Henri Bergson.

Creative evolution online

. (page 14 of 34)
Online LibraryHenri BergsonCreative evolution → online text (page 14 of 34)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


lighter, more diaphanous, easier for the intellect to deal with than the
image of concrete things: they are not, indeed, the perception itself
of things, but the representation of the act by which the intellect is
fixed on them. They are, therefore, not images, but symbols. Our logic
is the complete set of rules that must be followed in using symbols. As
these symbols are derived from the consideration of solids, as the rules
for combining these symbols hardly do more than express the most general
relations among solids, our logic triumphs in that science which takes
the solidity of bodies for its object, that is, in geometry. Logic and
geometry engender each other, as we shall see a little further on. It is
from the extension of a certain natural geometry, suggested by the most
general and immediately perceived properties of solids, that natural
logic has arisen; then from this natural logic, in its turn, has sprung
scientific geometry, which extends further and further the knowledge of
the external properties of solids.[65] Geometry and logic are strictly
applicable to matter; in it they are at home, and in it they can proceed
quite alone. But, outside this domain, pure reasoning needs to be
supervised by common sense, which is an altogether different thing.

Thus, all the elementary forces of the intellect tend to transform
matter into an instrument of action, that is, in the etymological sense
of the word, into an _organ_. Life, not content with producing
organisms, would fain give them as an appendage inorganic matter itself,
converted into an immense organ by the industry of the living being.
Such is the initial task it assigns to intelligence. That is why the
intellect always behaves as if it were fascinated by the contemplation
of inert matter. It is life looking outward, putting itself outside
itself, adopting the ways of unorganized nature in principle, in order
to direct them in fact. Hence its bewilderment when it turns to the
living and is confronted with organization. It does what it can, it
resolves the organized into the unorganized, for it cannot, without
reversing its natural direction and twisting about on itself, think true
continuity, real mobility, reciprocal penetration - in a word, that
creative evolution which is life.

Consider continuity. The aspect of life that is accessible to our
intellect - as indeed to our senses, of which our intellect is the
extension - is that which offers a hold to our action. Now, to modify an
object, we have to perceive it as divisible and discontinuous. From the
point of view of positive science, an incomparable progress was realized
when the organized tissues were resolved into cells. The study of the
cell, in its turn, has shown it to be an organism whose complexity seems
to grow, the more thoroughly it is examined. The more science advances,
the more it sees the number grow of heterogeneous elements which are
placed together, outside each other, to make up a living being. Does
science thus get any nearer to life? Does it not, on the contrary, find
that what is really life in the living seems to recede with every step
by which it pushes further the detail of the parts combined? There is
indeed already among scientists a tendency to regard the substance of
the organism as continuous, and the cell as an artificial entity.[66]
But, supposing this view were finally to prevail, it could only lead, on
deeper study, to some other mode of analyzing of the living being, and
so to a new discontinuity - although less removed, perhaps, from the real
continuity of life. The truth is that this continuity cannot be thought
by the intellect while it follows its natural movement. It implies at
once the multiplicity of elements and the interpenetration of all by
all, two conditions that can hardly be reconciled in the field in which
our industry, and consequently our intellect, is engaged.

Just as we separate in space, we fix in time. The intellect is not made
to think _evolution_, in the proper sense of the word - that is to say,
the continuity of a change that is pure mobility. We shall not dwell
here on this point, which we propose to study in a special chapter.
Suffice it to say that the intellect represents _becoming_ as a series
of _states_, each of which is homogeneous with itself and consequently
does not change. Is our attention called to the internal change of one
of these states? At once we decompose it into another series of states
which, reunited, will be supposed to make up this internal modification.
Each of these new states must be invariable, or else their internal
change, if we are forced to notice it, must be resolved again into a
fresh series of invariable states, and so on to infinity. Here again,
thinking consists in reconstituting, and, naturally, it is with _given_
elements, and consequently with _stable_ elements, that we reconstitute.
So that, though we may do our best to imitate the mobility of becoming
by an addition that is ever going on, becoming itself slips through our
fingers just when we think we are holding it tight.

