Memory frees us from the flow of things

Bergson explores the relationship between matter and memory.

Bergson’s conception of time is original and opposes, for example, Albert Einstein’s vision.

Excerpts from his work.

Now, digging underneath these three hypotheses, I discover a common background: they hold the elementary operations of the mind, perception and memory, as operations of pure knowledge. What they put at the origin of the consciousness, it is sometimes the useless duplicate of an external reality, sometimes the inert matter of an intellectual construction all disinterested but they always neglect the relation of the perception to the action and of the memory to the conduct. Now, one can conceive without doubt, as an ideal limit, a disinterested memory and perception; but, in fact, it is towards action that perception and memory are turned, it is this action that the body prepares. Is it about perception? The increasing complexity of the nervous system puts the received shock in connection with a more and more considerable variety of motor apparatuses and makes sketch simultaneously thus a greater and greater number of possible actions. Do we consider memory? Its primary function is to evoke all past perceptions analogous to a present perception, to remind us of what has gone before and what has come after, and thus to suggest the most useful decision. But this is not all. By making us grasp in a single intuition multiple moments of duration, it frees us from the movement of the flow of things, that is to say from the rhythm of necessity. The more it can contract these moments into a single one, the soldier is the hold it will give us on the matter; so that the memory of a living being seems to measure above all the power of its action on things, and to be only the intellectual repercussion of it. Let us therefore start from this power to act as the true principle; let us suppose that the body is a center of action, a center of action only, and let us see what consequences will follow from this for perception, for memory, and for the relations of the body with the mind.

For Bergson, memory does not go from the present to the past, but begins directly in the past.

The truth is that memory does not consist at all in a regression from the present to the past, but on the contrary in progress from the past to the present. It is in the past that we place ourselves from the start. We start from a “virtual state”, which we lead little by little, through a series of different planes of consciousness, until the end where it materializes in a current perception, that is to say until the point where it becomes a present and active state, that is to say finally until this extreme plane of our consciousness where our body is drawn. In this virtual state consists of the pure memory.

Henri Bergson, Matter and Memory

General Knowledge: memory