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world plays a dominant part in our lives, we tend to transfer back to ourselves the characteristics we have given it. We tend, that is to say, though our mental life is really a process, to think of it as statically extended over a series of exactly similar points, each distinct from the others (this is, he thinks, the current notion of time); though it is really a complex of qualities, we tend to think of it quantitatively, as when we ascribe magnitude of intensity to our sensations; though it is only 'voluntarily' determined, we tend to think of it as subject to mechanical causation. And all these mistakes we make because it is useful to do so; if we did not, on the model of the external world, split up and solidify our mental life in these ways, language could never have been evolved, and social intercourse would be impossible.
Thus we cannot understand the real nature of our minds unless we get rid of the ingrained prejudices of action.' But then, exactly the same effort is required if we are to understand the real nature of the external world. It is only because 'life imperiously demands action' that we regard matter as split up into distinct parts, each in turn capable of being divided ad infinitum. This is especially the procedure of science, which on Bergson's view can only have a symbolical or conventional truth. Because it is useful to formulate scientific laws, we extend matter in space, immobilising, as he puts it, and solidifying the continuity of the real by spreading under it the form of homogeneous space. The essence of the argument is, in short, that our minds are so constituted that they inveterately fall into certain mistakes both about themselves and material objects; we cannot help falsely supposing that our mental states are different from one another and that different material objects are situated in different parts of space. This is particularly clear from the form in which Bergson finally puts it. He discusses the meaning of the word Nothing, and decides that it can only mean what is not useful to me, what does not interest my action. But it is useful to fancy that Nothing is the opposite of Being or reality; and hence we come falsely to think of reality itself as the opposite of Nothing-that is to say, as something 'statically given.'
It will be seen that mind and matter are not intended
by him to be affected by this argument in quite the same way; for, while his object is to show that, if we think that any material objects, distinct from one another, exist anywhere in space, we must be mistaken, he admits the reality of our minds, though on condition of their being very unlike what is usually believed. And so many subordinate arguments as to the nature of our minds are connected with the theory that action is their primary function, that we must say something about the chief of these points separately before dealing with the main argument.
In the first place, we saw that Bergson's psychological . theories were based partly on a certain theory as to the subject-matter of mathematics; numbers are applicable only to quantities, and quantity is something extended in space; therefore our mental states, being purely qualitative, cannot be numbered. It may be observed in passing that mental states are not qualities; Bergson only calls them qualities because he fails to distinguish between the act of sensation and the object which is given through sensation, confusing blue, for instance, which is a quality, with my sensation of blue. And the assertion that numbers have some essential reference to quantity is at variance with modern mathematical theory. An acquaintance with mathematical theory, however, is scarcely required to see that to assign a number to a set of things is not the same thing as to arrange them side by side in space.
Nor, again, does it seem to be true that every purely homogeneous medium' must be indistinguishable from space. We are just as familiar with the temporal relations of 'before' and 'after' as with the spatial relations of 'to the left of' and 'to the right of'; and Bergson gives no tangible reason for his assertion that the idea of a series of moments before and after one another is merely a false analogy from a series of points to the left and to the right of one another. Thus there is no foundation for his view that, when I say that I perform different mental acts at different times, all I can mean is that my mental acts are juxtaposed in space. Yet this was the chief argument in favour of free will. Nothing, he thinks, can cause a mental act, which therefore must be self-caused; for to call it the effect of anything can only mean that it is a material object in space. Thus Bergson's account of the nature of our minds breaks down at all the main points.
When we count our mental states, or think of them as different from one another, or suppose them to occur at different points of time, or suppose them to be subject to the law of cause and effect, it is not true that all we can mean must be something obviously false, namely, that our mental states are material objects situated in space. In other words, he has given no good reason for thinking that the nature of our minds is something very different from what it is usually supposed to be.
