Bergson’s philosophy distinguishes two forms of time which provides a counter-argument to Kant’s free-will as partly subject to causality. Kant, along with most philosophers have adopted spatial or mathematical-time which borrows from our intuitions on the divisibility of space; time acquires discrete units and can be measured. Bergson argues that pure time or duration is both continuous and indivisible; events evade comparison and so there neither can be mechanistic determinism nor teleology. Duration is initially described as qualitative multiplicity (heterogeneous-temporal) as opposed to quantitative multiplicity (homogeneous-spatial); a typical example follows the experience of interpenetrating feelings (one feeling transforming into another) which evade non-conceptual comparison (akin to the difference senses). A lesser image is one of color gradient/spectrum where different colors are represented but do not interpenetrate. Thus, duration can be characterized by heterogeneous moments that blend or progress from one form to another; it evades conceptualization as language imposes structures that demarcate categories and would separate duration.
Intuition for Bergson is the experience of entering into oneself (sympathy); it escapes the divisioning of things into parts and then the re-synthesis into categories that only give relative knowledge (regularized by our needs). By entering into a thing (a Buddhist principle), we are able to move between others through effort by sensing differences (other durations). This movement allows extremes in heterogeneity to be connected (e.g. red to blue) and thus unify dualistic positions. The prolongation of past movement with the current moment, Bergson calls memory and equates with intuition or image. Image is a middle-ground between material in realism and representation in idealism; representation is a sectioning of the image for utility’s sake whereas material lacks the power to cause representations. The canonical example of memory follows the image of the inverted cone intersected with the plane; the apex represents the present, the base is pure memory or the unconscious, and the plane is the representation of the world (if the apex intersects with the plane, then the image of the body participates in the world). Thinking focuses the cone on distant memories to produce singular images; this is a movement from interpenetration into fragmentation. Action contracts the singular images so that only one is selected; the scene contracts to a single image whence a generalization can be made.
Bergson’s third principle of creative evolution reconciles the continuity/interpenetration of duration (time) with the practical utility of representation (space); the theory consists of four parts:
- Vital impulse: This is an all-embracing impulse at the beginning of life to explain change and the tendency towards consciousness/complexity. It is unlike mechanism which is specific enough to account (drive) all novelty from low-order parts. It is unlike finality which explains complexity in hindsight (w.r.t. final causes).
- Principle of divergence/differentiation: Life differentiates itself according to opposing instinct and intelligence. Within instinct are more opposites such as mobility/immobility (e.g. animals/plants). Intelligence or the production of representations in humans and lesser primates are differentiated from tool use/creation to abstract thought. Human, whose ego is the product of intelligence is at a loss from instinct which is necessary for understanding time and ultimately, vital impulse (source of change).
- Intelligence/Instinct: This is the claim that a shred of instinct remains within man’s being; both intelligence and instinct are tendencies that have origins in the production of change. For example, one can both read how to swim (intelligence) and actually swim by immersing oneself into water (instinct).
- Intuition or the process of getting in touch with things themselves within themselves (navigating heterogeneous interpenetrating moments) allows man to gain knowledge of the absolute.