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shall coincide with something of its principle, it must detach itself
from the _already-made_ and attach itself to the _being-made_. It needs
that, turning back on itself and twisting on itself, the faculty of
_seeing_ should be made to be one with the act of _willing_ - a painful
effort which we can make suddenly, doing violence to our nature, but
cannot sustain more than a few moments. In free action, when we contract
our whole being in order to thrust it forward, we have the more or less
clear consciousness of motives and of impelling forces, and even, at
rare moments, of the becoming by which they are organized into an act:
but the pure willing, the current that runs through this matter,
communicating life to it, is a thing which we hardly feel, which at most
we brush lightly as it passes. Let us try, however, to instal ourselves
within it, if only for a moment; even then it is an individual and
fragmentary will that we grasp. To get to the principle of all life, as
also of all materiality, we must go further still. Is it impossible? No,
by no means; the history of philosophy is there to bear witness. There
is no durable system that is not, at least in some of its parts,
vivified by intuition. Dialectic is necessary to put intuition to the
proof, necessary also in order that intuition should break itself up
into concepts and so be propagated to other men; but all it does, often
enough, is to develop the result of that intuition which transcends it.
The truth is, the two procedures are of opposite direction: the same
effort, by which ideas are connected with ideas, causes the intuition
which the ideas were storing up to vanish. The philosopher is obliged to
abandon intuition, once he has received from it the impetus, and to rely
on himself to carry on the movement by pushing the concepts one after
another. But he soon feels he has lost foothold; he must come into touch
with intuition again; he must undo most of what he has done. In short,
dialectic is what ensures the agreement of our thought with itself. But
by dialectic - which is only a relaxation of intuition - many different
agreements are possible, while there is only one truth. Intuition, if it
could be prolonged beyond a few instants, would not only make the
philosopher agree with his own thought, but also all philosophers with
each other. Such as it is, fugitive and incomplete, it is, in each
system, what is worth more than the system and survives it. The object
of philosophy would be reached if this intuition could be sustained,
generalized and, above all, assured of external points of reference in
order not to go astray. To that end a continual coming and going is
necessary between nature and mind.

When we put back our being into our will, and our will itself into the
impulsion it prolongs, we understand, we feel, that reality is a
perpetual growth, a creation pursued without end. Our will already
performs this miracle. Every human work in which there is invention,
every voluntary act in which there is freedom, every movement of an
organism that manifests spontaneity, brings something new into the
world. True, these are only creations of form. How could they be
anything else? We are not the vital current itself; we are this current
already loaded with matter, that is, with congealed parts of its own
substance which it carries along its course. In the composition of a
work of genius, as in a simple free decision, we do, indeed, stretch the
spring of our activity to the utmost and thus create what no mere
assemblage of materials could have given (what assemblage of curves
already known can ever be equivalent to the pencil-stroke of a great
artist?) but there are, none the less, elements here that pre-exist and
survive their organization. But if a simple arrest of the action that
generates form could constitute matter (are not the original lines drawn
by the artist themselves already the fixation and, as it were,
congealment of a movement?), a creation of matter would be neither
incomprehensible nor inadmissible. For we seize from within, we live at
every instant, a creation of form, and it is just in those cases in
which the form is pure, and in which the creative current is momentarily
interrupted, that there is a creation of matter. Consider the letters of
the alphabet that enter into the composition of everything that has ever
been written: we do not conceive that new letters spring up and come to
join themselves to the others in order to make a new poem. But that the
poet creates the poem and that human thought is thereby made richer, we
understand very well: this creation is a simple act of the mind, and
action has only to make a pause, instead of continuing into a new
creation, in order that, of itself, it may break up into words which
dissociate themselves into letters which are added to all the letters
there are already in the world. Thus, that the number of atoms composing
the material universe at a given moment should increase runs counter to
our habits of mind, contradicts the whole of our experience; but that a
reality of quite another order, which contrasts with the atom as the
thought of the poet with the letters of the alphabet, should increase by
sudden additions, is not inadmissible; and the reverse of each addition
might indeed be a world, which we then represent to ourselves,
symbolically, as an assemblage of atoms.

The mystery that spreads over the existence of the universe comes in
great part from this, that we want the genesis of it to have been
accomplished at one stroke or the whole of matter to be eternal. Whether
we speak of creation or posit an uncreated matter, it is the totality of
the universe that we are considering at once. At the root of this habit
of mind lies the prejudice which we will analyze in our next chapter,
the idea, common to materialists and to their opponents, that there is
no really acting duration, and that the absolute - matter or mind - can
have no place in concrete time, in the time which we feel to be the very
stuff of our life. From which it follows that everything is given once
for all, and that it is necessary to posit from all eternity either
material multiplicity itself, or the act creating this multiplicity,
given in block in the divine essence. Once this prejudice is eradicated,
the idea of creation becomes more clear, for it is merged in that of
growth. But it is no longer then of the universe in its totality that we
must speak.

