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Title: The Misuse of Mind
Author: Stephen, Karin
Language: English
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                            PREFATORY NOTE

      Being an extract from a letter by Professor Henri Bergson

AYANT lu de près le travail de Mrs. Stephen je le trouve intéressant
au plus haut point. C'est une interprétation personelle et originale
de l'ensemble de mes vues--interprétation qui vaut par elle-même,
indépendamment de ce qui j' ai écrit. L'auteur s'est assimilé l'esprit
delà doctrine, puis, se dégageant de la matérialité du texte elle a
développé à sa manière, dans la direction qu'elle avait choisi, des
idées qui lui paraissaient fondamentales. Grâce à la distinction
qu'elle "établit entre " fact " et " matter, " elle a pu ramener à
l'unité, et présenter avec une grande rigueur logique, des vues que
j'avais été obligé, en raison de ma méthode de recherche, d'isoler les
unes des autres. Bref, son travail a une grande valeur; il témoigne
d'une rare force de pensée.

                                                        HENRI BERGSON.


THE immense popularity which Bergson's philosophy enjoys is sometimes
cast up against him, by those who do not agree with him, as a
reproach. It has been suggested that Berg-son's writings are welcomed
simply because they offer a theoretical justification for a tendency
which is natural in all of us but against which philosophy has always
fought, the tendency to throw reason overboard and just let ourselves
go. Bergson is regarded by rationalists almost as a traitor to
philosophy, or as a Bolshevik inciting the public to overthrow what it
has taken years of painful effort to build up.

It is possible that some people who do not understand this philosophy
may use Bergson's name as a cloak for giving up all self-direction and
letting themselves go intellectually to pieces, just as hooligans may
use a time of revolution to plunder in the name of the Red Guard. But
Bergson's philosophy is in reality as far from teaching mere laziness
as Communism is from being mere destruction of the old social order.

Bergson attacks the use to which we usually put our minds, but he most
certainly does not suggest that a philosopher should not use his mind
at all; he is to use it for all it is worth, only differently, more
efficiently for the purpose he has in view, the purpose of knowing for
its own sake.

There is, of course, a sense in which doing anything in the right way
is simply letting one's self go, for after all it is easier to do a
thing well than badlyit certainly takes much less effort to produce
the same amount of result. So to know in the way which Bergson
recommends does in a sense come more easily than attempting to get the
knowledge we want by inappropriate methods. If this saving of waste
effort is a fault, then Bergson must plead guilty. But as the field of
knowledge open to us is far too wide for any one mind to explore, the
new method of knowing, though it requires less effort than the old to
produce the same result, does not thereby let us off more easily, for
with a better instrument it becomes possible to work for a greater

It is not because it affords an excuse for laziness that Bergson's
philosophy is popular but because it gives expression to a feeling
which is very widespread at the present time, a distrust of systems,
theories, logical constructions, the assumption of premisses and then
the acceptance of everything that follows logically from them. There
is a sense of impatience with thought and a thirst for the actual, the
concrete. It is because the whole drift of Bergson's writing is an
incitement to throw over abstractions and get back to facts that so
many people read him, hoping that he will put into words and find an
answer to the unformulated doubt that haunts them.

It was in this spirit that the writer undertook the study of Bergson.
On the first reading he appeared at once too persuasive and too vague,
specious and unsatisfying: a closer investigation revealed more and
more a coherent theory of reality and a new and promising method of
investigating it. The apparent unsatisfactoriness of the first reading
arose from a failure to realize how entirely new and unfamiliar the
point of view is from which Bergson approaches metaphysical
speculation. In order to understand Bergson it is necessary to adopt
his attitude and that is just the difficulty, for his attitude is the
exact reverse of that which has been inculcated in us by the
traditions of our language and education and now comes to us
naturally. This common sense attitude is based on certain assumptions
which are so familiar that we simply take them for granted without
expressly formulating them, and indeed, for the most part, without
even realizing that we have been making any assumptions at all.

Bergson's principal aim is to direct our attention to the reality
which he believes we all actually know already, but misinterpret and
disregard because we are biassed by preconceived ideas. To do this
Bergson has to offer some description of what this reality is, and
this description will be intelligible only if we are willing and able
to make a profound change in our attitude, to lay aside the old
assumptions which underlie our every day common sense point of view
and adopt, at least for the time being, the assumptions from which
Bergson sets out. This book begins with an attempt to give as precise
an account as possible of the old assumptions which we must discard
and the new ones which we must adopt in order to understand Bergson's
description of reality. To make the complete reversal of our ordinary
mental habits needed, for understanding what Bergson has to say
requires a very considerable effort from anyone, but the feat is
perhaps most difficult of all for those who have carefully trained
themselves in habits of rigorous logical criticism. In attempting to
describe what we actually know in the abstract logical terms which are
the only means of intercommunication that human beings possess,
Bergson is driven into perpetual self-contradiction, indeed,
paradoxical though it may sound, unless he contradicted himself his
description could not be a true one. It is easier for the ordinary
reader to pass over the self contradictions, hardly even being aware
of them, and grasp the underlying meaning: the trained logician is at
once pulled up by the nonsensical form of the description and the
meaning is lost in a welter of conflicting words. This, I think, is
the real reason why some of the most brilliant intellectual thinkers
have been able to make nothing of Bergson s philosophy: baffled by the
self-contradictions into which he is necessarily driven in the attempt
to convey his meaning they have hastily assumed that Bergson had no
meaning to convey.

The object of this book is to set out the relation between
explanations and the actual facts which we want to explain and thereby
to show exactly why Bergson must use self-contradictory terms if the
explanation of reality which he offers is to be a true one.

Having first shown what attitude Bergson requires us to adopt I have
gone on to describe what he thinks this new way of looking at reality
will reveal. This at once involves me in the difficulty with which
Bergson wrestles in all his attempts to describe reality, the
difficulty which arises from the fundamental discrepancy between what
he sees the actual fact to be and the abstract notions which are all
he has with which to describe it. I have attempted to show how it
comes about that we are in fact able to perform this apparently
impossible feat of describing the indescribable, using Bergson's
descriptions of sensible perception and the relations of matter and
memory to illustrate my point. If we succeed in ridding ourselves of
our common-sense preconceptions, Bergson tells us that we may expect
to know the old facts in a new way, face to face, as it were, instead
of seeing them through a web of our own intellectual interpretations.
I have not attempted to offer any proof whether or not Bergson's
description of reality is in fact true: having understood the meaning
of the description it remains for each of us to decide for himself
whether or not it fits the facts.

                                                        KARIN STEPHEN.

Cambridge, January, 1922.

                 International Library of Psychology
                   Philosophy and Scientific Method

              GENERAL EDITOR - - - - C. K. OGDEN, M. A.

                                       (Magdalene College, Cambridge).

                      VOLUMES ALREADY ARRANGED:

by Q. E. MOORE, Litt. D.
by W. H. R. RIVERS, F. R. S.
Introduction by William Brown.
by G. H. HARDY, F. R. S.
by C. G. JONG, M. D., LL. D.
by W. POLE, F. R. S.
Edited by Edward J. Dent.
by C. D. BROAD, Litt. D.
Introduction by Bertrand Russell.
by F. A. LANGE

                              CHAPTER I


IN order to understand Bergson it is not necessary to have any
previous acquaintance with philosophy, indeed the less the reader
knows of current metaphysical notions the easier it may perhaps be for
him to adopt the mental attitude required for understanding Bergson.
For Bergson says that the tradition of philosophy is all wrong and
must be broken with: according to his view philosophical knowledge can
only be obtained by "a reversal of the usual work of the

* Introduction to Metaphysics, page 34.

The usual work of the intellect consists in analysis and
classification: if you have anything presented to you which you do not
understand the obvious question to put yourself is, "what is it?"
Suppose in a dark room which you expected to find empty you stumble
against something, the natural thing to do is to begin at once to try
to fit your experience into some class already familiar to you. You
find it has a certain texture which you class as rather rough, a
temperature which you class as warm, a size which you class as about
two feet high, a peculiar smell which you recognise and you finally
jump to the answer to your question: it is "a dog." This intellectual
operation is a sample of the way in which it comes natural to us to
set to work whenever we find ourselves confronted with any situation
which we are not able to classify off hand, we are not easy till we
can say what the situation is, and saying what consists in hitting
upon some class with which we are already familiar to which it
belongs: in this instance the question was answered when you succeeded
in describing the situation to yourself as "stumbling upon a dog." Now
you were only able to class what was stumbled upon as a dog after you
had recognised a certain number of properties as being those shared by
dogsthe rough texture, the size, the smell. You analysed the situation
as containing these qualities and thereupon classified what had been
stumbled upon as a dog.

Analysis and classification are the two methods which we are
accustomed to rely upon for improving our knowledge in unfamiliar
situations and we are accustomed to take it that they improve our
knowledge of the whole situation: anyone who said that after you were
able to say what you had stumbled upon you knew less of the whole
situation than you knew before would find it difficult to get you to
agree. And yet this is very much the position which Bergson takes up.
Analysis and classification, he would admit, are the way to get more
knowledge, of a kind; they enable us to describe situations and they
are the starting point of all explanation and prediction. After
analysis and classification you were able to say, "I have stumbled
upon a dog," and having got so far you could then pass on to whatever
general laws you knew of as applying to the classes into which you had
fitted the situation, and by means of these laws still more of the
situation could be classified and explained. Thus by means of the
general law, "dogs lick," you would be furnished with an explanation
if perhaps you felt something warm and damp on your hand, or again
knowledge of this law might lead you to expect such a feeling. When
what we want is to describe or to explain a situation in general terms
then Bergson agrees that analysis and classification are the methods
to employ, but he maintains that these methods which are useful for
describing and explaining are no use for finding out the actual
situation which we may want to describe or explain. And he goes a step
further. Not only do these methods fail to reveal the situation but
the intellectual attitude of abstraction to which they accustom us
seriously handicaps us when we want not merely to explain the
situation but to know it. Now it is the business of science to explain
situations in terms of general laws and so the intellectual method of
abstract-ion is the right one for scientists to employ. Bergson
claims, however, that philosophy has a task quite distinct from that
of science. In whatever situation he finds himself a man may take up
one of two attitudes, he may either adopt a practical attitude, in
which case he will set to work to explain the situation in order that
he may know what to do under the circumstances, or he may take a
speculative interest in it and then he will devote himself to knowing
it simply for the sake of knowing. It is only, according to Bergson,
in the former case, when his interest is practical, that he will
attain his object by using the intellectual method of abstraction
which proceeds by analysis and classification. These intellectual
operations have such prestige, however, they ' have proved so
successful in discovering explanations, that we are apt to take it for
granted that they must be the best way to set, to work whatever sort
of knowledge we want: we might almost be tempted, off hand, to imagine
that they were our only way of knowing at all, but a moment's
reflection will show | that this, at any rate, would be going too far.

Before we can analyse and classify and explain we must have something
to analyse, some material to work upon: these operations, are based
upon something which we know directly, what we see, for instance, or
touch or feel. This something is the foundation of knowledge, the
intellectual operations of analysis classification and the framing of
general laws are simply an attempt to describe and explain it. It is
the business of science to explain and intellectual methods are the
appropriate ones for science to employ. But the business of
philosophy, according to Bergson, is not to explain reality but to
know it. For this a different kind of mental effort is required.
Analysis and classification, instead of increasing our direct
knowledge, tend rather to diminish it. They must always start from
some direct knowledge, but they proceed, not by widening the field of
this knowledge but by leaving out more and more of it. Moreover,
unless we are constantly on the alert, the intellectual habit of using
all our direct knowledge as material for analysis and classification
ends by completely misleading us as to what it is that we do actually
know. So that the better we explain the less, in the end, we know.

There can be no doubt that something is directly known but disputes
break out as soon as we try to say what that something is. Is it the
"real" world of material objects, or a mental copy of these objects,
or are we altogether on the wrong track in looking for two kinds of
realities, the "real" world and "our mental states," and is it
perceived events alone that are "real?" This something which we know
directly has been given various names: "the external object," "sense
data," "phenomena," and so on, each more or less coloured by
implications belonging to one or other of the rival theories as to
what it is. We shall call it "the facts" to emphasise its indubitable
reality, and avoid, as far as possible, any other implications.

