Thursday, December 20, 2012

dark night & the thought of Henri Bergson


                     Grimes - Oblivion

You hear a lot about holism these days. They say every thing is one organism, and yes, while that maybe true, unless we come to understand how things function together we really don't comprehend holism. Granted holism will always conceals most of it's mystery, to understand holism is to grasp the absolute... which is imposable, but some thinkers do get closer then others. Henry Bergson is among the most integrative thinkers of the western philosophical tradition. Dreams have long been investigated for hidden treasures of esoteric meaning, so it seems to me that Henri Bergson's book 'Dreams' would be a great place to start in a revaluation of his thought.

Henri Bergson’s 'Dreams'; unlike most books on the topic, is not psychology, nor is it some other type of inductive investigation into the meaning of dreams. It is a phenomenology of sleep; this means it’s the reported findings of some one that simply pays close attention to the experience of dreaming. This does not mean how ever that it is undisciplined or prejudiced against other types of methodology, there is psychological information in this book, as well as neurological explanations. Contrary to what many philosophers and scholars claim, Bergson is not in any way opposed to these kinds of methods of inquiry, on the contrary he simply seeks to understand, and explain how our human bodies produce meaning from/of our interactions with the world, and like all phenomenologist he uses an appeal to our basic experiences to do this. What really sets Bergson apart from other thinkers is the way he considers a topic from a middle point. When considering the mind and the body, Bergson presents the way our actions draw on experience stored in the mind as images(memory); the circumstance calls for an action, the body searches its past memories(images) for a possible course of bodily action, when is selected and the image(memory) has its baring on the circumstance through bodily movement. There you see, it's all one, continues whole, mind body, thiught action, pretty cool, hu!?

Memory has a different function when we rest, because a resting state is not the kind of circumstance that calls any particular action or image(memories) from our minds, so when our minds relax the images start floating around freely connecting in wild new ways, than we start to dream. 

You can see how this differs from a Freudian type psychological account of dreaming, in that there isn't really any one thing lurking in the sub-conscious mind trying to manifest it's self the way Freud’s sub-conscious does, instead dream images get there meaning from how our waking bodies might interact with them. Only when we no longer need the memories for any particular purpose do our bodies stop trying to call up the necessary images and the images start to float free. Of course this doesn't mean that dreams can't tell us something about ourselves, just not exactly the same sorts of things the Freud supposes they will. Dreams will tell us something of the nature of image and even the mind and body they just won’t tell us some secret about our mothers, or other such soup opera none sense. 

Bergson’s theory is really set apart from other theories of consciousness in that for him no pre-existing set of psychological figures need exist in order for us to make sense of the world or our dreams. For Bergson we make sense of the world through learning, and we learn through connecting actions with past images, so for him we don't need an 'id' to represent our desires, or a Platonic form to make sense of learning. For Bergson Reason is pattern recognition; taking the sense of varies memories and matching them with proper action, it's that simple. 

That might sound boring, "what no creepy esoteric knowledge which only doctors have access to, by which they lord over us, high priests and true authorities over our deepest selves!!!" but this also means that our dreams are free from the bounds of a narrow catalog of possible interpretations, because there simply drawn from life. This doesn't mean that there total chaos, ether, just that their meaning and potential is not entirely disconnected from our lived experience. This is good news for 2 reasons: 1 because we now have an intimate relation to the meaning of our dreams, and 2 because dreaming is now a creative process of invention; it isn't just a specimen to be dissected and studied by the elite doctors of the world. Dreams are now the building blocks of creativity and action.

For those wonderfulearnestindividuals among you that find this topic intriguing and would like to do some further reading of your own I have included a beautiful excerpt from Henry Bergson's book 'Dreams' in which the personified Dream introduces himself with ease and candor, a link to the full copy of the book at, as well as this link to the Daniel Coffeen lecture by which I first heard the good name of Henry Bergson.

Now for Page 43 to 50 of "Dreams!!!"


But, then, what is the essential differ-

ence between perceiving and dreaming?

What is sleep? I do not ask, of course,

how sleep can be explained physiolog-

ically. That is a special question, and be-

sides is far from being settled. I ask what

is sleep psychologically; for our mind

continues to exercise itself when we are

asleep, and it exercises itself as we have

just seen on elements analogous to those

of waking, on sensations and memories;

and also in an analogous manner combines

them. Nevertheless we have on the one

hand normal perception, and on the other

the dream. What is the difference, I re-

peat? What are the psychological charac-

teristics of the sleeping state?

We must distrust theories. There are

a great many of them on this point. Some

say that sleep consists in isolating oneself

from the external world, in closing the

senses to outside things. But we have

shown that our senses continue to act dur-

ing sleep, that they provide us with tjie

outline, or at least the point ojf departure,

of most of our dreams. Some say: "To


go to sleep is to stop the action of the su-

perior faculties of the mind," and they talk

of a kind of momentary paralysis of the

higher centers. I do not think that this is

much more exact. In a dream we become

no doubt indifferent to logic, but not in-

capable of logic. There are dreams when

we reason with correctness and even with

subtlety. I might almost say, at the risk

I of seeming paradoxical, that the mistake ol

the dreamer is often in reasoning too much.

