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matter, which is necessity itself, an instrument of freedom, to make a
machine which should triumph over mechanism, and to use the determinism
of nature to pass through the meshes of the net which this very
determinism had spread. But, everywhere except in man, consciousness has
let itself be caught in the net whose meshes it tried to pass through:
it has remained the captive of the mechanisms it has set up. Automatism,
which it tries to draw in the direction of freedom, winds about it and
drags it down. It has not the power to escape, because the energy it has
provided for acts is almost all employed in maintaining the infinitely
subtle and essentially unstable equilibrium into which it has brought
matter. But man not only maintains his machine, he succeeds in using it
as he pleases. Doubtless he owes this to the superiority of his brain,
which enables him to build an unlimited number of motor mechanisms, to
oppose new habits to the old ones unceasingly, and, by dividing
automatism against itself, to rule it. He owes it to his language,
which furnishes consciousness with an immaterial body in which to
incarnate itself and thus exempts it from dwelling exclusively on
material bodies, whose flux would soon drag it along and finally swallow
it up. He owes it to social life, which stores and preserves efforts as
language stores thought, fixes thereby a mean level to which individuals
must raise themselves at the outset, and by this initial stimulation
prevents the average man from slumbering and drives the superior man to
mount still higher. But our brain, our society, and our language are
only the external and various signs of one and the same internal
superiority. They tell, each after its manner, the unique, exceptional
success which life has won at a given moment of its evolution. They
express the difference of kind, and not only of degree, which separates
man from the rest of the animal world. They let us guess that, while at
the end of the vast spring-board from which life has taken its leap, all
the others have stepped down, finding the cord stretched too high, man
alone has cleared the obstacle.

It is in this quite special sense that man is the "term" and the "end"
of evolution. Life, we have said, transcends finality as it transcends
the other categories. It is essentially a current sent through matter,
drawing from it what it can. There has not, therefore, properly
speaking, been any project or plan. On the other hand, it is abundantly
evident that the rest of nature is not for the sake of man: we struggle
like the other species, we have struggled against other species.
Moreover, if the evolution of life had encountered other accidents in
its course, if, thereby, the current of life had been otherwise divided,
we should have been, physically and morally, far different from what we
are. For these various reasons it would be wrong to regard humanity,
such as we have it before our eyes, as pre-figured in the evolutionary
movement. It cannot even be said to be the outcome of the whole of
evolution, for evolution has been accomplished on several divergent
lines, and while the human species is at the end of one of them, other
lines have been followed with other species at their end. It is in a
quite different sense that we hold humanity to be the ground of

From our point of view, life appears in its entirety as an immense wave
which, starting from a centre, spreads outwards, and which on almost the
whole of its circumference is stopped and converted into oscillation: at
one single point the obstacle has been forced, the impulsion has passed
freely. It is this freedom that the human form registers. Everywhere but
in man, consciousness has had to come to a stand; in man alone it has
kept on its way. Man, then, continues the vital movement indefinitely,
although he does not draw along with him all that life carries in
itself. On other lines of evolution there have traveled other tendencies
which life implied, and of which, since everything interpenetrates, man
has, doubtless, kept something, but of which he has kept only very
little. _It is as if a vague and formless being, whom we may call, as we
will_, man _or_ superman, _had sought to realize himself, and had
succeeded only by abandoning a part of himself on the way_. The losses
are represented by the rest of the animal world, and even by the
vegetable world, at least in what these have that is positive and above
the accidents of evolution.

From this point of view, the discordances of which nature offers us the
spectacle are singularly weakened. The organized world as a whole
becomes as the soil on which was to grow either man himself or a being
who morally must resemble him. The animals, however distant they may be
from our species, however hostile to it, have none the less been useful
traveling companions, on whom consciousness has unloaded whatever
encumbrances it was dragging along, and who have enabled it to rise, in
man, to heights from which it sees an unlimited horizon open again
before it.