Controversy about "the facts" has been mainly as to what position they
occupy in the total scheme of reality. As to what they are at the
moment when we are actually being acquainted with them one would have
thought there could have been no two opinions; it seems impossible
that we should make any mistake about that. No doubt it is impossible
to have such a thing as a false experience, an experience is what it
is, only judgments can be false. But it is quite possible to make a
false judgment as to what experience we are actually having, or, still
more commonly, simply to take for granted that our experience must be
such and such, without ever looking to see whether it is or not. A
small child taken to a party and told that parties are great fun if
questioned afterwards will very likely say it has enjoyed itself
though, if you happened to have been there, you may have seen clearly
that it was really bewildered or bored. Even when we grow up names
still have a tendency to impose upon us and disguise from us the
actual nature of our experiences. There are not very many people who,
if invited to partake, for instance, of the last bottle of some famous
vintage wine, would have the courage to admit, even to themselves,
that it was nasty, even though it was, in fact, considerably past its
prime. Cases of this kind, with which we are all familiar, are enough
to make us realize that it is actually quite possible to make mistakes
even about facts which we know directly, to overlook the actual fact
altogether because we have made up our minds in advance as to what it
is sure to be.

Now Bergson says that such errors are not confined to stray instances,
such as we have noticed, in which the imposition of preconceived ideas
can readily be detected by a little closer attention to the actual
facts. He believes that a falsification due to preconceived ideas,
runs right through the whole of our direct experience. He lays the
blame both for this falsification and for our failure to detect it
upon our intellectual habit of relying upon explanation rather than
upon direct knowledge, and that is one of the reasons why he says that
our intellectual attitude is an obstacle to direct knowledge of the
facts. The intellectual method of abstraction by which we analyse and
classify is the foundation of all description and explanation in terms
of general laws, and the truth is that we are, as a rule, much more
preoccupied with explaining the facts which we know than with the
actual experiencing of them.

This preoccupation is natural enough. The bare fact which we know
directly is not enough to enable us to carry on our everyday lives, we
cannot get on unless we supplement it with some sort of explanation
and, if it comes to choosing between fact and explanation, the
explanation is often of more practical use than the fact. So it comes
about that we are inclined to use the facts which we know directly
simply as material for constructing explanations and to pay so little
attention to them for their own sakes that we simply take it for
granted that they must be what our explanations lead us to suppose
they are.

Now according to Bergson the attitude of mind required for explaining
the facts conflicts with that which is required for knowing them. From
the point of view simply of knowing, the facts are all equally
important and we cannot afford to discriminate, but for explanation
some facts are very much more important than others. When we want to
explain, therefore, rather than simply to know, we tend to concentrate
our attention upon these practically important facts and pass over the
rest. For in order to describe and explain a situation we have to
classify it, and in order to do this we must pick out in it properties
required for membership of some one or other of the classes known to
us. In the situation which we originally considered by way of
illustration, for instance, you had to pick out the qualities of
roughness, warmth and so on, in order to classify what you had
stumbled upon as "a dog." Now the picking out of these particular
qualities is really an operation of abstraction from the situation as
a whole: they were the important features of the situation from the
point of view of classifying what you had stumbled upon, but they by
no means exhausted the whole situation. Our preoccupation with
explaining the facts, then, leads us to treat what we know directly as
so much material for abstraction.

This intellectual attitude, as Bergson calls it, though practically
useful, has, according to him, two grave drawbacks from the point of
view of speculation. By focussing our attention upon anything less
than the whole fact, and so isolating a part from the rest, he says we
distort what we knew originally: furthermore just in so far as we make
a selection among the facts, attending to some and passing over
others, we limit the field of direct knowledge which we might
otherwise have enjoyed. For these two reasons Bergson insists that it
is the business of philosophy to reverse the intellectual habit of
mind and return to the fullest possible direct knowledge of the fact.
"May not the task of philosophy, "he says," be to bring us back to a
fuller perception of reality by a certain displacement of our
attention? What would be required would be to turn our attention away
from the practically interesting aspect of the universe in order to
turn it back to what, from a practical point of view, is useless. And
this conversion of attention would be philosophy itself."[5]*

* La Perception du Changement, page 13. 24

At first sight it appears paradoxical and absurd to maintain that our
efforts to analyse, classify and explain the facts tend rather to
limit than to extend our knowledge, and furthermore distort even such
facts as we still remain acquainted with. Common sense has no doubt
that, far from limiting and distorting our knowledge, explanation is
the only possible way in which we can get beyond the little scraps of
fact which are all that we can ever know directly.

If the views of common sense on this question were formulated, which,
for the most part, they are not, they would be something like this.
Until we begin to think the facts which we know directly are all
muddled together and confused: first of all it is necessary to sort
them by picking out qualities from the general confusion in which they
are at first concealed. It is possible that during this process, which
is what is called analysis, we may be obliged, at first, to overlook
some of what we already know in a vague sort of way, but this
insignificant loss is compensated by the clarity of what remains, and
is, in any case, only temporary. For as the analysis proceeds we
gradually replace the whole of the original mere muddle by clear and
definite things and qualities. At first we may be able to distinguish
only a few qualities here and there, and our preoccupation with these
may possibly lead us, for a time, to pay insufficient attention to the
rest of the muddle which we know directly but have not yet succeeded
in analysing. But when the analysis is completed the distinct things
and qualities which we shall then know will contain all that we
originally knew, and more besides, since the analysis will have
revealed much that was originally concealed or only implicit in the
original unanalysed fact. If, for instance, you look at a very modern
painting, at first what you are directly aware of may be little more
than a confused sight: bye and bye, as you go on looking, you will be
able to distinguish colours and shapes, one by one objects may be
recognised until finally you may be able to see the whole picture at a
glance as composed of four or five different colours arranged in
definite shapes and positions. You may even be able to make out that
it represents a human figure, or a landscape. Common sense would tell
you that if your analysis is complete these colours and shapes will
exhaust the whole of what you originally knew and moreover that in the
course of it much will have been discovered which originally you could
hardly be said to have known at all, so that analysis, far from
limiting your direct knowledge, will have added to it considerably.
Starting, then, originally, from a very meagre stock of direct
knowledge, analysis, according to the common sense view, by
discovering more and more qualities, builds up for us more and more
direct knowledge.

Bergson begins just the other way up. He starts from the idea of a
whole field of direct knowledge vastly more extended than the actual
facts of which we are normally aware as making up our direct
experience. He calls this whole field of knowledge "virtual
knowledge." This field of virtual knowledge contains the whole of the
actions and reactions of matter in which our body has its part at any
moment, the multitude of stimulations which actually assail the senses
but which we normally disregard, together with all the responses by
which our bodies adjust themselves to these stimulations, and, in
addition, the whole of our past. For Bergson the problem is to
explain, not how we increase our direct knowledge, but how we limit
it: not how we remember, but how we forget. "Our knowledge," he says,
"far from being built up by a gradual combination of simple elements,
is the result of a sharp dissociation. From the infinitely vast field
of our virtual knowledge we have selected, to turn into actual
knowledge, whatever concerns our action upon things; the rest we have
neglected. The brain appears to have been constructed on purpose for
this work of selection. It is easy enough to show that this is so in
the case of memory. Our past, as we shall show in the next lecture, is
necessarily preserved, automatically. It survives in its entirety. But
it is to our practical interest to put it aside, or at any rate only
to accept just so much of it as can more or less usefully throw 'light
on the present situation and complete it. The brain enables us to make
this selection: it materialises the useful memories and keeps those
which would be of no use below the threshold of consciousness. The
same thing may be said of perception: perception is the servant of
action and out of the whole of reality it isolates only what interests
us; it shows us not so much the things themselves as what we can make
of them. In advance it classifies them, in advance it arranges them;
we barely look at the object, it is enough for us to know to what
category it belongs."[6]*

* La Perception du Changement, pages 12 and 13. 27

According to Bergson the facts which we actually know directly in the
ordinary course are discriminated out of a very much wider field which
we must also be said in a sense to know directly though most of it
lies outside the clear focus of attention. This whole field of virtual
knowledge is regarded as standing to the actual facts to which we
usually devote our attention, much as, for instance, the whole
situation of stumbling upon something in a dark room stood to the
single quality of roughness: in both cases there is a central point in
the full focus of attention which we are apt to look upon as the fact
directly known, but this central point is really surrounded by a
vastly wider context and this too is known in some sense though it is
commonly ignored.

For all philosophies, whether they be Bergson's or the view of common
sense or any other, the actual facts which require to be explained are
the same, and, though any positive assertion as to what these facts
are may be hotly disputed, it will probably be admitted that as we
ordinarily know them they consist in some direct experience,
undeniable as far as it goes. The point at issue between Bergson and
common sense is, precisely, how far it does go. Both sides would admit
that, in this fact directly known, what is in the full focus of
attention at any given moment is very limited; on the other hand both
would admit that this fully focussed fact is set in a context, or
fringe, with no clearly defined limits which also goes to make up the
whole fact directly known though we do not usually pay much attention
to it. The fact directly known being given the problem is to find out
what it is and how it comes to be known. What is actually given and
needs to be accounted for is the fact clearly focussed, with its less
clearly defined fringe: Bergson's sweeping assumption of the existence
of a further vast field of virtual knowledge in order to account for
it, does, at first sight, seem arbitrary and unwarranted and in. need
of considerable justification before it can be accepted. For him the
problem then becomes, not to account for our knowing as much as we do,
but to see why it is that we do not know a great deal more: why our
actual knowledge does not cover the whole field of our virtual
knowledge. Common sense, on, the other hand, sets out from the
assumption of ignorance, absence of awareness, as being, as it were,
natural and not needing any accounting for, and so it regards the
problem as being to explain why any experience ever occurs at all. The
assumption of ignorance as being the natural thing seems at first
sight to need no justification, but this may well be due merely to our
having grown accustomed to the common sense point of view. When one
begins to question this assumption it begins to appear just as
arbitrary as the contrary standpoint adopted by Bergson. The actual
facts are neither ignorance nor full knowledge and in accounting for
them it is really just as arbitrary to assume one of these two
extremes as the other. The truth appears to be that in order to
account for the facts one must make some assumptions, and these, not
being facts actually given, are bound to be more or less arbitrary.
They seem more or less "natural" according as we are more or less
accustomed to the idea of them, but they are really justified only
according to the success with which they account for the actual facts.

This idea of putting the problem of knowledge in terms exactly the
reverse of those in which it seems "natural" to put it was originally
suggested to Bergson by his study of the important work on amnesia
carried out by Charcot and his pupils, and also by such evidence as
was to be had at the time when he wrote on the curious memory
phenomena revealed by the use of hypnotism and by cases of spontaneous
dissociation. It is impossible to prove experimentally that no
experience is ever destroyed but it is becoming more and more firmly
established that enormous numbers of past experiences, which are
inaccessible to ordinary memory and which therefore it would seem
"natural" to suppose destroyed, can, if the right methods are
employed, be revived even with amazing fullness of detail.

In recent years since Bergson's books were first published, great
strides have been made in the experimental investigation of the whole
subject of memory, and the evidence thus obtained, far from upsetting
the theory of memory suggested to him by the less extensive evidence
which was available at the time when he wrote, lends it striking

It appears to be accepted by doctors who use hypnotism in
psychotherapy that under hypnotism many patients can perfectly well be
taken back in memory to any period of their lives which the doctor
chooses to ask for, and can be made not only to remember vaguely a few
incidents which occurred at the time but actually to re-live the whole
period in the fullest possible detail, feeling over again with
hallucinatory vividness all the emotions experienced at the time.

This re-living of past experience can, with some patients, be made to
go on indefinitely, through the whole day, if the doctor has time to
attend to it, every little incident being faithfully recalled though
the actual event may have taken place 20 or 30 years previously. And
this happens not simply in the case of some very striking event or
great crisis which the patient has been through, indeed it is just the
striking events that are often hardest to recover. Some doctors, in
order to get at the crisis, have found it useful occasionally to put
patients back through one birthday after another right back even as
early as their second year, to see at what point in their lives some
particular nervous symptom first appeared, and each successive
birthday is lived through again in the utmost detail.[7]*

* See Psychology and Psychotherapy by Dr. William Brown.

Evidence of this kind does not, of course, prove that literally
nothing is ever lost but it goes far towards upsetting the ordinary
view that it is the rule for past experience to be annihilated and the
exception for fragments here and there to be preserved in memory. The
evidence which has so far been collected and which is rapidly
accumulating at least seems to justify us in reversing this rule and
saying rather that to be preserved is the rule for experience and to
be lost would be the exception, if indeed any experience ever really
is lost at all.