Precisely because it is always trying to reconstitute, and to
reconstitute with what is given, the intellect lets what is _new_ in
each moment of a history escape. It does not admit the unforeseeable. It
rejects all creation. That definite antecedents bring forth a definite
consequent, calculable as a function of them, is what satisfies our
intellect. That a definite end calls forth definite means to attain it,
is what we also understand. In both cases we have to do with the known
which is combined with the known, in short, with the old which is
repeated. Our intellect is there at its ease; and, whatever be the
object, it will abstract, separate, eliminate, so as to substitute for
the object itself, if necessary, an approximate equivalent in which
things will happen in this way. But that each instant is a fresh
endowment, that the new is ever upspringing, that the form just come
into existence (although, _when once produced_, it may be regarded as an
effect determined by its causes) could never have been foreseen - because
the causes here, unique in their kind, are part of the effect, have come
into existence with it, and are determined by it as much as they
determine it - all this we can feel within ourselves and also divine, by
sympathy, outside ourselves, but we cannot think it, in the strict sense
of the word, nor express it in terms of pure understanding. No wonder at
that: we must remember what our intellect is meant for. The causality it
seeks and finds everywhere expresses the very mechanism of our industry,
in which we go on recomposing the same whole with the same parts,
repeating the same movements to obtain the same result. The finality it
understands best is the finality of our industry, in which we work on a
model given in advance, that is to say, old or composed of elements
already known. As to invention properly so called, which is, however,
the point of departure of industry itself, our intellect does not
succeed in grasping it in its _upspringing_, that is to say, in its
indivisibility, nor in its _fervor_, that is to say, in its
creativeness. Explaining it always consists in resolving it, it the
unforeseeable and new, into elements old or known, arranged in a
different order. The intellect can no more admit complete novelty than
real becoming; that is to say, here again it lets an essential aspect of
life escape, as if it were not intended to think such an object.

All our analyses bring us to this conclusion. But it is hardly necessary
to go into such long details concerning the mechanism of intellectual
working; it is enough to consider the results. We see that the
intellect, so skilful in dealing with the inert, is awkward the moment
it touches the living. Whether it wants to treat the life of the body or
the life of the mind, it proceeds with the rigor, the stiffness and the
brutality of an instrument not designed for such use. The history of
hygiene or of pedagogy teaches us much in this matter. When we think of
the cardinal, urgent and constant need we have to preserve our bodies
and to raise our souls, of the special facilities given to each of us,
in this field, to experiment continually on ourselves and on others, of
the palpable injury by which the wrongness of a medical or pedagogical
practise is both made manifest and punished at once, we are amazed at
the stupidity and especially at the persistence of errors. We may easily
find their origin in the natural obstinacy with which we treat the
living like the lifeless and think all reality, however fluid, under the
form of the sharply defined solid. We are at ease only in the
discontinuous, in the immobile, in the dead. _The intellect is
characterized by a natural inability to comprehend life._

* * * * *

Instinct, on the contrary, is molded on the very form of life. While
intelligence treats everything mechanically, instinct proceeds, so to
speak, organically. If the consciousness that slumbers in it should
awake, if it were wound up into knowledge instead of being wound off
into action, if we could ask and it could reply, it would give up to us
the most intimate secrets of life. For it only carries out further the
work by which life organizes matter - so that we cannot say, as has often
been shown, where organization ends and where instinct begins. When the
little chick is breaking its shell with a peck of its beak, it is acting
by instinct, and yet it does but carry on the movement which has borne
it through embryonic life. Inversely, in the course of embryonic life
itself (especially when the embryo lives freely in the form of a larva),
many of the acts accomplished must be referred to instinct. The most
essential of the primary instincts are really, therefore, vital
processes. The potential consciousness that accompanies them is
generally actualized only at the outset of the act, and leaves the rest
of the process to go on by itself. It would only have to expand more
widely, and then dive into its own depth completely, to be one with the
generative force of life.

