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towards it and examine it with other eyes than those of positive
science. Philosophy, then, invades the domain of experience. She busies
herself with many things which hitherto have not concerned her. Science,
theory of knowledge, and metaphysics find themselves on the same ground.
At first there may be a certain confusion. All three may think they have
lost something. But all three will profit from the meeting.

Positive science, indeed, may pride itself on the uniform value
attributed to its affirmations in the whole field of experience. But, if
they are all placed on the same footing, they are all tainted with the
same relativity. It is not so, if we begin by making the distinction
which, in our view, is forced upon us. The understanding is at home in
the domain of unorganized matter. On this matter human action is
naturally exercised; and action, as we said above, cannot be set in
motion in the unreal. Thus, of physics - so long as we are considering
only its general form and not the particular cutting out of matter in
which it is manifested - we may say that it touches the absolute. On the
contrary, it is by accident - chance or convention, as you please - that
science obtains a hold on the living analogous to the hold it has on
matter. Here the use of conceptual frames is no longer natural. I do not
wish to say that it is not legitimate, in the scientific meaning of the
term. If science is to extend our action on things, and if we can act
only with inert matter for instrument, science can and must continue to
treat the living as it has treated the inert. But, in doing so, it must
be understood that the further it penetrates the depths of _life_, the
more symbolic, the more relative to the contingencies of action, the
knowledge it supplies to us becomes. On this new ground philosophy ought
then to follow science, in order to superpose on scientific truth a
knowledge of another kind, which may be called metaphysical. Thus
combined, all our knowledge, both scientific and metaphysical, is
heightened. In the absolute we live and move and have our being. The
knowledge we possess of it is incomplete, no doubt, but not external or
relative. It is reality itself, in the profoundest meaning of the word,
that we reach by the combined and progressive development of science and
of philosophy.

Thus, in renouncing the factitious unity which the understanding imposes
on nature from outside, we shall perhaps find its true, inward and
living unity. For the effort we make to transcend the pure understanding
introduces us into that more vast something out of which our
understanding is cut, and from which it has detached itself. And, as
matter is determined by intelligence, as there is between them an
evident agreement, we cannot make the genesis of the one without making
the genesis of the other. An identical process must have cut out matter
and the intellect, at the same time, from a stuff that contained both.
Into this reality we shall get back more and more completely, in
proportion as we compel ourselves to transcend pure intelligence.

* * * * *

Let us then concentrate attention on that which we have that is at the
same time the most removed from externality and the least penetrated
with intellectuality. Let us seek, in the depths of our experience, the
point where we feel ourselves most intimately within our own life. It is
into pure duration that we then plunge back, a duration in which the
past, always moving on, is swelling unceasingly with a present that is
absolutely new. But, at the same time, we feel the spring of our will
strained to its utmost limit. We must, by a strong recoil of our
personality on itself, gather up our past which is slipping away, in
order to thrust it, compact and undivided, into a present which it will
create by entering. Rare indeed are the moments when we are
self-possessed to this extent: it is then that our actions are truly
free. And even at these moments we do not completely possess ourselves.
Our feeling of duration, I should say the actual coinciding of ourself
with itself, admits of degrees. But the more the feeling is deep and the
coincidence complete, the more the life in which it replaces us absorbs
intellectuality by transcending it. For the natural function of the
intellect is to bind like to like, and it is only facts that can be
repeated that are entirely adaptable to intellectual conceptions. Now,
our intellect does undoubtedly grasp the real moments of real duration
after they are past; we do so by reconstituting the new state of
consciousness out of a series of views taken of it from the outside,
each of which resembles as much as possible something already known; in
this sense we may say that the state of consciousness contains
intellectuality implicitly. Yet the state of consciousness overflows the
intellect; it is indeed incommensurable with the intellect, being itself
indivisible and new.

Now let us relax the strain, let us interrupt the effort to crowd as
much as possible of the past into the present. If the relaxation were
complete, there would no longer be either memory or will - which amounts
to saying that, in fact, we never do fall into this absolute passivity,
any more than we can make ourselves absolutely free. But, in the limit,
we get a glimpse of an existence made of a present which recommences
unceasingly - devoid of real duration, nothing but the instantaneous
which dies and is born again endlessly. Is the existence of matter of
this nature? Not altogether, for analysis resolves it into elementary
vibrations, the shortest of which are of very slight duration, almost
vanishing, but not nothing. It may be presumed, nevertheless, that
physical existence inclines in this second direction, as psychical
existence in the first.

Behind "spirituality" on the one hand, and "materiality" with
intellectuality on the other, there are then two processes opposite in
their direction, and we pass from the first to the second by way of
inversion, or perhaps even by simple interruption, if it is true that
inversion and interruption are two terms which in this case must be held
to be synonymous, as we shall show at more length later on. This
presumption is confirmed when we consider things from the point of view
of extension, and no longer from that of duration alone.

