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A Review
Henri Louis Bergson's Book
Time and Free Will
Chapter III: The Organization of Conscious States - Free Will
Topic 30: Physical Determinism
by Doug Renselle
Doug's Pre-review Commentary
Start of Review




Bibliography Author's
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17


18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 Conclusion Index

Move to any Topic of Henri Louis Bergson's Time and Free Will,
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Topic 30...............Physical Determinism


(Most quotes verbatim Henri Louis Bergson, some paraphrased.)

(Relevant to Pirsig, William James Sidis, and Quantonics Thinking Modes.)


"Physical determinism, in its latest form, is closely bound up with mechanical or rather kinetic
Physical determinism stated in the language of the molecular theory of matter. theories of matter. The universe is pictured as a heap of matter which the imagination resolves into molecules and atoms. These particles are supposed to
carry out unceasingly movements of every kind, sometimes of vibration, sometimes of translation; and physical phenomena, chemical action, the qualities of matter which our senses perceive, heat, sound, electricity, perhaps even attraction, are thought to be reducible objectively to these elementary movements [all, perceived classically, are misconceptions of duration]. The matter which goes to make up organized bodies being subject to the same laws, we find in the nervous system, for example, only molecules and atoms which are in motion and attract and repel one another. Now if all bodies, organized or unorganized, thus act and react on one another in their ultimate parts, it is obvious that the molecular state of the brain at a given moment will be modified by the shocks which the nervous system receives from the surrounding matter, so that the sensations, feelings and ideas which succeed one another in us can be defined as mechanical resultants, obtained by the compounding of shocks received from without with the previous movements of the atoms of the nervous substance."

(Our brackets, bold, color, and violet bold italic problematics.)

Bergson restarts his footnote counts on each page. So to refer a footnote, one must state page number and footnote number.

Our bold and color highlights follow a code:

  • black-bold - important to read if you are just scanning our review
  • orange-bold - text ref'd by index pages
  • green-bold - we see Bergson suggesting axiomatic memes
  • violet-bold - an apparent classical problematic
  • blue-bold - we disagree with this text segment while disregarding context of Bergson's overall text
  • gray-bold - quotable text
  • red-bold - our direct commentary

"But the opposite phenomenon may occur; and the molecular movements which go on in the nervous system, if compounded with one another or with others, will often give as resultant a reaction of our organism on its environment: hence the reflex movements, hence also the so-called free and voluntary actions. As, moreover, the principle of the conservation of energy has been assumed to admit of no exception, there is not an atom, either in the nervous system or in the whole of the universe, whose position is not determined by the sum of the mechanical actions which the other atoms exert upon it. And the mathematician who knew the position of the molecules or atoms of a human organism at a given moment, as well as the position and motion of all the atoms in the universe capable of influencing it, could calculate with unfailing certainty the past, present and future actions of the person to whom this organism belongs, just as one predicts an astronomical phenomenon. (1)"

Note (1): On this point see Lange, History of Materialism, Vol. ii, Part ii.

(Our bold and color, and violet bold italic problematics.)


In our Quantonics view, quantum reality is open. Classical reality is, axiomatically, closed. Classical reality conserves, due its closedness. Quantum reality does n¤t conserve, in our view, due its openness.

This classical unfailing certainty assumes J. C. Maxwellian, thermodynamic, posentropic, closed reality. Quantum reality's entropy is at least quatrotomous: negentropy, zeroentropy, posentropy, and mixentropy. Negentropy denies Maxwellian thermodynamic closure of reality. Quantum reality is n¤t just thermodynamic! Quatrotomous quantum entropy and absolute quantum flux impose absolute quantum uncertainty on all reality! Doug - 25May2002.

Doug's phrase "absolute quantum uncertainty" needs clarification. Quantum~uncertainty is real. Classical certainty is a dialectically (either-or) faulty perception of a presumed 'mechanical reality.' So classical certainty does n¤t 'exist' in quantum~reality. What Doug should have more wisely said back in 2002 is that quantum~change is absolute and uncertainty borne of that absolute change is absolutely wavic (from DC up to phase~encodings of Planck's rate) and thus quantum~stochastic. Compare dichon(uncertainty, certainty) as mechanical 'opposites,' vis-à-vis quanton(uncertainty,certainty) as quantum~complementary uncertainty itself. See Doug's quantum~hermeneutics of Autiot's Sheen. There we can perceive quanton(Sheen,Seen) as analogous quanton(uncertainty,certainty). Doug - 5Mar2010.

