Interview with dead Henri Bergson: Part IV (and last)

I’d like to welcome my guest today at the Mormon Organon studio: Henri Bergson. As many of you know Henri died in 1941 but the indefatigable Frenchman will not stay down and has agreed to be my guest today, channeled trough the help of the Psychic Channel Medium “Hectaba”

MO: Henri, Wecome.

Henri: It’s my pleasure, Steve. I’ve been a big fan of MO up in the Spirit World where we surf the Net quite regularly (especially BCC and fMh). We all believe in evolution up here, of course, and you’ll be happy to know Darwin has been a wonderful addition to the missionary force.
So good work on the blog.

MO: Oh, Henri, you’re making me blush. Anyway so you read the last couple of posts?

Henri: Indeed. Of course, on determinism, you just could have quoted me.

MO: Oh, yeah, from your book, Creative Evolution::

Radical mechanism implies a metaphysic in which the totality of the real is postulated complete in eternity and in which the apparent duration of things expresses merely the infinity of a mind that cannot know everything at once. p. 26

MO: Yes that does say it a little more succinctly doesn’t it.

Henri: Yes. A bit.

MO: And the bit about quantum mechanics?

Henri: Come now. I wrote that in 1907. Quantum Mechanics was not yet a gleam in physics eye. Einstein (who says ‘Hello,’ and also reads MO) had not even written about relativity yet. So no, I didn’t comment on that much.

MO: Right. Well, we’ve brought you here today to try and get a sense of what you mean about purpose without teleology. We’ve talked about determinism as you explain above, and we’ve talked on this blog, in a previous post, about how life provides the chance for an escape from determinism and allows an open future. And, also, I’d like to point out to my readers, you were talking about an open universe before it was even fashionable. Good job. You aregue that evolution is creative but non teleological. So to open the discussion, I would like you to explain is this passage from CE where you tease apart, and dismiss, the idea of final causes (by which I take it that some final directed end toward which the universe is heading) and how the universe unfolds.

The truth is that adaptation explains the sinuosities of the movement of evolution, but not its general directions, still less the movement itself. The road that leads to the town is obliged to follow the ups and downs of the hills; it adapts itself to the accidents of the ground; but the accidents of the ground are not the cause of the road, nor have they given it its direction. At every moment they furnish it with what is indispensable, namely, the soil on which it lies; but if we consider the whole of the road, instead of each of its parts, the accidents of the ground appear only as impediments or causes of delay, for the road aims simply at the town and would fain be a straight line. Just so as regards the evolution of life and the circumstances through which it passes–with this difference, that evolution does not mark out a solitary route, that it takes directions without aiming at ends, and that it remains inventive even in its adaptations.

But, if the evolution of life is something other than a series of adaptations to accidental circumstances, so also it is not the realization of a plan. A plan is given in advance. It is represented, or at least representable, before its realization. The complete execution of it may be put off to a distant future, or even indefinitely; but the idea is none the less formulable at the present time, in terms actually given. If, on the contrary, evolution is a creation unceasingly renewed, it creates, as it goes on, not only the forms of life, but the ideas that will enable the intellect to understand it, the terms which will serve to express it. That is to say that its future overflows its present, and can not be sketched out therein in an idea.

There is the first error of finalism.” P. 68

That’s great Henri.

Henri: Ah yes. I remember that. In fact, I wrote so much on Earth, now in the spirit world I crave the act of writing, however, because I don’t have a body with which I could have cured such cravings, it’s a constant source of pain to me that I can no longer satisfy that craving by writing. Anyway, that is an oft misunderstood passage . . .

Medium: Some one else is coming through . . .

Hm. Hello. Hello. Is this thing on?

What you meant was:

Surely all that God wills and fortune favors
Goes forward according to plan, with one success
Leading to another at just the right time.

Henri: Damn you Aristophanes! Get out of here. That is not what I meant.

Medium: I’m sensing a struggle, someone is pushing someone away . . . I sense Henri is upset . . .

Henri: Sorry, that was Aristophanes, he is such an annoyance . . . He’s talked a bunch of dead MoTab people into acting as chorus in his new play and . . . Back off! No that’s not what the passage meant . . .Sorry. That’s a common mistake people make . . .

MO: Well, you do mention a road, and roads do seem to be directed to places. How should we take that passage?

Henri: In context with the rest of my writing! Let me explain. It’s not the road going somewhere that I’m trying to focus on. It’s the variation in the road as it moves though the landscape. For example, imagine a road here in the Spirit world. Suppose it moved up and down in almost random ways and made turns in strange places. Such a road would seem silly to the users. It would be inexplicable in fact. What gives it this shape is the variation imposed by the details of landscape. Life responds only to itself, to the landscape in which it made itself. It is not responding to a direction, it’s responding to a landscape laid down by it’s own history and place in the universe. I’m saying it’s not directed. But that does not mean that there is not a landscape over which it operates. That atheist fellow, Dennet had a good word for it, “Design Space.” That opens the door for what we can expect in a universe such as ours. It was set up by a push in the beginning, not set up as an end towards which it is drawn. It’s what opened the universe to possibility.

MO: Ah the élan vital

Henri: You say it with such distain.

MO: Well, I think biology has interpreted as some sort of life force. We see no such thing . . .

Henri: No. It’s not that! It’s what opens the universe to all its possibilities. Those possibilities are not set into actual existence; they are just opened, pushed forward, as it were.

