Bergson Quotes

The following are quotes from Bergson’s Creative Evolution, and one from his book, Christianity and Evolution. The numerical citations following the quote refer to particular locations in my Kindle download of that book.

“The truth is that we change without ceasing, and that the state itself is nothing but change.”(190).

“… That what we do depends on what we are; but it is necessary to add also that we are, to a certain extent, what we do, and that we are creating ourselves continually.” ( 202)

“We find that, for a conscious being, to exist is to change, to change is to mature, to mature is to go on creating oneself endlessly. Should the same be said of existence in general?”(645)

“The error of radical finalists and, as also that of radical mechanism, is to expand too far the application of certain concepts that are natural to our intellect.… Our intellect has been cast in the mold of action speculation is a lecture he humble while action is a necessity.” (734) a

“The species and the individual thus think only of themselves – whence arises a possible conflict with other forms of life. Harmony, therefore, does not exist in fact; it exists rather in principle.” (812)

“The principle of mechanism is that ‘the same causes produce the same effects.’” (853)

“At all times the doctrine of analogy has laid much stress on the marvelous structure of the sense organs, in order to liken the work of nature to that of an intelligent workmen.” (860)

Let us consider the example on which the advocates of finality have always insisted: the structure of such an organ as the human not a. They have had no difficulty in showing that in this extremely complicated apparatus all the elements are marvelously coordinated.” (885)

“It must not be forgotten that all the parts of an organism are necessarily coordinated.” ( 900)

“If the variations are accidental, how can they ever agree to our rise in every part of the organ at the same time, in such a way that the organ will continue to perform its function? Darwin quite understood this.” ( 901)

“The parts must then all change it once, each consulting the others.” ( 922)

“And, supposing chance to have granted this favor once, can we admit that it repeats the selfsame favor in the course of the history of a species.”  (929)

“Of course it is unlikely that the idea of the vertebrate and that of the mollusk have been built up by a series of variations due to simple chance.” (987)

“The already old experiments of Dorfmeister had shown that the same chrysalis, according as it was submitted to cold or heat, gave rise to very different butterflies, which had long been regarded as independent species.” (1030)

“The more we reflect upon it, the more we shall see that this production of the same effect by two different accumulations of an enormous number of small causes is contrary to the principles of mechanistic philosophy.”  (1033)

“Every moment, right before our eyes, nature arrives at identical results, in sometimes neighboring species, by entirely different embryogenic processes.” (1040)

“If the crystalline lens of a Triton be removed, it is regenerated by the iris. Now, the original lens was built out of the ectoderm, while the iris is of mesodermic origin.  What is more, in the Salamander maculata, if the lens be removed and the iris left, the regeneration of the lens takes place at the upper part of the iris; but if this upper part of the iris itself be taken away, the regeneration takes place in the inner or retinal layer of the remaining region. Thus, parts differently situated, differently constituted, mentioned normally for different functions, are capable of performing the same duties and even of manufacturing, when necessary, the same pieces of the machine. Here we have, indeed, the same effect obtained by different combinations of causes.”  (1045)

“Whether we will or no, we must appeal to some inner directing principle in order to account for this convergence of the facts.” (1056)

“Neo-Lamarkism is therefore, of all the later forms of evolution, the only one capable of admitting an internal and psychological principle of development, although it is not bound to do so. And it is also the only evolutionism that seems to us to account for the building up of identical complex organs on independent lines of development.” (1068)

“The truth is, it is necessary to dig beneath the effort itself and look for a deeper cause.” (1069)

“This is especially necessary, we believe, if we wish to get at the cause of regular hereditary variations.” (1087)

“Thus, for instance, there is no proof that the mole has become blind because it has formed the habit of living underground; it is perhaps because it’seyes were becoming atrophied that it condemned itself to a life underground.… From the fact that the son of a fencing master has become a good fencer much more quickly than his father, we cannot infer that the habit of the parent has been transmitted to the child.” (698)

“It may be claimed that considerations of utility are out of place here; that the eye is not made to see, but that we see because we have eyes; that the organ is what it is, and utility is a word by which we designate the functional effects of the structure.” (1153)

“The neo-Darwinians are probably right, we believe, when they teach that the essential causes of variation are the differences inherent in the germ borne by the individual, and not the experiences or behavior of the individual in the course of his career. Where we fail to follow these biologists, is in regarding the differences as purely accidental and individual.” (1146)