Readers may find it philosophically valuable to ponder Doug's remarks (a rant) against Hume's views of certainty and uncertainty. Doug - 2Mar2008.

145 "We shall not raise any difficulty about recognizing that this conception of physiological phenomena
If principle of conservation of energy is universal, physiological and nervous phenomena are necessitated, but perhaps not conscious states. in general, and nervous phenomena in particular, is a very natural deduction from the law of the conservation of energy. Certainly, the atomic theory of matter is still at the hypothetical stage, and the purely kinetic explanations of physical facts lose more than
they gain by being too closely bound up with it. We must observe, however, that, even if we leave aside the atomic theory as well as any other hypothesis as to the nature of the ultimate elements of matter, the necessitating of physiological facts by their antecedents follows from the theorem of the conservation of energy, as soon as we extend this theorem to all processes going on in all living bodies. For to admit the universality of this theorem is to assume, at bottom, that the material points of which the universe is composed are subject solely to forces of attraction and repulsion, arising from these points themselves and possessing intensities which depend only on their distances: hence the relative position of these material points at a given moment—whatever be their nature—would be strictly determined by relation to what it was at the preceding moment. Let us then assume for a moment that this last hypothesis is true: we propose to show, in the first place, that it does not involve the absolute determination of our conscious states by one another, and then that the very universality of the principle of the conservation of energy cannot be admitted except in virtue of some psychological hypothesis."
(Our bold, color, and violet bold italic problematics.)
146 "Even if we assumed that the position, the direction and the velocity of each atom of cerebral matter
To prove conscious states determined, we should have to show a necessary connexion between them and cerebral states. No such proof. are determined at every moment of time, it would not at all follow that our psychic life is subject to the same necessity. For we should first have to prove that a strictly determined psychic state corresponds to a definite cerebral state, and the proof
of this is still to be given. As a rule we do not think of demanding it, because we know  that a definite vibration of the tympanum, a definite stimulation of the auditory nerve, gives a definite note on the scale, and because the parallelism of the physical and psychical series has been proved in a fairly large number of cases. But then, nobody has ever contended that we were free, under given conditions, to hear any note or perceive any colour we liked. Sensations of this kind, like many other psychic states, are obviously bound up with certain determining [rather, affecting pre-]conditions, and it is just for this reason that it has been possible to imagine or discover beneath them a system of movements which obey our abstract mechanics [only because they are conceived as "determining"]. In short, wherever we succeed in giving a mechanical explanation, we observe a fairly strict parallelism between the physiological and the psychological series, and we need not be surprised at it, since explanations of this kind will assuredly not be met with except where the two series exhibit parallel [classical] terms."

(Our brackets, bold, color, and violet bold italic problematics.)


Recent studies of quantum brain appear to show that our neural networks are self-organizing, everywhere associative, quantum networks. There is absolutely n¤ way a SON can be described as "classically causal!" Everywhere associativeness precludes any requisite causal, classical 1-1 correspondence!
Doug - 25May2002.



Bergson has already destroyed any classical concept of planned, homogeneous, spatial extensity succession!

147 "But to extend this parallelism to the series themselves in their totality is to settle a priori the problem of freedom. Certainly this may be done, and some of the greatest thinkers have set the example; but then, as we said at first, it was not for reasons of a physical order that they asserted the strict correspondence between states of consciousness and modes of extension. Leibniz ascribed it to a preestablished harmony, and would never have admitted that a motion could give rise to a perception as a cause produces an effect. Spinoza said that the modes of thought and the modes of extension correspond with but never influence one another: they only express in two different languages the same eternal truth. But the theories of physical determinism which are rife at the present day are far from displaying the same clearness, the same geometrical rigour. They point to molecular movements taking place in the brain: consciousness is supposed to arise out of these at times in some mysterious way, or rather to follow their track like the phosphorescent line which results from the rubbing of a match. Or yet again we are to think of an invisible musician playing behind the scenes while the actor strikes a keyboard the notes of which yield no sound: consciousness must be supposed to come from an unknown region and to be superimposed on the molecular vibrations, just as the melody is on the rhythmical movements of the actor."

(Our brackets, bold, color, and violet bold italic problematics.)


Which implies they did n¤t require strict classical causality.



Spinoza exposes his inference of a classical excluded-middle.