Finally, the general argument that action is the primary function of our minds, and that consequently we cannot help entertaining false beliefs both about our minds and about material objects, is easily seen to be completely fallacious. The premiss is that what has caused us to hold certain beliefs is merely the fact that it is useful to do so; that, if it had not been for the 'necessities of action,' we should never have come to think that our mental states, for instance, are sometimes distinct from or causally related to one another, or that different material objects are situated in different parts of space. A good deal might be said about this premiss itself; it is, to say the least of it, very doubtful that what has caused us to hold these beliefs is merely the fact of their utility. However, we need not discuss the premiss, because it is obvious that, even if it were true, the conclusion would not follow from it. It does not follow that, because we cannot help believing certain things, those beliefs are even probably false; merely from the fact (if it be a fact) that our minds are so constituted that they cannot help taking a certain kind of view of reality, no inference of any sort is possible as to either the truth or the falsity of that view. It may seem surprising that Bergson should in any case have thought it possible to infer, from the constitution of our minds, that our views are not merely probably but certainly false, because, as we have seen, he holds both that space is a mere form in which we cannot help arranging things, and that material objects really are in space. Why, then, should he think that the fact of our strongly tending to believe certain things shows those beliefs to be false?
With this question we have at last reached the heart of his position. The reason is that, in arguing that our
minds have been developed with a view to action, he thinks that he has ipso facto proved that all our beliefs are false. For instance, the language he constantly holds as to the danger of taking intelligence' for our guide seems to make it plain that part, at all events, of his meaning, when he says that our minds are orientated towards action rather than pure knowledge,' is that no belief to which our intellect assents can be true. One way in which he often puts it is that 'life overflows intelligence.' The understanding, with its convenient clear-cut distinctions, leaves out the very secret of reality; all our logical concepts and categories are falsifications which can never adequately represent the real; nay, merely to mention anything is to depart from the truth, for language is the instrument of intelligence, and can only express instantaneous solidifications, made for convenience' sake, in a flux in which there are no real moments.
These and similar ways of expressing the non-amenability of any reality to the operations of intellect seem to imply that it is impossible to reason validly about anything, and that, whenever we think our opinions are correct, we must be mistaken; and from this it will of course follow that common-sense beliefs about our minds and material objects are false. But it will also follow that, when Bergson thinks that everything flows into and fuses with everything else, and that there are no definite distinctions between any two things in the universe, not even between minds and material objects, not only must he be incapable of proving this according to ordinary principles of inference (that he would admit), but he must be mistaken in believing it to be true. To some extent, indeed, he is aware of this consequence; in one passage ('Creative Evolution,' p. 202) he expressly faces the objection that, if reality is irrational, all philosophical reasoning, all attempts, as he puts it, to get beyond intelligence by means of intelligence, must turn in a circle. His reply is that philosophy is like swimming; until you jump into the water you never know whether you can swim or not. Similarly, until we try we never know what we can do in the way of constructing valid proofs involving vicious circles; and he urges that, instead of standing shivering on the bank, the proper course is to construct our proof, vicious circle and all, and see whether it works. If this is
a proper method, the outlook for philosophy is gloomy, since no general description of the universe reached in this way is likely to deserve the name of knowledge. I have tried to show that Bergson's description, at all events, is as unsuccessful as it is ambitious. We saw reason to doubt the correctness of his account of the nature of our minds; and his answer to the question whether the universe contains any other things (material objects, for instance) in addition to our minds is ambiguous, and can therefore throw no light on the problems as to the relation between our minds and material objects.
But, of course, most readers of philosophy do not merely desire to get clear conceptions as to the nature of the universe; they want to be emotionally stimulated or consoled, and they like, above all, the kind of satisfaction that comes from trains of ideas that seem to be illuminating but shift and dissolve before the attention is fatigued by the effort to discover what exactly it is that they illuminate. Bergson's work is rich in charm of this sort; his skill in manipulating ideas so as to create the impression of having taken us behind the veil is prodigious. Extremely attractive, again, is the conviction he always expresses that it is not arduous thought, but living and acting, that gives us the key to reality. This thesis, so consoling to all who are too tired to think, is the background of his philosophy; it even, as we may not, in conclusion, underlies his attempt to define the essence of the comic. All life is action, a fluid process of incessant adaptation; and the book on 'Laughter' ingeniously traces every form of the comic to a common root, namely, the introduction of rigidity into the vital flux. The definition may not look promising, but with incredible deftness he gradually makes it plausible; it is like watching a conjuror toss glittering balls. Where, as here, the subject is so elusive as scarcely to admit of precise treatment, Bergson is perhaps most successful; his gifts of imagination and eloquence can have full play, and we are not made uneasy by the absence of logical rigour.