This essay takes its starting point in the philosophy of Henri Bergson about time, memory, and matter, and derive a general model of human actions from it. Looking at the difference between adaptive and maladaptive human actions in this model, it details the function of the brain as a processor of adaptive tools for activating memories in a sensori-motor response to perception, and maladaptive human actions as the result of maladaptive or non-existent processes of the brain. From this it develops a theory of time as an adaptive tool of the brain rather than as a feature of objective reality, and show how dissociative phenomena, such as amnesia and dissociative identity, may follow from maladaptive or non-existent processes of the brain in relation to time as an adaptive tool.
Keywords: Time, Memory, Human actions, Sensorimotor response, Adaptive tools, Dissociative identity.
In 1922 there found place a debate between the physicist Albert Einstein and the philosopher Henri Bergson over the concept of time. This historical debate, that made Bergson a ghost of the past and Albert Einstein a synonymous to being smart, was about the reality of time. Both agreed on the scientific data on time; time was present in the scientific observations and measurements done. The disagreement was about the interpretation of these observations and measurements done. For Albert Einstein, these observations and measurements was a clear evidence of the reality of time. In contrast to this, Henri Bergson posited that time was not a reality as such, but an adaptive tool used by human beings to structure the ever-changing duration of life. By this the observations and measurements of time did not get the meaning of time without human being making it a meaning of time. This resulted in the famous reply by Albert Einstein that the time of the philosophers does not exist (Canales, 2016).
The argument by Henri Bergson is not unique for his discussion with Albert Einstein but is something that underlies his whole system of thought about human actions in a world built upon his idea of the reality as a creative, ever-changing, and ever-renewing duration of life (Bergson, 2001). This chaotic duration of life, experienced when asleep as adaption is not necessary when in sleep (Bergson, 1920), is the reality in which human beings has its foundation and is the reason that human beings needs adaptive tools to limit it and structure it if the goal is to live a purposeful life. This dualism of the objective, chaotic reality, and the subjective, ordered reality is what is behind Henri Bergson criticism of Albert Einstein’s (Canales, 2016) jumping to conclusions about the reality of time: for nothing of the objective reality can be known without an interpretation of it by a human being. The same kind of criticism is applied by Henri Bergson (1920) against the parallelism at the foundation of the modern biomedical thinking. To jump to the conclusion that a diagnostic concept, such as schizophrenia or autism, is a real representation of the observations and measurements of the physical brain, is to forget the human interpretations involved; the state of the objective reality cannot but be experienced in its purity. The logical conclusion that follow by the ideas of Henri Bergson is that his ideas does not say anything more about reality than Albert Einstein or biomedical thinking. His ideas are interpretations as well. This is not to say that they do not need to say anything at all about objective reality, but that an awareness of the humanity involved is necessary, even when taking the ideas of Henri Bergson as a starting point for a model of human actions.
A Model of Human Actions
The adaptive interpretation of the creative, ever-changing, and ever-renewing duration of life, as presented by Henri Bergson (Bergson, 2001), can be illustrated by a given model of human actions. The creative, ever-changing, and ever-renewing duration of life is constituted by memories; singular, as in example an emotion, as well as complex memories, in example as an integration of emotions, thoughts, and actions. These memories are ever-created, ever-changing, and ever-renewing, making up for a living collection of memories that flows in a chaotic and unpredictable manner. To summarize it, this creative, ever-changing, and ever-renewing duration of life constituting memories, is in the given model of human actions interpreted as a memory cloud that all living beings continuously contribute to.
The adaptive interpretation of the creative, ever-changing, and ever-renewing duration of life happens in accordance with a purpose (Bergson, 2004). This purpose is the interaction, through perception, with the observations and measurements of objective reality as well as other human beings. The initializing of a human action starts then with the enactment upon the perception by the external reality, in example by the social expectation of responding with courtesy in meeting with a friend.
The adaptive interpretation, constituted by the brain, is then the process by which a memory, singular or complex, is retrieved in an adaptive response to the enactment upon the perception (Bergson, 2004). In the example of the friend, enacting upon the perception of the given human being, a memory that identify this unidentified object as a friend and a memory that set-in motion a given action of courtesy are retrieved by the process of the adaptive interpretation. That the process constitutes an adaptive interpretation and not only an interpretation is of great value, because, as the dream is an example of (Bergson, 1920), the process of retrieving a memory or a collection of memories in response to an enactment of the perception does not need to be adaptive. This imply that the process of retrieving, constituted by the brain, needs adaptive tools to order the process by which the memory or the collection of memories are retrieved in response to the enactment upon perception.