Why should we speak of it? The universe is an assemblage of solar
systems which we have every reason to believe analogous to our own. No
doubt they are not absolutely independent of one another. Our sun
radiates heat and light beyond the farthest planet, and, on the other
hand, our entire solar system is moving in a definite direction as if it
were drawn. There is, then, a bond between the worlds. But this bond may
be regarded as infinitely loose in comparison with the mutual dependence
which unites the parts of the same world among themselves; so that it is
not artificially, for reasons of mere convenience, that we isolate our
solar system: nature itself invites us to isolate it. As living beings,
we depend on the planet on which we are, and on the sun that provides
for it, but on nothing else. As thinking beings, we may apply the laws
of our physics to our own world, and extend them to each of the worlds
taken separately; but nothing tells us that they apply to the entire
universe, nor even that such an affirmation has any meaning; for the
universe is not made, but is being made continually. It is growing,
perhaps indefinitely, by the addition of new worlds.

Let us extend, then, to the whole of our solar system the two most
general laws of our science, the principle of conservation of energy and
that of its degradation - limiting them, however, to this relatively
closed system and to other systems relatively closed. Let us see what
will follow. We must remark, first of all, that these two principles
have not the same metaphysical scope. The first is a quantitative law,
and consequently relative, in part, to our methods of measurement. It
says that, in a system presumed to be closed, the total energy, that is
to say the sum of its kinetic and potential energy, remains constant.
Now, if there were only kinetic energy in the world, or even if there
were, besides kinetic energy, only one single kind of potential energy,
but no more, the artifice of measurement would not make the law
artificial. The law of the conservation of energy would express indeed
that _something_ is preserved in constant quantity. But there are, in
fact, energies of various kinds,[88] and the measurement of each of them
has evidently been so chosen as to justify the principle of conservation
of energy. Convention, therefore, plays a large part in this principle,
although there is undoubtedly, between the variations of the different
energies composing one and the same system, a mutual dependence which is
just what has made the extension of the principle possible by
measurements suitably chosen. If, therefore, the philosopher applies
this principle to the solar system complete, he must at least soften its
outlines. The law of the conservation of energy cannot here express the
objective permanence of a certain quantity of a certain thing, but
rather the necessity for every change that is brought about to be
counterbalanced in some way by a change in an opposite direction. That
is to say, even if it governs the whole of our solar system, the law of
the conservation of energy is concerned with the relationship of a
fragment of this world to another fragment rather than with the nature
of the whole.

It is otherwise with the second principle of thermodynamics. The law of
the degradation of energy does not bear essentially on magnitudes. No
doubt the first idea of it arose, in the thought of Carnot, out of
certain quantitative considerations on the yield of thermic machines.
Unquestionably, too, the terms in which Clausius generalized it were
mathematical, and a calculable magnitude, "entropy," was, in fact, the
final conception to which he was led. Such precision is necessary for
practical applications. But the law might have been vaguely conceived,
and, if absolutely necessary, it might have been roughly formulated,
even though no one had ever thought of measuring the different energies
of the physical world, even though the concept of energy had not been
created. Essentially, it expresses the fact that all physical changes
have a tendency to be degraded into heat, and that heat tends to be
distributed among bodies in a uniform manner. In this less precise form,
it becomes independent of any convention; it is the most metaphysical of
the laws of physics since it points out without interposed symbols,
without artificial devices of measurements, the direction in which the
world is going. It tells us that changes that are visible and
heterogeneous will be more and more diluted into changes that are
invisible and homogeneous, and that the instability to which we owe the
richness and variety of the changes taking place in our solar system
will gradually give way to the relative stability of elementary
vibrations continually and perpetually repeated. Just so with a man who
keeps up his strength as he grows old, but spends it less and less in
actions, and comes, in the end, to employ it entirely in making his
lungs breathe and his heart beat.