"But, whatever image we fall back upon, we do not prove and we never shall prove by any reasoning that the psychic fact is fatally determined by the molecular movement. For in a movement we may find the reason of another movement, but not the reason of a conscious state: only observation can prove that the latter accompanies the former. Now the unvarying conjunction of the two terms has not been verified by experience except in a very limited number of cases and with regard to facts which all confess to be almost independent of the will. But it is easy to understand why physical determinism extends this conjunction to all possible cases.

"Consciousness indeed informs us that the majority of our actions can be explained by motives. But
[Kantian] Physical determinism, when assumed to be universal, postulates psychological determinism. it does not appear that determination here means necessity, since common sense believes in free will. The determinist, however, led astray by a conception of duration and causality which we shall criticise
a little later, holds that the determination of conscious states by one another is absolute. This is the origin of associationist determinism, all hypothesis in support of which the testimony of consciousness is appealed to, but which cannot, in the beginning, lay claim to scientific rigour. It seems natural that this, so to speak, approximate determinism, this determinism of quality, should seek support from the same mechanism that underlies the phenomena of nature: the latter would thus convey to the former its own geometrical character, and the transaction would be to the advantage both of psychological determinism, which would emerge from it in a stricter form, and of physical mechanism, which would then [simultaneously, hegemonously] spread over everything."

(Our brackets, bold, color, and violet bold italic problematics.)



Assumes classical, unilateral observation. Quantum reality demands ensemble coobsfection.




As we said above, quantum associativeness is "everywhere associativeness." Everywhere associativeness is spawn of quantum probability distributions for all scales of quantons. In quantum reality "associationist determinism" is impossible due associations are stochastic ensemble interrelationships. Latter denies any possibilities of classical 1-1 association/correspondence.


"A fortunate circumstance favours this alliance. The simplest psychic states do in fact occur as accessories to well-defined physical phenomena, and the greater number of sensations seem to be bound up with definite molecular movements. This mere beginning of an experimental proof is quite enough for the man who, for psychological reasons, is already convinced that our conscious states are the necessary outcome of the circumstances under which they happen. Henceforth he no longer hesitates to hold that the drama enacted in the theatre of consciousness is a literal and even slavish translation of some scenes performed by the molecules and atoms of organized matter. The physical determinism which is reached in this way is nothing but psychological determinism, seeking to verify itself and fix its own outlines by an appeal to the sciences of nature.

"But we must own that the amount of freedom which is left to us after strictly complying with
Is the principle of conservation of energy universally valid? the principle of the conservation of energy is rather limited. For, even if this law does not exert a
necessitating influence over the course of our ideas, it will at least determine our movements."

(Our brackets, bold, color, and violet bold italic problematics.)



Here, reader, is where an enormous connection to William James Sidis' The Animate and Inanimate (AIA) appears. Remember that Sidis questions J. C. Maxwell's 'laws' of thermodynamics. He questions especially "the second law of thermodynamics." Essentially that law denies any reversibility of "thermodynamic heat death." It fundamentally denies a living, Planck rate fluxing quantum-plural universe and, instead — in grand and Victorian classical ex cathedra vulgate arrogance — mandates a single-posentropic ultimate universal death. In Quantonics we see this Maxwellian pessimism as just more classical HyperBoole. J In his AIA William James Sidis appropriately intuits, in a vibrantly fecund and pregnant Bergsonian heterogeneous manner, many entropies and many reversibilities. Sidis' intuitions fit, today, what we know about quantum reality. Doug - 24Mar2001.


"Our inner life will still depend upon ourselves up to a certain point; but, to an outside observer, there will be nothing to distinguish our activity from absolute automatism. We are thus led to inquire whether the very extension of the principle of the conservation of energy to all the bodies in nature does not itself involve some psychological theory, and whether the scientist who did not possess a priori any prejudice against human freedom would think of setting up this principle as a universal law.

"We must not overrate the part played by the principle of the conservation of energy in the
It Implies that a system can return to its original state. Neglects duration, hence inapplicable to living beings and conscious states. history of the natural sciences. In its present form it marks a certain phase in the evolution of certain sciences; but it has not been the governing factor in this evolution and we should be wrong in making it the indispensable postulate of all scientific research. Certainly, every mathematical
operation which we carry out on a given quantity implies the permanence of this quantity throughout the course of the operation, in whatever way we may split it up. In other words, what is given is given, what is not given is not given, and in whatever order we add up the same terms we shall get the same result. Science will for ever remain subject to this law, which is nothing but the law of non-contradiction; but this law does not involve any special hypothesis as to the nature of what we ought to take as given, or what will remain constant."

