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spatio-temporal atomicity & Henri Bergson [& the language of our articulation]

becoming of continuity

[discretely self-censored copy of The Question of Temporal & Spatial Atomicity]

i arrived at language circuitously by way of mathematics > physics & philosophy | i first took a degree in math because math came naturally for me before i stopped to think much about anything | but when i stopped to think [...] it all seemed pointless without some reality to ground it in so i enrolled in a PhD program in physics | during this time in Tucson i found myself next door in the philosophy building more than the physics building—to the extent that i declared a graduate minor in philosophy | it was around this time that i first read Henri Bergson ||

i was particularly interested in the discontinuity of space & time & wrote a paper on the Question of Temporal & Spatial Continuity & referenced Bergson a lot in the paper | more & more though in both my physics classes & my philosophy classes—as i was required to drill further & further down to hone in on a thesis topic—i found myself increasingly obsessed with language [i was also obsessed with rock-climbing right about this time but that's a whole nother story—suffice to say during one of my mid-terms i distinctly remember clinging to the side of a cliff on Mt. Lemmon rather than taking the exam] ||

in my physics classes sometimes i would find myself just staring in awe at the scrawl of equations on the blackboard—admittedly clueless as to their meaning but inspired none-the-less & in the philosophy classes i was often more blown away not by some of the ideas learned but by the very language these ideas were articulated in—the fact that we had the ability to even express these ideas | language seemed to be at the core of everything when you stopped to think about it ||

in choosing a topic for my thesis i gravitated to particle physics—i was interested in breaking things down into their tiniest components | but i was also interested in quantum theory & the more i learned the more it all seemed a self-contradicting hypocrisy | sure i was probably using the Copenhagen interpretation as a cop-out excuse rather than admit my brain did not have the capacity to process higher physics beyond a certain level [i quit with a Master's—which in the physics world is a useless degree—means you are a quitter] ||

the more i learned the more it seemed our knowledge of the external world was inherently constrained by limitations in our brains & the ultimate interface of this information transfer in my eyes was not so much at the perception level [which is what quantum physics tells us] but at a language level—in the ability to convey or even think these ideas | Bergson was one of those thinkers that awed me with what he could express through language [even in translation from French] | it's one thing to think of this shit & yet another to be able to put it down in words ||

i was young then & admittedly glamoured by the superficial affect of things [& probably still am] | my interest in physics & math was driven more by how the ideas looked—the elegance of the equations & the diagrams & graphs—rather than the real-world implications or what it all actually meant | not a good character trait for a physicist [unless you're a genius like Einstein or Feynmann & can appreciate/assimilate both the ideas & the elegance in which they are expressed simultaneously] ||

i waxed [5¢ensically] recently about atomism [under the influence of Lucretius & from more of a spatial [hexagonal] than temporal angle] in which i mention this paper i wrote on atomism & how i couldn't find it but included an excerpt from a treated version of the paper that i had turned into something literary | digging around some more i found the original paper of which the above & below images are scanned in excerpts | the original paper i handed into my professor [Richard Healey] obviously didn't have every other word blacked out with a magic marker—that was something i did more recently in the name of art but then never ended up doing anything with it so i effectively ruined the only copy i had ||

becoming continuity

[another treated page from The Question of Temporal & Spatial Atomicity]

Henri Bergson along with William James [not to be confused with his godson William James Sidis who could be the subject of a whole nother post...] were the first of the temporalists—philosophers who regarded time & space to have finite extension | the present moment to Bergson was not an infinitely thin instant but a thick temporal whole tinged with «immediate recency» | real time does not progress continuously in infinitely thin instants but drips in finite drops [indivisible still to our naked perception] | the present moment is the only reality hovering between two abysses of non-being—the past & the future | Bergson argued that if the present—the NOW—were infinitely divisible there would be no reality | there could be no finite beings in such a framework | & while it is unfathomable for us to conceptualize an entity lasting for zero time it is just as mind-blowing to fathom the present moment in Bergson's vision—a discrete instant in which the past & present collapse into one blip so profound it seems degrading to say this moment has the constraint of being finite—but this only has to do with the inherent constraints of our brains & of the language we communicate in ||