“On the contrary, each of them, being supported by a considerable number of facts, must be true in its way.” (1168) that

“We claim, on the contrary, that the spontaneity of life is manifested by a continual creation of new forms succeeding others. But this in determination cannot be complete; it must leave a certain part to determination.… Indeed, we do not see how otherwise to explain the likeness of structure of the species that have not the same history.” (1171)

“A hereditary change in a definite direction, which continues to accumulate and add to itself so as to build up a more and more complex machine, must certainly be related to some sort of effort, but to an effort of far greater depth than the individual effort, far more independent of circumstances.” (1188)

“Two points are equally striking in an organ like the eye: the complexity of its structure and the simplicity of its function.” (1202)

“Life does not proceed by the association and addition of elements, but by disassociation and division. We must get beyond both points of view, both mechanism and finalism.” (1238)

“That adaptation to environment is the necessary condition of evolution we do not question for a moment. It is quite evident that a species would disappear, should it fail to bend to the conditions of existence which are imposed on it.” (1416)

“The truth is that adaptation explains … the movement of evolution, but not its general directions, still less the movement itself. The road that leads to the town is obliged to follow the ups and downs in the hills; it adapts itself to the accidents of the ground; but the accidents of the ground are not the cause of the road, nor have they given it its direction.” (1422.

“But, if the evolution of life is something other than a series of adaptation to accidental circumstances, so also it is not the realization of the plan. A plan is given in advance.” (1435)

“Evolution is not only a movement forward; in many cases we observe a marking-time, and still more often a deviation or turning back.” (1459) a

“No definite characteristic distinguishes the plant from the animal. Attempts to define the two kingdoms strictly have always come to naught.” (1479)

“It is a remarkable fact that the fungi, which nature has spread all over the year if in such extraordinary profusion, have not been able to evolve.” (1489)

“The animal, being unable to fix directly the carbon and nitrogen which are everywhere to be found, as to seek for its nourishment vegetables which have already fixed these elements, or animals which have taken them from the vegetable kingdom. So the animal must be able to move.” (1493)

“In its most rudimentary form, the animal is a tiny massive protoplasm and developed at most in a thin albuminous pellicle which allows full freedom for change of shape and movement. The vegetable cell, on the contrary, is surrounded by a membrane of cellulose, which condemns it to immobility.” (1509)

“Between mobility and consciousness there is an obvious relationship.… The more a nervous system develops, the more numerous and more precise become the movements among which it can choose; the clearer, also, is the consciousness that accompanies them.” (1516)

“The truth is that the nervous system arises, like the other systems, from the division of labor.” (1524)

“This amounts to saying that the humblest organism is conscious in proportion to its power to move freely. Is consciousness here, in relation to movement, the effect or the cause?” (1530)

“To sum up, the vegetable manufactures organic substances directly with mineral substances; as a rule, this aptitude enables it to dispense with movement and so with feeling. Animals, which are obliged to go in search of their food, have evolved in the direction of locomotor activity, and consequently every consciousness more and more distinct, more and more ample.” (1543)

“Now, it seems to us more probable that the animal cell and the vegetable cell are derived from the common stock, and that the first living organisms oscillated between the vegetable and animal form.” (1645)

“We may say that a higher organism is essentially a sensory motor system installed on systems of digestion, respiration, circulation, secretion, etc., whose function it is to repair, cleanse and protect it, to create an unvarying internal environment for it, and above all to pass it potential energy to convert into locomotive movement.” (1697)

“The study of one of these organisms therefore takes us round in a circle, as if everything was a means to everything else. But the circle has a center, nonetheless, and that is the system of nervous element stretching between the sensory organs and the motor apparatus.” (1737)

“It might be said that life tends toward the utmost possible action, but that each species prefers to contribute the slightest possible effort.” (1739) a

“But each of the species, through which life passes, aims only at its own convenience.” (2797)

“There are two essential functions of intellect, the faculty of deduction and that of the induction.” (2801)

“Deduction, then, does not work unless there is spatial intuition behind it. But we may say the same of the induction.” (2947)

“In a general way, reality is ordered exactly to the degree in which it satisfies our thought.” (3044)

“Heredity does not only transmit characters; it transmits also the impetus in virtue of which the characters are modified, and this impetus is vitality itself.” (3054)

“The physical order is ‘automatic;’ the vital order is,  I will not say voluntarily, not analogous to the order willed. (1377)

