THE RELATION OF SOUL AND BODY
The hypothesis of Psycho-physical Parallelism–Not to be accepted uncritically–Bergson opposes it, and shows the hypothesis to rest on a confusion of terms. Bergson against Epiphenomenalism–Soul-life unique and wider than the brain–Telepathy, subconscious action and psychical research–Souls and survival.
For philosophy in general, and for psychology in particular, the problem of the relation of soul and body has prime significance, and moreover, it is a problem with which each of us is acquainted intimately and practically, even if we know little or nothing of the academic discussions, or of the technical terms representing various views. It is very frequently the terminology which turns the plain man away from the consideration of philosophical problems; but he has some conception, however crude it may be, of his soul or his mind and of his body. These terms are familiar to him, but the sight of a phrase like “psycho-physical parallelism” rather daunts him. Really, it stands for quite a simple thing, and is just the official label used to designate the theory commonly held by scientific men of all kinds, to describe the relation of soul and body. Put more precisely, it is just the assertion that brain and consciousness work on parallel lines.
Bergson does not accept the hypothesis of psycho-physical parallelism. In the first of his four lectures on La Nature de l’Ame, given at London University in 1911, we find him criticizing the notion that consciousness has no independence of its own, that it merely expresses certain states of the brain, that the content of a fact of consciousness is to be found wholly in the corresponding cerebral state. It is true that we should not find many physiologists or philosophers who would tell us now that “the brain secretes thought as the liver secretes bile.” [Footnote: Cabanis (1757-1808). Rapports du physique et du morale de l’homme, 1802. See quotation by William James in Human Immortality. Note (4) in his Appendix.] But there was an idea that, if we could see through the skull and observe what takes place in the brain, if we had an enormously powerful microscope which would permit us to follow the movements of the molecules, atoms, electrons, of the brain, and if we had the key to the correspondence between these phenomena and the mind, we should know all the thoughts and wishes of the person to whom the brain belonged–we should see what took place in his soul, as a telegraph operator could read by the oscillation of his needles the meaning of a message which was sent through his instrument. The notion of an equality or parallelism between conscious activity and cerebral activity, was commonly adopted by modern physiology, and it was adopted without discussion as a scientific notion by the majority of philosophers. Yet the experimental basis of this theory is extremely slight, indeed altogether insufficient, and in reality the theory is a metaphysical conception, resulting from the views of the seventeenth century thinkers who had hopes of “a universal mathematic.” The idea had been accepted that all was capable of determination in the psychical as well as the physical world, inasmuch as the psychical was only a reflex of the physical. Parallelism was adopted by science because of its convenience.[Footnote: See The Times of Oct. 21, 1911.] Bergson, however, pointed out that philosophy ought not to accept it without criticism, and maintained, moreover, that it could not stand the criticism that might be brought against it. Relation of soul and body was undeniable, but that it was a parallel or equivalent relation he denied most emphatically. That criticism he had launched himself with great vigour in 1901 at a Meeting of the Societe francaise de philosophie,[Footnote: See Bibliography, p. 153.] and on a more memorable occasion, at the International Congress of Philosophy at Geneva in 1904.[Footnote: See Bibliography, p. 154.] Before the Philosophical Society he lectured on Le Parallelisme psycho-physique et la Metaphysique positive, and propounded the following propositions:
1. If psycho-physical parallelism is neither rigorous nor complete, if to every determined thought there does not correspond an absolutely determined state (si a toute pensee determinee ne correspond pas un etat cerebral determine absolument), it will be the business of experience to mark with increasing accuracy the precise points at which parallelism begins and ends.
2. If this empirical inquiry is possible, it will measure more and more exactly the separation between the thought and the physical conditions in which this thought is exercised. In other words, it will give us a progressive knowledge of the relation of man as a thinking being to man as a living being, and therefore of what may be termed “the meaning of Life.”