When we see in a living body thousands of cells working together to a
common end, dividing the task between them, living each for itself at
the same time as for the others, preserving itself, feeding itself,
reproducing itself, responding to the menace of danger by appropriate
defensive reactions, how can we help thinking of so many instincts? And
yet these are the natural functions of the cell, the constitutive
elements of its vitality. On the other hand, when we see the bees of a
hive forming a system so strictly organized that no individual can live
apart from the others beyond a certain time, even though furnished with
food and shelter, how can we help recognizing that the hive is really,
and not metaphorically, a single organism, of which each bee is a cell
united to the others by invisible bonds? The instinct that animates the
bee is indistinguishable, then, from the force that animates the cell,
or is only a prolongation of that force. In extreme cases like this,
instinct coincides with the work of organization.

Of course there are degrees of perfection in the same instinct. Between
the humble-bee, and the honey-bee, for instance, the distance is great;
and we pass from one to the other through a great number of
intermediaries, which correspond to so many complications of the social
life. But the same diversity is found in the functioning of
histological elements belonging to different tissues more or less akin.
In both cases there are manifold variations on one and the same theme.
The constancy of the theme is manifest, however, and the variations only
fit it to the diversity of the circumstances.

Now, in both cases, in the instinct of the animal and in the vital
properties of the cell, the same knowledge and the same ignorance are
shown. All goes on as if the cell knew, of the other cells, what
concerns itself; as if the animal knew, of the other animals, what it
can utilize - all else remaining in shade. It seems as if life, as soon
as it has become bound up in a species, is cut off from the rest of its
own work, save at one or two points that are of vital concern to the
species just arisen. Is it not plain that life goes to work here exactly
like consciousness, exactly like memory? We trail behind us, unawares,
the whole of our past; but our memory pours into the present only the
odd recollection or two that in some way complete our present situation.
Thus the instinctive knowledge which one species possesses of another on
a certain particular point has its root in the very unity of life, which
is, to use the expression of an ancient philosopher, a "whole
sympathetic to itself." It is impossible to consider some of the special
instincts of the animal and of the plant, evidently arisen in
extraordinary circumstances, without relating them to those
recollections, seemingly forgotten, which spring up suddenly under the
pressure of an urgent need.

No doubt many secondary instincts, and also many varieties of primary
instinct, admit of a scientific explanation. Yet it is doubtful whether
science, with its present methods of explanation, will ever succeed in
analyzing instinct completely. The reason is that instinct and
intelligence are two divergent developments of one and the same
principle, which in the one case remains within itself, in the other
steps out of itself and becomes absorbed in the utilization of inert
matter. This gradual divergence testifies to a radical incompatibility,
and points to the fact that it is impossible for intelligence to
reabsorb instinct. That which is instinctive in instinct cannot be
expressed in terms of intelligence, nor, consequently, can it be
analyzed.

A man born blind, who had lived among others born blind, could not be
made to believe in the possibility of perceiving a distant object
without first perceiving all the objects in between. Yet vision performs
this miracle. In a certain sense the blind man is right, since vision,
having its origin in the stimulation of the retina, by the vibrations of
the light, is nothing else, in fact, but a retinal touch. Such is indeed
the _scientific_ explanation, for the function of science is just to
express all perceptions in terms of touch. But we have shown elsewhere
that the philosophical explanation of perception (if it may still be
called an explanation) must be of another kind.[67] Now instinct also is
a knowledge at a distance. It has the same relation to intelligence that
vision has to touch. Science cannot do otherwise than express it in
terms of intelligence; but in so doing it constructs an imitation of
instinct rather than penetrates within it.