Language and Time as Adaptive Tools
The ever-present, creative, ever-changing, ever-renewing duration of life constitute not only all that has ever lived, live and space for that which will come to live, but is also marked by its infinite stimulation of the living. This infinite stimulation is impossible to respond to for the finite being that lives a finite life; it is impossible for the human being that want to live a life consisting of something other than the chaotic dream present in her sleep (Bergson, 1920; Bergson, 2004). For this reason, the awake human being needs tools that limits and make the living meaningful in his context of meaning.
A rather obvious tools in this meaningful adaption, is that which constitute the meaning: the language. The language, by its sequence of occupied spaces alternated with unoccupied spaces, represent only the part of reality that it can occupy. However, this occupation alone does not make it a valid representation of reality, as the reality that it tries to occupy has escaped in a creative, ever-changing, and ever-renewing flux when the word has become manifested (Bergson, 2001). As such the language is only an approximation of the parts of reality of value for interpretation, meaning, and interaction.
As an ordering and adaptive tool of the brain in retrieving memories for responding to the enactment of perception, language is one of the more basic tools for survival. It is the tool which make all things unknown known, through the labeling of the unidentified external reality. When I see an unidentified object, the language tool can make me able to be aware and say that: “This is a bottle, and this bottle contains something that can nourish me if I drink it”. Likewise, it can make me aware and say that: “This is a bottle, and this bottle contain dangerous chemicals that will kill me if I drink of it”. The tools of language as such is that which make a difference of bodily life and death at its most basic. It names the world and make it meaningful and safe to live in. It is further, on a more advanced level, what makes the life meaningful in association with others. It makes it possible to communicate.
As Albert Einstein summarized, the time does not exist for the philosophers (Canales, 2016). And it does not exist in this model neither as an absolute feature of the objective reality. What does exist, in its place, is the creative, ever-changing, and ever-renewing flux of life. The hard part of this can be that the imagination of change is done through the lens of time as comprehended through clocks, rather than as something that happens in an ever-present space. For rather than being an absolute feature of the objective reality, time is in this model an adaptive tool for ordering the purposeful life. The implication of this is that the creative, ever-changing, and ever-renewing duration of life include all times of our human being, from what through the adaptive tool of language is named a baby, a child, an adolescent, a teen, a young adult, an adult, an old adult and so on. They are all a part of the same space in the ever-present, creative, ever-changing, and ever-renewing duration of life. This means that the adaptive tool of time not only make it possible to experience the beauty of change; the retrieving of memory in accordance with the creative and renewing evolution in the flux of life, but also make it possible to evolve from the dependent state associated with a newborn to the independent state associated with an adult.
The Implications of Being Speechless or Timeless
Language and time are only two of the ordering and adaptive tools that the brain can use in retrieving memories for the response to an enactment upon the perception. Without in example the use of social cues, memories retrieved may not result in actions in accordance with the social expectations (Bergson, 2001). The weakening of, or even loss, of adaptive tools to retrieve memory for the enactment upon perception is in general a loss of realization toward the human reality, despite it being a greater realization of the infinite, ever-present, creative, ever-changing, ever-renewing duration of life. So, to include only language and time for a discussion of the realization of human reality and actions, is a limited approach better fit to demonstration of a concept or a model than a comprehensive guide to the many pitfalls of living an adaptive and purposeful human life.
When language work as expected as an adaptive tool for retrieving memories in respond to the enactment upon perception, it can save our body from death. By this, it is an immensely useful tool. But human beings are not born with this tool, and it takes some time to develop it to its perfection. At its most basic, this imply that the world is rather very dangerous when a baby: a bottle of a cleaning agent can be mistaken for a bottle of water and kill the baby; if the similarities of the bottles are greater than the language skills of bottle differences. The development of the language as such is best done in the presence of dangerous bottles kept in closed cabinets or at least away from the creative, ever-changing, and ever-renewing duration of the kid.
Even if language, by the utilization of the adaptive tool of time, lead a human being to develop it to perfection, the language without the adaptive tool of social cues or other cueing tools may lead to another reality than that of others. For the unidentified object is unidentified. It is not something a human being or a group of human beings has any absolute definition power over, thought they may define the social expectations of a tool. This imply that what is for one person or even a whole society a lamp, can, in theory, be a camera for another person without it being a lesser definition of the unidentified object of reality. On the other hand, if only that person names it a camera, when all others have named it a lamp, then it become a question if it is an adaptive use of language, as it can be really freaking if a house full of what the majority define as lamps are interpreted as a house full of cameras.