3. If this meaning of Life can be empirically determined more and more exactly, and completely, a positive metaphysic is possible: that is to say, a metaphysic which cannot be contested and which will admit of a direct and indefinite progress; such a metaphysic would escape the objections urged against a transcendental metaphysic, and would be strictly scientific in form.
After having propounded these propositions, he defended them by recalling much of the data considered in his work Matiere et Memoire which he had published five years previously and which has been examined in the previous chapter. The onus of proof lay, said Bergson, with the upholders of parallelism. It is a purely metaphysical hypothesis unwarrantable in his opinion as a dogma. He distinguishes between correspondence–which he of course admits–and parallelism, to which he is opposed. We never think without a certain substratum of cerebral activity, but what the relation is precisely, between brain and consciousness, is one for long and patient research: it cannot be determined a priori and asserted dogmatically. Until such investigation has been carried out, it behoves us to be undogmatic and not to allege more than the facts absolutely warrant, that is to say, a relation of correspondence. Parallelism is far too simple an explanation to be a true one. Before the International Congress, Bergson launched another attack on parallelism which caused quite a little sensation among those present. Says M. E. Chartier, in his report: La lecture de ce memoire, lecture qui commandait l’attention a provoque chez presque tous les auditeurs un mouvement de surprise et d’inquietude. [Footnote: The paper Le Paralogisme psycho-physiologique is given in Revue de metaphysique et de morale, Nov., 1904, pp. 895-908. The Discussion in the Congress is given on pp. 1027-1037. This was reissued under the title Le Cerveau et la Pensee: une illusion philosophique in the collected volume of essays and lectures, published in 1919, L’Energie spirituelle, pp. 203-223 (Mind-Energy).] He there set out to show that Parallelism cannot be consistently stated from any point of view, for it rests on a fallacious argument–on a fundamental contradiction. To grasp Bergson’s points in this argument, the reading of this paper in the original, as a whole, is necessary. It is difficult to condense it and keep its clearness of thought. Briefly, it amounts to this, that the formulation of the doctrine of Parallelism rests on an ambiguity in the terms employed in its statement, that it contains a subtle dialectical artifice by which we pass surreptitiously from one system of notation to another ignoring the substitution: logically, we ought to keep to one system of notation throughout. The two systems are: Idealism and Realism. Bergson attempts to show that neither of these separately can admit Parallelism, and that Parallelism cannot be formulated except by a confusion of the two–by a process of mental see-sawing as it were, which of course we are not entitled to perform, Idealism and Realism being two opposed and contradictory views of reality. For the Idealist, things external to the mind are images, and of these the brain is one. Yet the images are in the brain. This amounts to saying that the whole is contained in the part. We tend, however, to avoid this by passing to a pseudo-realistic position by saying that the brain is a thing and not an image. This is passing over to the other system of notation. For the Realist it is the essence of reality to suppose that there are things behind representations. Some Realists maintain that the brain actually creates the representation, which is the doctrine of Epiphenomenalism: while others hold the view of the Occasionalists, and others posit one reality underlying both. All however agree in upholding Parallelism. In the hands of the Realist, the theory is equivalent to asserting that a relation between two terms is equal to one of them. This involves contradiction and Realism then crosses over to the other system of notation. It cannot do without Idealism: science itself oscillates from the one system to the other. We cannot admit Parallelism as a dogma–as a metaphysical truth–however useful it may be as a working hypothesis.
