The Union of Matter and Memory in BergsonJune 27, 2021
At the beginning of Matter and Memory, Bergson declares that he starts from a dual starting point: both spirit and matter have their own reality. But how is their relationship established? The problem of dualism is to give an explanation of the relationship between these substances after accepting the separation of substances. At this point, how the matter is comprehended becomes decisive. Matter is reduced to representation when it is idealistically conceived. According to the realist understanding, matter is the reason for the formation of representations in us, but it is not representation itself.
The term representation is used to describe our consciousness’s conceptions of reality. Perhaps representation is a theoretical construct of cognitive science. According to representational theories of mind, our minds are full of thoughts, concepts, perceptions, sensations, rules, schemas, images, and fantasies. These are all mental objects that can be evaluated semantically. A representation has some semantic properties. These are content, submission, accuracy conditions, accuracy value.
According to Bergson, neither the idealist nor the realist position can solve the problem of what is the relationship between mind and material reality. An important aspect of Matter and Memory is that it puts the mind-body problem at the center of the solution of the mind-material-reality relation problem. Thus, this particular but central issue sets the framework in which Bergson sets out his assumption of what matter is. Bergson proposes to treat matter as “an image that exists in itself” (une image qui existe en soi). This is because our relationship with matter is established by perception. We perceive images, they are images that affect each other in accordance with the laws of nature. On the other hand, I do not only perceive my body as perceiving something outside, I also know it through emotions from the inside. The universe is a collection of images, but whatever is new in it, I encounter it through some images about my body. Depending on the approach or distance of my body, I observe that the size, shape, color, intensity of sound and intensity of smell of external objects change. If “matter” is all of these images, then “perception of matter” is the relationship of these images with the possible movements of my body. Idealism, which reduces matter to representation, looks at the universe from the standpoint of the body, whereas realism ignores the privileged role played by the body in accessing matter and posits matter as being in itself, independently. While Bergson criticizes materialism, he states that the nature of matter is not different from representation. Realism and materialism claim that matter that exists in itself has the power to create representation in us.
Bergson uses the term “image” to break down this misconception of realism. However, Bergson also criticizes the idealism that reduces matter to representation. For him, “image” is not representation. For Bergson, “image” is more than less than a thing. Although there is a degree of difference between image and representation, there is no difference between the nature of the image and the nature of representation. What remains when we abstract matter from image? Bergson states in Matter and Memory, “The brain is part of the material world, the material world is not part of the brain.” says. We can say this for our body, which we perceive as an image. The body can both receive movement from the outside and transmit movement to the outside. Movements in our brain are also inextricably linked to movements in the material world. Our body is a center, but it is not a mathematical point that merely reflects motion, it is a point that grapples with and absorbs motion. If the material world, free from consciousness and images, consists of the constant vibrations of matter and its motion transmitted in continuity, why do we perceive matter as images or why does matter give itself to us through images? Bergson writes that this division of matter is due to our needs. Perception divides the general mass of matter into separate bodies for the benefit of human action, thus creating a world in which man fulfills his needs and acts. But intuition is very different from perception. Perception, like intelligence, is oriented according to needs, organized by habits. Perception works with images, intelligence with representations; whereas intuition does not. According to Bergson, intuition is memory. When we just reduced the images of perception to the continuous vibration of matter, we were able to do this thanks to our perception of matter, our memory of matter.
In Matter and Memory, memory establishes the relationship between matter and consciousness. But there are different types of memory: Habit memory is based on the perception of the body, the repetition of movements, and allows us to act automatically. Thanks to him, we acquire our sensory-motor mechanisms. For example, we can ride a bicycle because we have acquired some sensory motor skills thanks to our habitual memory. Swimming and dancing are similar. After learning how to dance and swim, we don’t forget even if we don’t do it for a very long time. On the other hand, there is genuine or “pure” memory, in which I retain my personal memories.