This way of regarding the field of memory is further supported by such
evidence as has been collected with regard to the influence of past
experience in dreams, phobias and various forms of insanity, but in
these cases, of course, it is only isolated past experiences here and
there whose activity can be observed, and so, while helping to upset
the most natural assumption that whatever cannot be recalled by
ordinary efforts of memory may be assumed to have been destroyed, they
do not lend very much support to the wider view put forward by
Bergson, that no experience, however trivial, is ever destroyed but
that all of it is included in the field out of which memory makes its
practical selection.

Taking all the evidence with regard to the preservation of past
experience which is at present available, then, it is safe to say
that, while it cannot, in the nature of things, absolutely prove
Bergson's theory of knowledge, it in no way conflicts with it and even
supports it, positively in the sense that the theory does fit the
facts well enough to explain them (though it goes further than the
actual facts and makes assumptions which can neither be proved nor
disproved by an appeal to them) and negatively in the sense that what
we now know about memory actually conflicts with the "natural" view
that past experience which we are unable to recall has been destroyed,
which is commonly appealed to to show the absurdity of the rival
theory put forward by Bergson.

On the assumption which Bergson makes of a much wider field of direct
knowledge than that which contains what we are accustomed to regard as
the actual facts which we know directly, Bergson's problem becomes how
to account for these facts being so much less than the whole field
which we might have expected to have known. The answer, according to
him, is to be found in our practical need of being prepared in advance
for what is to come, at whatever sacrifice of direct knowledge of past
and present facts. For practical purposes it is essential to use
present and past facts as signs of what is coming so that we may be
ready for it. To this end it is far more important to know the general
laws according to which facts occur than to experience the facts
themselves in their fullness. Our intellectual habits which prompt us
to set to work at once in every unfamiliar situation to analyse and
classify it fit us for discovering these laws: in so far as we are
intellectual we incline to regard facts mainly as material for
arriving at descriptions which themselves form the material out of
which, by a further intellectual effort, explanations are framed in
terms of general laws, which we need to know if we are to be ready for
what is going to happen. Now these laws are general laws applying to
whole classes of facts of one kind, or another. Facts, therefore, only
form material for discovering laws in so far as they can be classified
into kinds.

The first step in classifying a fact is called analysis and consists
in discovering common qualities which the fact possesses. According to
Bergson the discovery of common qualities in a fact consists simply in
learning to overlook everything in that fact except the respects in
which it can be said to be of the same kind, and so to belong to the
same class, as other facts. Far from adding to our direct knowledge,
as common sense supposes, he holds that analysis consists in shutting
our eyes to the individuality of facts in order to dwell only upon
what they have in common with one another. Starting, then, from the
wider field of knowledge which he assumes Bergson explains how we
reach the limited facts, which are all that we ordinarily know, by
saying that these facts are arrived at by selection out of this much
wider field. It is not the disinterested love of knowledge that
determines how much we shall actually attend to: our selection from
the whole field of what facts we will attend to is determined by the
pressing need of being prepared in advance for the facts which are to
come. We attend only to so much of the whole of what is, in some
sense, directly known to us as will be useful for framing the general
laws which enable us to prepare in advance for what is coming. This
practical utility explains why analysis and classification seem to us
to be the obvious way of dealing with what we know.

The work of abstraction by which, treating the facts directly known as
so much material for framing explanations, we pass from these actual
facts to the general laws which explain them, falls into four stages,
and at each stage, according to Bergson, as we go further and further
from the original fact directly known, the two vices of the
intellectual method, limitation and distortion of the actual fact,
become more and more apparent.

Starting from the fact directly known, the first thing, as we have
seen, is to learn to distinguish common qualities which it shares in
common with some, but not all, other facts; the next thing is to
classify it by fitting it into the further groups to which these
various qualities entitle it to belong. The moment a quality has been
distinguished in a fact that fact has been fitted into a class, the
class which consists of all the facts in which that quality can be
distinguished. Thus, in our original illustration, when you first
distinguished warmth, etc., you were beginning to fit your fact into
classes: when you perceived warmth you fitted it into the class of
warm objects, and it was the same with the other qualities of
roughness, size and smell. This fitting of facts into classes
according to the common qualities distinguished in them might be
called a preliminary classification, but we shall use the term
analysis for this preliminary grouping of facts according to their
qualities, keeping the term classification for the next step, which
you took when you realized "this is a dog," which consists in the
discovery not of mere disconnected qualities but of "real things."
Just as every quality, such as "warm" or "hairy" or "sweet" or "cold"
is a class of actual facts, so every "real thing" such as "a dog" or
"an ice cream" is a class of qualities. Thus a quality is once, and a
"real thing" is twice, removed from actual fact, and the more
energetically we pursue the intellectual work of abstraction the
further we get from the fact itself from which we began. The point of
grouping facts into classes, whether by analysing them into qualities
or classifying them into "real things," is that we can then apply to
the particular fact all that we know to be true in general of whatever
belongs to these various classes: in a word, once we have fitted a
fact into a class we can apply to it all the general laws which are
known to apply to that class.

Common sense, as we saw, tells us that when we distinguish qualities
in any given fact we obtain fuller knowledge than was given in the
mere unanalysed fact, and this knowledge is supposed to become fuller
still when we go on to classify these qualities into "real things."
Bergson, on the contrary, says that common qualities are arrived at by
leaving out much of the fact originally known, while each successive
stage in the process of abstraction by which we explain facts, though
it enables us to apply more and more general laws, yet leaves out more
and more of the actual fact itself. Analysis begins this whittling
away of the actual fact by confining our attention to qualities which
do not exhaust the whole content of the actual fact. At this
preliminary stage, however, though we concentrate our attention on the
quality, we still remain aware of the whole fact in which the quality
has its setting. Classification carries the work of limitation a stage
further. "Things" are a stage further removed from actual fact than
qualities are since, while qualities are classes of facts, "things"
are only classes of qualities. For classification into "things"
therefore only the qualities in a fact will be of any use, and so,
when we have reached the stage of classification, we need no longer
burden our attention with the actual facts themselves in their
entirety, we need pay attention only to the qualities which
distinguish one group from another, For the purpose of classification
into "things" the quality can stand for the whole fact: thus, as
Bergson points out, we begin to lose contact with the whole fact
originally known, since all the rest of it except the respects in
which it can be analysed will henceforth tend to be ignored.

The third stage in explaining facts in terms of general laws is called
induction and consists in observing and formulating the relations of
"things." "Things" are related to each other through their qualities.
Qualities do not give us the whole fact, because, when we have
distinguished qualities, we are inclined to concentrate our attention
on the quality at the expense of the rest of the fact; nevertheless
while we attend to actual qualities we have not lost contact with fact
altogether. Induction, which consists in framing general laws of the
relations of "things," though it does not involve attention to the
whole fact, does at least demand attention to qualities, and so, while
we are occupied with induction, we do still keep touch with fact to
some extent.

Once the relations of qualities have been observed and formulated,
however, we need no longer attend to any part of the fact at all.
Instead of the actual qualities we now take symbols, words, for
example, or letters, or other signs, and with these symbols we make
for ourselves diagrams of the relations in which we have observed that
the qualities which they represent have stood to each other. Thus we
might use the words "lightning before thunder" or first an L and then
a T, to express the fact that in a storm we usually observe the
quality of flashing before the quality of rumbling. Such laws do not
actually reveal new facts to us, they can only tell us, provided we
actually know a fact belonging to a given class, to what other class
facts which we shall know bye and bye will belong. Thus, once we have
classified facts as belonging to two classes, daylight and darkness,
and have observed the invariable alternation of facts belonging to
these classes, then, whenever we know directly facts which can be
classed as daylight, we can predict, according to our law of the
alternation of the two classes, that bye and bye these facts will give
place to others which can be classed as darkness and that bye and bye
these in their turn will be replaced by facts which can again be
classed as daylight. The practical value of being able to make even
such elementary predictions as these is obviously enormous, and this
value increases as applied science, which is built up simply by the
formulation of more and more comprehensive general laws of this type,
widens the field of facts which can be explained. Once the laws are
known, moreover, we are able to say to what class the facts must have
belonged which preceded a fact of any given class just as easily as we
can say to what class the facts which are to follow it will belong.
Thus, given a fact which can be classed as daylight, we can infer, by
means of the law of the alternation of the classes daylight and
darkness, not only that facts which can be classed as darkness will
follow bye and bye, but also that facts of that class must have gone
before. In this way we can explain the causes of all classifiable
facts equally with their effects and so bridge over the gaps in our
direct knowledge by creating a unified plan of the interrelations of
all the classes to which facts can belong. By means of this plan we
can explain any fact (that is classify its causes and effects),
provided we can fit it into one or other of the known classes. This
again is of enormous practical use because, when we know to what class
present facts must belong if they are to be followed by the class of
facts which we want, or not to be followed by those which we do not
want, we can arrange our present facts accordingly.

Bergson would not think of denying that this intellectual method, in
which facts are used as material for abstraction, is of the utmost
practical use for explaining facts and so enabling us to control them.
He suggests, however, that our preoccupation with these useful
abstractions, classes and their relations, misleads us as to the facts
themselves. What actually takes place, he thinks, is a kind of
substitution of the explanation for the fact which was to be
explained, analogous with what happens when a child at a party, or a
guest at dinner, is misled about his actual sensations, only this
substitution of which Bergson speaks, being habitual, is much harder
to see through. Explanation, as we have seen, consists in constructing
a plan or map in terms of such abstractions as classes and their
relations, or sometimes, when the abstraction has been carried a step
further, in terms simply of words or symbols, by means of which we
represent the causal relations between such of the actual directly
known facts as can be classified. This plan is more comprehensive and
complete than the actual facts which we know directly in the ordinary
course of things, for which it stands, and it enables us to explain
these facts in terms of the classes of causes from which they follow,
and the classes of effects which they produce. No explanation, of
course, can actually acquaint us directly with the real antecedent or
consequent facts themselves: it can only tell us to what classes these
facts must belong. The terms of the plan by which we explain the
facts, the classes, for instance, daylight and darkness, and their
relation of alternation, or the words or symbols which stand for
classes and relations are not themselves facts but abstractions. We
cannot think in terms of actual facts: the intellectual activity by
which we formulate general laws can only work among abstractions, and
in order to explain a fact we are obliged to substitute for it either
a class or word or other symbol. All description and explanation of
facts consists in substitutions of this kind. The explanation applies
provided the abstraction is based on fact, that is, provided it is
possible to fit the fact to which the explanation is intended to apply
into the class employed to explain it: the general law, for instance,
about the alternation of the classes daylight and darkness will
explain any facts which can be fitted into one or other of these
classes, or again general laws about dogs, such as "dogs lick" will
apply to whatever fact belongs at once to all the simpler classes,
"warm," "rough," "of a certain size, and smell," out of which the
class "dog" is constructed. The general law itself, however, does not
consist of such facts but of abstractions substituted for the facts
themselves. Such substitution is extremely useful and perfectly
legitimate so long as we keep firm hold of the fact as well, and are
quite clear about what is fact and what only symbol. The danger is,
however, that, being preoccupied with describing and explaining and
having used abstractions so successfully for these purposes, we may
come to lose our sense of fact altogether and fail to distinguish
between actual facts and the symbols which we use to explain them.

This, indeed, is just what Bergson thinks really does happen. No doubt
an intelligent physicist is perfectly aware that the vibrations and
wave lengths and electrons and forces by which he explains the changes
that take place in the material world are fictions, and does not
confuse them with the actual facts in which his actual knowledge of
the material world consists. But it is much more doubtful whether he
distinguishes between these actual facts and the common sense material
objects, such as lumps of lead, pieces of wood, and so on, which he
probably believes he knows directly but which are really only
abstractions derived from the facts in order to explain them just as
much as his own vibrations and wave lengths. When a scientist frames a
hypothesis he employs the intellectual method of substitution with
full consciousness of what he is about; he recognises that its terms
are abstractions and not facts. But the intellectual method of
explaining by substituting general abstractions for particular facts
is not confined to science. All description and explanation, from the
first uncritical assumptions of common sense right up to the latest
scientific hypothesis employs the intellectual method of substituting
abstractions for actual facts. The common sense world of things,
events, qualities, minds, feelings, and so on, in which we all pass
our every day lives is an early and somewhat crude attempt to describe
the continually changing fact which each of us experiences directly,
but it is perhaps more misleading than the later elaborate
constructions of chemistry, physics, biology or physchology in that
things and qualities are more easily mistaken for facts than more
obviously hypothetical assumptions. Bergson points out that the
various things of which this common sense world consists, solid
tables, green grass, anger, hope, etc., are not facts: these things,
he insists, are only abstractions. They are convenient for enabling us
to describe and explain the actual facts which each of us experiences
directly, and they are based upon these facts in the sense of being
abstracted from them. The objection to them is that we are too much
inclined to take it for granted that these things and qualities and
events actually are facts themselves, and in so doing to lose sight of
the real facts altogether. In support of his view that things having
qualities in successive relations are mere abstractions Bergson points
out that whenever we stop to examine what it actually is that we know
directly we can see at once that this fact does not consist of things
and qualities at all: things and qualities are clearly marked off one
from another,; they change as a series of distinct terms, but in what
we know directly there are no clear cut distinctions and so no series.
The assumption which we usually make that the facts must consist of
such things as events and qualities and material objects is not based
upon the evidence of direct knowledge: we make the assumption that the
facts must be of this kind simply because they can be explained in
these terms.

