Bergson’s theory of duration understands that time is in aconstant state of change and that this makes it impossible to measure. It posesthe idea that time and consciousness cannot be reduced to scientificmeasurement and instead must be recognised as an ineffable, temporalheterogeneity (Bergson, 1910). Time confounds mathematics and science becauseboth attempt to measure time in an immobile complete line whereas actual timeis mobile and incomplete (Bergson, 1910), it therefore has no fixed beginningor conceivable end (see figure 1).
In other words, time is too great, rich, anddiverse to be explained numerically, and should therefore be acknowledged as aqualitative multiplicity rather than a quantitative multiplicity. Bergson alsorealises that time is not able to be measured because as soon as you attempt tocapture a moment, it is so fleeting that it has already passed (Bergson, 1946).The notion of immeasurability is considered in Roni Horn’sartwork, ‘Still water (The River Thames, for Example)’ (1999), which iscomprised of fifteen large-scale photo-lithographs, all depicting vastlydiffering images of small sections of the river Thames (see figure 2). Theimages each have a delicate grid layered over them and are extensivelyfootnoted with fragmented writings by Horn. She also contemplatesimmeasurability in her following book, ‘Another Water’ (2000), which containsfurther footnoted images of the river Thames (see figure 3). The images of thewater have an immense variation between them; the ‘colours range from black toblue and from dark green to khaki-yellow, and in each case the water’s textureis differently augmented by tidal movement and the play of light’ (Tate).
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Hornis quoted as saying of the river: ‘it moves very quickly…Every photograph iswildly different – even though you could be photographing the same thing fromone minute to the next’ (Tate, 2009).Horn’s use and presentation of the river relates to the concept’panta rhei’, meaning ‘all things flow’ (Kaufmann, 2008, p.19), which is aschool of thought by Heraclitus, the pre- Socratic Greek philosopher.Heraclitus likened everything in existence to the flowing of a river becauseeverything is in a constant state of change and that nothing can be as it isagain. He had the understanding that, “In the same river we both step and do not step, we areand are not” (Kaufmann, 2008 p.20). By this, it is meant that everything is in constant flux:the universe is in a constant state of change and so are we as part of it.
Eventhough we may step into the body of a river we have stepped into before, thewater that flows will not be the same as even a millisecond before it. There issimilarity but not sameness. In Horn’s images of the Thames, we witness the river actas a physical and visual representation of how fleeting and rapidly shiftingtime is.
We see how moments change constantly and fluidly from one to the next.The river is in constant flux, and Horn would not have even been able tocapture the image that she saw through her camera lens as she made the decisionto take the photograph. Even in the micro moments it would have taken her topress down on the camera shutter, the surface of the water would have changed.When we attempt to measure duration in the mathematic or scientific sense, eachmoment is so fleeting that in striving to capture one, it has already changedto another.
Bergson further recognises that ‘no two moments are identical'(Bergson, 1946, p.164), and therefore, as you try to measure a moment, it isgone forever, never captured. We observe this in Horn’s images; each time shecomes to the Thames she photographs something different from the last, and shewill never be able to take a shot the same as a previous one. Each image actsas a fossil in time; it is a unique fragment of a moment. Time is infinitely divisible, and consequently, it doesnot matter how miniscule the scale with which we attempt to measure or capturea moment, it will still have already passed. Thisinfinite divisibility is an issue within quantum theory, the branch of sciencethat deals with the motion and interaction of subatomic particles.
This ismatter and moments in the smallest form that we, as humans, can deal with them.It ‘cannot predict the outcome of one experiment but can… calculatethe probability of its occurrence’ (Metiu, 2006, p.66), meaning that quantumtheory is based on probability rather than certainty. A reason for this isbecause time is so momentary that no matter how miniscule a scale we try tomeasure it, there can always be a smaller scale due to time being an infinitemultiplicity, there will consequently always be uncertainty. Therefore, when weattempt to measure, or capture, a moment ‘weare not dealing with…moments themselves, as they have vanished for ever, butwith the lasting traces which they seem to have left in space on their passagethrough it’ (Bergson, 1910, p. 79).The example of water is clear because there is noticeablemovement.
We cannot approach it without observing instability. Yet, everythingthat exists is in a constant state of fluctuation, and anything that seems asthough it is still is merely a seeming stability. For example, an ancient treeor a colossal mountain may seem solid, yet both are in a constant state ofchange. A tree grows and loses leaves in and endless cycle; it slowly buildsrings, growing thicker and thicker the older it gets. And deep below amountain, hot moving mantle pushes tectonic plates together and slowly itelevates the land higher.
There is no stability within the universe no matterhow it may seem. Metal will rust, and wood will rot: everything is in flux.Anything one can imagine, material or immaterial, is in a state of change. Andlet us not forget that the moon that we see at night is constantly movingaround the earth, and the earth spins on its axis as it orbits around the sunwhich circles around the centre of the Milky Way. And galaxies slowly move awayfrom each other due to the expansion of the universe brought on by the bigbang.
And nothing that exists within the universe, no matter how small, isstill even for a moment.