Henri Bergson Mind-Energy: Consciousness

9 Aug

I haven’t read any Bergson in awhile, so if anything I say in this post is wrong or misinterpreted please say so (you know how).  Bergson’s essay book Mind-Energy begins with the Life and Consciousness essay where he discusses the qualifications and characteristics of consciousness and the beings that have it. Naturally, when I read something I generate my own opinion about it whether it is for or against the author’s stance. Bergson had his opinions about what consciousness included, and they coincide with the definition of the word consciousness, even though he chose not to formally state it.

I want to state the qualifications of consciousness as stated by Bergson before discussing consciousness as a whole. “In like manner, consciousness in man is unquestionably connected with the brain: but it by no means follows that a brain is indispensable to consciousness” (Bergson).  Bergson states that consciousness coincides with a being having a brain of some shape or sort. “The faculty of choosing, at first localized in the brain, extends gradually to the spinal cord, which then, probably, constructs somewhat fewer mechanisms and also mounts them with less precision” (Bergson).  In this part of the essay Bergson makes the distinct boundary between brainless automatons and conscious choosing beings.  “…consciousness retains the past and anticipates the future, it is probably because it is called on to make a choice”(Bergson).  The previous quote leads Bergson to his conclusion that consciousness is the bridged gap between the recognized past and future. Also, he concludes that consciousness coincides with life. Bergson talks a lot about the brain and its components including the spinal cord to further elaborate upon his discussions about consciousness. I however am mostly interested in the main propositions about life and consciousness.

Concerning the proposition that consciousness coincides with a brain being present, I agree with Bergson in the fact that it would be an extremely rare situation where consciousness would exist in a being without a brain. Bergson goes to talk about parts of the brain especially the spinal cord that further make it known that consciousness could probably not exist without the being’s body having a brain. A brain is one generally accepted and known characteristics of conscious beings.

When he states that the conscious being has choice, he compares beings that are automatons (predestined without choice) and conscious beings that have choice.  Consciousness yields free choice. Automatons have no brain, and have no choice in their life.

The conscious being (stated by Bergson) almost always  coincides with life. The conscious being with the brain, also has life. The conscious being  must always have life. Finally, the consciousness is the recognizance of the being (and memory of) of the past and the future. All of these, and aforesaid things together make up the conscious being.

Concerning the characteristics of consciousness that the conscious being always has a brain, and that the being has recognition and memory of the past and future, I think they both are always true. There can never be a conscious being without a brain, or without recognition and memory of the past and future.  I elaborate so much upon the characteristics of consciousness because of the fact that the conscious being always having life, and the consciousness being dormant at times are specific in their truths and falsities.

First, the conscious being always having life is true only to some extent. Yet there cannot be a conscious being without life. There can however be life without consciousness.  There are beings without consciousness, and there are beings with dormant (Bergson’s term) or as I like to call it absent consciousness.  For example, there are plants such as the hibiscus. They have life and parts that function as a brain of the plantae purpose. The hibiscus however is not conscious. All fungi, protista, and monista are also not conscious of their surroundings and do not have memory or recognition of the world around them. From the plant phylum down to the monista there are no conscious beings because of the lack of brain parts, and the lack of recognition and memory of the past and future. The animal kingdom does however have beings that have life, a sufficient brain, and therefore consciousness.

The consciousness of the animal kingdom is difficult to distinguish because of the fact that many animals have limited consciousness. A fish sees a worm in the lake around it, grabs on, and gets hooked painfully in the mouth. He gets pulled up to the dock while the human grabs him, takes the hook off and lets him loose. The fish, after 10 minutes, forgets that the previous hooking ever happened, sees another worm with a suspicious shiny thing, and grabs on again. The fish has limited consciousness because of the fact that the past was only memorized and recognized for 10 minutes. Many other animals have this limited consciousness because of how the past and future are only recognized for awhile before their brain blackboard is erased. As the intelligence of animals goes on up to dogs, cats, bears and other mammals, the consciousness is much less limited. A dog being owned by an abuser gets horribly abused by the owner and gets rescued by the ASPCA, and one year later given to a loving caring owner. The dog would still be cautious and a little scared of his or her new owners because of the fact that the dog remembers someone of the same look having done something terrible to him or her. The consciousness is larger as the complexity of the animal goes up. There is little rhyme or reason to distinguish the less limited between the more limited, but it is easy to understand. Then humans have limited, to dormant/absent, to full consciousness depending upon the situation.

First, people who have mental disorders that cause problems in perception therefore cause problems in the memory and recognition of past and future. For example, if you have seen 50 First Dates with Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore, Adam Sandler meets this girl (Drew Barrymore) at this breakfast cafe in Hawaii where she eats breakfast and makes houses out of her waffles every day. After dating her, he understands that she was in a car accident where a part of her brain was damaged making her memory become erased every night when she goes to bed. Her dad and brother give her the same issue of the newspaper every day along with doing other things to make her think it is still the same day. She  lives one day, goes to bed, gets  up and thinks it the same day. She reads the same newspaper issue, and does the same thing every day to protect her from being confused. This mental disorder (among many others) causes her to have a very limited consciousness because she only remembers the past, and cannot recognize or remember the continuation of time or the future.

Also, consciousness becomes absent (dormant) when we go to sleep or lose consciousness (from drugs/alcohol or injury). When we have dreams we do not know or understand time. When we get up we do not know how long we were sleeping and we cannot remember well the dreams we had. The consciousness leaves for a time while we are sleeping or passed out.

Finally, I think that consciousness forever departs from us in the instance that we become ‘vegetables’ or people too sick to remain conscious, feed ourselves, or do other otherwise daily things. We cannot be conscious in this state because we cannot understand past and future nor can we have true recognition and memory of them.

I did this writing just because I understood and liked Bergson’s essay on life and consciousness and felt it necessary to state the characteristics of conscious beings to make the distinction.

Thanks for the support.

@Reply on Twitter, comment below, or email at cosmosuniversez@yahoo.com for comments on if I stated anything wrong, or if you have any other opinions.


2 Responses to “Henri Bergson Mind-Energy: Consciousness”

  1. zcosmos August 10, 2010 at 11:51 pm #

    Thanks for that! Today I got a huge boost in views, so some of those I think are because of that trackback! I appreciate it.


  1. Mental Disorders 101 - August 10, 2010

    Henri Bergson Mind-Energy: Consciousness…

    I found your entry interesting do I’ve added a Trackback to it on my weblog :)…

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