Monday, 28 June 2010

Bergson and the Stream of Existence


I had occasion to think recently about the philosophy of Henri Bergson, about the need to bridge the gap between life as is lived and live as it is thought. So much of what we do, so much of what I do, is caught up in rational calculations of one kind or another. So much of our existence is defined by artificial and self-imposed limits, locks on the doors of perception.

But rationality, intellect itself, is only one dimension of experience, and by no means the most important. Life itself, no matter how we approach it, is essentially irrational. It is, rather, beyond rationality; feelings, emotions, perceptions, dreams and intuitions are all beyond rationality. That’s why there is literature, that’s why there is art. Above all, that’s why there is poetry.

Bergson understood this. Try to imagine life as a stream, a constant mobility, the realm of the unforeseen, the unpredictable. It’s from this constant flux, this process, that creativity and freedom emerge. Intellect only allows a partial understanding. The whole can only be grasped by intuition. I don’t think therefore I am; I exist therefore I think; I feel therefore I am. There is no determinism; there is the pure mobility of free will. A moment comes; a moment is gone. We are carried along in a great evolutionary tide, the √©lan vital, as Bergson terms it, with echoes here of Schopenhauer’s will-to-live.

The vital impetus, the will to live, the will to struggle, the will to power, the will to love – it’s all the same to me.

To exist is to change, to change is to mature, to mature is to go on creating oneself endlessly.

15 comments:

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  2. You say the whole can only be grasped by intuition - it can't. We can't grasp the whole at all! We just think we can. Yes, science is very limited - but it's really (broadly understood to include historical studies) the only way to objective knowledge. Bergson thought he was doing science - but most of it was mistaken. If you interpret him as a poet or a mystic okay... I'd like to say much more on this but it's not really the place. Maybe the topic - or similar topics - will come up again...

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  3. Mark, you are absolutely right: I am interpreting Bergson's thought in a wholly poetic and existential fashion. I have no interest whatsoever in his scientific method or, indeed, any other scientific method!

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  5. I take the points both of you are making, and I even share your view/views of life to a large extent. I love Nietzsche's writings, but I don't really think he was as anti-science as some of his modern followers think. I guess what was behind my initial (slightly dogmatic!) response was that I used to have a strong belief in art as a window onto a truer reality, a belief in the artist as a seer etc., and I've become rather skeptical about this. Maybe my old belief was essentially Platonic though, and what both of you are getting at is an affirmation of the experience of this world. I can live with that!

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  6. A man's character is his fate.

    Heraclitus.

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  7. Ana, To change is not necessarily to mature.

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  10. Yes, Nobby, I think I agree, though you would really have to take up the point with Bergson. :-)

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  11. I should add, in case there is any confusion on the point, the words in italics are Bergson's, not mine.

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