It is true that it has not only abandoned cumbersome baggage on the way;
it has also had to give up valuable goods. Consciousness, in man, is
pre-eminently intellect. It might have been, it ought, so it seems, to
have been also intuition. Intuition and intellect represent two opposite
directions of the work of consciousness: intuition goes in the very
direction of life, intellect goes in the inverse direction, and thus
finds itself naturally in accordance with the movement of matter. A
complete and perfect humanity would be that in which these two forms of
conscious activity should attain their full development. And, between
this humanity and ours, we may conceive any number of possible stages,
corresponding to all the degrees imaginable of intelligence and of
intuition. In this lies the part of contingency in the mental structure
of our species. A different evolution might have led to a humanity
either more intellectual still or more intuitive. In the humanity of
which we are a part, intuition is, in fact, almost completely sacrificed
to intellect. It seems that to conquer matter, and to reconquer its own
self, consciousness has had to exhaust the best part of its power. This
conquest, in the particular conditions in which it has been
accomplished, has required that consciousness should adapt itself to the
habits of matter and concentrate all its attention on them, in fact
determine itself more especially as intellect. Intuition is there,
however, but vague and above all discontinuous. It is a lamp almost
extinguished, which only glimmers now and then, for a few moments at
most. But it glimmers wherever a vital interest is at stake. On our
personality, on our liberty, on the place we occupy in the whole of
nature, on our origin and perhaps also on our destiny, it throws a light
feeble and vacillating, but which none the less pierces the darkness of
the night in which the intellect leaves us.

These fleeting intuitions, which light up their object only at distant
intervals, philosophy ought to seize, first to sustain them, then to
expand them and so unite them together. The more it advances in this
work, the more will it perceive that intuition is mind itself, and, in a
certain sense, life itself: the intellect has been cut out of it by a
process resembling that which has generated matter. Thus is revealed the
unity of the spiritual life. We recognize it only when we place
ourselves in intuition in order to go from intuition to the intellect,
for from the intellect we shall never pass to intuition.

