Mind Energy: Lectures and Essays

by Henri Bergson, translated by H. Wildon Carr. New York: Henry Holt & Co. 1920. 12mo, 272 pp. $2.50.
THERE has for several years been a keen interest in what Bergson might have to say about the great moral and religious issues that primarily concern the layman. Indeed, many of his disciples have not waited for the master to speak his own mind on these subjects, but have hastened to formulate a declaration of faith which they thought consistent with his fundamental premises. Whether these anticipations were or were not correct will doubtless appear in good time. Bergson himself has refused to be committed prematurely, except perhaps in his polemic against Germany composed in the heat of patriotism On the whole, he has adhered scrupulously to his empirical method. He has in good faith undertaken to examine each problem in turn, without doctrinal predilection, and to let the facts speak for themselves.
The present volume does not contain the long-awaited ethics or philosophy of religion. Nor can it he said to represent his most recent thinking. It is made up of addresses, such as the Huxley Lecture of 1911, the Presidential Address before the Society for Psychical Research in 1913, and the paper read before the International Congress of Philosophy in 1904; and of several lectures and periodical articles on kindred topics. It is a pre-war book, in thought and in scope. Nevertheless, it may fairly be regarded as a step in the direction of his practical philosophy. Its central topic is the mind of man, and his conclusions are such as to liberate the mind from bondage to the body, and to connect it with a deeper reservoir of spiritual energy from which all nature proceeds.
There are, according to the view here presented, two modes of mind — ‘ pure ’ memory and perception. The former is the muddy current of interfused images, which underlies the normal waking consciousness and constitutes the essential spiritual energy. The latter is the cerebral, organic mind, responding to environment and ‘attentive to life.’ It draws from memory only that which facilitates action. The brain is thus primarily an organ of motor-adjustment which keeps the mind from wandering and restricts the content of consciousness to that which is required for the purposes of efficiency. In dreams, delirium, hallucinations, false recognition, and in various forms of insanity the under-mind overflows these bounds, and there results a consciousness enriched, but out of touch with actualities.
The independence of memory on the brain, the acceptance of this under-world of spirit, enables Bergson to find support for the hypotheses of psychical research, and for the faith in immortality. He argues his view with great force against the traditional doctrines of ‘parallelism ’ and ‘epiphenomenalism,’ which attempt to reduce the conscious life to a mere product or concomitant of the brain. The author’s views are also in accord with the general tendency toward a‘behavioristic’ or ‘functional’ psychology, and he reinforces this tendency with his characteristic brilliancy and originality.
The book will thus be welcomed by two classes of readers. Many will seize upon the conclusions, while forgetting the arguments, and welcome Bergson as a redoubtable champion of the edifying and hopeful view of the world. Another and smaller group will welcome his arguments, and will find them concretely illuminating without adopting their author’s metaphysical conclusions.
R. B. P.