The more we succeed in making ourselves conscious of our progress in
pure duration, the more we feel the different parts of our being enter
into each other, and our whole personality concentrate itself in a
point, or rather a sharp edge, pressed against the future and cutting
into it unceasingly. It is in this that life and action are free. But
suppose we let ourselves go and, instead of acting, dream. At once the
self is scattered; our past, which till then was gathered together into
the indivisible impulsion it communicated to us, is broken up into a
thousand recollections made external to one another. They give up
interpenetrating in the degree that they become fixed. Our personality
thus descends in the direction of space. It coasts around it continually
in sensation. We will not dwell here on a point we have studied
elsewhere. Let us merely recall that extension admits of degrees, that
all sensation is extensive in a certain measure, and that the idea of
unextended sensations, artificially localized in space, is a mere view
of the mind, suggested by an unconscious metaphysic much more than by
psychological observation.

No doubt we make only the first steps in the direction of the extended,
even when we let ourselves go as much as we can. But suppose for a
moment that matter consists in this very movement pushed further, and
that physics is simply psychics inverted. We shall now understand why
the mind feels at its ease, moves about naturally in space, when matter
suggests the more distinct idea of it. This space it already possessed
as an implicit idea in its own eventual _detension_, that is to say, of
its own possible _extension_. The mind finds space in things, but could
have got it without them if it had had imagination strong enough to push
the inversion of its own natural movement to the end. On the other hand,
we are able to explain how matter accentuates still more its
materiality, when viewed by the mind. Matter, at first, aided mind to
run down its own incline; it gave the impulsion. But, the impulsion once
received, mind continues its course. The idea that it forms of _pure_
space is only the _schema_ of the limit at which this movement would
end. Once in possession of the form of space, mind uses it like a net
with meshes that can be made and unmade at will, which, thrown over
matter, divides it as the needs of our action demand. Thus, the space of
our geometry and the spatiality of things are mutually engendered by the
reciprocal action and reaction of two terms which are essentially the
same, but which move each in the direction inverse of the other. Neither
is space so foreign to our nature as we imagine, nor is matter as
completely extended in space as our senses and intellect represent it.

We have treated of the first point elsewhere. As to the second, we will
limit ourselves to pointing out that perfect spatiality would consist in
a perfect externality of parts in their relation to one another, that is
to say, in a complete reciprocal independence. Now, there is no material
point that does not act on every other material point. When we observe
that a thing really is there where it _acts_, we shall be led to say (as
Faraday[79] was) that all the atoms interpenetrate and that each of them
fills the world. On such a hypothesis, the atom or, more generally, the
material point, becomes simply a view of the mind, a view which we come
to take when we continue far enough the work (wholly relative to our
faculty of acting) by which we subdivide matter into bodies. Yet it is
undeniable that matter lends itself to this subdivision, and that, in
supposing it breakable into parts external to one another, we are
constructing a science sufficiently representative of the real. It is
undeniable that if there be no entirely isolated system, yet science
finds means of cutting up the universe into systems relatively
independent of each other, and commits no appreciable error in doing so.
What else can this mean but that matter _extends_ itself in space
without being absolutely _extended_ therein, and that in regarding
matter as decomposable into isolated systems, in attributing to it quite
distinct elements which change in relation to each other without
changing in themselves (which are "displaced," shall we say, without
being "altered"), in short, in conferring on matter the properties of
pure space, we are transporting ourselves to the terminal point of the
movement of which matter simply indicates the direction?

What the _Transcendental Aesthetic_ of Kant appears to have established
once for all is that extension is not a material attribute of the same
kind as others. We cannot reason indefinitely on the notions of heat,
color, or weight: in order to know the modalities of weight or of heat,
we must have recourse to experience. Not so of the notion of space.
Supposing even that it is given empirically by sight and touch (and Kant
has not questioned the fact) there is this about it that is remarkable
that our mind, speculating on it with its own powers alone, cuts out in
it, _a priori_, figures whose properties we determine _a priori_:
experience, with which we have not kept in touch, yet follows us through
the infinite complications of our reasonings and invariably justifies
them. That is the fact. Kant has set it in clear light. But the
explanation of the fact, we believe, must be sought in a different
direction to that which Kant followed.