Any one can convince himself of this by studying the ingenious theories
of evolutionist biology. They may be reduced to two types, which are
often intermingled. One type, following the principles of neo-Darwinism,
regards instinct as a sum of accidental differences preserved by
selection: such and such a useful behavior, naturally adopted by the
individual in virtue of an accidental predisposition of the germ, has
been transmitted from germ to germ, waiting for chance to add fresh
improvements to it by the same method. The other type regards instinct
as lapsed intelligence: the action, found useful by the species or by
certain of its representatives, is supposed to have engendered a habit,
which, by hereditary transmission, has become an instinct. Of these two
types of theory, the first has the advantage of being able to bring in
hereditary transmission without raising grave objection; for the
accidental modification which it places at the origin of the instinct is
not supposed to have been acquired by the individual, but to have been
inherent in the germ. But, on the other hand, it is absolutely incapable
of explaining instincts as sagacious as those of most insects. These
instincts surely could not have attained, all at once, their present
degree of complexity; they have probably evolved; but, in a hypothesis
like that of the neo-Darwinians, the evolution of instinct could have
come to pass only by the progressive addition of new pieces which, in
some way, by happy accidents, came to fit into the old. Now it is
evident that, in most cases, instinct could not have perfected itself by
simple accretion: each new piece really requires, if all is not to be
spoiled, a complete recasting of the whole. How could mere chance work a
recasting of the kind? I agree that an accidental modification of the
germ may be passed on hereditarily, and may somehow wait for fresh
accidental modifications to come and complicate it. I agree also that
natural selection may eliminate all those of the more complicated forms
of instinct that are not fit to survive. Still, in order that the life
of the instinct may evolve, complications fit to survive have to be
produced. Now they will be produced only if, in certain cases, the
addition of a new element brings about the correlative change of all the
old elements. No one will maintain that chance could perform such a
miracle: in one form or another we shall appeal to intelligence. We
shall suppose that it is by an effort, more or less conscious, that the
living being develops a higher instinct. But then we shall have to admit
that an acquired habit can become hereditary, and that it does so
regularly enough to ensure an evolution. The thing is doubtful, to put
it mildly. Even if we could refer the instincts of animals to habits
intelligently acquired and hereditarily transmitted, it is not clear how
this sort of explanation could be extended to the vegetable world, where
effort is never intelligent, even supposing it is sometimes conscious.
And yet, when we see with what sureness and precision climbing plants
use their tendrils, what marvelously combined manoeuvres the orchids
perform to procure their fertilization by means of insects,[68] how can
we help thinking that these are so many instincts?

This is not saying that the theory of the neo-Darwinians must be
altogether rejected, any more than that of the neo-Lamarckians. The
first are probably right in holding that evolution takes place from germ
to germ rather than from individual to individual; the second are right
in saying that at the origin of instinct there is an effort (although it
is something quite different, we believe, from an _intelligent_ effort).
But the former are probably wrong when they make the evolution of
instinct an _accidental_ evolution, and the latter when they regard the
effort from which instinct proceeds as an _individual_ effort. The
effort by which a species modifies its instinct, and modifies itself as
well, must be a much deeper thing, dependent solely neither on
circumstances nor on individuals. It is not purely accidental, although
accident has a large place in it; and it does not depend solely on the
initiative of individuals, although individuals collaborate in it.

