Bergson and complexity

By now you may have realized that there is something which philosophy has to offer particularly when dealing with complexity and you wonder what it may be? Examine again the two CA system called Proliferon. Raise the output rates. click on ‘infection’ and watch its behavior. It is driven by rule  #600, and despite its simplicity, you don’t really understand its behavior, or its intentions. Clearly the system is driven by simple mathematics, yet you lack any  mathematical tools which  might help you to predict  its trajectory.  Not even  differential equations or multivariate statistics will help. You have to search for new tools, but how and where? So you turn to philosophy for new ideas which hopefully might be translated into some kind of new mathematics.

Bergson (1859 - 1941) is usually dismissed by the exact sciences as a  somewhat  irrational philosopher. He regarded the world dualistically, divided into two disparate realms, life and matter.  While life evolves and climbs upward, matter falls downward and its entropy rises. The exact sciences succeeded to harness matter and energy for our benefit, yet lack the capability to explain what drives life. Bergson called it life force  (élan vital)  which differs inherently from Newtonian forces. No wonder that  physicists ridiculed him as a Vitalist.  It turns out that this  élan vital is also  a property of complex systems like the Aristotelian soul  or the WOB.

Bergson was the first to recognize the shortcoming of  Darwinian evolution. Life does not adapt passively to  changes of the environment, rather it utilizes them  creatively.  Evolution is a creative process.

Bergson’s time which he calls duration (la durée) is particularly relevant to complexity. We conceive now and past as two mutually exclusive events. Each time unit is discrete and isolated. It follows its predecessor in the same way as the number two follows one. Time is a mathematical succession of static states.  On the other hand duration is an amalgamation of the present with the past. This difficult concept may be illustrated by the a simple CA system. Its present state cannot be isolated from its past since its structure was shaped  by previous  states which continue to act in the present. In other words the past flows into the present and cannot be distinguished from the present. The proliferon is a one dimensional structure (worm) which changes continuously. Although the program enables the observer to store past states and display them sequentially the proliferon  cannot store and display its past states.  We are confronted here with two kinds of time: Observer time which orders past states chronologically and proliferon duration  which is not.  Duration is called here biological time.

The proliferon illustrates also two ways to interpret phenomena. Zeno and the Eleatic school  maintained that there are things and no change, while Heraclitus and Bergson maintained that there ware changes but no things.  In the present experiment the observer controls a thing and may freeze it at will,  while the proliferon experiences only change. The fact that the proliferon proceeds through discrete states is irrelevant to the above distinction. Simply imagine this worm as a flux.

WOB is a set of interacting processes each with its individual time (duration).  Process time is more relative than Einstein’s time. Relativity theory provides a traveler with a formula with which he sets  his clock when observing different systems.  No such formula exists for a traveler  (trajectory) in the process set.

Additional reading : Bergson and medicine

Back to complexity index