It is true that there is some correspondence between the actual facts
and the common sense world of solid tables and so on, and we usually
jump to the conclusion that this correspondence would not be possible
unless the facts had common qualities. There is no denying that facts
can be classified and it seems only natural to take it for granted
that whatever can be classified must share some quality with whatever
belongs to the same class, that, indeed, it is just on account of all
sharing the same common quality that facts can be classified as being
all of the same kind. Thus common sense takes it for granted that all
facts which can be classified as red, and so explained by all the
general laws which we know about the relation of red things to other
things, must share a common quality of redness. It seems only natural
to make this assumption because we are so used to making it, but if we
stop to examine the facts which we know directly we discover that they
do not bear it out, and we are gradually driven to the conclusion that
it is quite unwarranted. It is only bit by bit, as we gradually
accustom ourselves to doubting what we have been accustomed to take
for granted, that we realize how ill this assumption fits the facts.

                              CHAPTER II


COMMON sense starts out with the assumption that what we know directly
is such things as trees, grass, anger, hope and so on, and that these
things have qualities such as solidity, greenness, unpleasantness and
so on, which are also facts directly known. It is not very difficult
to show that, if we examine the facts which we know directly, we
cannot find in them any such things as trees, grass, or minds, over
and above the various qualities which we say belong to them. I see one
colour and you see another: both of them are colours belonging to the
grass but neither of us can find anything among the facts known to him
corresponding to this grass, regarded as something over and above its
various qualities, to which those qualities are supposed to belong.

This drives common sense back unto its second line of defence where it
takes up the much stronger position of asserting that, while trees,
grass, minds, etc., are not among the facts directly known, their
qualities of solidity, greenness, etc., are. It is usual to add that
these qualities are signs of real trees, grass, etc., which exist
independently but are only known to us through their qualities.

It is much harder to attack this position, but its weakness is best
exposed by considering change as we know it directly, and comparing
this with change as represented in terms of qualities. Change, when
represented in terms of qualities, forms a series in which different
qualities are strung together one after the other by the aid of
temporal relations of before and after. The change perceived when we
look at the spectrum would thus have to be described in terms of a
series of colours, red before orange, orange before yellow, yellow
before green, and so on. We might certainly go into greater detail
than this, distinguishing any number of shades in each of the colours
mentioned, but the description would still have to be given in the
same form, that of a series of different colours, or shades of colour,
strung together by relations of before and after. Now the fact which
we know directly does not change so: it forms a continuous becoming
which is not made up of any number, however great, of fixed stages.
When we want to represent this changing fact in terms of qualities we
have to put together a series of qualities, such as red, orange, etc.,
and then say that "the colour" changes from one of these to another.
We pretend that there is "a colour" which is not itself either red or
green or orange or blue, which changes into all these different
colours one after another. It is not very difficult to see that this
abstract colour which is neither red nor orange nor green nor blue is
not a fact but only an abstraction which is convenient for purposes of
description: it is not quite so easy to see that this criticism
applies equally to each of the separate colours, red, orange, etc.,
and yet a little attention shows that these also are really nothing
but abstractions. With reference to the whole changing fact which is
known directly through any period the change in respect of colour is
clearly an abstraction. But just as there is no "colour" over and
above the red, the orange, the green, etc., which we say we see, so
there is really no "red," "orange," "green," over and above the
changing process with which we are directly acquainted. Each of these,
the red, the orange, and so on, just like the abstract "colour," is
simply a fictitious stage in the process of changing which it is
convenient to abstract when we want to describe the process but which
does not itself occur as a distinct part in the actual fact.

Change, as we know it directly, does not go on between fixed points
such as these stages which we abstract, it goes on impartially, as it
were, through the supposed stages just as much as in between them. But
though fixed stages are not needed to enable change to occur, simply
as a fact, they are needed if we are to describe change and explain it
in terms of general laws. Qualities are assumptions required, not in
order that change may take place, but in order that we may describe,
explain, and so control it. Such particular qualities as red and green
are really no more facts directly known than such still more general,
and so more obviously fictitious notions as a colour which is of no
particular shade, or a table, or a mind, apart from its qualities or
states. All these fixed things are alike abstractions required for
explaining facts directly known but not occurring as actual parts of
those facts or stages in their change.

Thus it appears that the common sense world of things and qualities
and events is in the same position, with regard to the actual facts
directly known as scientific hypotheses such as forces, electrons, and
so on, in their various relations: none of these actually form parts
of the fact, all of them are abstractions from the fact itself which
are useful for explaining and so controlling it. Common sense stops
short at things and qualities and events; science carries the
abstraction further, that is all the difference: the aim in both cases
is the same, the practical one of explaining and so controlling facts
directly known. In both cases the method employed is the intellectual
method of abstraction which begins by discriminating within the whole
field directly known in favour of just so much as will enable us to
classify it and ignoring the rest, and then proceeds to confuse even
this selected amount of the actual fact with the abstract classes or
other symbols in terms of which it is explained. We have just seen how
the result, the worlds of common sense or science, differ from the
actual facts in the way in which they change: these worlds of
abstractions represent change as a series of fixed stages united by
temporal relations, while the actual fact forms a continuous process
of becoming which does not contain any such fixed points, as stages in

The more we shake ourselves free from the common sense and scientific
bias towards substituting explanations for actual facts the more
clearly we see that this continuous process of changing is the very
essence of what we know directly, and the more we realize how unlike
such a continuous process is to any series of stages in relation of

The unsatisfactoriness of such descriptions is no new discovery: the
logical difficulties connected with the attempt to describe change in
terms of series of successive things or events have been familiar
since the time when Zeno invented the famous dilemma of Achilles' race
with the tortoise. Mathematicians have been in the habit of telling us
that these difficulties depend simply on the fact that we imagine the
series of positions at which Achilles and the tortoise find themselves
from moment to moment as finite: the device of the infinite series,
they say, satisfies all the requirements needed for representing
change and solves all the logical difficulties which arise from it.
Bergson's difficulties, however, cannot be solved in this way for they
are not based upon the discovery of logical absurdities but upon the
discrepancy between the description and the fact. What he maintains is
that the description of change in terms of an infinite series of
stages leaves out the change altogether. Zeno's logical dilemma as to
how Achilles could ever catch up with the tortoise provided the
tortoise was given a start, however small, may be countered by the
ingenuity of the mathematicians' infinite series. Bergson's difficulty
turns on a question of fact, not of logic, and cannot be so met. He
solves the problem simply by denying that Achilles or the tortoise
ever are at particular points at particular moments. Such a
description of change, he says, leaves out the real changing. And the
introduction of the notion of an infinite series only makes the matter
worse. For stages do not change, and so, if there is to be any change,
it must, presumably, take place in between one stage and the next. But
in between any two stages of an infinite series there are supposed to
be an infinite number of other stages, so that to any given stage
there is no next stage. Change, therefore, cannot take place between
one stage and the next one, there being no next one, and since it is
equally impossible that it should take place at any one of the stages
themselves it follows that an infinite series of stages leaves out
change altogether. Similarly a series of instants before and after one
another leaves out of time just the element of passage, becoming,
which is its essence.

The truth, Bergson says, is that with fixed stages, no matter how many
you take, and no matter in what relation you arrange them, you cannot
reproduce the change and time which actually occur as facts directly
known. If Achilles or the tortoise are ever at different places at
different moments then neither of them really moves at all. Change and
time, as represented by abstractions, according to the intellectual
method, consist of stages in relations of succession, but the fact
does not happen by stages and is not held together by relations: if we
compare the representation with the fact we find that they differ
profoundly in their form.

According to Bergson this difference in form is one of the two
essential respects in which abstractions fail to represent facts and
in which, consequently, we are led into error as to the facts if we
fail to distinguish them from the abstractions in terms of which we
explain them, or take for granted that they correspond exactly with
our explanations.

Bergson gives the name "space" to the form which belongs to
abstractions but not to actual facts: abstractions, he says, are
"spatial," but facts are not. This use of the word "space" is peculiar
and perhaps unfortunate. Even as it is ordinarily used the word
"space" is ambiguous, it may mean either the pure space with which
higher mathematics is concerned, or the public space which contains
the common sense things and objects and their qualities which make up
the every day world, or the private space of sensible perception. When
Bergson speaks of "space," however, he does not mean either pure or
public or private space, he means an a priori form imposed by
intellectual activity upon its object. This resembles Kant's use of
the word, but Bergson's "space" is not, like Kant's, the a priori form
of sense acquaintance, but of thought, in other words logical form.
For Bergson "spatial" means "logical," and since so much
misunderstanding seems to have been caused by his using the word
"space" in this peculiar sense we shall perhaps do better in what
follows to use the word "logical" instead.

Now whatever is logical is characterised by consisting of distinct,
mutually exclusive terms in external relations: all schemes, for
instance, and diagrams, such as a series of dots one above the other,
or one below the other, or one behind, or in front of the other, or a
series of instants one after the other, or a series of numbers, or
again any arrangements of things or qualities according to their
relations, such as colours or sounds arranged according to their
resemblance or difference; in all these each dot or instant or number
or colour-shade or note, is quite distinct from all the others, and
the relations which join it to the others and give it its position in
the whole series are external to it in the sense that if you changed
its position or included it in quite another series it would
nevertheless still be just the same dot or instant or number or
quality as before.

These two logical characteristics of mutual distinction of terms and
externality of relations certainly do belong to the abstractions
employed in explanations, and we commonly suppose that they belong to
everything else besides. Bergson, however, believes that these logical
characteristics really only belong to abstractions and are not
discovered in facts but are imposed upon them by our intellectual
bias, in the sense that we take it for granted that the facts which we
know directly must have the same form as the abstractions which serve
to explain them.

This habit of taking it for granted that not only our abstractions but
also the actual facts have the logical characteristics of consisting
of mutually exclusive terms joined by external relations is, according
to Bergson, one of the two serious respects in which our intellectual
bias distorts our direct acquaintance with actual fact. He points out,
as we saw, that the facts with which we are acquainted are in constant
process of changing, and that, when we examine carefully what is
actually going on, we discover that this change does not really form a
series of distinct qualities or percepts or states, united by external
relations of time, resemblance, difference, and so on, but a
continuous process which has what we might call a qualitative flavour
but in which distinct qualities, states and so on do not occur.

"Considered in themselves" he says, "profound states of consciousness
have no relation to quantity: they are mingled in such a way that it
is impossible to say whether they are one or many, or indeed to
examine them from that point of view without distorting them." Now,
strictly speaking, of course, these "states of consciousness" ought
not to be referred to in the plural, it is, in fact, a contradiction
to speak of "states of consciousness" having "no relation to
quantity": a plurality must always form some quantity. This
contradiction is the natural consequence of attempting to put what is
non-logical into words. It would have been just as bad to have
referred to "the state of consciousness," in the singular, while at
the same time insisting that it contained resemblance and difference.
The fact is that plurality and unity, like distinct terms and external
relations, apply only to whatever has logical form, and Bergson's
whole point is to deny that the fact (or facts) directly known have
this form, and so that any of these notions apply to it (or them.)

