Mind-energy: Lectures and Essays (1920) by Henri Bergson

Lectures and Essays

In these essays, Bergson writes, concerning the idea of parallelism between mind and body:

“Consciousness tells no more than what is going on in the brain, it only tells it in a different language.”  There can be no doubt that the origin of this thesis is entirely metaphysical. It comes to us in a direct line from the Cartesian philosophy of the seventeenth century. …I believe that the facts, examined without prejudice and without the bias towards a mathematical mechanism, suggest a more subtle hypothesis concerning the correspondence between the psychic (ie., mental) and the cerebral state. The latter only express the action which is prefigured in the former. …for to the same cerebral state there may equally well correspond many different psychic facts” (p. 144).

In his characteristically clear and precise manner Bergson pursues in these essays the elusive problem of the mind-body relationship which is once again at the forefront of both the science and the philosophy of consciousness today. The solution that he suggests is that these are two different approaches to the understanding of reality, each describing an aspect of that reality – one material and the other spiritual. Science tries to grasp the reality by means of physical observation and measurement; the philosophical approach tries to grasp reality by means of intuition and ideation. To fail to make the distinction necessarily leads to contradiction and error.

Bergson published these essays in 1919, more than 20 years after Matter and Memory (1896) and Creative Evolution (1907), at a time when his reputation as the leading philosopher of the day had spread throughout both the physical and the spiritual world. He was president of the Academie des science (France) and the Society for Psychical Research (UK), representing the two approaches to knowledge. And he had lectured at Oxford (UK) and Columbia (USA) universities. He was fluent in English and had decided as a young university student to become a citizen of France rather than of England.

The fact that Bergson’s work is currently enjoying a revival in both science and philosophy, due to the widespread interest in the study of  “consciousness”, along with the concurrence and convergence of his philosophy with that of Sri Aurobindo, suggests that these essays may be important to the understanding of both of these philosophers of Intuition and Consciousness, as well as to better understanding the relevance of their thought in the world today.

Book Details

Author: Henri Bergson

Print Length: 138 pages

Publisher: Auro e-Books

Contributors: Rod Hemsell

Book format: PDF, ePub, Kindle

Language: English

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I Life And Consciousness

The great problems — Philosophical systems — Lines of facts — Consciousness, memory, anticipation — What beings are conscious? — The faculty of choosing — Consciousness awake and consciousness slumbering — Consciousness and unforeseeability — The mechanism of free action — The tensions of duration — The evolution of life — Man — The creative activity — The meaning of joy — The moral life — The social life — The beyond.

II The Soul And The Body

The common-sense theory — The materialist theory — Their shortcoming — The metaphysical origin of the hypothesis of a parallelism or equivalence between cerebral activity and mental activity — The appeal to experience — The probable role of the brain — Thought and pantomime — Attention to life — Distraction and alienation — Theory suggested by the study of memory, especially word-memory — Where are memories preserved? — Does the soul survive the body?

Ill “Phantasms Of The LivingAnd Psychical Research

The prejudice against “psychical research”—Telepathy and science — Telepathy and coincidence — Character of modern science — Objections against psychical research in the name of science — The metaphysics implied in the objections— What a direct study of mental activity might yield—Consciousness and materiality — Future of psychical research.

IV Dreams

The part which visual, auditive, tactile, and other sensations play in dreams — The part which memory plays — Is the dream creative? — The mechanism of perception in the dream state and in the awake state: analogies and differences — The psychical character of sleep — Disinterestedness and detension — The state of tension.

V Memory Of The Present And False Recognition

False recognition described — Distinguished from: (1) certain pathological states; (2) vague or uncertain recognition — Three systems of explanation, according to whether the trouble is regarded as affecting thought, feeling or volition — The theories criticized — A principle of explanation proposed for a wide class of psychical disorders — How memory is formed — Memory of the present — The duplication of the present in perception and memory — Why this duplication is normally unconscious — In what way it may become conscious.— Effect of an “inattention to life “— Insufficiency of impetus.