“By a series of arbitrary decrees, we augment, diminish, suppress, so as to obtain what we call this order. In reality we have substituted will for the mechanism of nature; we have replaced the ‘automatic order’ by a multitude of elementary wills, just to the extent that we imagine the apparition or vanishing of the phenomena. No doubt, for all these little wills to constitute a ‘willed order,’ they must have accepted the direction of a higher will. But, I’m looking closely at them, we see that that is just what they do: our own will is there, which object defies itself in each of these capricious wills in turn, and takes good care not to connect the same with the same, nor to permit the effects to be proportional to the cause – in fact makes one simple intention hover over the whole of the elementary volitions.” (3083)

“In analyzing the idea of chance, which is closely akin to the idea of disorder, we find the same elements.” (3090)

“The mind swings to and fro, unable to rest, between the idea of an absence of final cause and that of an absence of efficient cause, each of these definitions sending it back to the other.… In reality, chance merely objectifies the state of mind of one who, expecting one of the two kinds of order, finds himself confronted with the other.” (3092.

“Consider the letters of the alphabet that enter into the composition of everything that has ever been written: we do not conceive that newsletters bring up and come to join themselves to the authors in order to make a new poem.” (3165)

“Thus, that the number of atoms composing the material universe at a given moment should increase runs counter to our habits of mind, contradicts the whole of our experience.” (3168)

“The mystery that spreads over the existence of the universe comes in great part from this, that we want to the genesis of it to have been accomplished at one stroke for the whole of matter to be eternal.” (3170)

“Whether we speak of creation or positive and uncreated matter, it is the totality of the universe that we are considering it once.” (3180)

“As living beings, we depend on the planet on which we are, and on the sun that provides for it, but nothing else.” (3260)

“Everything is obscuring the idea of creation if we think of things which are created anything which creates, as we habitually do, as the understanding cannot help doing.” (3262)

“But things and states are only views, taken by our minds, of becoming.” (3263)

“That is what the vital impetus, passing through matter, would feign do all at once.” (3347)

“The part played by contingency in evolution is therefore great.” (3359) if if

“It is therefore probable that life goes on in other planets, in other solar systems also, under forms of which we have no idea, in physical conditions to which it seems to us, from the point of view of our physiology, to be absolutely opposed.” (3363)

“We use analogy the wrong way when we declare life to be impossible where the circumstances with which it is confronted our other than those on the Earth.” (3367)

“Now, was it necessary that there should be a series, or terms? Why should not the unique impetus have been impressed on a unique body, which might have gone on evolving? This question arises, no doubt, from the comparison of life to an impetus. And it must be compared to an impetus, because no image borrowed from the physical world can give more nearly the idea of it. But it is only an image.” (3383)

“Is my own person, at a given moment, one or manifold?” (3393)
“Thus, a poetic sentiment, which bursts into distinct verses, lines and words, may be said to have already contained this multiplicity of individuated elements, and yet, in fact, it is the materiality of language that creates it.” (3398)

“Hence, throughout the whole realm of life, a balancing between individuation and association.” (3409)

“Very probably it is not the cells that have made the individual by means of association; it is rather the individual that has made the cells by means of dissociation.” (3420)

“Vital impetus is neither pure unity nor pure multiplicity.” (3422)

“The evolution of life in the double direction of individuality and association has therefore nothing accidental about it: it is due to the very nature of life.” (3426)

“But this consciousness, which is a need of creation, is made manifest to itself only were creation is possible. It lies dormant when life is condemned to automatism; it awakens as soon as the possibility of the choices restored.” (3432)

“In reality, a living being is a center of action.” (3438)

“In reality, consciousness does not spring from the brain; but brain and consciousness correspond because equally they measure, the one by the complexity of its structure in the other by the intensity of its awareness, the quantity of choice that the living being has at its disposal. (3441)

“. . . When finally a principle of creation has been put at the base of things, the same question springs up: how – why does this principle exist rather than nothing?” (3623)

“The truth is that if language here were molded on reality, we should not say, ‘The child becomes the man,’ but, ‘there is becoming from the child to the man.’ In the first proposition, becomes is a verb of indeterminate meaning, intended to mask the absurdity into which we fall when we attribute the state man to the subject child.”

Bergson, creative evolution at 4093.

And from Christianity and Evolution at 162:

“In future only a God who is functionally and totally homemade can satisfy us. Where, then, shall we find such a God? And who will at last give evolution its own God?”


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