As with all kind of adaptive tools used by the brain to retrieve memories in response to the enactment upon perception, the adaptive tool of language may not be used, may be harmed, or may not even develop. Sometimes the reality taste better in a wordless and speechless state; the adaptive tool of language is not always as useful or pleasant as other tools or the infinite, ever-present, creative, ever-changing, ever-renewing duration of life. In these cases, it becomes maladaptive to use the tool of language. In other cases, the adaptive tool of language may become twisted by the abuse of it in maladaptive ways. In example when the meaning of love is attached to the experience of sexual abuse by a kid, the language of love may lose its usefulness, making it hard for the kid to respond in an adaptive way to love that is not attached to abuse. And in some cases, the adaptive tool of language may not be a reality, making it impossible to use it as a tool for ordering the infinite, ever-present, creative, ever-changing, ever-renewing duration of life, with the implication that the human being never becomes able to differentiate between a safe and a dangerous bottle.
The awareness of language as something that human beings create and expand, the role of the brain and its use as an adaptive tool is rather well known; at least by those that have and use the language as an adaptive tool in combination with social cues. This is not the case when it comes to time. Time is, as Albert Einstein (Canales, 2016) argued for, something that absolutely exist and is a part of the objective reality. It is not something that human beings create and expand upon, and the brain has no role in its existence. This is, as mentioned, a possible interpretation. However, when taken as an adaptive tool in the same way as language, an interesting perspective of reality comes to expression, that even can logical explain a phenomenon “discovered” by Pierre Janet, one of Henri Bergson’s sources (Bergson, 2004).
For as an adaptive tool used by the brain in retrieving memories in response to the enactment upon perception, time is what makes human being experience the infinite, ever-present, ever-changing, ever-renewing duration of life and make it possible to evolve from babyhood, through childhood to adulthood; and as such also make it possible for the adaptive tool of language to evolve to an even more adaptive tool. The reality then, when the adaptive tool of time is not used, becomes a reality where babyhood, childhood, and adulthood, or more precisely all the moments of life, are all possible candidates in responding to the enactment upon perception. When in example an adult, by the definition of others utilizing the adaptive tool of time (and of course the adaptive tool of language), respond to the enactment upon perception, this response can be that of a child as much as an adult if the adaptive tool of time is not used. More precise, the complex memory of a child can be retrieved in response to an enactment upon perception when the adaptive expectation is that the latest complex memory of the, by definition, adult is retrieved.
As with the adaptive tool of language, the adaptive tool of time may not be used, may be harmed or may not even develop. In the same way as with the adaptive tool of language, the adaptive tool of time may not always be a useful or adaptive tool. When responding to children in example, a childlike response may sometimes be more effective than an adultlike response to initialize communication. The adaptive tool of time can further, as with the adaptive tool of language, be harmed. This may lead to an arrest in development or the multiplicity of personalities, also known as dissociative identities, in maladaptive response to the enactment upon the perception; like in example the response of an adult, by definition, to a stressful event by crying at the floor in a shop like a toddler. In the cases of the adaptive tool of time never being developed, of complete timelessness, leading by an interpretation to the baby never becoming something more than a baby, the result is open to question and left over to the imagination of the reader to resolve.
Henri Bergson was a revolutionary when he lived, before having his debate with Albert Einstein (Canales, 2016). His lectures engaged people to an extent the world haven’t seen neither before or after (Barnard, 2011). And it is somewhat understandable, when looking at the philosophy of time developed by him. His philosophy of time is much more intricate and comprehensive than this essay has dedicated its space to; his notion of memories is in example split into two very different kinds of memories that is necessary to know about if the phenomena mentioned in this essay is to be fully understood. The consequences of his radical philosophy of memory and matter also stretch further to a dimension more enigmatic than this essay has gone into.
Barnard, G. W. (2011). Living Consciousness: The Metaphysical Vision of Henri Bergson. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.
Bergson, H. (1920). Mind-Energy: Lectures and Essays. New York, NY: Henry Holt and Company.
Bergson, H. (2001). Time and Free Will: An Essay on the Immediate Data of Consciousness. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, Inc.
Bergson, H. (2004). Matter and Memory. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, Inc.
Canales, J. (2016). The Physicist & The Philosopher: Einstein, Bergson, and the Debate That Changed Our Understanding of Time. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.