Philosophy introduces us thus into the spiritual life. And it shows us
at the same time the relation of the life of the spirit to that of the
body. The great error of the doctrines on the spirit has been the idea
that by isolating the spiritual life from all the rest, by suspending it
in space as high as possible above the earth, they were placing it
beyond attack, as if they were not thereby simply exposing it to be
taken as an effect of mirage! Certainly they are right to listen to
conscience when conscience affirms human freedom; but the intellect is
there, which says that the cause determines its effect, that like
conditions like, that all is repeated and that all is given. They are
right to believe in the absolute reality of the person and in his
independence toward matter; but science is there, which shows the
interdependence of conscious life and cerebral activity. They are right
to attribute to man a privileged place in nature, to hold that the
distance is infinite between the animal and man; but the history of life
is there, which makes us witness the genesis of species by gradual
transformation, and seems thus to reintegrate man in animality. When a
strong instinct assures the probability of personal survival, they are
right not to close their ears to its voice; but if there exist "souls"
capable of an independent life, whence do they come? When, how and why
do they enter into this body which we see arise, quite naturally, from a
mixed cell derived from the bodies of its two parents? All these
questions will remain unanswered, a philosophy of intuition will be a
negation of science, will be sooner or later swept away by science, if
it does not resolve to see the life of the body just where it really is,
on the road that leads to the life of the spirit. But it will then no
longer have to do with definite living beings. Life as a whole, from the
initial impulsion that thrust it into the world, will appear as a wave
which rises, and which is opposed by the descending movement of matter.
On the greater part of its surface, at different heights, the current is
converted by matter into a vortex. At one point alone it passes freely,
dragging with it the obstacle which will weigh on its progress but will
not stop it. At this point is humanity; it is our privileged situation.
On the other hand, this rising wave is consciousness, and, like all
consciousness, it includes potentialities without number which
interpenetrate and to which consequently neither the category of unity
nor that of multiplicity is appropriate, made as they both are for inert
matter. The matter that it bears along with it, and in the interstices
of which it inserts itself, alone can divide it into distinct
individualities. On flows the current, running through human
generations, subdividing itself into individuals. This subdivision was
vaguely indicated in it, but could not have been made clear without
matter. Thus souls are continually being created, which, nevertheless,
in a certain sense pre-existed. They are nothing else than the little
rills into which the great river of life divides itself, flowing through
the body of humanity. The movement of the stream is distinct from the
river bed, although it must adopt its winding course. Consciousness is
distinct from the organism it animates, although it must undergo its
vicissitudes. As the possible actions which a state of consciousness
indicates are at every instant beginning to be carried out in the
nervous centres, the brain underlines at every instant the motor
indications of the state of consciousness; but the interdependency of
consciousness and brain is limited to this; the destiny of consciousness
is not bound up on that account with the destiny of cerebral matter.
Finally, consciousness is essentially free; it is freedom itself; but it
cannot pass through matter without settling on it, without adapting
itself to it: this adaptation is what we call intellectuality; and the
intellect, turning itself back toward active, that is to say free,
consciousness, naturally makes it enter into the conceptual forms into
which it is accustomed to see matter fit. It will therefore always
perceive freedom in the form of necessity; it will always neglect the
part of novelty or of creation inherent in the free act; it will always
substitute for action itself an imitation artificial, approximative,
obtained by compounding the old with the old and the same with the same.
Thus, to the eyes of a philosophy that attempts to reabsorb intellect in
intuition, many difficulties vanish or become light. But such a doctrine
does not only facilitate speculation; it gives us also more power to act
and to live. For, with it, we feel ourselves no longer isolated in
humanity, humanity no longer seems isolated in the nature that it
dominates. As the smallest grain of dust is bound up with our entire
solar system, drawn along with it in that undivided movement of descent
which is materiality itself, so all organized beings, from the humblest
to the highest, from the first origins of life to the time in which we
are, and in all places as in all times, do but evidence a single
impulsion, the inverse of the movement of matter, and in itself
indivisible. All the living hold together, and all yield to the same
tremendous push. The animal takes its stand on the plant, man bestrides
animality, and the whole of humanity, in space and in time, is one
immense army galloping beside and before and behind each of us in an
overwhelming charge able to beat down every resistance and clear the
most formidable obstacles, perhaps even death.


[Footnote 78: We have developed this point in _Matière et mémoire_,
chaps. ii. and iii., notably pp. 78-80 and 169-186.]

[Footnote 79: Faraday, _A Speculation concerning Electric Conduction_
(_Philosophical Magazine_, 3d. series, vol. xxiv.).]

[Footnote 80: Our comparison does no more than develop the content of
the term [Greek: logos], as Plotinus understands it. For while the
[Greek: logos] of this philosopher is a generating and informing power,
an aspect or a fragment of the [Greek: psychê], on the other hand
Plotinus sometimes speaks of it as of a _discourse_. More generally, the
relation that we establish in the present chapter between "extension"
and "detension" resembles in some aspects that which Plotinus supposes
(some developments of which must have inspired M. Ravaisson) when he
makes extension not indeed an inversion of original Being, but an
enfeeblement of its essence, one of the last stages of the procession,
(see in particular, _Enn._ IV. iii. 9-11, and III. vi. 17-18). Yet
ancient philosophy did not see what consequences would result from this
for mathematics, for Plotinus, like Plato, erected mathematical essences
into absolute realities. Above all, it suffered itself to be deceived by
the purely superficial analogy of duration with extension. It treated
the one as it treated the other, regarding change as a degradation of
immutability, the sensible as a fall from the intelligible. Whence, as
we shall show in the next chapter, a philosophy which fails to recognize
the real function and scope of the intellect.]

[Footnote 81: Bastian, _The Brain as an Organ of the Mind_, pp. 214-16.]

[Footnote 82: We have dwelt on this point in a former work. See the
_Essai sur les données immédiates de la conscience_, Paris, 1889, pp.

[Footnote 83: _Op. cit._ chaps. i. and ii. _passim_.]

