February 25, 2019

1. Heisenberg on Philosophy

A. Connections

At least two popular books have been written about quantum physics: The Tao of Physics (1975), by Fritjof Capra, and The Dancing Wu Li Masters (1979), by Gary Zukav. I have a high opinion of both, and discussed both in this e-zine.1 Both were translated into numerous foreign languages, suggesting that the whole world may be interested in this new philosophy, the whole world may be developing an organic, inter-connected philosophy, a philosophy that transcends the old Newtonian, mechanical philosophy.

Capra’s Tao of Physics called my attention to Werner Heisenberg, especially Heisenberg’s book Physics and Philosophy. Capra was inspired by Heisenberg’s book, and by discussions with Heisenberg. I decided to read Heisenberg myself.

Heisenberg’s Physics and Philosophy is full of interesting ideas, but it’s difficult to read. A better choice might be Heisenberg’s Physics and Beyond: Encounters and Conversations; this book seems livelier and more readable than Physics and Philosophy.2 Physics and Beyond consists of dialogues/conversations. “I wanted to show that science is done by people,” Heisenberg says, “and the most wonderful ideas come from dialog.” Perhaps Plato had a similar purpose in writing dialogues.

In the last issue, I discussed Charles Fort and his idea of continuity. I argued that there are no independent things or people or events, everything is part of a network, everything is connected. Each of us is connected to parents, relatives, friends, enemies, neighbors, co-workers, our town, our state, our civilization, our planet, etc.

“But you’ve also spoken repeatedly of the life- and death-instincts of societies. You’ve said that a shared life-instinct creates a renaissance, a shared death-instinct creates a decadent period. Now you’re talking about other connections. A bit confusing, isn’t it?” Heisenberg noticed the same thing, overlapping connections: “The world thus appears as a complicated tissue of events, in which connections of different kinds alternate or overlap or combine and thereby determine the texture of the whole.”3

Heisenberg noticed that an atom is influenced by chemical forces at the same time that it’s influenced by gravitational forces. Likewise, people are influenced by their relatives at the same time that they’re influenced by the instinct (life- or death-instinct) of their society. The universe is made up of overlapping relationships, our lives are overlapping relationships.

Some of these relationships we choose, many we have no choice over. Some of these relationships we’re aware of, others we aren’t aware of. If my theory of history is true, then people were connected by a shared instinct for thousands of years, but didn’t know it.

If we view the universe as overlapping relationships, overlapping networks, then we come to the same conclusion that we came to before: unus mundus, one world, people and atoms are in the same situation, living beings and inanimate matter have many similarities, we resemble inanimate matter because we come from inanimate matter. The “matter world” and the “people world” are both made up of overlapping sets of connections.

B. The Cartesian Partition

Heisenberg points out that the modern worldview, the rational-scientific worldview, the worldview that emerged in the 1600s with Descartes and Newton, is based on the opposite view: not one world but two, not unus mundus but duo mundi. Descartes separated mind from matter, soul from body, res cogitans from res extensa. Descartes created a triangle made up of God, World, I.

God is separated [Heisenberg wrote] both from the I and from the world. God in fact is raised so high above the world and men that He finally appears in the philosophy of Descartes only as a common point of reference that establishes the relation between the I and the world.

Intellectuals decided to study nature rather than God. After all, discussions about God led to endless arguments and bloody wars, while the study of nature seemed to lead to eternal truths, such as Newton’s theories. The focus on matter led to a shallow materialism that’s still with us today — a materialism that scoffs at religion, denies the occult, and tries to reduce mind to chemistry. Heisenberg isn’t taken in by this materialism.

Even in the 1600s, flaws were apparent in the Cartesian system.

In the distinction... between the res cogitans and the res extensa Descartes was forced to put the animals entirely on the side of the res extensa. Therefore, the animals and the plants were not essentially different from machines, their behavior was completely determined by material causes. But it has always seemed difficult to deny completely the existence of some kind of soul in the animals.... One of the later consequences of this view of Descartes was that, if animals were simply considered as machines, it was difficult not to think the same about men.... Obviously this whole description is somewhat artificial and shows the grave defects of the Cartesian partition.

The Cartesian partition has affinities with Plato’s philosophy. While the pre-Socratics saw the world whole, Plato divided the world into the illusory realm of the senses and the true realm of Reason/Idea. The Platonic partition is illustrated by Plato’s famous cave metaphor. Most people know only the shadows on the cave wall.

The real philosopher [Heisenberg writes] is the prisoner who has escaped from the cave into the light of truth, he is the one who possesses real knowledge. This immediate connection with truth or, we may in the Christian sense say, with God is the new reality that has begun to become stronger than the reality of the world as perceived by our senses. The immediate connection with God happens within the human soul, not in the world, and this was the problem that occupied human thought more than anything else in the two thousand years following Plato. In this period the eyes of the philosophers were directed toward the human soul and its relation to God, to the problems of ethics, and to the interpretation of the revelation but not to the outer world. It was only in the time of the Italian Renaissance that again a gradual change of the human mind could be seen, which resulted finally in a revival of the interest in nature.

