Critique of the Concept of Energy in Light of Bergson's Philosophy of Duration


  • Pedro Brea University of North Texas



energy, duration, time, genealogy, metaphysics, epistemology


I will diffract the genealogy of the concept of energy through Bergson’s Creative Evolution to argue that, historically, energy and its proto-concepts are grounded in spatialized notions of time. Bergson’s work not only demands that we rethink energy and its relation to time, it also allows us to see that the concept of energy as we know it depicts time and materiality as a numerical multiplicity, which effaces the differences in kind which are characteristic of energy transformations and real duration. To make this case, I first provide an analysis of Bergson’s concept of the cinematographical mechanism of thought, which splits duration into a composition of distinct states strung together by the idea of an impersonal becoming. Bergson claimed that this is the epistemological model for both ancient philosophy and modern science, meaning that it is also the epistemological ground within which energy concepts in western philosophy and science have been theorized. I then show how Bergson offers a way to overcome this model of theorizing through his method of intuition, and how these conclusions might be extended to future energy concepts. Thus, I argue that 1) Bergson’s work on duration allows us to interpret the genealogy of energy as the history of attempts to provide an account of change in terms of spatialized notions of time; 2) that his work offers a way of incorporating historicity into our understanding of energy; and 3) that thinking energy in the context of duration offers the possibility of conceptualizing energy as change itself rather than what remains constant through time.