(Our brackets, bold, color, and violet bold italic problematics.)


EPR experiments and Bell's Theorem deny this classical 'law.' Quantum uncertainty denies this classical 'law.'

It's been over seven years since Doug did this review. We think we can clarify, simplify what Bergson is saying here:

  • "the law of non-contradiction" is saying that classical reason's "truth is non-contradictory,"
  • dialectically, classically, we can disprove any hypothesis by finding a contradiction to it, and
  • absence of contradiction is evidence of provisional scientific, well-reasoned, 'truth.'

For Doug those three bullets hold in any classical, canonic, axiomatic 'box of reason.' However, it (i.e., dialectical reason) is bogus in quantum~reality. Quantum~reality is flux! Change! Uncertainty! Quantum~reality is evolving absolutely and cann¤t hold still, cann¤t be classically constant. All quantons' nowings are only partially whatings they will beings in several Planck moments: they are absolutely evolving, changing. So, all quantons intrinsically contradict selves relentlessly since we cann¤t compare them as dialectic would, self minus self equals zero. That assumption of classical 'state' is impossible in an evolving quantum~reality. See SOM's Bases of Judgment and compare there how quantum~judgment is vastly superior. See phase and phasement. Doug - 2Mar2008.


"No doubt it informs us that something cannot come from nothing [Parmenides' 'law' of 'laws']; but experience alone will tell us which aspects or functions of reality must count for something, and which for nothing, from the point of view of positive science. In short, in order to foresee the state of a determinate system at a determinate moment, it is absolutely necessary that something should persist as a constant quantity throughout a series of combinations; but it belongs to experience to decide as to the nature of this something, and especially to let us know whether it is found in all possible systems, whether, in other words, all possible systems lend themselves to our calculations. It is not certain that all the physicists before Leibniz believed, like Descartes, in the conservation of a fixed quantity of motion in the universe: were their discoveries less valuable on this account or their researches less successful? Even when Leibniz had substituted for this principle that of the conservation of vis viva, it was not possible to regard the law as quite general, since it admitted of an obvious exception in the case of the direct impact of two [classically] inelastic bodies. Thus science has done for a very long time without a universal conservative principle. In its present form, and since the development of the mechanical theory of heat, the principle of the conservation of energy certainly seems to apply to the whole range of physico-chemical phenomena."

(Our brackets, bold, color, and violet bold italic problematics.)

Quantum actuality emerges from quantum n¤nactuality. To a classicist this appears as "something from n¤thing."

Several years later, since Doug did this review, he prepared a QCD graphic of quantum creatio ex nihilo aperio. Enjoy! Doug - 2Mar2008.

152 "But no one can tell whether the study of physiological phenomena in general, and of nervous phenomena in particular, will not reveal to us, besides the vis viva or kinetic energy of which Leibniz spoke, and the potential energy which was a later and necessary adjunct, some new kind of energy which may differ from the other two by rebelling against calculation. Physical science would not thereby lose any of its exactitude or geometrical rigour, as has lately been asserted: only it would be realized that conservative systems are not the only systems possible, and even, perhaps, that in the whole of concrete reality each of these systems plays the same part as the chemist's atom in bodies and their combinations. Let us note that the most radical of mechanical theories is that which makes consciousness an epiphenomenon which, in given circumstances, may supervene on certain molecular movements. But, if molecular movement can create sensation out of a zero of consciousness, why should not consciousness in its turn create movement either out of a zero of kinetic and potential energy, or by making use of this energy in its own way? Let us also note that the law of the conservation of energy can only be intelligibly applied to a system of which the points, after moving, can return to their former positions. This return is at least conceived of as possible, and it is supposed that under these conditions nothing would be changed in the original state of the system as a whole or of its elements."

(Our brackets, bold, color, and violet bold italic problematics.)



William James Sidis' AIA anticipates this new energy! He, his father, and William James call it "reserve energy," and William Sidis extends it into plural energies, entropies, and reversibilities!


These last two sentences indict classicists' 'general principle' of conservation of energy irrevocably! Quantum reality shows us that our multiverse is heterogeneous and open, n¤t uniquely and conservatively homogeneous and closed! Bravo Bergson!