This, of course, raises difficulties when we try to describe the facts
in words, since words stand for abstractions and carry their logical
implications. All descriptions in words of what is non-logical are
bound to be a mass of contradictions, for, having applied any word it
is necessary immediately to guard against its logical implications by
adding another which contradicts them. Thus we say our experience is
of facts, and must then hastily add that nevertheless they are not
plural, and we must further qualify this statement by adding that
neither are they singular. A description of what is non-logical can
only convey its meaning if we discount all the logical implications of
the words which, for want of a better medium of expression, we are
driven to employ. Our whole intellectual bias urges us towards
describing everything that comes within our experience, even if the
description is only for our own private benefit Unfortunately the
language in which these descriptions have to be expressed is so full
of logical implications that, unless we are constantly on our guard,
we are liable to be carried away by them, and then, at once, we lose
contact with the actual facts.

In order to get round this almost universal tendency to confuse
abstractions with facts Bergson sometimes tries to get us to see the
facts as they actually are by using metaphor instead of description in
terms of abstract general notions. He has been much criticised for
this but there is really a good deal to be said for attempting to
convey facts by substituting metaphors for them rather than by using
the ordinary intellectual method of substituting abstractions reached
by analysis. Those who have criticised the use of metaphor have for
the most part not realized how little removed such description is from
the ordinary intellectual method of analysis. They have supposed that
in analysis we stick to the fact itself, whereas in using metaphor we
substitute for the fact to be described some quite different fact
which is only connected with it by a more or less remote analogy. If
Bergson's view of the intellectual method is right, however, when we
describe in abstract terms arrived at by analysis we are not sticking
to the facts at all, we are substituting something else for them just
as much as if we were using an out and out metaphor. Qualities and all
abstract general notions are, indeed, nothing but marks of analogies
between a given fact and all the other facts belonging to the same
class: they may mark rather closer analogies than those brought out by
an ordinary metaphor, but on the other hand in a frank metaphor we at
least stick to the concrete, we substitute fact for 'fact and we are
in no danger of confusing the fact introduced by the metaphor with the
actual fact to which the metaphor applies. In description in terms of
abstract general notions such as common qualities we substitute for
fact something which is not fact at all, we lose touch with the
concrete and, moreover, we are strongly tempted to confuse fact with
abstraction and believe that the implications of the abstraction apply
to the fact, or even that the abstraction is itself a real part of the

Language plays a most important part in forming our habit of treating
all facts as material for generalisation, and it is largely to the
influence of the words which we use for describing facts that Bergson
attributes our readiness to take it for granted that facts have the
same logical form as abstractions. It is language again which makes it
so difficult to point out that this assumption is mistaken, because,
actually, the form of facts is non-logical, a continuous process and
not a series. The only way to point this out is by describing the
nature of the non-logical facts as contrasted with a logical series,
but the language in which our description of the non-logical facts has
to be conveyed is itself full of logical implications which contradict
the very point we are trying to bring out. Descriptions of non-logical
processes will only be intelligible if we discount the logical
implications inherent in the words employed, but in order to be
willing to discount these implications it is necessary first to be
convinced that there is anything non-logical to which such a
description could apply. And yet how can we be convinced without first
understanding the description? It appears to be a vicious circle, and
so it would be if our knowledge of change as a process really depended
upon our understanding anybody's description of it. According to
Bergson, however, we all do know such a process directly; in fact, if
he is right, we know nothing else directly at all. The use of
description is not to give us knowledge of the process, that we
already have, but only to remind us of what we really knew all along,
but had rather lost contact with and misinterpreted because of our
preoccupation with describing and explaining it. Bergson's criticism
of our intellectual methods turns simply upon a question of fact, to
be settled by direct introspection. If, when we have freed ourselves
from the preconceptions created by our normal common sense
intellectual point of view, we find that what we know directly is a
non-logical process of becoming, then we must admit that intellectual
thinking is altogether inappropriate and even mischievous as a method
of speculation.

It is one of Bergson's chief aims to induce us to regain contact with
our direct experience, and it is with this in view that he spends so
much effort in describing what the form of this experience actually
is, and how it compares with the logical form which belongs to
abstractions, that is with what he calls "space."

The form which belongs to facts but not to abstractions Bergson calls
"duration." Duration can be described negatively by saying that it is
non-logical, but when we attempt any positive description language
simply breaks down and we can do nothing but contradict ourselves.
Duration does not contain parts united by external relations: it does
not contain parts at all, for parts would constitute fixed stages,
whereas duration changes continuously.

But in order to describe duration at all we have logically only two
alternatives, either to speak of it as a plurality, and that implies
having parts, or else as a unity, and that by implication, excludes
change. Being particularly concerned to emphasise the changing nature
of what we know directly Bergson rejects the latter alternative: short
of simply giving up the attempt to describe it he has then no choice
but to treat this process which he calls duration as a plurality and
this drives him into speaking of it as if it had parts. To correct
this false impression he adds that these parts are united, not, like
logical parts, by external relations, but in quite a new way, by
"synthesis." "Parts" united by synthesis have not the logical
characteristics of mutual distinction and externality of relations,
they interpenetrate and modify one another. In a series which has
duration (such a thing is a contradiction in terms, but the fault lies
with the logical form of language which, in spite of its
unsatisfactoriness we are driven to employ if we want to describe at
all) the "later parts" are not distinct from the "earlier": "earlier
and" "later" are not mutually exclusive relations.

Bergson says, then, that the process of duration which we know
directly, if it is to be called a series at all, must be described as
a series whose "parts" interpenetrate, and this is the first important
respect in which non-logical duration differs from a logical series.
In "a series" which is used to describe duration not only are the
"parts" not distinct but "their relations" are not external in the
sense, previously explained, in which logical relations are external
to the terms which they relate. A logical term in a logical series can
change its position or enter into a wholly different series and still
remain the same term. But the terms in a series which has duration
(again this is absurd) are what they are just because of their
position in the whole stream of duration to which they belong: to
transfer them from one position in the series to another would be to
alter their whole flavour which depends upon having had just that
particular past and no other. As illustration we might take the last
bar of a tune. By itself, or following upon other sounds not belonging
to the tune, this last bar would not be itself, its particular quality
depends upon coming at the end of that particular tune. In a process
of duration, then, such as tune, the "later" bars are not related
externally to the "earlier" but depend for their character upon their
position in the whole tune. In actual fact, of course, the tune
progresses continuously, and not by stages, such as distinct notes or
bars, but if, for the sake of description, we speak of it as composed
of different bars, we must say that any bar we choose to distinguish
is modified by the whole of the tune which has gone before it: change
its position in the whole stream of sound to which it belongs and you
change its character absolutely.

This means that in change such as this, change, that is, which has
duration, repetition is out of the question. Take a song in which the
last line is sung twice over as a refrain: the notes, we say, are
repeated, but the second time the line occurs the actual effect
produced is different, and that, indeed, is the whole point of a
refrain. This illustrates the second important difference which
Bergson wants to bring out between the forms of change which belong
respectively to non-logical facts and to the logical abstractions by
which we describe them, that is between duration as contrasted with a
logical series of stages. The notes are abstractions assumed to
explain the effect produced, which is the actual fact directly known.
The notes are stages in a logical series of change, but their effects,
the actual fact, changes as a process of duration. From this
difference in their ways of changing there follows an important
difference between fact and abstraction, namely that, while the notes
can be repeated over again, the effect will never be the same as
before. This is because the notes, being abstractions, are not
affected by their relations which give them their position in the
logical series which they form, while their effect, being a changing
process, depends for its flavour upon its position in the whole
duration to which it belongs: this flavour grows out of the whole of
what has gone before, and since this whole is itself always growing by
the addition of more and more "later stages," the effect which it goes
to produce can never be the same twice over.

This is why Bergson calls duration "creative."

No "two" positions in a creative process of duration can have an
identical past history, every "later" one will have more history,
every "earlier" one less. In a logical series, on the other hand,
there is no reason why the same term should not occur over and over
again at different points in the course of the series, since in a
logical series every term, being distinct from every other and only
joined to it by external relations, is what it is independently of its

If Bergson is right therefore in saying that abstractions change as a
logical series while the actual facts change as a creative process of
duration, it follows that, while our descriptions and explanations may
contain repetitions the actual fact to which we intend these
explanations to apply, cannot. This, if true, is a very important
difference between facts and abstractions which common sense entirely
overlooks when it assumes that we are directly acquainted with common

We have seen that this assumption is taken for granted in the account
which is ordinarily given (or would be given if people were in the
habit of putting their common sense assumptions into words) of how it
is that facts come to be classified: facts are supposed to fall into
classes because they share common qualities, that is because, in the
changing fact directly known, the same qualities recur over and over
again. There is no doubt that the fact with which we are directly
acquainted can be classified, and it is equally undeniable that this
fact is always changing, but if this change has the form of creative
duration then its classification cannot be based upon the repetition
of qualities at different "stages" in its course. It follows that
either the fact with which we are directly acquainted does not change
as a creative process, or else that we are quite wrong in assuming, as
we ordinarily do, that we actually know qualities directly and that it
is these qualities which form the basis of classification, and hence
of all description and explanation. We have already seen that this
assumption, though at first sight one naturally supposes it to be
based on direct acquaintance, may really depend not on any fact
directly known but on our preoccupation with explanation rather than
with mere knowing.

But if we never really are acquainted with qualities, if qualities
are, as Bergson says, mere abstractions, how come we to be able to
make these abstractions, and why do they apply to actual facts? If
classification is not based on common qualities discovered by analysis
and repeated over and over as actual facts directly known, on what is
it based? We certainly can classify facts and these abstract common
qualities, if abstractions they be, certainly correspond to something
in the facts since they apply to them: what is the foundation in
directly knowu fact which accounts for this correspondence between
abstractions and facts if it is not qualities actually given as part
of the facts? These questions are so very pertinent and at the same
time so difficult to answer satisfactorily that one is tempted to
throw over the view that the changing fact which we know directly
forms a creative duration. This view is impossible to express without
self-contradiction and it does not fit in with our accustomed habits
of mind: nevertheless if we do not simply reject it at once as
patently absurd but keep it in mind for a while and allow ourselves
time to get used to it, it grows steadily more and more convincing: we
become less and less able to evade these difficult questions by
accepting the common sense account of what we know directly as
consisting of a series of qualities which are repeated over and over,
and more and more driven to regard it as a process in creative
duration which does not admit of repetitions. There is no difficulty
in seeing, the moment we pay attention, that what we know directly
certainly does change all the time: but if we try to pin this change
down and hold it so as to examine it we find it slipping through our
fingers, and the more we look into the supposed stages, such as things
and qualities and events, by means of which common sense assumes that
this change takes place, the more it becomes apparent that these
stages are all of them mere arbitrary abstractions dragged from their
context in a continuous process, fictitious halting places in a stream
of change which goes on unbroken. Unbiassed attention to the actual
fact cannot fail to convince us that what we know directly changes as
a process and not by a series of stages.

The creativeness of this process is perhaps at first not quite so
obvious, but if we look into the fact once more, with the object of
observing repetitions in it, we realize that we cannot find any. It is
true that you can pick out qualities which at first appear to recur:
you may, for example, see a rose and then a strawberry ice cream, and
you may be inclined to say that here you saw the quality pink twice
over. But you can only say that what you saw was the same both times
by abstracting what we call the colour from the whole context in which
it actually appeared on the two different occasions. In reality the
colour is not known in isolation: it has its place, in the whole
changing fact in a particular context which you may describe in
abstract terms as consisting of the shape and smell and size of the
object together with all the rest of your state of mind at the moment,
which were not the same on the two different occasions, while further
this pink colour was modified on each occasion by its position in the
whole changing fact which may again be described in abstract terms by
saying, for instance, that the pink on the occasion of your seeing the
strawberry ice cream, coming after the pink on the occasion of your
seeing the rose, had a peculiar flavour of "seen before" which was
absent on the previous occasion. Thus although, by isolating "parts"
of the whole process of changing which you know directly, you may
bring yourself for a moment to suppose that you are acquainted with
repetitions, when you look at the whole fact as it actually is, you
see that what you know is never the same twice over, and that your
direct experience forms, not a series of repetitions, but a creative

But, once you grant that the fact which you know directly really
changes, there is, according to Bergson, no getting away from the
conclusion that it must form a creative process of duration. For he
thinks that creative duration is the only possible way in which the
transition between past and present, which is the essential feature of
change and time, could be accomplished: all passing from past to
present, all change, therefore, and all time, must, he says, form a
creative process of duration. The alternative is to suppose that time
and change form logical series of events in temporal relations of
before and after, but, according to Bergson, this not only leaves out
the transition altogether but is, even as it stands, unintelligible.
The argument is this.