Intelligence, as Kant represents it to us, is bathed in an atmosphere of
spatiality to which it is as inseparably united as the living body to
the air it breathes. Our perceptions reach us only after having passed
through this atmosphere. They have been impregnated in advance by our
geometry, so that our faculty of thinking only finds again in matter the
mathematical properties which our faculty of perceiving has already
deposed there. We are assured, therefore, of seeing matter yield itself
with docility to our reasonings; but this matter, in all that it has
that is intelligible, is our own work; of the reality "in itself" we
know nothing and never shall know anything, since we only get its
refraction through the forms of our faculty of perceiving. So that if we
claim to affirm something of it, at once there rises the contrary
affirmation, equally demonstrable, equally plausible. The ideality of
space is proved directly by the analysis of knowledge indirectly by the
antinomies to which the opposite theory leads. Such is the governing
idea of the Kantian criticism. It has inspired Kant with a peremptory
refutation of "empiricist" theories of knowledge. It is, in our opinion,
definitive in what it denies. But, in what it affirms, does it give us
the solution of the problem?

With Kant, space is given as a ready-made form of our perceptive
faculty - a veritable _deus ex machina_, of which we see neither how it
arises, nor why it is what it is rather than anything else.
"Things-in-themselves" are also given, of which he claims that we can
know nothing: by what right, then, can he affirm their existence, even
as "problematic"? If the unknowable reality projects into our perceptive
faculty a "sensuous manifold" capable of fitting into it exactly, is it
not, by that very fact, in part known? And when we examine this exact
fitting, shall we not be led, in one point at least, to suppose a
pre-established harmony between things and our mind - an idle hypothesis,
which Kant was right in wishing to avoid? At bottom, it is for not
having distinguished degrees in spatiality that he has had to take space
ready-made as given - whence the question how the "sensuous manifold" is
adapted to it. It is for the same reason that he has supposed matter
wholly developed into parts absolutely external to one another; - whence
antinomies, of which we may plainly see that the thesis and antithesis
suppose the perfect coincidence of matter with geometrical space, but
which vanish the moment we cease to extend to matter what is true only
of pure space. Whence, finally, the conclusion that there are three
alternatives, and three only, among which to choose a theory of
knowledge: either the mind is determined by things, or things are
determined by the mind, or between mind and things we must suppose a
mysterious agreement.

But the truth is that there is a fourth, which does not seem to have
occurred to Kant - in the first place because he did not think that the
mind overflowed the intellect, and in the second place (and this is at
bottom the same thing) because he did not attribute to duration an
absolute existence, having put time, _a priori_, on the same plane as
space. This alternative consists, first of all, in regarding the
intellect as a special function of the mind, essentially turned toward
inert matter; then in saying that neither does matter determine the form
of the intellect, nor does the intellect impose its form on matter, nor
have matter and intellect been regulated in regard to one another by we
know not what pre-established harmony, but that intellect and matter
have progressively adapted themselves one to the other in order to
attain at last a common form. _This adaptation has, moreover, been
brought about quite naturally, because it is the same inversion of the
same movement which creates at once the intellectuality of mind and the
materiality of things._

From this point of view the knowledge of matter that our perception on
one hand and science on the other give to us appears, no doubt, as
approximative, but not as relative. Our perception, whose rôle it is to
hold up a light to our actions, works a dividing up of matter that is
always too sharply defined, always subordinated to practical needs,
consequently always requiring revision. Our science, which aspires to
the mathematical form, over-accentuates the spatiality of matter; its
formulae are, in general, too precise, and ever need remaking. For a
scientific theory to be final, the mind would have to embrace the
totality of things in block and place each thing in its exact relation
to every other thing; but in reality we are obliged to consider problems
one by one, in terms which are, for that very reason, provisional, so
that the solution of each problem will have to be corrected
indefinitely by the solution that will be given to the problems that
will follow: thus, science as a whole is relative to the particular
order in which the problems happen to have been put. It is in this
meaning, and to this degree, that science must be regarded as
conventional. But it is a conventionality of fact so to speak, and not
of right. In principle, positive science bears on reality itself,
provided it does not overstep the limits of its own domain, which is
inert matter.

Scientific knowledge, thus regarded, rises to a higher plane. In return,
the theory of knowledge becomes an infinitely difficult enterprise, and
which passes the powers of the intellect alone. It is not enough to
determine, by careful analysis, the categories of thought; we must
engender them. As regards space, we must, by an effort of mind _sui
generis_, follow the progression or rather the regression of the
extra-spatial degrading itself into spatiality. When we make ourselves
self-conscious in the highest possible degree and then let ourselves
fall back little by little, we get the feeling of extension: we have an
extension of the self into recollections that are fixed and external to
one another, in place of the tension it possessed as an indivisible
active will. But this is only a beginning. Our consciousness, sketching
the movement, shows us its direction and reveals to us the possibility
of continuing it to the end; but consciousness itself does not go so
far. Now, on the other hand, if we consider matter, which seems to us at
first coincident with space, we find that the more our attention is
fixed on it, the more the parts which we said were laid side by side
enter into each other, each of them undergoing the action of the whole,
which is consequently somehow present in it. Thus, although matter
stretches itself out in the direction of space, it does not completely
attain it; whence we may conclude that it only carries very much
further the movement that consciousness is able to sketch within us in
its nascent state. We hold, therefore, the two ends of the chain, though
we do not succeed in seizing the intermediate links. Will they always
escape us? We must remember that philosophy, as we define it, has not
yet become completely conscious of itself. Physics understands its rôle
when it pushes matter in the direction of spatiality; but has
metaphysics understood its rôle when it has simply trodden in the steps
of physics, in the chimerical hope of going further in the same
direction? Should not its own task be, on the contrary, to remount the
incline that physics descends, to bring back matter to its origins, and
to build up progressively a cosmology which would be, so to speak, a
reversed psychology? All that which seems _positive_ to the physicist
and to the geometrician would become, from this new point of view, an
interruption or inversion of the true positivity, which would have to be
defined in psychological terms.