153 "In short, time cannot bite into it; and the instinctive, though vague, belief of mankind in the conservation of a fixed quantity of matter, a fixed quantity of energy, perhaps has its root in the very fact that inert matter does not seem to endure or to preserve any trace of past time. But this is not the case in the realm of life. Here duration certainly seems to act like a cause, [i.e., determinism,] and the idea of putting things back in their place at the end of a certain time involves a kind of absurdity, since such a turning backwards has never been accomplished in the case of a living being. But let us admit that the absurdity [i.e., an inaccurate conception of duration as determinism] is a mere appearance, and that the impossibility for living beings to come back to the past is simply owing to the fact that the physicochemical phenomena which take place in living bodies, being infinitely complex, have no chance of ever occurring again all at the same time: at least it will be granted to us that the hypothesis of a turning backwards is almost meaningless in the sphere of conscious states. A sensation, by the mere fact of being prolonged, is altered to the point of becoming unbearable. The same does not here remain the same, but is reinforced and swollen by the whole of its past. In short, while the material point, as mechanics understands it, remains in an eternal present, the past is a reality perhaps for living bodies, and certainly for conscious beings. While past time is neither a gain nor a loss for a system assumed to be conservative, it may be a gain for the living being, and it is indisputably one for the conscious being."

(Our brackets, bold, color, and violet bold italic problematics.)






Bergson did n¤t know that quantum zeroentropy and negentropy are reversible: former actually, latter isotropically n¤nactually. See Mae-wan Ho's the Rainbow and the Worm.


"Such being the case, is there not much to be said for the hypothesis of a conscious force or free will, which, subject to the action of time and storing up duration, may thereby escape the law of the conservation of energy?

"In truth, it is not a wish to meet the requirements of positive science, but rather a
The idea of the universality of conservation depends on confusion between concrete duration and abstract time. psychological mistake which has caused this abstract principle of mechanics to be set up as a universal law. As we are not accustomed to observe ourselves directly, but perceive ourselves through forms borrowed from the
external world, we are led to believe that real duration, the [heterogeneous] duration lived by consciousness, is the same as the duration which glides over the inert atoms without penetrating and altering them. Hence it is that we do not see [i.e., we preclude seeing] any absurdity in putting things back in their place after a lapse of time [and forcing a recurrence of past], in supposing the same motives acting afresh on the same persons, and in concluding that these causes would again produce the same effect. That such an hypothesis [universal conservation of energy] has no real meaning is what we shall prove later on. For the present let us simply show that, if once we enter upon this path, we are of course led to set up the principle of the conservation of energy as a universal law. For we have thereby got rid of just that difference between the outer and the inner world which a close examination shows to be the main one: we have identified true duration with apparent duration."

(Our brackets, bold, color, and violet bold italic problematics.)








Note readers, that this is exactly what Einstein did in his theories of relativity when he identified concrete time (true duration) with abstract space (apparent duration).

155 "After this it would be absurd to consider time, even our time, as a cause of gain or loss, as a concrete reality, or a force in its own way. Thus, while we ought only to say (if we kept aloof from all presuppositions concerning free will) that the law of the conservation of energy governs physical phenomena and may, one day, be [illegitimately] extended to all phenomena if psychological facts also prove favourable to it, we go far beyond this, and, under the influence of a metaphysical prepossession, we lay down the principle of the conservation of energy as a law which should govern all phenomena whatever, or must be supposed to do so until psychological facts have actually spoken against it. Science, properly so called, has therefore nothing to do with all this. We are simply confronted with a confusion between concrete duration and abstract time, two very different things. In a word, the so-called physical determinism is reducible at bottom to a psychological determinism, and it is this latter doctrine, as we hinted at first, that we have to examine." (Our brackets, bold and color, and violet bold italic problematics.)
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©Quantonics, Inc., 2001-2014 Rev. 5Mar2010  PDR Created: 23Feb2001  PDR
(25Aug2002 rev - Add 'consensus' link to common sense above.)
(16Sep2002 rev - Correct, in red text, p. 146 comment 'in' to 'any.' Add Parmenides brackets to p. 151 text.)
(24Feb2003 rev - Add links to our remediation of 'associate.')
(2Mar2008 rev - Reformat slightly. Add p. 144 comments and link. Update p. 150 comments.)
(5Mar2010 rev - Extend p. 144 comments on uncertainty.)

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