Monday, June 17, 2013

Technology vs. Free Will? Tuning into the Internal Qualitative Experience of Time

Henri Bergson, the French philosopher, was living and writing in a time (early 1900s) similar to today where the furious pace of innovation in science and technology was promising to elucidate the deepest secrets of the world such as how the mind works.

Determinism Victory from the Application of Quantitative Methods? 
As the social sciences gelled into departments of academic study unto themselves and sought to apply techniques from the hard sciences, Bergson became concerned about the potential loss of free will and a victory for determinism. Humans might be reduced to billiard balls in the sense that if human behavior could be predicted mechanistically like that of a billiard ball, it would mean that humans would lose their liberty and free will.

Doublings: Experiences with both Inner Qualitative Subjectivity and External Quantitative Objectivity
Bergson proposed that there are several concepts that are different in our internal experience (qualitative, subjective) than in our external experience of the world (quantitative, objective). This difference between internal and external experience (called a doubling) exists in areas like time, intensity, multiplicity, duration, self, and consciousness. The external aspects can be measured quantitatively, but the internal aspects cannot, they are states that overlap, merge into one another, and emerge and recede dynamically.

Prescription: Tune into the Qualitative Aspects of Inner Experience
To Bergson, freedom is most visible in spontaneity, the ability of a person to choose spontaneous action. To maintain free will, one should tune into the qualitative aspects of internal experience, understanding concepts like time as a qualitative overlap and ebb and flow of states dynamically, energetically. Bergson’s nomenclature for inner qualitative time is ‘duration’ as opposed to external quantitative ‘time’ – this is the difference between the sense of waiting for a train to arrive (qualitative) versus the time elapsing on the clock. Being attuned to the qualitative aspects of time, one can live more spontaneously.

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