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.