Compare the different forms of the same instinct in different species of
hymenoptera. The impression derived is not always that of an increasing
complexity made of elements that have been added together one after the
other. Nor does it suggest the idea of steps up a ladder. Rather do we
think, in many cases at least, of the circumference of a circle, from
different points of which these different varieties have started, all
facing the same centre, all making an effort in that direction, but each
approaching it only to the extent of its means, and to the extent also
to which this central point has been illumined for it. In other words,
instinct is everywhere complete, but it is more or less simplified, and,
above all, simplified _differently_. On the other hand, in cases where
we do get the impression of an ascending scale, as if one and the same
instinct had gone on complicating itself more and more in one direction
and along a straight line, the species which are thus arranged by their
instincts into a linear series are by no means always akin. Thus, the
comparative study, in recent years, of the social instinct in the
different apidae proves that the instinct of the meliponines is
intermediary in complexity between the still rudimentary tendency of the
humble bees and the consummate science of the true bees; yet there can
be no kinship between the bees and the meliponines.[69] Most likely, the
degree of complexity of these different societies has nothing to do with
any greater or smaller number of added elements. We seem rather to be
before a _musical theme_, which had first been transposed, the theme as
a whole, into a certain number of tones and on which, still the whole
theme, different variations had been played, some very simple, others
very skilful. As to the original theme, it is everywhere and nowhere.
It is in vain that we try to express it in terms of any idea: it must
have been, originally, _felt_ rather than _thought_. We get the same
impression before the paralyzing instinct of certain wasps. We know that
the different species of hymenoptera that have this paralyzing instinct
lay their eggs in spiders, beetles or caterpillars, which, having first
been subjected by the wasp to a skilful surgical operation, will go on
living motionless a certain number of days, and thus provide the larvae
with fresh meat. In the sting which they give to the nerve-centres of
their victim, in order to destroy its power of moving without killing
it, these different species of hymenoptera take into account, so to
speak, the different species of prey they respectively attack. The
Scolia, which attacks a larva of the rose-beetle, stings it in one point
only, but in this point the motor ganglia are concentrated, and those
ganglia alone: the stinging of other ganglia might cause death and
putrefaction, which it must avoid.[70] The yellow-winged Sphex, which
has chosen the cricket for its victim, knows that the cricket has three
nerve-centres which serve its three pairs of legs - or at least it acts
as if it knew this. It stings the insect first under the neck, then
behind the prothorax, and then where the thorax joins the abdomen.[71]
The Ammophila Hirsuta gives nine successive strokes of its sting upon
nine nerve-centres of its caterpillar, and then seizes the head and
squeezes it in its mandibles, enough to cause paralysis without
death.[72] The general theme is "the necessity of paralyzing without
killing"; the variations are subordinated to the structure of the victim
on which they are played. No doubt the operation is not always perfect.
It has recently been shown that the Ammophila sometimes kills the
caterpillar instead of paralyzing it, that sometimes also it paralyzes
it incompletely.[73] But, because instinct is, like intelligence,
fallible, because it also shows individual deviations, it does not at
all follow that the instinct of the Ammophila has been acquired, as has
been claimed, by tentative intelligent experiments. Even supposing that
the Ammophila has come in course of time to recognize, one after
another, by tentative experiment, the points of its victim which must be
stung to render it motionless, and also the special treatment that must
be inflicted on the head to bring about paralysis without death, how can
we imagine that elements so special of a knowledge so precise have been
regularly transmitted, one by one, by heredity? If, in all our present
experience, there were a single indisputable example of a transmission
of this kind, the inheritance of acquired characters would be questioned
by no one. As a matter of fact, the hereditary transmission of a
contracted habit is effected in an irregular and far from precise
manner, supposing it is ever really effected at all.

But the whole difficulty comes from our desire to express the knowledge
of the hymenoptera in terms of intelligence. It is this that compels us
to compare the Ammophila with the entomologist, who knows the
caterpillar as he knows everything else - from the outside, and without
having on his part a special or vital interest. The Ammophila, we
imagine, must learn, one by one, like the entomologist, the positions of
the nerve-centres of the caterpillar - must acquire at least the
practical knowledge of these positions by trying the effects of its
sting. But there is no need for such a view if we suppose a _sympathy_
(in the etymological sense of the word) between the Ammophila and its
victim, which teaches it from within, so to say, concerning the
vulnerability of the caterpillar. This feeling of vulnerability might



Online LibraryHenri BergsonCreative evolution → online text (page 14 of 34)