If time and change are real, then, when the present is, the past
simply is not. But it is impossible to see how, in that case, there
can be any relation between past and present, for a relation requires
at least two terms in between which it holds, while in this case there
could never be more than one term, the present, ipso facto, abolishing
the past. If, on the other hand, the past is preserved, distinct from
the present, then temporal relations can indeed hold between them, but
in that case there is no real change nor time at all.

This dilemma all follows, of course, from regarding "past" and
"present" as mutually exclusive and distinct, and requiring to be
united by external relations, in short as terms in a logical series:
for Bergson himself this difficulty simply does not arise since he
denies that, within the actual changing fact directly known, there are
any clear cut logical distinctions such as the words "past" and
"present" imply. But when it comes to describing this changing fact
distinct terms have to be employed because there are no others, and
this creates pseudo-problems such as this question of how, assuming
past and present to be distinct, the transition between them ever can
be effected. The real answer is that the transition never is effected
because past and present are, in fact, not distinct.

According to Bergson a very large proportion of the problems over
which philosophers have been accustomed to dispute have really been
pseudo-problems simply arising out of this confusion between facts and
the abstractions by which we describe them. When once we have realized
how they arise these pseudo-problems no longer present any
difficulties; they are in fact no longer problems at all, they melt
away and cease to interest us. If Bergson is right this would go far
to explain the suspicion which, in spite of the prestige of
philosophy, still half unconsciously colours the feeling of the "plain
man" for the "intellectual," and which even haunts the philosopher
himself, in moments of discouragement, the suspicion that the whole
thing is trivial, a dispute about words of no real importance or
dignity. If Bergson is right this suspicion is, in many cases, all too
well founded: the discussion of pseudo-problems is not worth while.
But then the discussion of pseudo-problems is not real philosophy: the
thinker who allows himself to be entangled in pseudo-problems has lost
his way.

In this, however, the "intellectuals" are not the only ones at fault.
"Plain men" are misled by abstractions about facts just as much, only
being less thorough, their mistake has less effect: at the expense of
a little logical looseness their natural sense of fact saves them from
all the absurdities which follow from their false assumptions. For the
"intellectual" there is not this loophole through which the sense of
fact may undo some of the work of false assumptions: the
"intellectual" follows out ruthlessly the implications of his original
assumptions and if these are false his very virtues lead him into
greater absurdities than those committed by "plain men."

One of the most important tasks of philosophy is to show up the
pseudo-problems so that they may no longer waste our time and we may
be free to pursue the real aim of philosophy which is the reconquest
of the field of virtual knowledge. Getting rid of the pseudo-problems,
however, is no easy task: we may realize, for example, that the
difficulty of seeing how the transition between past and present ever
can be effected is a pseudo-problem because in fact past and present
are not distinct and so no transition between them is needed. But
since we have constantly to be using words which carry the implication
of distinctness we are constantly liable to forget this simple answer
when new problems, though in fact they all spring from this
fundamental discrepancy between facts and the abstractions by which we
describe them, present themselves in some slightly different form.

The notion of duration as consisting of "parts" united by "creative
synthesis" is a device, not for explaining how the transition from
past to present really takes place (this does not need explaining
since, "past" and "present" being mere abstractions, no transition
between them actually takes place at all), but for enabling us to
employ the abstractions "past" and "present" without constantly being
taken in by their logical implications. The notion of "creative
synthesis" as what joins "past" and "present" in a process of duration
is an antidote to the logical implications of these two distinct
terms: creative synthesis, unlike logical relations, is not external
to the "parts" which it joins; "parts" united by creative synthesis
are not distinct and mutually exclusive. Such a notion as this of
creative synthesis contradicts the logical implications contained in
the notion of parts. The notion of "parts" united by "creative
synthesis" is really a hybrid which attempts to combine the two
incompatible notions of logical distinction and duration. The result
is self-contradictory and this contradiction acts as a reminder
warning us against confusing the actual changing fact with the
abstractions in terms of which we describe it and so falling into the
mistake of taking it for granted that this changing fact must form a
series of distinct stages or things or events or qualities, which can
be repeated over and over again.

At the same time there is no getting away from the fact that this
changing fact lends itself to classification and that explanations in
terms of abstractions really do apply to it most successfully. We are
therefore faced with the necessity of finding some way of accounting
for this, other than by assuming that the facts which we know directly
consist of qualities which recur over and over again.

                             CHAPTER III

                          MATTER AND MEMORY

WE have seen that, according to the theory of change which is
fundamental for Bergson's philosophy, the changing fact which we know
directly is described as a process of becoming which does not contain
parts nor admit of repetitions. On the other hand this changing fact
certainly does lend itself to analysis and classification and
explanation and, at first sight at any rate, it is natural to suppose
that whatever can be classified and explained must consist of
qualities, that is distinct parts which can be repeated on different
occasions. The problem for Bergson, if he is to establish his theory
of change, is to show that the fact that a changing process can be
analysed and classified does not necessarily imply that such a process
must consist of distinct qualities which can be repeated. Bergson's
theory of the relation of matter to memory suggests a possible
solution of this problem as to how it is possible to analyse and so
apply general laws to and explain duration: it becomes necessary,
therefore, to give some account of this theory.

Like all other descriptions and explanations, such an account must, of
course, be expressed in terms of abstractions, and so is liable to be
misunderstood unless the false implications of these abstractions are
allowed for and discounted.

According to Bergson the only actual reality is the changing fact
itself, everything else is abstraction: this reality however is not
confined to the fragment called "our present experience" which is in
the full focus of consciousness and is all that we usually suppose
ourselves to know directly; it includes besides everything that we are
in a sense aware of but do not pay attention to, together with our
whole past: for Bergson, in fact, reality coincides with the field of
virtual knowledge, anything short of this whole field is an
abstraction and so falsified. Even to say "we know this fact" is
unsatisfactory as implying ourselves and the fact as distinct things
united by an external relation of knowing: to say "the fact is
different from the abstraction by which it is explained" similarly
implies logically distinct terms in an external relation of
difference, and so on. If Bergson is right in claiming that the actual
fact is non-logical then obviously all attempts to describe it, since
they must be expressed in terms of abstractions, will teem with false
implications which must be discounted if the description is to convey
the meaning intended.

Bergson's claim is that if we allow ourselves to attend to the
changing fact with which we are actually acquainted we are driven to a
theory of reality different from the theory of things and relations
accepted by common sense. The two abstractions by means of which he
attempts to express this new theory are matter and memory. In the
actual fact Bergson would hold that both these notions are combined by
synthesis in such a way as no longer to be distinct, or rather, for
this implies that they started distinct and then became merged, it
would perhaps be better to say that these two notions are abstractions
from two tendencies which are present in the actual fact. In the
actual fact they combine and, as it were, counteract one another and
the result is something different from either taken alone, but when we
abstract them we release them from each other's modifying influence
and the result is an exaggeration of one or other tendency which does
not really represent anything which actually occurs but can be used,
in combination with the contrary exaggeration, to explain the actual
fact which may be described as being like what would result from a
combination of these two abstractions.

We will take matter first.

Matter, for Bergson, is an exaggeration of the tendency in reality,
(that is in the actual changing fact directly known) towards logical
distinctness, what he calls "spatiality." His use of the word "matter"
in this sense is again, perhaps, like his use of the word "space,"
rather misleading. Actual reality, according to him, is never purely
material, the only purely material things are abstractions, and these
are not real at all but simply fictions. Bergson really means the same
thing by "matter" as by "space" and that is simply mutual distinctness
of parts and externality of relations, in a word logical complexity.
Matter, according to this definition of the word, has no duration and
so cannot last through any period of time or change: it simply is in
the present, it does not endure but is perpetually destroyed and

The complementary exaggeration which, taken together with matter,
completes Berg-son's explanation of reality, is memory. Just as matter
is absolute logical complexity memory is absolute creative synthesis.
Together they constitute the hybrid notion of creative duration whose
"parts" interpenetrate which, according to Bergson, comes nearest to
giving a satisfactory description of the actual fact directly known
which is, for him, the whole reality.

The best way to accustom one's mind to these two complementary
exaggerations, matter and memory, and to see in more detail the use
that Bergson makes of them in explaining the actual facts, will be to
examine his theory of sensible perception, since it is just in the act
of sensible perception that memory comes in contact with matter.

The unsophisticated view is that in sensible perception we become
acquainted with things which exist whether we perceive them or not,
and these things, taken all together, are commonly called the material
world. According to Bergson's theory also sensible perception is
direct acquaintance with matter. The unsophisticated view holds
further, however, that this material world with which sensible
perception acquaints us is the common sense world of solid tables,
green grass, anger and other such states and things and qualities, but
we have already seen that this common sense world is really itself
only one among the various attempts which science and common sense are
continually making to explain the facts in terms of abstractions. The
worlds of electrons, vibrations, forces, and so on, constructed by
physics, are other attempts to do the same thing and the common sense
world of "real" things and qualities has no more claim to actual
existence than have any of these scientific hypotheses. Berg-son's
matter is not identified with any one of these constructions, it is
that in the facts which they are all attempts to explain in terms of
abstractions, the element in the facts upon which abstractions are
based and which makes facts classifiable and so explicable.

The words by which we describe and explain the material element in the
facts in terms of series of distinct stages or events in external
relations would leave out change if their implications were followed
out consistently, but it is only a few "intellectuals" who have ever
been able to bring themselves to follow out this implication to the
bitter end and accept the conclusion, however absurd. Since it is
obvious that the facts do change the usual way of getting round the
difficulty is to say that some of these stages are "past" and some
"present," and then, not clearly realizing that the explanations we
construct are not really facts at all, to take it for granted that a
transition between past and present, though there is no room for it in
the logical form of the explanation, yet somehow manages actually to
take place. Bergson agrees that change does actually take place but
not as a transition between abstractions such as "past" and "present."
We think that "past" and "present" must be real facts because we do
not realize clearly how these notions have been arrived at. Once we
have grasped the idea that these notions, and indeed all clear
concepts, are only abstractions, we see that it is not necessary to
suppose that these abstractions really change at all. Between the
abstractions "the past" and "the present" there is no transition, and
it is the same with events and things and qualities: all these, being
nothing but convenient fictions, stand outside the stream of actual
fact which is what really changes and endures.

Matter, then, is the name which Bergson gives to that element in the
fact upon which the purely logical form appropriate to abstractions is
based. The actual facts are not purely logical but neither are they
completely interpenetrated since they lend themselves to
classification: they tend to logical form on the one hand and to
complete inter-penetration on the other without going the whole way in
either direction. What Bergson does in the description of the facts
which he offers is to isolate each of these tendencies making them
into two separate distinct abstractions, one called matter and the
other mind. Isolated, what in the actual fact was blended becomes
incompatible. Matter and mind, the clear cut abstractions, are
mutually contradictory and it becomes at once a pseudo-problem to see
how they ever could combine to constitute the actual fact.

The matter which Bergson talks about, being what would be left of the
facts if memory were abstracted, has no past: it simply is in the
present moment. If there is any memory which can retain previous
moments then this memory may compare these previous moments with the
present moment and call them the past of matter, but in itself, apart
from memory, (and so isolated in a way in which this tendency in the
actual fact never could be isolated) matter has no past.

Noticing how very different the actual facts which we know directly
are from any of the material worlds by which we explain them, each of
which lays claim to being "the reality with which sensible perception
acquaints us," some philosophers have put forward the view that in
sensible perception we become acquainted, not with matter itself, but
with signs which stand for a material world which exists altogether
outside perception. This view Bergson rejects. He says that in
sensible perception we are not acquainted with mere signs but, in so
far as there is any matter at all, what we know in sensible perception
is that matter itself. The facts which we know directly are matter
itself and would be nothing but matter if they were instantaneous. For
Bergson, however, an instantaneous fact is out of the question: every
fact contains more than the mere matter presented at the moment of
perception. Facts are distinguished from matter by lasting through a
period of duration, this is what makes the difference between the
actual fact and any of the material worlds in terms of which we
describe them: matter, is, as we have said, only an abstraction of one
element or tendency in the changing fact which is the sole reality:
memory is the complementary abstraction. Apart from the actual fact
neither matter nor memory have independent existence. This is where
Berg-son disagrees with the philosophers who regard the facts as signs
of an independent material world, or as phenomena which misrepresent
some "thing" in "itself" which is what really exists but which is not
known directly but only inferred from the phenomena. For Bergson it is
the fact directly known that really exists, and matter and memory,
solid tables, green grass, electrons, forces, the absolute, and all
the other abstract ideas by which we explain it are misrepresentations
of it, not it of them.

