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- Bergson and His Philosophy - 10/33 -

by the immediate reaction which prolongs it, is the mark of the lower animals; the man who proceeds in this way is a man of impulse. But he who lives in the past, for the mere pleasure of living there, and in whom recollections emerge into the light of consciousness, without any advantage for the present situation, is hardly better fitted for action; here we have no man of impulse, but a dreamer. Between these two extremes lies the happy disposition of a memory docile enough to follow with precision all the outlines of the present situation, but energetic enough to resist all other appeal. Good sense or practical sense, is probably nothing but this."[Footnote: Matter and Memory, p. 198 (Fr. pp. 166-167).]

In the paper L'Effort intellectuel, contributed in 1902 to the Revue philosophique, and now reprinted in L'Energie spirituelle,[Footnote: Pp. 163-202. See also Mind-Energy.]Bergson gives an analysis of what is involved in intellectual effort. There is at first, he shows, something conceived quite generally, an idea vague and abstract, a schema which has to be completed by distinct images. In thought there is a movement of the mind from the plane of the schema to the plane of the concrete image. Various images endeavour to fit themselves into the schema, or the schema may adapt itself to the reception of the images. These double efforts to secure adaptation and cooperation may both encounter resistance from the other, a situation which is known to us as hesitation, accompanied by the awareness of obstacles, thus involving intellectual effort.

Memory then, Bergson wishes us to realize, in response to his treatment of it, is no mere function of the brain; it is something infinitely more subtle, infinitely more elusive, and more wondrous. Our memories are not stored in the brain like letters in a filing cabinet, and all our past survives indestructibly as Memory, even though in the form of unconscious memory. We must recognize Memory to be a spiritual fact and so regard it as a pivot on which turn many discussions of vital importance when we come to investigate the problem of the relation of soul and body. For "Memory must be, in principle, a power absolutely independent of matter. If then, spirit is a reality, it is here, in the phenomenon of Memory that we may come into touch with it experimentally."[Footnote: Matter and Memory, p. 81 (Fr. p. 68).] "Memory," he would remind us finally, "is just the intersection of mind and matter."[Footnote: Matter and Memory, Introduction, p. xii.] "A remembrance cannot be the result of a state of the brain. The state of the brain continues the remembrance; it gives it a hold on the present by the materiality which it confers upon it, but pure memory is a spiritual manifestation. With Memory, we are, in very truth, in the domain of spirit."[Footnote: Matter and Memory, p. 320 (Fr. p. 268).]



The hypothesis of Psycho-physical Parallelism--Not to be accepted uncritically--Bergson opposes it, and shows the hypothesis to rest on a confusion of terms. Bergson against Epiphenomenalism--Soul-life unique and wider than the brain--Telepathy, subconscious action and psychical research--Souls and survival.

For philosophy in general, and for psychology in particular, the problem of the relation of soul and body has prime significance, and moreover, it is a problem with which each of us is acquainted intimately and practically, even if we know little or nothing of the academic discussions, or of the technical terms representing various views. It is very frequently the terminology which turns the plain man away from the consideration of philosophical problems; but he has some conception, however crude it may be, of his soul or his mind and of his body. These terms are familiar to him, but the sight of a phrase like "psycho- physical parallelism" rather daunts him. Really, it stands for quite a simple thing, and is just the official label used to designate the theory commonly held by scientific men of all kinds, to describe the relation of soul and body. Put more precisely, it is just the assertion that brain and consciousness work on parallel lines.

Bergson does not accept the hypothesis of psycho-physical parallelism. In the first of his four lectures on La Nature de l'Ame, given at London University in 1911, we find him criticizing the notion that consciousness has no independence of its own, that it merely expresses certain states of the brain, that the content of a fact of consciousness is to be found wholly in the corresponding cerebral state. It is true that we should not find many physiologists or philosophers who would tell us now that "the brain secretes thought as the liver secretes bile."[Footnote: Cabanis (1757-1808). Rapports du physique et du morale de l'homme, 1802. See quotation by William James in Human Immortality. Note (4) in his Appendix.] But there was an idea that, if we could see through the skull and observe what takes place in the brain, if we had an enormously powerful microscope which would permit us to follow the movements of the molecules, atoms, electrons, of the brain, and if we had the key to the correspondence between these phenomena and the mind, we should know all the thoughts and wishes of the person to whom the brain belonged--we should see what took place in his soul, as a telegraph operator could read by the oscillation of his needles the meaning of a message which was sent through his instrument. The notion of an equality or parallelism between conscious activity and cerebral activity, was commonly adopted by modern physiology, and it was adopted without discussion as a scientific notion by the majority of philosophers. Yet the experimental basis of this theory is extremely slight, indeed altogether insufficient, and in reality the theory is a metaphysical conception, resulting from the views of the seventeenth century thinkers who had hopes of "a universal mathematic." The idea had been accepted that all was capable of determination in the psychical as well as the physical world, inasmuch as the psychical was only a reflex of the physical. Parallelism was adopted by science because of its convenience.[Footnote: See The Times of Oct. 21, 1911.] Bergson, however, pointed out that philosophy ought not to accept it without criticism, and maintained, moreover, that it could not stand the criticism that might be brought against it. Relation of soul and body was undeniable, but that it was a parallel or equivalent relation he denied most emphatically. That criticism he had launched himself with great vigour in 1901 at a Meeting of the Societe francaise de philosophie,[Footnote: See Bibliography, p. 153.] and on a more memorable occasion, at the International Congress of Philosophy at Geneva in 1904.[Footnote: See Bibliography, p. 154.] Before the Philosophical Society he lectured on Le Parallelisme psycho-physique et la Metaphysique positive, and propounded the following propositions:

1. If psycho-physical parallelism is neither rigorous nor complete, if to every determined thought there does not correspond an absolutely determined state (si a toute pensee determinee ne correspond pas un etat cerebral determine absolument), it will be the business of experience to mark with increasing accuracy the precise points at which parallelism begins and ends.

2. If this empirical inquiry is possible, it will measure more and more exactly the separation between the thought and the physical conditions in which this thought is exercised. In other words, it will give us a progressive knowledge of the relation of man as a thinking being to man as a living being, and therefore of what may be termed "the meaning of Life."

3. If this meaning of Life can be empirically determined more and more exactly, and completely, a positive metaphysic is possible: that is to say, a metaphysic which cannot be contested and which will admit of a direct and indefinite progress; such a metaphysic would escape the objections urged against a transcendental metaphysic, and would be strictly scientific in form.

After having propounded these propositions, he defended them by recalling much of the data considered in his work Matiere et Memoire which he had published five years previously and which has been examined in the previous chapter. The onus of proof lay, said Bergson, with the upholders of parallelism. It is a purely metaphysical hypothesis unwarrantable in his opinion as a dogma. He distinguishes between correspondence--which he of course admits--and parallelism, to which he is opposed. We never think without a certain substratum of cerebral activity, but what the relation is precisely, between brain and consciousness, is one for long and patient research: it cannot be determined a priori and asserted dogmatically. Until such investigation has been carried out, it behoves us to be undogmatic and not to allege more than the facts absolutely warrant, that is to say, a relation of correspondence. Parallelism is far too simple an explanation to be a true one. Before the International Congress, Bergson launched another attack on parallelism which caused quite a little sensation among those present. Says M. E. Chartier, in his report: La lecture de ce memoire, lecture qui commandait l'attention a provoque chez presque tous les auditeurs un mouvement de surprise et d'inquietude. [Footnote: The paper Le Paralogisme psycho-physiologique is given in Revue de metaphysique et de morale, Nov., 1904, pp. 895-908. The Discussion in the Congress is given on pp. 1027-1037. This was reissued under the title Le Cerveau et la Pensee: une illusion philosophique in the collected volume of essays and lectures, published in 1919, L'Energie spirituelle, pp. 203-223 (Mind-Energy).] He there set out to show that Parallelism cannot be consistently stated from any point of view, for it rests on a fallacious argument--on a fundamental contradiction. To grasp Bergson's points in this argument, the reading of this paper in the original, as a whole, is necessary. It is difficult to condense it and keep its clearness of thought. Briefly, it amounts to this, that the formulation of the doctrine of Parallelism rests on an ambiguity in the terms employed in its statement, that it contains a subtle dialectical artifice by which we pass surreptitiously from one system of notation to another ignoring the substitution: logically, we ought to keep to one system of notation throughout. The two systems are: Idealism and Realism. Bergson attempts to show that neither of these separately can admit Parallelism, and that Parallelism cannot be formulated except by a confusion of the two--by a process of mental see-sawing as it were, which of course we are not entitled to perform, Idealism and Realism being two opposed and contradictory views of reality. For the Idealist, things external to the mind are images, and of these the brain is one. Yet the images are in the brain. This amounts to saying that the whole is contained in the part. We tend, however, to avoid this by passing to a pseudo-realistic position by saying that the brain is a thing and not an image. This is passing over to the other system of notation. For the Realist it is the essence of reality to suppose that there are things behind representations. Some Realists maintain that the brain actually creates the representation, which is the doctrine of Epiphenomenalism: while others hold the view of the Occasionalists, and others posit one reality underlying both. All however agree in upholding Parallelism. In the hands of the Realist, the theory is equivalent to asserting that a relation between two terms is equal to one of them. This involves contradiction and Realism then crosses over to the other system of notation. It cannot do without Idealism: science itself oscillates from the one system to the other. We cannot admit Parallelism as a dogma--as a metaphysical truth--however useful it may be as a working hypothesis.

Bergson then proceeds to state and to criticize some of the mischievous ideas which arise from Parallelism. There is the idea of a brain-soul, of a spot where the soul lives or where the brain thinks--which we have not quite abandoned since Descartes named the pineal gland as the seat

Bergson and His Philosophy - 10/33

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