MO: humans are not inevitable?

Henri: Inevitable? No. Likely? Who can say. Only the creator.

MO: So we do have a creator in your view?

Henri: Don’t be stupid. I told you I joined the church up here. Hello.

MO: Sorry I keep confusing the Henri I know from your works left behind here from the fine fellow I’m chatting with.

Henri: Creation need not be just organizing matter in a sort of ‘divine contractor’ sort of way. It can be an organizing of the virtual space of possibility as well. We can allow creation to happen in the movement forward of life–always. Of course one could never see this from the vantage point within life, that is way it is inaccessible to science, but it is in this movement within possibility that creation occurs. Life itself is where creation really takes place, not in the deterministic motions of physics (presumably there was physics of some sort, before God, such that governed the rules of his body (whatever its nature). Creation is in the possibilities of life. Evolution is the universe unfolding in creation. It is the material and creative possibility coming together.

MO: What?

Henri: Let me quote myself:

For a true evolutionism would propose to discover by what modus vivendi, gradually obtained, the intellect has adopted its plan of structure, and matter its mode of subdivision. This structure and this subdivision work into each other; they are mutually complementary; they must have progressed one with the other. And, whether we posit the present structure of mind or the present subdivision of matter, in either case we remain in the evolved: we are told nothing of what evolves, nothing of evolution.
. . .

Then speaking of Scientists I say:

Making a clean sweep of everything that is only an imaginative symbol, he will see the material world melt back into a simple flux, a continuity of flowing, a becoming. And he will thus be prepared to discover real duration there where it is still more useful to find it, in the realm of life and of consciousness. For, so far as inert matter is concerned, we may neglect the flowing without committing a serious error: matter, we have said, is weighted with geometry; and matter, the reality which _descends_, endures only by its connection with that which _ascends_. But life and consciousness are this very ascension. When once we have grasped them in their essence by adopting their movement, we understand how the rest of reality is derived from them. Evolution appears and, within this evolution, the progressive determination of materiality and intellectuality by the gradual consolidation of the one and of the other. But, then, it is within the evolutionary movement that we place ourselves, in order to follow it to its present results, instead of recomposing these results artificially with fragments of themselves. Such seems to us to be the true function of philosophy. So understood, philosophy is not only the turning of the mind homeward, the coincidence of human consciousness with the living principle whence it emanates, a contact with the creative effort: it is the study of becoming in general, it is true evolutionism and consequently the true continuation of science. P. 246-247.

MO: Henry that is quite moving. I don’t think my readers are going to take the time to parse it though. Short version?

Henri: The physical and the evolved move together in a dance. There is no set form that the dance must take but it moves to the music of a fiddler who will lead it to where he wants it to go.

MO: Well Henri that’s as obscure as anything you said before, but it gives us something to chew on.

Henri: I don’t expect anyone will really understand it until you get up here.

MO: Will that help?

Henri: Of course, Darwin and B.H. Roberts team-teach a great class on evolution and creation.

MO: Well, thank you Henri, and Thank you for channeling him Ms. Hectaba.

Medium: Anytime.

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Bergson, Henri. 2005. Creative Evolution. (Originally Published 1907). Translated by Arthur Mitchell. Barns and Noble, Inc.

Arisophanes Quote from:
Loeb Classical Library. 1998. Aristophanes: Clouds, Wasps, Peace. Edited and Translated by Jefery Henderson. Harvard University Press. Boston, Mass. p. 547

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4 comments to Interview with dead Henri Bergson: Part IV (and last)

  • Wonderfully creative and wonderful quotes, some of which I may steal for my own evolution course — especially the wonderful “road” analogy.

    Have you read Kenneth Miller’s Finding Darwin’s God? I recommend it.

  • Cap

    Wonderful post. I am amazed that the connections you have! I wish I had some. :)

    I too enjoyed the road analogy or ‘design space’,and am likely to use it in my own discussions.

  • Do you have some ocean front property in Arizona you would like to throw in with that story? I am not finding anything on the web related to what you have written.

  • DB

    SteveP,

    I’m trying to get a handle on your perception of evolution and the creation but I’m sure that I’m not quite there. In this four part series, you’ve made it quite clear that the universe (and specifically life on this earth) is not deterministic because the complexity of life allows for an almost limitless number of possible outcomes and futures. Evolution does not live in the future but in the present. It is not moving toward a predetermined goal but adapts daily to best fit the environment of the day. The allegory of the road I think explains this well except that roads are build knowing where the road will begin and end. In evolution, only the present and the past are known. Evolutionary roads sometimes die out and never make it anywhere because they hit a dead end or the terrain becomes impossible to continue across. Please correct me if I misunderstood anything that you’ve written. Anyway, you do believe in teleology which I think is best explained in this quote:

    “The physical and the evolved move together in a dance. There is no set form that the dance must take but it moves to the music of a fiddler who will lead it to where he wants it to go.”

    I believe that the fiddler must represent God who in this allegory is constantly directing (driving, influencing, etc.) evolution toward a desired goal. Evolution will do what evolution does best, moving from here to there as it sees fit, but when the fiddler plays his tune, evolution will follow. Is this what you’re saying or am I missing something?

    If so, then I believe this is how you explain how God created Adam in His image. If that isn’t what you mean, then I’m not quite sure how you are explaining how God created Adam in His image.

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