Bergson's take on atomization is purely psychological—he doesn't profess any claims about atomization in the real [spatial] world | any perceived moment in space [in our minds] must necessarily occur under the constraint of time which is discrete so our perception of space is consequently discrete [or 'quantum' you could say—though Bergson was saying these things before quantum physics was developed—testimony perhaps to his influence]:

You substitute the path for the journey, and because the journey is subtended by the path you think that the two coincide. But how should a progress coincide with a thing, a movement with an immobility? What facilitates this illusion is that we distinguish moments in the course of duration, like halts in the passage of the moving body. Even if we grant that the movement from one point to another forms an undivided whole, this movement nevertheless takes a certain time; so that if we carve out of this duration an indivisible instant, it seems that the moving body must occupy, at that precise moment, a certain position, which thus stands out from the whole. The indivisibility of motion implies, then, the impossibility of real instants; and indeed, a very brief analysis of the idea of duration will show us both why we attribute instants to duration and why it cannot have any.

the above is from Matter and Memory [which i just finished re-reading] though most of his ideas on time come from his first book Time and Free Will: An Essay on the Immediate Data of Consciousness [which i'm now also inspired to re-read] as well as his Creative Evolution book which i haven't read yet ||


i just got back from a run [navigating my way through Woody Allen's film set which was blocking my way] & was thinking my fascination with space-time & free-will is perhaps what is at the core of my interest in running | one cannot help dwelling on space-time while running given the sustained effort required to push yourself through it & the purely psychological urgency you have to perpetually instill in yourself—the ever-convincing thought that it's something good for the body & the thinking mind | yesterday i read this article in PLoS 1 on Treadmill Experience Alters Treadmill Effects on Perceived Visual Motion & again [call me glamoured]—what strikes me most is not the verdict [of whether running on a treadmill is good or bad for you] but that we as humans would even conduct such an experiment & then articulate the results in such a disciplined—almost ritualistic—fashion | whenever i see writings like this i can't help but to imagine what it would seem like to aliens who discover our planet after we have annihilated ourselves—especially if this article on treadmill running was the only thing they had to go off in trying to understand us humans ||

not only is Bergson able to think of & synthesize these abstract ideas of space & time but through it all he has the presence of mind [& literary ability] to articulate the implications of this spatio-temporal thinking on on our consciousness & free-will:

Freedom is not hereby, as has been asserted, reduced to sensible spontaneity. At most this would be the case in the animal, of which the psychical life is mainly affective. But in man, the thinking being, the free act may be termed a synthesis of feelings and ideas, and the evolution which leads to it a reasonable evolution. The artifice of this method simply consists, in short, in distinguishing the point of view of customary or useful knowledge from that of true knowledge. The duration wherein we see ourselves acting, and in which it is useful that we should see ourselves, is a duration whose elements are dissociated and juxtaposed. The duration wherein we act is a duration wherein our states melt into each other. It is within this that we should try to replace ourselves by thought, in the exceptional and unique case when we speculate on the intimate nature of action, that is to say, when we are discussing human freedom.

this is not only an enlightening book i hope aliens will find after the fact but one that i hope all humans [interested in learning about ourselves in our world] will read | of course in usual fashion i've gotten this far into talking about Matter and Memory & haven't even touched on what the book is mostly about [his thoughts on space & time are merely residual] | i have more to say about Matter and Memory & it's implications [in my eyes] about art & text & memory-images but i'll save that for the next post ... ||

& if i ended my last post on the Conquest of the Useless with Camus: «There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide.» i'll counterbalance that with Milic Capek: «Hardly any intellectual problem is more difficult than that involving the antinomy of temporal continuity and discontinuity

b-cum cuntinuity






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