* * * * *

When we consider the admirable order of mathematics, the perfect
agreement of the objects it deals with, the immanent logic in numbers
and figures, our certainty of always getting the same conclusion,
however diverse and complex our reasonings on the same subject, we
hesitate to see in properties apparently so positive a system of
negations, the absence rather than the presence of a true reality. But
we must not forget that our intellect, which finds this order and
wonders at it, is directed in the same line of movement that leads to
the materiality and spatiality of its object. The more complexity the
intellect puts into its object by analyzing it, the more complex is the
order it finds there. And this order and this complexity necessarily
appear to the intellect as a positive reality, since reality and
intellectuality are turned in the same direction.

When a poet reads me his verses, I can interest myself enough in him to
enter into his thought, put myself into his feelings, live over again
the simple state he has broken into phrases and words. I sympathize then
with his inspiration, I follow it with a continuous movement which is,
like the inspiration itself, an undivided act. Now, I need only relax my
attention, let go the tension that there is in me, for the sounds,
hitherto swallowed up in the sense, to appear to me distinctly, one by
one, in their materiality. For this I have not to do anything; it is
enough to withdraw something. In proportion as I let myself go, the
successive sounds will become the more individualized; as the phrases
were broken into words, so the words will scan in syllables which I
shall perceive one after another. Let me go farther still in the
direction of dream: the letters themselves will become loose and will be
seen to dance along, hand in hand, on some fantastic sheet of paper. I
shall then admire the precision of the interweavings, the marvelous
order of the procession, the exact insertion of the letters into the
syllables, of the syllables into the words and of the words into the
sentences. The farther I pursue this quite negative direction of
relaxation, the more extension and complexity I shall create; and the
more the complexity in its turn increases, the more admirable will seem
to be the order which continues to reign, undisturbed, among the
elements. Yet this complexity and extension represent nothing positive;
they express a deficiency of will. And, on the other hand, the order
must grow with the complexity, since it is only an aspect of it. The
more we perceive, symbolically, parts in an indivisible whole, the more
the number of the relations that the parts have between themselves
necessarily increases, since the same undividedness of the real whole
continues to hover over the growing multiplicity of the symbolic
elements into which the scattering of the attention has decomposed it. A
comparison of this kind will enable us to understand, in some measure,
how the same suppression of positive reality, the same inversion of a
certain original movement, can create at once extension in space and the
admirable order which mathematics finds there. There is, of course, this
difference between the two cases, that words and letters have been
invented by a positive effort of humanity, while space arises
automatically, as the remainder of a subtraction arises once the two
numbers are posited.[80] But, in the one case as in the other, the
infinite complexity of the parts and their perfect coördination among
themselves are created at one and the same time by an inversion which
is, at bottom, an interruption, that is to say, a diminution of positive

* * * * *

All the operations of our intellect tend to geometry, as to the goal
where they find their perfect fulfilment. But, as geometry is
necessarily prior to them (since these operations have not as their end
to construct space and cannot do otherwise than take it as given) it is
evident that it is a latent geometry, immanent in our idea of space,
which is the main spring of our intellect and the cause of its working.
We shall be convinced of this if we consider the two essential functions
of intellect, the faculty of deduction and that of induction.

Let us begin with deduction. The same movement by which I trace a figure
in space engenders its properties: they are visible and tangible in the
movement itself; I feel, I see in space the relation of the definition
to its consequences, of the premisses to the conclusion. All the other
concepts of which experience suggests the idea to me are only in part
constructible _a priori_; the definition of them is therefore imperfect,
and the deductions into which these concepts enter, however closely the
conclusion is linked to the premisses, participate in this imperfection.
But when I trace roughly in the sand the base of a triangle, as I begin
to form the two angles at the base, I know positively, and understand
absolutely, that if these two angles are equal the sides will be equal

Online LibraryHenri BergsonCreative evolution → online text (page 17 of 34)