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Observations placeholder

Bergson, Henri - Matter and Memory - The cyclical nature of Perceptions



Type of Spiritual Experience


All actions are logged in the perception log.  So sensory information is logged, acts of will are logged, seeing, talking, laughing, crying and the emotions that prompted this action, smelling, touching – all are logged.

We can see this in the overview diagram, where all our conscious actions – remembering, recalling, speaking, recognising, and behaving - all produce a log of the action which is then added to the log of perceptions.

The log is a composite of activity in other words.  It is not pure perception, as obtained from our senses, it is pure perception interspersed with a record of our own activity. 

Furthermore, there is a sort of continual loop – perceive, learn/understand, act; perceive, understand, act; governed by the will and the command and control system and fed also by our senses, which are constantly telling us something of the physical world in which we act.

This means that perceptions are also interspersed with the logged actions of memory.  Memory is derived from perceptions, but perceptions contain acts of memory manipulation – recognition, giving names to – general understanding of what we have perceived.  Quite clearly, as this is a sequential log, the log of the learning, cognition and understanding processes will come a short time after the actual perception itself, but it does mean the log is not ‘pure’ in the sense it contains no input from memory – it does.  We may watch a cat walking across the road and then after our recognition systems and learning system have kicked in we may then add to the log of perception the internal observation – ‘aha, a cat walking across the road’.

This has important implications in using perception recall.

A description of the experience

Henri Bergson – Matter and Memory

My body experiences sensations and at the same time executes movements.  Sensations and movements being localised at determined points of this extended body, there can only be at a given moment, a single system of movements and sensations.  That is why my present appears to me to be a thing absolutely determined and contrasting to my past.  Situated between the matter which influences it and that on which it has influence, my body is a centre of action, the place where the impressions received choose intelligently the path they will follow to transform themselves into movements accomplished.  Thus it indeed represents the actual state of my becoming, that part of my duration which is in process of growth.  More generally, in that continuity of becoming which is reality itself, the present moment is constituted by the quasi instantaneous section effected by our perception in the flowing mass …...............

If the retained or remembered image will not cover all the details of the image that is being perceived, an appeal is made to the deeper and more distant regions of memory, until other details that are already known come to project themselves upon those details that remain unperceived.  And the operation may go on indefinitely; memory strengthening and enriching perception, which, in its turn becoming wider, draws into itself a growing number of complementary recollections.  So let us no longer think of a mind which disposes of some fixed quantity of light, now diffusing it around, now concentrating it on a single point.  Metaphor for metaphor, we would rather compare the elementary work of attention to that of the telegraph clerk who, on receipt of an important despatch, sends it back again, word for word, in order to check its accuracy...............

In fact, there is no perception which is not full of memories. With the immediate and present data of our senses we mingle a thousand details out of our past experience.  In most cases these memories supplant our actual perceptions, of which we then retain only a few hints, thus using them merely as ‘signs’ that recall to us former images.  The convenience and the rapidity of perception are bought at this price; but hence also springs every kind of illusion.


The source of the experience

Bergson, Henri

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