Esteemed thinker: Henri Bergson

Henri bergson Some of us remember our dreams, some of us don’t, while others choose not to; but when you awaken, if your memory allows you the luxury of recall, dreams are often presented in a disjointed and unintelligible jumble of ideas and scenes. And so, trying to explain your “sleep-time story” often translates into a laundry list of sound-bites making little sense in the light of day. For while you are in a dream you are producing… shall we say… a most peculiar movie, which follows a sequence of events and situations that go from “reel to reel” (or “REM to REM”) . So what is it that makes our dreams so odd, so weird, so incoherent? Some superstitions and ‘old wives tales’ make all kinds of proclamations with rather unscientific explanations regarding how one will dream. For example: sleeping with knives under your pillow will keep nightmares away, or eating garlic at dinner will guarantee bad dreams…does that mean nibbling cookies will grant us sweet dreams!

Today’s blog invites you to hear from our esteemed thinker: Henri Bergson (1859-1941). As a French philosopher, Bergson was highly acclaimed for rejecting the current trend of thinking, rationalism for intuition and experience. His influence on the 19th and early 20th thinkers crossed over the oceans and was embraced by greats such as French novelist Claude Simon, American Philosopher and psychologists William James, English mathematician and philosopher Alfred North Whitehead, and American author and artist John Dos Passos. In 1927 Bergson won the Nobel Prize in literature.

dreamcatcher_cepia And so, let us take a moment to experience a bit of insight from his essay and work titled Dreams; allow Henri Bergson to reveal the source of our strange and often incoherent nightly visions…the dream.

“… The incoherence of the dream seems to me easy enough to explain. As it is characteristic of the dream not to demand a complete adjustment between the memory image and the sensation, but, on the contrary, to allow some play between them, very different memories can suit the same sensation. For example, there may be in the field of vision a green spot with white points. This might be a lawn spangled with white flowers. It might be a billiard-table with its balls. It might be a host of other things besides. These different memory images, all capable of utilizing the same sensation, chase after it. Sometimes they attain it, one after the other. And so the lawn becomes a billiard-table, and we watch these extraordinary transformations. Often it is at the same time, and altogether that these memory images join the sensation, and then the lawn will be a billiard-table. From this come those absurd dreams where an object remains as it is and at the same time becomes something else. As I have just said, the mind, confronted by these absurd visions, seeks an explanation and often thereby aggravates the incoherence…”

Bertrand Russell on Belief

When we read from the passages of esteemed thinkers, we reflect upon ourselves, our world, and what we are doing in it. In this spirit we decide if we want to make room in our own philosophy for such perspectives and in doing so we consider our individual “beliefs”. Such a term, belief, is riddled with metrics and questions that can take us into another sticky territory… “what is truth” … (which goes far beyond today’s blog.)

Here is a bit of Bertrand Russell on belief, which to this blogger is worthy of a moment’s reflection.

Bertrand russell _2 “… When we survey our beliefs, we find that we hold different beliefs with very different degrees of conviction. Some-such as the belief that I am sitting in a chair, or that 2+2=4 can be doubted by few except those who have had a long training in philosophy. Such beliefs are held so firmly that non- philosophers who deny them are put into lunatic asylums. Other beliefs, such as the facts of history, are held rather less firmly, but still in the main without much doubt where they are well authenticated. Beliefs about the future, as that the sun will rise tomorrow and the trains will run approximately as in Bradshaw, may be held with almost as great conviction as beliefs about the past. Scientific laws are generally believed less firmly, and there is a gradation among them such as seems nearly certain to such as have only a slight probability in their favor. Philosophical beliefs, finally, will, with most people, take a still lower place, since the opposite beliefs of others can hardly fail to induce doubt. Belief, therefore, is a matter of degree. To speak of belief, disbelief, doubt, and suspense of judgment as the only possibilities is as if, from the writing on the thermometer, we were to suppose that blood heat, summer heat, temperate, and freezing were the only temperatures. This is a continuous gradation in belief, and the more firmly we believe anything, the less willing we are to abandon it in the case of conflict…”