and Reality’ (Carbondale: S.I.U. Press, 1967), 132 ff. A similar notice is taken by Steve Odin in his book Process Metaphysics and Hua-yen Buddhism (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1982), 95. This is nor an exhaustive list by any means, but it indicates the need for still further study, since this is an issue a lot of people have noticed, but no one has really tackled.
66. Jones, Intensity: An Essay in Whiteheadian Ontology, 168.
67. James Bradley makes a valiant attempt to solve within Whitehead’s basic terms the problem Jones has suggested needed a solution, but there is little doubt Jones would regard Bradley’s solution as too heavily’ reliant upon numerical unity’, and therefore abstract. Nevertheless, it is worth the effort to those vexed by these questions to consult Bradley’s work on this front. See ‘Act, Event, Series: Metaphysics, Mathematics and Whitehead," The Journal of Speculative Philosophy 10/4 (1996), 233-248. Also contrary to Jones’ conclusion is Richard L. Brougham’s recent attempt to save Whitehead from this dilemma by accusing Bergson of over-emphasizing continuity while Whitehead’s kinder, gentler notion of "simplification" could provide us with a thoughtful and pragmatic account of experience that did nor have to reduce discontinuities to "mere appearances." I will address the issue of continuity in Bergson in the final section of this essay, and it will answer Brougham’s charge. See Brougham, "Reality and Appearance in Bergson and Whitehead," Process Studies 24/1-4 (1995), 39-43.
68. See David Berlinsky, A Tour of the Calculus (New York: Vintage Books, 1995), 56ff.
69. This claim of Taylor’s can be disputed, but I suspect Bergson would agree.
70. A. E. Taylor, The Faith of a Moralist, Gifford Lectures 1926-1928 (London: Macmillan, 1930, 1937), ii, 341-42.
71. The always careful Taylor was wise to say "apparently" here, since it turns out nor to be true, as Gunter and Hausman have shown.
72. Taylor, The Faith of a Moralist, 342.
73. This dichotomy has been softened by later developments in mathematics, of course, and in way’s favorable to Bergson. This passage is of historical interest, not mathematical.
74. Taylor, The Faith of a Moralist, 342-343.
75. Taylor, The Faith of a Moralist, 343.
76. Dorothy Emmet, Whitehead’s Philosophy of Organism, 2nd ed. (London: Macmillan, 1966), 57.
77. Apart from the numerous explicit references to and discussions of Bergson in the works of Sartre and Merleau-Ponty, see especially in this regard Helmut R. Wagner (with Ilja Srubar), A Bergsonian Bridge to Phenomenological Psychology (Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 1984), and Gilies Deleauze, Bergsonism, trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Barbara Habberjam (New York: Zone Books, 1988).
78. Maurice Merleau-Ponty’, In Praise of Philosophy and Other Essays, trans. Wild and Edie (Chicago: Northwestern University Press, 1988), 10-11. Cf. Bergson, Creative Evolution, 179. I do nor think there is any compelling reason for the word "substance" to be used in this context, and do not myself find it wholly appropriate, in that Bergion would have been more likely to call it an energeia as opposed to an ousia, a view which resonates deeply with Ernst Cassirer’s critique of substance which was being written at nearly the same time. Cf. Cassirer, Substance and Function, trans. Swabey and Swabey (New York: Dover Books, 1953). In any case the term does make it clear that we are posing a metaphysical question.
79. Heideggerians (and some Hegelians) would claim this is also a phenomenological question, but I reserve the term "phenomenology" for the narrower activity of the study of the givenness of experience to consciousness.
80. Bergion, Creative Evolution, 304=306.
81. Aside from what Gunter has suggested in his essay, I should point out that Deleuze, in his study Bergsonism (13-35) devoted a chapter to outlining some of the key principles of "Intuition as Method." This is helpful to some extent (although I would take exception to the dichotomy implied in his Third Rule- "State problems and solve them in terms of time rather than of space,"31), but Deleuze does not seek to integrate or interrelate the principles systematically.
82. I distinguish here the use of the term "epistemology"’ from "phenomenology"’ in the sense that phenomenology analyzes the givenness of objects to consciousness, an exercise that may be carried our ‘without particular metaphysical commitments (requiring only a hypothetical ontology), whereas epistemology seeks to analyze how we or any being can know what really is. Epistemology thus deals with knowing while phenomenology deals with experiencing. Obviously they are related, but how that relationship ought to he described is beyond my present purpose.
83. Whitehead says essentially the same thing in the FR.
84. This hearkens back to Aldo Leopold’s "biotic pyramid," wherein the amount of "life" requisite to give rise to and support increasingly complex forms of life must be vast at the base in order to be slender at the apex (of complexity). See Leopold, A Sand County Almanac: And Sketches Here and There (Oxford: Oxford University’ Press, 1949), 214-220.
85. I would like to thank Pete Gunter, Carl Hausman, Charles Sherover, Barry Whitney, David F. Steele, the Society for the Philosophy of Creativity, the late John Broyer, my colleague John Starkey, my former student Chang-kuo Hsieh, and my graduate seminar in Modernism at Oklahoma City University, fall 1998, for help with the ideas presented here.