About God – 10

July 13, 2010

Henri Bergson’s God


The French philosopher Bergson (1859-1941) is known for his clarity and precision. Descartes, similar to Hindu principles, had advised that the quest should be directed inwards first, start from introspection and then should be diverted outwards. Materialists however tried to demolish these views saying – Mind/Life is Matter, there is no God, Man is the God, Man has to replace God, Man is a mere machine in the drama of evolution. Bergson became instantly popular because people needed to rejuvenate their Hope and Faith in the wake of the demolition work done by determinists/ materialists. Bergson provided faith and hope that man also has some part to play in the theatre of creation alongside God. Secondly he provided the philosophical/ logical reason and justification for that.

Bergson’s was earlier Spencer’s follower. Then he continued the Schopenhauer’s thought – Life is important than the Force. He also extends Lamarck’s postulate – impulse and desire are the active forces in evolution.

His theory of Creative Intelligence supports the religious principle of Less thought and more action. He explains in detail the elusive connection between matter and life, body and mind, determination and choice. We also see Darwin’s evolution theory under new light when we read Bergson.


His definitions and logic that finally defines God is as follows:

> Man tends to be materialist because he thinks in terms Space (since we are geometricians). However, Time is more fundamental, which holds the Life, and all the Reality. Time is an accumulation, a growth, a Duration.

> Duration is continuation of past in to present and then future. However, all Past is not lost. It accumulates. Although we do not remember all of it, when it comes to responses and decision making, it is with us. Any future moment cannot be predicted because every moment is an accumulation of something new.

> Change is more radical. To change is to mature (evolve). Perhaps, change is the reality.

> Memory is the vehicle of duration and servant of time. It provides rich alternatives to us. As we mature, the expanse of choices widens.

> Consciousness is then proportional to the ‘Power of Choices’ we have. It fills up the gap between ‘What is done’ and ‘What might be done’. This is the theatre of imagination, a boiling pot of choices, possible decisions and actions.

> In reality, human being is the centre of action, the focus of an unknown (redirected) Force, which pours into the world a quantum of action.

> Free Will is the sister of consciousness, and simply put Freedom means that we know what we are doing.

> In intuition we grasp several moments of the river of things, or the rhythm of necessity. Intuition measures the power of action over things.

> Contrary to what materialists believe (that everything is mechanical and automatic), we live by making choices. Choice is a burden, requires effort, resolution, decision to lift up our personality above the force of whims, habits and laziness. Choice is therefore creation and Creation is labor.

> Man envies animals because animals do not have to invent, but just vary the routine, if required. Animals can not break this bondage to routine, may be they can stretch the chain for an instance and then they go back to the routine. But man can break the routine with consciousness; man invents, and can set himself free.

> Mind is not identical to brain. Brain is an accumulation of images (like a static movie strip), reaction patterns, recall and the Choice of reactions.

> As we go up the ladder of living beings, the number of organs seems to increase and the organs are assigned a specific function. Consciousness is special to Man. It is not found anywhere else. In Man it seems linked to brain, in diffused or confused state but it is not that is does not exist. Theoretically, every living being should be conscious. In principle, consciousness should have the same scope as that of life.

> Is mind and thought only the brain and matter? No, because we try to perceive these with Intellect, that part of brain, which during evolution has developed to understand matter, shapes, laws and concepts of matter and above all how to adapt with the environment. The intellect does not understand the connections/ relations between things, the flow of Duration which is Life. Intellect sees life as separate still images of a movie strip, but misses the continuity that knits them into Life. ‘Intellect sees matter and misses energy’. That is why, when we find energy at the core of the atom, we are shocked. All exact sciences are therefore approximation, and catch only the static Reality and not the continuation i.e. life.

> Therefore it is our own error that we try to explain Time (and motion), Thought and Life by applying the physical principles. Life is about Quality, Time and Change and not Quantity, Space or Position. It is not rearrangement of matter but fluid and persistent creation.

> What is better known to us? Mind not matter, Time not space, Action not passivity, Choice not mechanism. This simple and direct perception is Intuition. With intuition, we can listen to the flow of life, feel the presence of mind, arrive at a conclusion that thought is the motion of neurons. Once we are through with intuition, the intellect again takes over and starts thinking about the material part (and actions required) in the wake of the decision taken/conclusion arrived at (with the help of Intuition).

> No language is sufficient to word terms like intuition. We try to explain mind as measures, spirit as breath, thought as a thing. The languages were created are to explain in terms of physical aspects and not to explain terms such as Instinct.

> Instinct is quite different than Intellect. (Survival) Instinct comes ready-made to us, gives decisions based on data accumulated by an individual or his ancestors. However it does not adapt the organism to change. Instinct is the insurance against security, whereas Intellect is the organ we have for adventure, liberty.

> Life is more than the body-machine. Life has been designed and has direction such that it has in-built ability to grow (evolve), restore (repair and reproduce) and adapt to the environment available to dwell in, with the help of machine-parts it has been provided with.

Life is an effort, which pushes on, upwards and outwards. It is the opposite of inertia and accident. It has to consistently fight, in spite of possible fatigue, with its eternal enemies namely matter, lag, slack, relaxation, rest and death. It has to defy matter and its laws, it has to move about, explore (and not wait like plants). Otherwise the consciousness will slip and instinct, habit and sleep will take over.

> Life has undergone these stages:

– The plants, which are almost matter-like,

– The Animals with instincts,

– The Man with thought and ever expanding intelligence.

Life has invested hopes and interests in the intelligence. Man exists by instincts, but progresses by intelligence and creativity.

> God is therefore the persistent creative Life. God and Life are one.

> God is finite, not omnipotent, limited by matter.

> God is not readymade. He is action, unending life and freedom.


Bergson advises that time spent in criticizing a philosophy is time lost. In criticizing one, we breed another, which is equally imperfect. As our experience widens, we start to find ‘Truth’ in the earlier ones, which we had rejected as ‘False’.

While young, we are rebels and materialists. As the death approaches, we start seeing beyond materialism. As such, Philosophy is a function of age.

Bergson persistently asks ‘what are matter, body and world? Is there something in these, which is beyond our comprehension? May be they are materials waiting to be formed by intelligence and will? He resembles Heraclitus who said, is there also God in matter?

We have hope in Bergson’s theory that one day we will be able to defy matter and mortality. Because everything is possible provided we have time.

Bergson’s ‘Creative Evolution’ written in 1907 is acclaimed as the first philosophic master-piece of the 20th century.

((Picture credit – nobelprize.org)


Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s