Even Bergson, however, does not get away from the distinction between
appearance and reality. The fact is for him the reality, the
abstraction the appearance. But then the fact which is the reality is
not the fact which we ordinarily suppose ourselves to know, the little
fragment which constitutes "our experience at the present moment."
This is itself an abstraction from the vastly wider fact of our
virtual knowledge, and it is this wider field of knowledge which is
the reality. Abstraction involves falsification and so the little
fragment of fact to which our attention is usually confined is not, as
it stands, reality: it is appearance. We should only know reality as
it is if we could replace this fragment in its proper context in the
whole field of virtual knowledge (or reality) where it belongs. What
we should then know would not be appearance but reality itself. It is
at this knowledge, according to Bergson, that philosophy aims.
Philosophy is a reversal of our ordinary intellectual habits:
ordinarily thought progresses from abstraction to abstraction steadily
getting further from concrete facts: according to Bergson the task of
philosophy should be to put abstractions back again into their context
so as to obtain the fullest possible knowledge of actual fact.

In order to describe and explain this fact, however, we have to make
use of abstractions. Bergson describes the fact known directly by
sensible perception as a contraction of a period of the duration of
matter in which the "past" states of matter are preserved along with
the "present" and form a single whole with it. It is memory which
makes this difference between matter and the actual facts by
preserving "past" matter and combining it with "the present." A single
perceived fact, however, does not contain memories as distinct from
present material: the distinction between "past" and "present" does
not hold inside facts whose duration forms a creative whole and not a
logical series. Of course it is incorrect to describe facts as
"containing past and present matter," but, as we have often pointed
out, misleading though their logical implications are, we are obliged
to replace facts by abstractions when we want to describe them.

An example may perhaps convey what is meant by saying that a fact is a
contraction of a period of the duration of matter. Consider red,
bearing in mind that, when we are speaking of the fact actually
perceived when we see red we must discount the logical implications of
our words. Science says that red, the material, is composed of
immensely rapid vibrations of ether: red, the fact, we know as a
simple colour. Bergson accepts the scientific abstractions in terms of
which to describe matter, making the reservation that, if we are to
talk of matter as composed of vibrations, we must not say that these
vibrations last through a period of time or change by themselves,
apart from any memory which retains and so preserves the "past"
vibrations. If matter is to be thought of at all as existing apart
from any memory it must be thought of as consisting of a single
vibration in a perpetual present with no past. We might alter the
description and say that this present moment of matter should be
thought of as being perpetually destroyed and recreated.

Now according to Bergson the red which we know directly is a period of
the vibrations of matter contracted by memory so as to produce an
actual perceived fact. As matter red does not change, it is absolutely
discrete and complex, in a word, logical: as fact it is non-logical
and forms a creative process of duration. The difference between
matter and the actual fact is made by the mental act which holds
matter as it were in tension through a period of duration, when a fact
is produced, but which would have had to be absent if there had been
no fact but simply present matter. Bergson calls this act memory:
memory, he says, turns matter into fact by preserving its past along
with its present. Without memory there would be no duration and so no
change and no time. Matter, apart from memory would have no duration
and it is just in this that it is distinguished from actual fact.

It is, however, of course, only by making abstractions that we can say
what things would be like if something were taken away which actually
is not taken away. Matter never really does exist without memory nor
memory without its content, matter: the actual fact can only be
described as a combination of the two elements, but this description
must not lead us into supposing that the abstractions, matter and
memory, actually have independent existence apart from the fact which
they explain. Only the actual fact exists and it is not really made up
of two elements, matter and memory, but only described in terms of
these two abstractions.

Bergson's account of perception differs from the account ordinarily
given in that perception is not described as a relation which is
supposed to hold between a subject and an object: for Bergson there is
no "I," distinct from what is perceived, standing to it in a relation
of perception. For an object, to be perceived consists, not in being
related to a perceiver, but in being combined in a new way with other
objects. If an object is combined by synthesis with other objects then
it is perceived and so becomes a fact. But there is no mind over and
above the objects which perceives them by being related to them, or
even by performing an act of synthesis upon them. To speak of "our"
perceiving objects is a mere fiction: when objects are combined by
synthesis they become perceptions, facts, and this is the same as
saying that they are minds. For Bergson a mind is nothing but a
synthesis of objects. This explains what he means by saying that in
direct knowledge the perceiver is the object perceived.

Actually he thinks such notions as the perceiver and the object and
the relation which unites them, or again matter and the act of
synthesis which turns matter into fact, are nothing but abstractions:
the only thing there really is is simply the fact itself. These
abstractions, however, do somehow apply to the actual facts, and this
brings us back to our problem as to how it is that the actual fact,
which is in creative duration, lends itself to classification: how it
is that general laws in terms of abstractions which can be repeated
over and over again, can apply to the actual fact which does not
contain repetitions?

Facts lend themselves to explanation when they are perceived as
familiar. In this perceived familiarity, which is the basis of all
abstraction, and so of all description and explanation, past as well
as present is involved, the present owing its familiarity to our
memory of past facts. The obvious explanation of perceived
familiarity, would be, of course, to say that it results from our
perceiving similar qualities shared by past and present facts, or
relations of similarity holding between them. But Bergson must find
some other explanation than this since he denies that there can be
repetition in actual facts directly known.

Whenever there is actual fact there is memory, and memory creates
duration which excludes repetition. Perceived familiarity depends upon
memory but memory, according to Bergson, does not work by preserving a
series of repetitions for future reference. If we say that memory
connects "the past" with "the present" we must add that it destroys
their logical distinctness. But of course this is putting it very
badly: there is really no "logical distinctness" in the actual fact
for memory to "destroy": our language suggests that first there was
matter, forming a logical series of distinct qualities recurring over
and over, and then memory occurred and telescoped the series,
squeezing "earlier" and "later" moments into one another to make a
creative duration. Such a view is suggested by our strong bias towards
regarding abstractions as having independent existence apart from the
real fact from which they have been abstracted: if we can overcome
this bias the description will do well enough.

According to Bergson, as we have just seen, every actual fact must
contain some memory otherwise it would not be a fact but simply
matter, since it is an act of memory that turns matter into perceived
fact. Our ordinary more or less familiar facts, however, contain much
more than this bare minimum. The facts of everyday life are perceived
as familiar and classified from a vast number of points of view. When
you look at a cherry you recognise its colour, shape, etc., you know
it is edible, what it would taste like, whether it is ripe, and much
more besides, all at a glance. All this knowledge depends on memory,
memory gives meaning to what we might call bare sensation (which is
the same thing as Bergson's present matter) as opposed to the full
familiar fact actually experienced. Now the meaning is ordinarily
contained in the actual fact along with the bare sensation not as a
multiplicity of memories distinct from the bare sensation, but, as we
put it, at a glance. This peculiar flavour of a familiar fact can be
analysed out as consisting of memories of this or that past
experience, if we choose to treat it in that way, just as a fact can
be analysed into qualities. According to Bergson this analysis of the
meaning of a familiar fact into memories would have the same drawbacks
as the analysis of a present fact into qualities: it would leave out
much of the meaning and distort the rest. Bergson holds that wherever
there is duration the past must be preserved since it is just the
preservation of the past, the creation of fact by a synthesis of what,
out of synthesis, would be past and present, which constitutes
duration. The essential point about mental life is just the performing
of this act of synthesis which makes duration: wherever there is
mental life there is duration and so wherever there is mental life the
past is preserved. "Above everything," Bergson says, "consciousness
signifies memory. At this moment as I discuss with you I pronounce the
word "discussion." It is clear that my consciousness grasps this word
altogether; if not it would not see it as a unique word and would not
make sense of it. And yet when I pronounce the last syllable of the
word the two first ones have already been pronounced; relatively to
this one, which must then be called present, they are past. But this
last syllable "sion" was not pronounced instantaneously; the time,
however short, during which I was saying it, can be split up into
parts and these parts are past, relatively to the last of them, and
this last one would be present if it were not that it too can be
further split up: so that, do what you will, you cannot draw any line
of demarcation between past and present, and so between memory and
consciousness. Indeed when I pronounce the word "discussion" I have
before my mind, not only the beginning, the middle and the end of the
word, but also the preceding words, also the whole of the sentence
which I have already spoken; if it were not so I should have lost the
thread of my speech. Now if the punctuation of the speech had been
different my sentence might have begun earlier; it might, for
instance, have contained the previous sentence and my "present" would
have been still further extended into the past. Let us push this
reasoning to its conclusion: let us suppose that my speech has lasted
for years, since the first awakening of my consciousness, that it has
consisted of a single sentence, and that my consciousness has been
sufficiently detached from the future, sufficiently disinterested to
occupy itself exclusively in taking in the meaning of the sentence: in
that case I should not look for any explanation of the total
conservation of this sentence any more than I look for one of the
survival of the first two syllables of the word "discussion" when I
pronounce the last one. Well, I think that our whole inner life is
like a single sentence, begun from the first awakening of
consciousness, a sentence scattered with commas, but nowhere broken by
a full stop. And so I think that our whole past is there,
subconsciousI mean present to us in such a way that our consciousness,
to become aware of it, need not go outside itself nor add anything
foreign: to perceive clearly all that it contains, or rather all that
it is, it has only to put aside an obstacle, to lift a veil."[3]*

* L'Energie Spirituelle--"L'Ame et le Corps," pages 59 and 60.

If this theory of memory be correct, the occurrence of any present
bare sensation itself suffices to recall, in some sense, the whole
past. But this is no use for practical purposes, just as the whole of
the fact given in present perception is useless for practical purposes
until it has been analysed into qualities. According to Bergson we
treat the material supplied by memory in much the same way as that
supplied by perception. The whole field of the past which the present
calls up is much wider than what we actually remember clearly: what we
actually remember is arrived at by ignoring all the past except such
scraps as appear to form useful precedents for behaviour in the
present situation in which we find ourselves. Perhaps this explains
why sometimes, at the point of death, when useful behaviour is no
longer possible, this selection breaks down and the whole of the past
floods back into memory. The brain, according to Bergson, is the organ
whose function it is to perform this necessary work of selection out
of the whole field of virtual memory of practically useful fragments,
and so long as the brain is in order, only these are allowed to come
through into consciousness as clear memories. The passage just quoted
goes on to speak of "the part played by the brain in memory." "The
brain does not serve to preserve the past but primarily to obscure it,
and then to let just so much as is practically useful slip through."

But the setting of the whole past, though it is ignored for
convenience, still makes itself felt in the peculiar qualitative
flavour which belongs to every present fact by reason of its past.
Even in the case of familiar facts this flavour is no mere repetition
but is perpetually modified as the familiarity increases, and it is
just in this progressively changing flavour that their familiarity

An inspection of what we know directly, then, does not bear out the
common sense theory that perceived familiarity, upon which abstraction
and all description and explanation are based, consists in the
perception of similar qualities shared by present matter and the
matter retained by memory. A familiar fact appears to be, not a
repetition, but a new fact. This new fact may be described as
containing present and past bare sensations, but it must be added that
these bare sensations do not remain distinct things but are
synthesised by the act of perception into a fresh whole which is not
the sum of the bare sensations which it may be described as
containing. Such a perceived whole will be familiar, and so lend
itself to abstraction and explanation, in so far as the present bare
sensation which it contains, taken as mere matter (that is apart from
the act of perception which turns it from mere matter into actual
fact), would have been a repetition of some of the past bare
sensations which go to form its meaning and combine with it to create
the fact actually known. For bare sensation now may be a repetition of
past bare sensation though the full fact will always be something
fresh, its flavour changing as it grows more and more familiar by
taking up into itself more and more bare sensation which, taken in
abstraction, apart from the act of synthesis which turns it into
actual fact, would be repetitions. To take the example which we have
already used of perceiving first a rose and then a strawberry ice
cream: let us suppose that the rose was the very first occasion on
which you saw pink. The perceived fact on that occasion would, like
all perceived facts, be a combination of / past and present bare
sensations. It would I not be familiar because the elements of present
bare sensation would not be repetitions of the elements of past bare
sensation (always assuming, as we must for purposes of explanation,
that past and present bare sensations ever could be isolated from the
actual fact and still both exist, which, however, is not possible).
But when you saw the strawberry ice cream the past perceived rose
would be among the memories added to this bare sensation which
constitute its meaning and, by forming a synthesis with it, turn it
from mere matter into fact. The pink would now be perceived as
familiar because the pink of the rose (which as bare sensation is
similar to the bare sensation of strawberry-ice-cream-pink) would be
included, along with the present bare sensation of pink, in the whole
fact of the perception of strawberry ice cream.