VI Intellectual Effort

What is the intellectual characteristic of intellectual effort? — The different planes of consciousness and the movement of the mind in traversing them — Analysis of the effort to remember: instantaneous recall and laborious recall — Analysis of the effort of intellection: mechanical interpretation and attentive interpretation — Analysis of the effort of invention: the scheme, the images and their reciprocal adaptation — Results of effort — The metaphysical bearing of the problem.

The doctrine of an equivalence between the cerebral and the mental — Can it be translated either into the language of idealism or into that of realism? — The idealist expression of the theory avoids contradiction only by an unconscious lapse into realism — The realist expression only escapes contradiction by an unconscious lapse into idealism — The mind oscillates continually and unconsciously between idealism and realism — The fundamental illusion is continually reinforced by complementary and dependent illusions.


Lectures and Essays


When a lecture is dedicated to the memory of a distinguished man of science, one cannot but feel some constraint in the choice of subject. It must be a subject that would have specially interested the person honoured. I feel no embarrassment on this account in regard to the great name of Huxley; the difficulty would be to find any problem to which his mind would have been indifferent, one of the greatest minds the England of the Nineteenth Century produced. And yet it seems to me that if one subject more than another would have appealed with particular force to the mind of a naturalist who was also a philosopher, it is the threefold problem of consciousness, of life and of their relation. For my part, I know no problem more fundamental in its importance, and it is this which I have chosen.

In dealing with this problem we cannot reckon much on the support of systems of philosophy. The problems men have most deeply at heart, those which distress the human mind with anxious and passionate insistence, are not always the problems which hold the place of importance in the speculations of the metaphysicians. Whence are we? What are we? Whither tend we? These are the vital questions, which immediately present themselves when we give ourselves up to philosophical reflexion without regard to philosophical systems. But, between us and these problems, systematic philosophy interposes other problems. “Before seeking the solution of a problem,” it says, “must we not first know how to seek it? Study the mechanism of thinking, then discuss the nature of knowledge and criticize the faculty of criticizing: when you have assured yourself of the value of the instrument, you will know how to use it.” That moment, alas! will never come. I see only one means of knowing how far I can go: that is by going. If the knowledge we are in search of be real instruction, a knowledge which expands thought, then to analyse the mechanism of thought before seeking knowledge could only show the impossibility of ever getting it, since we should be studying thought before the expansion of it which it is the business of knowledge to obtain. A premature reflexion of the mind on itself would discourage it from advancing, whilst by simply advancing it would have come nearer to its goal and perceived, moreover, that the so-called obstacles were for the most part the effects of a mirage. But suppose even that the metaphysician does not thus sacrifice the use of mind for the criticism of mind, the end for the means, the prey for the shadow: too often, when confronted with the problem of the origin, nature and destiny of man, he passes it by in order to deal with questions which he judges to be higher, and on which he thinks its solution depends. He speculates on existence in general, on the real and the possible, on time and space, on mind and matter, and from these generalities descends gradually to the consciousness and life whose essence he would understand. Now, is it not clear that his speculations have become purely abstract, with no bearing on the things themselves, but only on the altogether too simple idea of them which he has formed before he has studied them empirically? It would be impossible to explain a philosopher’s attachment to so strange a method had it not the threefold advantage that it flatters his self-esteem, facilitates his work and gives him the illusion of definitive knowledge. As it leads him to some very general theory, to an almost empty concept, he can always, later on, place retrospectively in the concept whatever experience has come to teach him of the thing. He will then claim to have anticipated experience by the force of reasoning alone, to have embraced beforehand in a wider conception those conceptions, narrower, I confess, but the only ones difficult to form and the only ones useful to keep, which we get by the study of facts. On the other hand, as nothing is easier than to reason geometrically with abstract ideas, he has no trouble in constructing an iron-bound system, which appears to be strong because it is unbending. But this apparent strength is simply due to the fact that the idea with which he works is diagrammatic and rigid and does not follow the sinuous and mobile contours of reality. How much better a more modest philosophy would be, one which would go straight to its object without worrying about the principles on which it depends I It would not aim at immediate certainty, which can only be ephemeral. It would take its time. It would be a gradual ascent to the light. Borne along in an experience growing ever wider and wider, rising to ever higher and higher probabilities, it would strive towards final certainty as to a limit.