[Footnote 84: Cf. especially the profound studies of M. Ed. Le Roy in
the _Revue de métaph. et de morale_.]

[Footnote 85: _Matière et mémoire_, chapters iii. and iv.]

[Footnote 86: See in particular, _Phys._, iv. 215 a 2; v. 230 b 12;
viii. 255 a 2; and _De Caelo_, iv. 1-5; ii. 296 b 27; iv. 308 a 34.]

[Footnote 87: _De Caelo_, iv. 310 a 34 [Greek: to d' eis ton autou topon
pherethai hekaoton to eis to autou eidos esti pheresthai].]

[Footnote 88: On these differences of quality see the work of Duhem,
_L'Évolution de la mécanique_, Paris, 1905, pp. 197 ff.]

[Footnote 89: Boltzmann, _Vorlesungen über Gastheorie_, Leipzig, 1898,
pp. 253 ff.]

[Footnote 90: In a book rich in facts and in ideas (_La Dissolution
opposée a l'évolution_, Paris, 1899), M. André Lalande shows us
everything going towards death, in spite of the momentary resistance
which organisms seem to oppose. - But, even from the side of unorganized
matter, have we the right to extend to the entire universe
considerations drawn from the present state of our solar system? Beside
the worlds which are dying, there are without doubt worlds that are
being born. On the other hand, in the organized world, the death of
individuals does not seem at all like a diminution of "life in general,"
or like a necessity which life submits to reluctantly. As has been more
than once remarked, life has never made an effort to prolong
indefinitely the existence of the individual, although on so many other
points it has made so many successful efforts. Everything is _as if_
this death had been willed, or at least accepted, for the greater
progress of life in general.]

[Footnote 91: We have dwelt on this point in an article entitled
"Introduction à la métaphysique" (_Revue de métaphysique et de morale_,
January, 1903, pp. 1-25).]

[Footnote 92: Cf. a paper written (in Russian) by Serkovski, and
reviewed in the _Année biologique_, 1898, p. 317.]

[Footnote 93: Ed. Perrier, _Les Colonies animales_, Paris, 1897 (2nd

[Footnote 94: Delage, _L'Hérédité_, 2nd edition, Paris, 1903, p. 97. Cf.
by the same author, "La Conception polyzoïque des êtres" (_Revue
scientifique_, 1896, pp. 641-653).]

[Footnote 95: This is the theory maintained by Kunstler, Delage,
Sedgwick, Labbé, etc. Its development, with bibliographical references,
will be found in the work of Busquet, _Les êtres vivants_, Paris, 1899.]



It remains for us to examine in themselves two theoretical illusions
which we have frequently met with before, but whose consequences rather
than principle have hitherto concerned us. Such is the object of the
present chapter. It will afford us the opportunity of removing certain
objections, of clearing up certain misunderstandings, and, above all, of
defining more precisely, by contrasting it with others, a philosophy
which sees in duration the very stuff of reality.

Matter or mind, reality has appeared to us as a perpetual becoming. It
makes itself or it unmakes itself, but it is never something made. Such
is the intuition that we have of mind when we draw aside the veil which
is interposed between our consciousness and ourselves. This, also, is
what our intellect and senses themselves would show us of matter, if
they could obtain a direct and disinterested idea of it. But,
preoccupied before everything with the necessities of action, the
intellect, like the senses, is limited to taking, at intervals, views
that are instantaneous and by that very fact immobile of the becoming of
matter. Consciousness, being in its turn formed on the intellect, sees
clearly of the inner life what is already made, and only feels
confusedly the making. Thus, we pluck out of duration those moments that
interest us, and that we have gathered along its course. These alone we
retain. And we are right in so doing, while action only is in question.
But when, in _speculating_ on the _nature_ of the real, we go on
regarding it as our practical interest requires us to regard it, we
become unable to perceive the true evolution, the radical becoming. Of
becoming we perceive only states, of duration only instants, and even
when we speak of duration and of becoming, it is of another thing that
we are thinking. Such is the most striking of the two illusions we wish
to examine. It consists in supposing that we can think the unstable by
means of the stable, the moving by means of the immobile.

