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Disciplining Bergson: Cinematographs as Epistemic Devices, 1896-1922
Mon 13 March 2017, 18:00 – 19:30 GMT
Dr. Tom Quick (University of Manchester).
Henri Bergson’s use of the cinematograph as a metaphor for scientific epistemology had a major impact on twentieth-century conceptions of science: even today, many philosophers of science regard the relation between recording mechanisms and embodied observers as critical to our understanding of objective knowledge. Yet little is known about the extent to which Bergson's characterization of cinematographs as epitomizing a pervasive 'fragmentation' of nature into lifeless 'snapshots' reflected actual scientific practice during the early twentieth century. This talk will address cinematographic experimentation by such contemporaries of Bergson as Charles Scott Sherrington, Hugo Münsterberg, and Max Wertheimer. In doing so, it will suggest that as well as expressing a broader trend towards the mechanical analysis of nature, cinematograph-centred experimentation contributed to a disciplinary divergence between psychological and physiological science during the first decades of the twentieth century. It will further highlight how this changing disciplinary structure came to haunt Bergson's philosophy during the 1920s. Ironically, the prominence that Bergson gave to his to cinematographic metaphor prevented him from adapting his philosophy to a mode of scientific organization that grew up around the devices themselves.