From this point of view, a world like our solar system is seen to be
ever exhausting something of the mutability it contains. In the
beginning, it had the maximum of possible utilization of energy: this
mutability has gone on diminishing unceasingly. Whence does it come? We
might at first suppose that it has come from some other point of space,
but the difficulty is only set back, and for this external source of
mutability the same question springs up. True, it might be added that
the number of worlds capable of passing mutability to each other is
unlimited, that the sum of mutability contained in the universe is
infinite, that there is therefore no ground on which to seek its origin
or to foresee its end. A hypothesis of this kind is as irrefutable as it
is indemonstrable; but to speak of an infinite universe is to admit a
perfect coincidence of matter with abstract space, and consequently an
absolute externality of all the parts of matter in relation to one
another. We have seen above what we must think of this theory, and how
difficult it is to reconcile with the idea of a reciprocal influence of
all the parts of matter on one another, an influence to which indeed it
itself makes appeal. Again it might be supposed that the general
instability has arisen from a general state of stability; that the
period in which we now are, and in which the utilizable energy is
diminishing, has been preceded by a period in which the mutability was
increasing, and that the alternations of increase and diminution succeed
each other for ever. This hypothesis is theoretically conceivable, as
has been demonstrated quite recently; but, according to the calculations
of Boltzmann, the mathematical improbability of it passes all
imagination and practically amounts to absolute impossibility.[89] In
reality, the problem remains insoluble as long as we keep on the ground
of physics, for the physicist is obliged to attach energy to extended
particles, and, even if he regards the particles only as reservoirs of
energy, he remains in space: he would belie his r√іle if he sought the
origin of these energies in an extra-spatial process. It is there,
however, in our opinion, that it must be sought.

Is it extension in general that we are considering _in abstracto_?
_Extension_, we said, appears only as a _tension_ which is interrupted.
Or, are we considering the concrete reality that fills this extension?
The order which reigns there, and which is manifested by the laws of
nature, is an order which must be born of itself when the inverse order
is suppressed; a detension of the will would produce precisely this
suppression. Lastly, we find that the direction, which this reality
takes, suggests to us the idea of a thing _unmaking itself_; such, no
doubt, is one of the essential characters of materiality. What
conclusion are we to draw from all this, if not that the process by
which this thing _makes itself_ is directed in a contrary way to that of
physical processes, and that it is therefore, by its very definition,
immaterial? The vision we have of the material world is that of a weight
which falls: no image drawn from matter, properly so called, will ever
give us the idea of the weight rising. But this conclusion will come
home to us with still greater force if we press nearer to the concrete
reality, and if we consider, no longer only matter in general, but,
within this matter, living bodies.

All our analyses show us, in life, an effort to remount the incline that
matter descends. In that, they reveal to us the possibility, the
necessity even of a process the inverse of materiality, creative of
matter by its interruption alone. The life that evolves on the surface
of our planet is indeed attached to matter. If it were pure
consciousness, _a fortiori_ if it were supra-consciousness, it would be
pure creative activity. In fact, it is riveted to an organism that
subjects it to the general laws of inert matter. But everything happens
as if it were doing its utmost to set itself free from these laws. It
has not the power to reverse the direction of physical changes, such as
the principle of Carnot determines it. It does, however, behave
absolutely as a force would behave which, left to itself, would work in
the inverse direction. Incapable of _stopping_ the course of material
changes downwards, it succeeds in _retarding_ it. The evolution of life
really continues, as we have shown, an initial impulsion: this
impulsion, which has determined the development of the chlorophyllian
function in the plant and of the sensori-motor system in the animal,
brings life to more and more efficient acts by the fabrication and use
of more and more powerful explosives. Now, what do these explosives
represent if not a storing-up of the solar energy, the degradation of
which energy is thus provisionally suspended on some of the points where
it was being poured forth? The usable energy which the explosive
conceals will be expended, of course, at the moment of the explosion;
but it would have been expended sooner if an organism had not happened
to be there to arrest its dissipation, in order to retain it and save it
up. As we see it to-day, at the point to which it was brought by a
scission of the mutually complementary tendencies which it contained
within itself, life is entirely dependent on the chlorophyllian function
of the plant. This means that, looked at in its initial impulsion,
before any scission, life was a tendency to accumulate in a reservoir,
as do especially the green parts of vegetables, with a view to an
instantaneous effective discharge, like that which an animal brings
about, something that would have otherwise flowed away. It is like an
effort to raise the weight which falls. True, it succeeds only in
retarding the fall. But at least it can give us an idea of what the
raising of the weight was.[90]

Let us imagine a vessel full of steam at a high pressure, and here and
there in its sides a crack through which the steam is escaping in a jet.
The steam thrown into the air is nearly all condensed into little drops
which fall back, and this condensation and this fall represent simply
the loss of something, an interruption, a deficit. But a small part of
the jet of steam subsists, uncondensed, for some seconds; it is making
an effort to raise the drops which are falling; it succeeds at most in
retarding their fall. So, from an immense reservoir of life, jets must
be gushing out unceasingly, of which each, falling back, is a world. The
evolution of living species within this world represents what subsists
of the primitive direction of the original jet, and of an impulsion
which continues itself in a direction the inverse of materiality. But
let us not carry too far this comparison. It gives us but a feeble and
even deceptive image of reality, for the crack, the jet of steam, the
forming of the drops, are determined necessarily, whereas the creation
of a world is a free act, and the life within the material world
participates in this liberty. Let us think rather of an action like that
of raising the arm; then let us suppose that the arm, left to itself,
falls back, and yet that there subsists in it, striving to raise it up
again, something of the will that animates it. In this image of a
_creative action which unmakes itself_ we have already a more exact
representation of matter. In vital activity we see, then, that which
subsists of the direct movement in the inverted movement, _a reality
which is making itself in a reality which is unmaking itself_.

