Sunday, December 21, 2014

Bergson, Free Will, and the Philosophy of Cognitive Enhancement

Bergson claims that free will exists. It occurs in moments when a living being experiences duration, which is tuning into the internal sense of an experience, and a freely-determined action flows from this state. His reasoning is that “if duration is heterogeneous [if we are tuned into the internal sense of experience], the relation of the psychic state to act is unique, and the act is rightly judged free.” An act is free if it flows from an internal qualitative experience. He suggests we understand this by considering an example in our lives of having made a serious decision; where even searching for such an example already starts to evoke the qualitative aspects, unique psychic states, and then the free-action undertaken as a result. The crux is that “We should see that, if our action was pronounced by us to be free, it is because the relation of this action to the state from which it issued could not be expressed by a law, this psychic state being unique of its kind and unable to ever to occur again.” Turning inward to our unique experience causes freely undertaken action to flow as a result, even if this action is a formulation of our mental state.

Philosophy of Cognitive Enhancement
The reason that Bergson is useful for the philosophy of cognitive enhancement is that he provides a reasonable ontological explanation for free will with prescriptive recommendations for its achievement. He draws our attention to the qualitative and characterizes it in usable detail instead of dismissing it as inaccessible due to being subjective (as did Kierkegaard). This could help in developing a philosophy of cognitive enhancement by articulating some of the goals and experience of what it might mean for humans to engage in such practices. It is not necessary to agree with Bergson's claim in favor of free will to implement some of the underlying ideas. What is important to us in cognitive enhancement (the targeted improvement of natural human cognitive abilities) is not just better memories, but accelerated subjectivation - the ability to extend our capacity by becoming ‘more’ of who we are and can be more quickly.

Cognitive Enhancement Tools
One first cognitive enhancement application of Bergson might be in having greater activation of free will; catalyzing more ‘living now’ moments where free will could be realized. Our everyday acts are quantitative and undoubled but cognitive enhancement tools might be able to help with greater activation of the qualitative experience of life. Another application could be exploring the emergence of freedom as a property of internal experience. Bergson does not discuss whether we are free to perceive our inner states in different ways, or just one default way. It would seem that qualitative multiplicity could extend to having discretion over experience. This could inspire an ethics of perception, and an ethics of reality, as topics of cognitive enhancement philosophy. Another application area could be quantitative-qualitative transitions; tracing how the quantitative becomes the qualitative, as this might be a way into a richer, ongoing, free will-activated experience of life. There could be many applications trying to help improve our psychic states, both in their quality and accessibility, and in our awareness and perception of them.

Reference: Bergson, Henri. (2001, 1889). Time and Free Will: An Essay on the Immediate Data of Consciousness (Essai sur les données immédiates de la conscience). London UK: Dover Publications. Bergson, Free Will, and Cognitive Enhancement

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