Bergson then proceeds to state and to criticize some of the mischievous ideas which arise from Parallelism. There is the idea of a brain-soul, of a spot where the soul lives or where the brain thinks–which we have not quite abandoned since Descartes named the pineal gland as the seat of the soul. Then there is the false idea that all causality is mechanistic and that there is nothing in the universe which is not mathematically calculable. There is the confusion of representations and of things. There is the false notion that we may argue that if two wholes are bound together there must be an equivalent relation of the parts. Bergson points out in this connexion that the absence or the presence of a screw can stop a machine or keep it going, but the parts of the screw do not correspond to the parts of the machine. In his new introduction to Matiere et Memoire, he said, “There is a close connexion between a state of consciousness and the brain: this we do not dispute. But there is also a close connexion between a coat and the nail on which it hangs, for if the nail is pulled out the coat falls to the ground. Shall we say then that the shape of the nail gives us the shape of the coat or in any way corresponds to it? No more are we entitled to conclude because the psychical fact is hung on to a cerebral state that there is any parallelism between the two series psychical and physiological.” [Footnote: There must be an awkward misprint “physical” for “psychical” in the English translation, p. xi.] Our observation and experience, and science itself, strictly speaking, do not allow us to assert more than that there exists a certain CORRESPONDENCE between brain and consciousness. The psychical and the physical are inter-dependent but not parallel.
Bergson however has more to assert than merely the inadequacy and falsity of Parallelism or Epiphenomenalism. This last theory merely adds consciousness to physical facts as a kind of phosphorescent gleam, resembling, in Bergson’s words, a “streak of light following the movement of a match rubbed along a wall in the dark.” [Footnote: L’Ame et le Corps, pp. 12-13, in Le Materialisme actuel, or pp. 35-36 of L’Energie spirituelle (Mind-Energy).] He maintains, as against all this, the irreducibility of the mental, our utter inability to interpret consciousness in terms of anything else, the life of the soul being unique. He further claims that this psychical life is wider and richer than we commonly suppose. The brain is the organ of attention to life. What was said in regard to memory and the brain is applicable to all our mental life. The mind or soul is wider than the brain in every direction, and the brain’s activity corresponds to no more than an infinitesimal part of the activity of the mind. [Footnote: L’Ame et le Corps, Le Materialisme actuel, p. 45, L’Energie spirituelle, p. 61.] This is expressed more clearly in his Presidential Address to the British Society for Psychical Research at the Aeolian Hall, London, 1913, where he remarked, “The cerebral life is to the mental life what the movements of the baton of a conductor are to the symphony.” [Footnote: The Times, May 29, 1913.] Such a remark contains fruitful suggestions to all engaged in Psychical Research, and to all persons interested in the fascinating study of telepathy. Bergson is of the opinion that we are far less definitely cut off from each other, soul from soul, than we are body from body. “It is space,” he says, “which creates multiplicity and distinction. It is by their bodies that the different human personalities are radically distinct. But if it is demonstrated that human consciousness is partially independent of the human brain, since the cerebral life represents only a small part of the mental life, it is very possible that the separation between the various human consciousnesses or souls, may not be so radical as it seems to be.” [Footnote: The Times, May 29, 1913.] There may be, he suggests, in the psychical world, a process analogous to what is known in the physical world as “endosmosis.” Pleading for an impartial and frank investigation of telepathy, he pointed out that it was probable, or at least possible, that it was taking place constantly as a subtle and sub-conscious influence of soul on soul, but too feebly to be noticed by active consciousness, or it was neutralized by certain obstacles. We have no right to deny its possibility on the plea of its being supernatural, or against natural law, for our ignorance does not entitle us to say what may be natural or not. If telepathy does not square at all well with our preconceived notions, it may be more true that our preconceived notions are false than that telepathy is fictitious; especially will this be so if our notion of the relation of soul and body be based on Parallelism. We must overcome this prejudice and seek to make others set it aside. Telepathy and the sub-conscious mental life combine to make us realize the wonder of the soul. It is not spatial, it is spiritual. Bergson insists strongly on the unity of our conscious life. Merely associationist theories are vicious in this respect: they try to resolve the whole into parts, and then neglect the whole in their concentration on the parts. All psychological investigation incurs this risk of dealing with abstractions. “Psychology, in fact, proceeds like all the other sciences by analysis. It resolves the self which has been given to it at first in a simple intuition, into sensations, feelings, ideas, etc., which it studies separately. It substitutes then for the self a series of elements which form the facts of psychology. But are these elements really parts? That is the whole question, and it is because it has been evaded that the problem of human personality has so often been stated in insoluble terms.” [Footnote: Introduction to Metaphysics, p. 21.] “Personality cannot be composed of psychical states even if there be added to them a kind of thread for the purpose of joining the states together.” [Footnote: Introduction to Metaphysics, p. 25.] We shall never make the soul fit into a category or succeed in applying concepts to our inner life. The life of the soul is wider than the brain and wider than all intellectual constructions or moulds we may attempt to form. It is a creative force capable of producing novelty in the world: it creates actions and can, in addition, create itself.