The other illusion is near akin to the first. It has the same origin,
being also due to the fact that we import into speculation a procedure
made for practice. All action aims at getting something that we feel the
want of, or at creating something that does not yet exist. In this very
special sense, it fills a void, and goes from the empty to the full,
from an absence to a presence, from the unreal to the real. Now the
unreality which is here in question is purely relative to the direction
in which our attention is engaged, for we are immersed in realities and
cannot pass out of them; only, if the present reality is not the one we
are seeking, we speak of the _absence_ of this sought-for reality
wherever we find the _presence_ of another. We thus express what we have
as a function of what we want. This is quite legitimate in the sphere of
action. But, whether we will or no, we keep to this way of speaking,
and also of thinking, when we speculate on the nature of things
independently of the interest they have for us. Thus arises the second
of the two illusions. We propose to examine this first. It is due, like
the other, to the static habits that our intellect contracts when it
prepares our action on things. Just as we pass through the immobile to
go to the moving, so we make use of the void in order to think the full.

We have met with this illusion already in dealing with the fundamental
problem of knowledge. The question, we then said, is to know why there
is order, and not disorder, in things. But the question has meaning only
if we suppose that disorder, understood as an absence of order, is
possible, or imaginable, or conceivable. Now, it is only order that is
real; but, as order can take two forms, and as the presence of the one
may be said to consist in the absence of the other, we speak of disorder
whenever we have before us that one of the two orders for which we are
not looking. The idea of disorder is then entirely practical. It
corresponds to the disappointment of a certain expectation, and it does
not denote the absence of all order, but only the presence of that order
which does not offer us actual interest. So that whenever we try to deny
order completely, absolutely, we find that we are leaping from one kind
of order to the other indefinitely, and that the supposed suppression of
the one and the other implies the presence of the two. Indeed, if we go
on, and persist in shutting our eyes to this movement of the mind and
all it involves, we are no longer dealing with an idea; all that is left
of disorder is a word. Thus the problem of knowledge is complicated, and
possibly made insoluble, by the idea that order fills a void and that
its actual presence is superposed on its virtual absence. We go from
absence to presence, from the void to the full, in virtue of the
fundamental illusion of our understanding. That is the error of which we
noticed one consequence in our last chapter. As we then anticipated, we
must come to close quarters with this error, and finally grapple with
it. We must face it in itself, in the radically false conception which
it implies of negation, of the void and of the nought.[97]

Philosophers have paid little attention to the idea of the nought. And
yet it is often the hidden spring, the invisible mover of philosophical
thinking. From the first awakening of reflection, it is this that pushes
to the fore, right under the eyes of consciousness, the torturing
problems, the questions that we cannot gaze at without feeling giddy and
bewildered. I have no sooner commenced to philosophize than I ask myself
why I exist; and when I take account of the intimate connection in which
I stand to the rest of the universe, the difficulty is only pushed back,
for I want to know why the universe exists; and if I refer the universe
to a Principle immanent or transcendent that supports it or creates it,
my thought rests on this principle only a few moments, for the same
problem recurs, this time in its full breadth and generality: Whence
comes it, and how can it be understood, that anything exists? Even here,
in the present work, when matter has been defined as a kind of descent,
this descent as the interruption of a rise, this rise itself as a
growth, when finally a Principle of creation has been put at the base of
things, the same question springs up: How - why does this principle exist
rather than nothing?

Now, if I push these questions aside and go straight to what hides
behind them, this is what I find: - Existence appears to me like a
conquest over nought. I say to myself that there might be, that indeed
there ought to be, nothing, and I then wonder that there is something.
Or I represent all reality extended on nothing as on a carpet: at first
was nothing, and being has come by superaddition to it. Or, yet again,
if something has always existed, nothing must always have served as its
substratum or receptacle, and is therefore eternally prior. A glass may

Online LibraryHenri BergsonCreative evolution → online text (page 22 of 34)