Perceived fact, then, combines meaning and present bare sensation to
form a whole with a qualitative flavour which is itself always unique,
but which lends itself to abstraction in so far as the bare
sensations, past and present, which go to produce it, would, as matter
in isolation, be repetitions.

This qualitative flavour, however, is, of course, not a quality in the
logical sense which implies distinctness and externality of relations.
Facts have logical qualities only if they are taken in abstraction
isolated from their context. This is not how fact actually occurs.
Every fact occurs in the course of the duration of some mental life
which itself changes as a process of duration and not as a logical
series. The mental life of an individual is, as it were, a
comprehensive fact which embraces all the facts directly known to that
individual in a single process of creative duration. Facts are to the
mental life of an individual what bare sensation is to the actual fact
directly known in perception: facts are, as it were, the matter of
mental life. Imagine a fact directly known, such as we have described
in discussing sensible perception, lasting on and on, perpetually
taking up new bare sensations and complicating them with meaning which
consists of all the past which it already contains so as to make out
of this combination of past and present fresh fact, that will give you
some idea of the way in which Bergson thinks that mental life is
created out of matter by memory. Only this description is still
unsatisfactory because it is obliged to speak of what is created
either in the plural or in the singular and so fails to convey either
the differentiation contained in mental life or else its unbroken
continuity as all one fact progressively modified by absorbing more
and more matter.

If Bergson's account of the way in which memory works is true there is
a sense in which the whole past of every individual is preserved in
memory and all unites with any present bare sensation to constitute
the fact directly known to him at any given moment. If the continuity
of duration is really unbroken there is no possibility of any of the
past being lost.

This is why Bergson maintains that the whole of our past is contained
in our virtual knowledge: what he means by our virtual knowledge is
simply everything which enters into the process of duration which
constitutes our whole mental life. Besides our whole past this virtual
knowledge must also contain much more of present bare sensation than
we are usually aware of.

We said that, for Bergson, actual fact directly known was the only
reality; this actual fact, however, does not mean merely what is
present to the perception of a given individual at any given moment,
but the whole of our virtual knowledge. The field of virtual knowledge
would cover much the same region as the subconscious, which plays such
an important part in modern psychology. The limits of this field are
impossible to determine. Once you give up limiting direct knowledge to
the fact actually present in perception at any given moment it is
difficult to draw the line anywhere. And yet to draw the line at the
present moment is impossible for "the present moment" is clearly an
abstract fiction. For practical purposes "the present" is what is
known as "the specious present," which covers a certain ill-defined
period of duration from which the instantaneous "present moment" is
recognised to be a mere abstraction. According to Bergson, however,
just as "the present moment" is only an abstraction from a wider
specious present so this specious present itself is an abstraction
from a continuous process of duration from which other abstractions,
days, weeks, years, can be made, but which is actually unbroken and
forms a single continuous changing whole. And just as facts are only
abstractions from the whole mental life of an individual so
individuals must be regarded as abstractions from some more
comprehensive mental whole and thus our virtual knowledge seems not
merely to extend over the whole of what is embraced by our individual
acts of perception and preserved by our individual memories but
overflows even these limits and must be regarded as co-extensive with
the duration of the whole of reality.

It may be open to question how much of this virtual knowledge of both
past and present we ever could know directly in any sense comparable
to the way in which we know the fact actually presented at some given
moment, however perfectly we might succeed in ridding ourselves with
our intellectual pre-occupation with explaining instead of knowing;
but, if reality forms an unbroken whole in duration, we cannot in
advance set any limits, short of the whole of reality, to the field of
virtual knowledge. And it does really seem as if our pre-occupation
with discovering repetitions in the interests of explanation had
something to do with the limited extent of the direct knowledge which
we ordinarily enjoy, so that, if we could overcome this bias, we might
know more than we do now, though how much more it is not possible, in
advance, to predict. For in the whole field of virtual knowledge,
which appears to be continuous with the little scrap of fact which is
all that we usually attend to, present bare sensation and such bare
sensations as resemble it, form very insignificant elements: for
purposes of abstraction and explanation, however, it is only these
insignificant elements that are of any use. So long, therefore, as we
are preoccupied with abstraction, we must bend all our energies
towards isolating these fragments from the context which extends out
and out over the whole field of virtual knowledge, rivetting our
attention on them and, as far as possible, ignoring all the rest. If
Bergson's theory of virtual knowledge is correct, then, it does seem
as if normally our efforts were directed towards shutting out most of
our knowledge rather than towards enjoying it, towards forgetting the
greater part of what memory contains rather than towards remembering

If we really could reverse this effort and concentrate upon knowing
the whole field of past and present as fully as possible, instead of
classifying it, which involves selecting part of the field and
ignoring the rest, it is theoretically conceivable that we might
succeed in knowing directly the whole of the process of duration which
constitutes the individual mental life of each one of us. And it is
not even certain that our knowledge must necessarily be confined
within the limits of what we have called our individual mental life.
Particular facts, as we have seen, are not really distinct parts of a
single individual mental life: the notion of separateness applies only
to abstractions and it is only because we are much more pre-occupied
with abstractions than with actual facts that we come to suppose that
facts can ever really be separate from one another. When we shake off
our common sense assumptions and examine the actual facts which we
know directly we find that they form a process and not a logical
series of distinct facts one after the other. Now on analogy it seems
possible that what we call individual mental lives are, to the wider
process which contains and constitutes the whole of reality, as
particular facts are to the whole process which constitutes each
individual mental life. The whole of reality may contain individual
lives as these contain particular facts, not as separate distinct
units in logical relations, but as a process in which the line of
demarcation between "the parts" (if we must speak of "parts") is not
clear cut. If this analogy holds then it is impossible in advance to
set any limits to the field of direct knowledge which it may be in our
power to secure by reversing our usual mental attitude and devoting
our energies simply to knowing, instead of to classifying and

But without going beyond the limits of our individual experience, and
even without coming to know directly the whole field of past and
present fact which that experience contains, it is still a
considerable gain to our direct knowledge if we realize what false
assumptions our preoccupation with classification leads us to make
even about the very limited facts to which our direct knowledge is
ordinarily confined. We then realize that, besides being considerably
less than what we probably have it in our power to know, these few
facts that we do know are themselves by no means what we commonly
suppose them to be.

The two fundamental errors into which common sense leads us about the
facts are the assumptions that they have the logical form, that is
contain mutually exclusive parts in external relations, and that these
parts can be repeated over and over again. These two false assumptions
are summed up in the common sense view that the fact which we know
directly actually consists of events, things, states, qualities.
Bergson tells us that when once we have realized that this is not the
case we have begun to be philosophers.

Having stripped the veil of common sense assumptions from what we know
directly our task will then be to hold this direct knowledge before us
so as to know as much as possible. The act by which we know directly
is the very same act by which we perceive and remember; these are all
simply acts of synthesis, efforts to turn matter into creative
duration. What we have to do is, as it were, to make a big act of
perception to embrace as wild a field as possible of past and present
as a single fact directly known. This act of synthesis Bergson calls

Intuition may be described as turning past and present into fact
directly known by transforming it from mere matter into a creative
process of duration: but, of course, actually, there is not, first
matter, then an act of intuition which synthesises it, and finally a
fact in duration, there is simply the duration, and the matter and the
act of intuition are only abstractions by which we describe and
explain it.

The effort of intuition is the reversal of the intellectual effort to
abstract and explain which is our usual way of treating facts, and
these two ways of attending are incompatible and cannot both be
carried on together. Intuition, (or, to give it a more familiar name,
direct knowledge,) reveals fact: intellectual attention analyses and
classifies this fact in order to explain it in general terms, that is
to explain it by substituting abstractions for the actual fact.
Obviously we cannot perform acts of analysis without some fact to
serve as material: analysis uses the facts supplied by direct
knowledge as its material. Bergson maintains that in so doing it
limits and distorts these facts and he says that if we are looking for
speculative knowledge we must go back to direct knowledge, or, as he
calls it, intuition.

But bare acquaintance is in-communicable, moreover it requires a great
effort to maintain it. In order to communicate it and retain the power
of getting the facts back again after we have relaxed our grip on them
we are obliged, once we have obtained the fullest direct knowledge of
which we are capable, to apply the intellectual method to the fact
thus revealed and attempt to describe it in general terms.

Now the directly known forms a creative duration whose special
characteristics are that it is non-logical, (i.e., is not made up of
distinct mutually exclusive terms united by external relations) and
does not contain parts which can be repeated over and over, while on
the other hand the terms which we have to substitute for it if we want
to describe it only stand for repetitions and have the logical form.
It looks, therefore, as if our descriptions could not, as they stand,
be very successful in conveying to others the fact known to us
directly, or in recalling it to ourselves.

In order that the description substituted by our intellectual activity
for the facts which we want to describe may convey these facts it is
necessary to perform an act of synthesis on the description analogous
to the act of perception which originally created the fact itself out
of mere matter. The words used in a description should be to the
hearer what mere matter is to the perceiver: in order that matter may
be perceived an act of synthesis must be performed by which the matter
is turned into fact in duration: similarly in order to gather what a
description of a fact means the hearer must take the general terms
which are employed not as being distinct and mutually exclusive but as
modifying one another and interpenetrating in the way in which the
"parts" of a process of creative duration interpenetrate. In the same
way by understanding the terms employed synthetically and not
intellectually we can use a description to recall any fact which we
have once known directly. Thus our knowledge advances by alternate
acts of direct acquaintance and analysis.

Philosophy must start from a fresh effort of acquaintance creating, if
possible, a fact wider and fuller than the facts which we are content
to know for the purposes of everyday life. But analysis is essential
if the fact thus directly known is to be conveyed to others and
recalled. By analysis the philosopher fixes this wider field in order
that he may communicate and recall it. Starting later from the
description of some fact obtained by a previous effort of
acquaintance, or from several facts obtained at different times, and
also from the facts described by others, and using all these
descriptions as material, it may be possible, by a fresh effort, to
perform acts of acquaintance, (or synthesis) embracing ever wider and
wider fields of knowledge. This, according to Bergson, is the way in
which philosophical knowledge should be built up, facts, obtained by
acts of acquaintance, being translated into descriptions only that
these descriptions may again be further synthesised so directing our
attention to more and more comprehensive facts.

Inevitably, of course, these facts themselves, being less than all the
stream of creative duration to which they belong, will be
abstractions, if taken apart from that whole stream, and so distorted.
This flaw in what we know even by direct acquaintance can never be
wholly remedied short of our succeeding in becoming acquainted with
the whole of duration. It is something, however, to be aware of the
flaw, even if we cannot wholly remedy it, and the wider the
acquaintance the less is the imperfection in the fact known.

The first step, in any case, towards obtaining the wider acquaintance
at which philosophy aims consists in making the effort necessary to
rid ourselves of the practical preoccupation which gives us our bias
towards explaining everything long before we have allowed ourselves
time to pay proper attention to it, in order that we may at least get
back to such actual facts as we do already know directly. When this
has been accomplished (and our intellectual habits are so deeply
ingrained that the task is by no means easy) we can then go on to
other philosophers' descriptions of the facts with which their own
efforts to widen their direct knowledge have acquainted them and, by
synthesising the general terms which they have been obliged to employ,
we also may come to know these more comprehensive facts. Unless it is
understood synthetically, however, a philosopher's description of the
facts with which he has acquainted himself will be altogether
unsatisfactory and misleading. It is in this way that Bergson's own
analysis of the fact which we all know directly into matter and the
act of memory by which matter is turned into a creative process should
be understood. The matter and the act of memory are both abstractions
from the actual fact: he does not mean that over and above the fact
there is either any matter or any force or activity called memory nor
are these things supposed to be in the actual fact: they are simply
abstract terms in which the fact is described.

Bergson tries elsewhere to put the same point by saying that there are
two tendencies in reality, one towards space (that is logical form)
and the other towards duration, and that the actual fact which we know
directly "tends" now towards "space" and now towards duration. The two
faculties intellect and intuition are likewise fictions which are not
really supposed to exist, distinct from the fact to which they are
applied, but are simply abstract notions invented for the sake of

Whatever the description by which a philosopher attempts to convey
what he has discovered we shall only understand it if we remember that
the terms in which the fact is described are not actually parts of the
fact itself and can only convey the meaning intended if they are
grasped by synthesis and not intellectually understood.

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