He would avoid the absurdity if he would

remain a simple spectator of the proces-

sion of images which compose his dream.

But when he strongly desires to explain

it, his explanation, intended to bind to

gether incoherent images, can be nothing

more than a bizarre reasoning which

verges upon absurdity. I recognize, in

deed, that our superior intellectual facul

ties are relaxed in sleep, that generally the

logic of a dreamer is feeble enough and

often resembles a mere parody of logic.

But one might say as much of all of our

faculties during sleep. It is then not by

the abolition of reasoning, any more than


by the closing of the senses, that we char-

acterize dreaming.

Something else is essential. We need

something more than theories. We need

an intimate contact with the facts. One

must make the decisive experiment upon

oneself. It is necessary that on coming out

of a dream, since we cannot analyze our-

selves in the dream itself, we should watch

the transition from sleeping to waking, fol-

low upon the transition as closely as pos-

sible, and try to express by words what we

experience in this passage. This is very

difficult, but may be accomplished by

forcing the attention. Permit, then, the

writer to take an example from his own

personal experience, and to tell of a recent

dream as well as what was accomplished

on coming out of the dream.

Now the dreamer dreamed that he was

speaking before an assembly, that he was

making a political speech before a political

assembly. Then in the midst of the audi-

torium a murmur rose. The murmur aug-

mented; it became a muttering. Then it

became a roar, a frightful tumult, and


finally there resounded from all parts

timed to a uniform rhythm the cries, "Out!

Out!" At that moment he wakened. A

dog was baying in a neighboring garden,

and with each one of his *Wow-wows"

one of the cries of "Out! Out!" seemed to

be identical. Well, here was the infinitesi-

mal moment which it is necessary to seize.

The waking ego, just reappearing,

should turn to the dreaming ego, which

is still there, and, during some instants at

least, hold it without letting it go. "I

have caught you at it! You thought it was a

crowd shouting and it was a dog barking.

Now, I shall not let go of you until you

tell me just what you were doing!" To

which the dreaming ego would answer, "I

was doing nothing; and this is just where

you and I differ from one another. You

imagine that in order to hear a dog bark-

ing, and to know that it is a dog that barks,

you have nothing to do. That is a great

mistake. You accomplish, without suspect-

ing it, a considerable effort. You take

your entire memory, all your accumulated

experience, and you bring this formidable


mass of memories to converge upon a sin-

gle point, in such a way as to insert ex-

actly in the sounds you heard that one of

your memories which is the most capable

of being adapted to it. Nay, you must ob-

tain a perfect adherence, for between the

memory that you evoke and the crude sen-

sation that you perceive there must not be

the least discrepancy; otherwise you would

be just dreaming. This adjustment you can

only obtain by an effort of the memory

and an effort of the perception, just as the

tailor who is trying on a new coat pulls

together the pieces of cloth that he adjusts

to the shape of your body in order to pin

them. You exert, then, continually, every

moment of the day, an enormous effort.

Your life in a waking state is a life of la-

bor, even when you think you are doing

nothing, for at every minute you have to

choose and every minute exclude. You

choose among your sensations, since you

reject from your consciousness a thousand

subjective sensations which come back in

the night when you sleep. You choose, and

with extreme precision and delicacy, among


your memories, since you reject all that do

not exactly suit your present state. This

choice which you continually accomplish,

this adaptation, ceaselessly renewed, is the

first and most essential condition of what is

called common sense. But all this keeps

you in a state of uninterrupted tension.

You do not feel it at the moment, any more

than you feel the pressure of the atmos-

phere, but it fatigues you in the long run.

Common sense is very fatiguing.

"So, I repeat, I differ from you pre-

cisely in that I do nothing. The effort

that you give without cessation I simply

abstain from giving. In place of attach-

ing myself to life, I detach myself from it.

Everything has become indifferent to me.

I have become disinterested in everything.

To sleep is to become disinterested. One

sleeps to the exact extent to which he be-

comes disinterested. A mother who sleeps

by the side of her child will not stir at the

sound of thunder, but the sigh of the child

will wake her. Does she really sleep in

regard to her child? We do not sleep in

regard to what continues to interest us.


"You ask me what it is that I do when I

dream? I will tell you what you do when

you are awake. You take me, the me of

dreams, me the totality of your past, and

you force me, by making me smaller and

smaller, to fit into the little circle that you

trace around your present action. That is

what it is to be awake. That is what it is to

live the normal psychical life. It is to bat-

tle. It is to will. As for the dream, have

you really any need that I should explain

it? It is the state into which you naturally

fall when you let yourself ^o, when you no

longer have the power to concentrate your-

self upon a single point, when you have

ceased to will. What needs much more to

be explained is the marvelous mechanism

by which at any moment your will obtains

instantly, and almost unconsciously, the con-

centration of all that you have within you

upon one and the same point, the point that

interests you. But to explain this is the

task of normal psychology, of the psychol-

ogy of waking, for willing and waking are

one and the same thing."

This is what the dreaming ego would say.


And it would tell us a great many other

things still if we could let it talk freely.

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