Everything is obscure in the idea of creation if we think of _things_
which are created and a _thing_ which creates, as we habitually do, as
the understanding cannot help doing. We shall show the origin of this
illusion in our next chapter. It is natural to our intellect, whose
function is essentially practical, made to present to us things and
states rather than changes and acts. But things and states are only
views, taken by our mind, of becoming. There are no things, there are
only actions. More particularly, if I consider the world in which we
live, I find that the automatic and strictly determined evolution of
this well-knit whole is action which is unmaking itself, and that the
unforeseen forms which life cuts out in it, forms capable of being
themselves prolonged into unforeseen movements, represent the action
that is making itself. Now, I have every reason to believe that the
other worlds are analogous to ours, that things happen there in the same
way. And I know they were not all constructed at the same time, since
observation shows me, even to-day, nebulae in course of concentration.
Now, if the same kind of action is going on everywhere, whether it is
that which is unmaking itself or whether it is that which is striving to
remake itself, I simply express this probable similitude when I speak of
a centre from which worlds shoot out like rockets in a fireworks
display - provided, however, that I do not present this centre as a
_thing_, but as a continuity of shooting out. God thus defined, has
nothing of the already made; He is unceasing life, action, freedom.
Creation, so conceived, is not a mystery; we experience it in ourselves
when we act freely. That new things can join things already existing is
absurd, no doubt, since the _thing_ results from a solidification
performed by our understanding, and there are never any things other
than those that the understanding has thus constituted. To speak of
things creating themselves would therefore amount to saying that the
understanding presents to itself more than it presents to itself - a
self-contradictory affirmation, an empty and vain idea. But that action
increases as it goes on, that it creates in the measure of its advance,
is what each of us finds when he watches himself act. Things are
constituted by the instantaneous cut which the understanding practices,
at a given moment, on a flux of this kind, and what is mysterious when
we compare the cuts together becomes clear when we relate them to the
flux. Indeed, the modalities of creative action, in so far as it is
still going on in the organization of living forms, are much simplified
when they are taken in this way. Before the complexity of an organism
and the practically infinite multitude of interwoven analyses and
syntheses it presupposes, our understanding recoils disconcerted. That
the simple play of physical and chemical forces, left to themselves,
should have worked this marvel, we find hard to believe. And if it is a
profound science which is at work, how are we to understand the
influence exercised on this matter without form by this form without
matter? But the difficulty arises from this, that we represent
statically ready-made material particles juxtaposed to one another, and,
also statically, an external cause which plasters upon them a skilfully
contrived organization. In reality, life is a movement, materiality is
the inverse movement, and each of these two movements is simple, the
matter which forms a world being an undivided flux, and undivided also
the life that runs through it, cutting out in it living beings all along
its track. Of these two currents the second runs counter to the first,
but the first obtains, all the same, something from the second. There
results between them a _modus vivendi_, which is organization. This
organization takes, for our senses and for our intellect, the form of
parts entirely external to other parts in space and in time. Not only do
we shut our eyes to the unity of the impulse which, passing through
generations, links individuals with individuals, species with species,
and makes of the whole series of the living one single immense wave
flowing over matter, but each individual itself seems to us as an
aggregate, aggregate of molecules and aggregate of facts. The reason of
this lies in the structure of our intellect, which is formed to act on
matter from without, and which succeeds by making, in the flux of the
real, instantaneous cuts, each of which becomes, in its fixity,
endlessly decomposable. Perceiving, in an organism, only parts external
to parts, the understanding has the choice between two systems of
explanation only: either to regard the infinitely complex (and thereby
infinitely well-contrived) organization as a fortuitous concatenation of
atoms, or to relate it to the incomprehensible influence of an external
force that has grouped its elements together. But this complexity is the
work of the understanding; this incomprehensibility is also its work.
Let us try to see, no longer with the eyes of the intellect alone, which
grasps only the already made and which looks from the outside, but with
the spirit, I mean with that faculty of seeing which is immanent in the
faculty of acting and which springs up, somehow, by the twisting of the
will on itself, when action is turned into knowledge, like heat, so to
say, into light. To movement, then, everything will be restored, and
into movement everything will be resolved. Where the understanding,
working on the image supposed to be fixed of the progressing action,
shows us parts infinitely manifold and an order infinitely well

Online LibraryHenri BergsonCreative evolution → online text (page 20 of 34)