Philosophy shows us “the life of the body just where it really is, on the road that leads to the life of the spirit”; our powers of sense impression and of intelligence are both instruments in the service of the will. With a little will one can do much if one places the will in the right direction. For this force of will which is the essence of the soul or personality has these exceptional characteristics, that its intensity depends on its direction, and that its quality may become the creator of quantity. [Footnote: See the lectures La Nature de l’Ame.] The brain and the body in general are instruments of the soul. The brain orients the mind toward action, it is the point of attachment between the spirit and its material environment. It is like the point of a knife to the blade–it enables it to penetrate into the realm of action or, to give another of Bergson’s metaphors, it is like the prow of the ship, enabling the soul to penetrate the billows of reality. Yet, for all that, it limits and confines the life of the spirit; it narrows vision as do the blinkers which we put on horses. We must, however, abandon the notion of any rigid and determined parallelism between soul and body and accustom ourselves to the fact that the life of the mind is wider than the limits of cerebral activity. And further, there is this to consider–“The more we become accustomed to this idea of a consciousness which overflows the organ we call the brain, then the more natural and probable we find the hypothesis that the soul survives the body. For were the mental exactly modelled on the cerebral, we might have to admit that consciousness must share the fate of the body and die with it.” [Footnote: New York Times, Sept. 27, 1914.] “But the destiny of consciousness is not bound up with the destiny of cerebral matter.” [Footnote: Creative Evolution, p. 285 (Fr. p. 293).] “Although the data is not yet sufficient to warrant more than an affirmation of high probability,” [Footnote: Louis Levine’s interview with Bergson, New York Times, Feb. 22, 1914. Quoted by Miller, Bergson and Religion, p. 268.] yet it leaves the way open for a belief in a future life and creates a presumption in favour of a faith in immortality. “Humanity,” as Bergson remarks, “may, in its evolution, overcome the most formidable of its obstacles, perhaps even death.” [Footnote: Creative Evolution, p. 286 (Fr. p. 294). In Life and Consciousness he says we may admit that in man at any rate “Consciousness pursues its path beyond this earthly life” Cf. also conclusion to La Conscience el la Vie in L’Energie spirituelle, p. 29, and to L’Ame et le Corps, in the same vol., p. 63.]
The great error of the spiritual philosophers has been the idea that by isolating the spiritual life from all the rest, by suspending it in space, as high as possible above the earth, they were placing it beyond attack; as if they were not, thereby, simply exposing it to be taken as an effect of mirage! Certainly they are right to believe in the absolute reality of the person and in his independence of matter: but science is there which shows the inter-dependence of conscious life and cerebral activity. When a strong instinct assures the probability of personal survival, they are right not to close their ears to its voice; but if there exist “souls” capable of an independent life, whence do they come? When, how, and why do they enter into this body which we see arise quite naturally from a mixed cell derived from the bodies of its two parents? [Footnote: Creative Evolution, p. 283 (Fr. p. 291).] At the close of the Lectures on La Nature de l’Ame, Bergson suggests, by referring to an allegory of Plotinus, in regard to the origin of souls, that in the beginning there was a general interpenetration of souls which was equivalent to the very principle of life, and that the history of the evolution of life on this planet shows this principle striving until man’s consciousness has been developed, and thus personalities have been able to constitute themselves. “Souls are being created which, in a sense, pre-existed. They are nothing else but the little rills into which the great river of life divides itself, flowing through the great body of humanity.” [Footnote: Creative Evolution, p. 284 (Fr. p. 292).]