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Observations placeholder

Bergson, Henri - Matter and Memory - Why we have the senses



Type of Spiritual Experience


Bergson posited the rather interesting question, if all the world of sensing and perception is spirit and the connection with other functions - understanding, recognition, reasoning, will and so on is achieved via spirit, why do we have physical sensations at all?  Why do we need nerves and eyes and electrical impulses and so on?

His answer was essentially that we have a physical body and thus have to have physical capturing mechanisms.  Analogously this is like saying although everything that happens in a computer is based on software; the software runs on hardware – is dependent on it to work and as such needs physical mechanisms of capturing input and relaying output.  The mouse, the keyboard, the speakers, the screen and so on are all the analogous equivalents of the body's eyes, ears, mouth and so on and just like the computer, the electrical signals from these also have to be converted into meaningful common input and output.

The question of course that he hasn’t answered is why we need a body.  But that is a separate philosophical problem

A description of the experience

Henri Bergson – Matter and Memory

That matter should be perceived without the help of a nervous system, and without organs of sense, is not theoretically inconceivable; but it is practically impossible, because such a perception would be of no use.  It would suit a phantom, not a living and therefore acting being. 

We are too much inclined to regard the living body as a world within a world, the nervous system as a separate being, of which the function is first to elaborate perceptions, and then to create movements.  The truth is that my nervous system, interposed between the objects which affect my body and those which I can influence, is a mere conductor, transmitting, sending back, or inhibiting movement. 

This conductor is composed of an enormous number of threads which stretch from the periphery to the centre and from the centre to the periphery.  As many threads as pass from the periphery to the centre, so many points of space are there able to make an appeal to my will and to put, so to speak, an elementary question to my motor activity.

Every such question is what is termed a perception.  Thus perception is diminished by one of its elements each time one of the threads termed sensory is cut, because some part of the external object then becomes unable to appeal to activity; and it is also diminished whenever a stable habit has been formed because this time the ready made response renders the question unnecessary

The source of the experience

Bergson, Henri

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Inherited genes