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Bergson's Theory Of The Interpenetration Of Psychic States


It is, says Bergson, characteristic of psychic states that they do not,
like material things remain external to one another. They
inter-penetrate. Cut up by human intelligence into discrete elements,
in their own nature they remain a continuum. States of mind appear
successive and external to one another, because age-long association
with matter has accustomed men to material modes of thought. Man's
intelligence is a by-product of activity. For purposes of action it is
the externality of things that matters. The inner connection is
relatively unimportant. Men act with precision on matter, because
perception cuts up the continuum of matter into bodies, defined bodies
no two of which can occupy the same space. Intelligence originating
thus by contact with matter naturally prefers mechanical categories.
These categories applicable to matter when applied to higher forms of
existence mislead. We naturally conceive psychic states as external to
one another, and their interpenetration seems an abnormality. At this
stage of thought experience is pictured as a line of indefinite length,
infinitely divisible, whose divisions correspond to the moments of
consciousness. This spatial picture of mind is misleading in many
ways, not the least in that it can offer no reasonable theory of the
subconscious. Thinkers who materialise mental experience have no room
in their theory for the sub-conscious. It is for them bare
non-consciousness, a psychic vacuum. When, however, we start from this
unique characteristic, that mind possesses, of remaining one and
indivisible throughout the greatest appearance of diversity, the
sub-conscious falls naturally into the scheme. No part of our
experience perishes. It is essentially self-perpetuating memory. The
needs of action relegate the greater portion of it to the
sub-conscious, but it is there, always linked to our conscious
experience, and only awaiting the occasion to emerge into the full
light of consciousness. Past penetrates into the present. One portion
of our present penetrates into the other portions. Conscious and
unconscious, past and present, combine to form one wonderful whole.

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