Life Lessons from Bergson By Michael Foley
In my youth, satirical humour seemed the most appropriate response to a venal world and this interest in the theory and practice of comedy led me to Henri Bergson’s book Laughter: an Essay on the Meaning of the Comic. I was not entirely convinced by Bergson’s theories but I liked his scathing comments on the stultifying effects of convention and social life, which he defined as ‘an admiration of ourselves based on the admiration we think we are inspiring in others’.
I poked around in the Bergson oeuvre – but was disappointed. In his other work he displayed no satirical disgust or, despite the comedy book, wit, and his key work, Creative Evolution, proposed that the meaning of life was something called élan vital, which struck me as a vague, mystical concept. As a consequence of a scientific education, I respected only thinking that was hard-edged, logical and clear. For me, the intention of mysticism was to enshroud the world in mist.
So au revoir, Henri. I forgot about Bergson in the following decades of adult life, which was meant to comprise derisive laughter launched at the world from a rented garret but somehow turned out to be the conventional entanglements of mortgage, job, wife and child. Satire was no longer enough and I turned to thinkers like Erich Fromm, whose marvellous little book, The Art of Loving, helped me to make a go of marriage, whose The Sane Society taught me social and political awareness, and whose To Have and to Be taught me that religion might be of use to non-believers, and that Buddhism in particular might offer practical lessons.
Much later, I learned from the twentieth-century philosophy of mind that memory and the self are processes rather than fixed entities – and suddenly this connected with the theories of particle physics, which claim that at the heart of matter there are in fact no particles but only processes. Then that connection made a further connection with the central Buddhist concept of ‘no soul, no substance’. And, in a thrilling Eureka moment, philosophy, science and religion came together in the revelation that everything is process . . . and everything is connected to everything else. Or, to be more precise, that the cosmos is a vast unity of interpenetrating and interdependent processes, a gigantic mega process made up of maxi processes themselves made up of mini processes composed of micro processes – all the way in to the weird heart of matter and all the way out to the weird far end of our madly-expanding universe. And interacting with all this is the equally weird mega process of human consciousness, made up in turn of its own whirl of interpenetrating processes.
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|Epub||October 23, 2014|
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