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 and the ‘utility’ of history

History is read, viewed, and even dismissed for a variety of reasons; all of which would be too cumbersome to analyze in brevity. However, I offer up to you the words of Philosopher Bertrand Russell, who suggests quite succinctly, “History is valuable, to begin with, because it is true; and this, though not the whole of its value, is the foundation and condition of all the rest…”

Today’s blog reflects on the “utility” of history; a term coined by Russell… (The term ‘utility” I find most fascinating; for it is not often exercised in regards to the study of history.) So, in the words of Mr. Russell, let us begin…

PH00873 “ … Another and a greater utility, however, belongs also to history. It enlarges the imagination, and suggests possibilities of action and feeling which would not have occurred to an uninstructed mind. It selects from past lives the elements which were significant and important; it fills our thoughts with splendid examples, and with the desire for greater ends than unaided reflection would have discovered. It makes visible and living the growth and greatness of nations, enabling us to extend our hopes beyond the span of our own lives. In all these ways, a knowledge of history is capable of giving statesmanship, and to our daily thoughts, a breadth and scope unattainable by those whose view is limited to the present…”