This revival of the interest in nature gradually became an obsession. Inner realities, psychic realities, were ignored, and everything was reduced to physics and chemistry.

The nineteenth century [Heisenberg writes] developed an extremely rigid frame for natural science which formed not only science but also the general outlook of great masses of people. This frame was supported by the fundamental concepts of classical physics, space, time, matter and causality; the concept of reality applied to the things or events that we could perceive by our senses or that could be observed by means of the refined tools that technical science had provided. Matter was the primary reality. The progress of science was pictured as a crusade of conquest into the material world. Utility was the watchword of the time.

On the other hand, this frame was so narrow and rigid that it was difficult to find a place in it for many concepts of our language that had always belonged to its very substance, for instance, the concepts of mind, of the human soul or of life.... Life was to be explained as a physical and chemical process, governed by natural laws, completely determined by causality.... In those European countries in which one was wont to follow the ideas up to their extreme consequences, an open hostility of science toward religion developed.... Confidence in the scientific method and in rational thinking replaced all other safeguards of the human mind.4

Heisenberg credits quantum physics with helping to break this rigid frame, this rigid worldview, this shallow materialism. We are once again receptive to the invisible, the mysterious, the occult.

C. The Ancient Greeks

Let’s return to Plato. Plato separates Reason/Idea from Matter/Sense. He’s a dualist like Descartes; he subscribes to the notion of duo mundi rather than unus mundus. Plato said that the true world is the world of Reason/Idea.

Perhaps we should view Plato as a product of his time, a time that divided mind and matter. Some thinkers of this time emphasized matter; Leucippus and Democritus may have been the first materialists (and the first atomists). So in Plato’s time, mind and matter were divided, and some thinkers believed in the primacy of mind (Plato), while others believed in the primacy of matter (Leucippus and Democritus).

Earlier thinkers like Thales and Heraclitus had preserved the unity of the world, and avoided materialism. Though Thales had said that water is the primary substance, he also said that “all things are full of gods.” Anaxagoras said that the universe was pervaded by nous, cosmic mind. Likewise, the Philosophy of Today says that the whole universe has a kind of consciousness, a kind of life.

Heisenberg says that Heraclitus is especially close to quantum physics. Heraclitus said that the primary substance is fire, and that the world is constantly moving, changing.

Modern physics [Heisenberg writes] is in some way extremely near to the doctrines of Heraclitus. If we replace the word “fire” by the word “energy” we can almost repeat his statements word for word from our modern point of view. Energy is in fact the substance from which all elementary particles, all atoms and therefore all things are made, and energy is that which moves.

Here again there’s a striking similarity between Heisenberg’s views and my views. We both regard Heraclitus as a kindred spirit. I’m especially intrigued by Heraclitus’ notion of enantiodromia (running toward the opposite). I’ve argued that decadence moves to an extreme, then turns into its opposite, a renaissance period.

D. Language

Heisenberg speaks respectfully of everyday language, and everyday words like mind, soul, life, God. He’s wary of scientific language. He says,

The concepts of natural language, vaguely defined as they are, seem to be more stable in the expansion of knowledge than the precise terms of scientific language, derived as an idealization from only limited groups of phenomena. This is in fact not surprising since the concepts of natural language are formed by the immediate connection with reality; they represent reality. It is true that they are not very well defined and may therefore also undergo changes in the course of the centuries, just as reality itself did, but they never lose the immediate connection with reality.... Our attitude toward concepts like mind or the human soul or life or God will be different from that of the nineteenth century, because these concepts belong to the natural language and have therefore immediate connection with reality.

I agree with Heisenberg that everyday language, used in an everyday way, can capture reality, and I agree with his dim view of skepticism:

One may say [writes Heisenberg] that the human ability to understand may be in a certain sense unlimited.... We know that any understanding must be based finally upon the natural language because it is only there that we can be certain to touch reality, and hence we must be skeptical about any skepticism with regard to this natural language and its essential concepts.

I find Heisenberg’s argument congenial since I myself use everyday language and I don’t try to define words precisely. I don’t use a sophisticated language or an academic language or a mathematical language.

When I take a dim view of reason, when I argue for a non-rational approach, people sometimes object, “You’re using a rational argument, you’re using reason to slander reason.” We need to use rational, logical argument to communicate, to explain ourselves, even though we take a dim view of reason and logic. Likewise, Heisenberg said we should use the concepts of classical physics to describe our experiments, though these concepts don’t actually accord with reality.5

* * * * *

I mentioned earlier that Descartes divides mind and matter, he sees duo mundi, while the Philosophy of Today subscribes to the old notion of unus mundus. Just as the principle of unus mundus brings together mind and matter, animate and inanimate, people and “stuff,” so too the principle of unus mundus brings together different kinds of matter, brings together different elements, different particles.

All the elementary particles [Heisenberg writes] can, at sufficiently high energies, be transmuted into other particles, or they can simply be created from kinetic energy and can be annihilated into energy.... Therefore, we have here actually the final proof for the unity of matter. All the elementary particles are made of the same substance, which we may call energy or universal matter; they are just different forms in which matter can appear.

So particles are equivalent to each other and also equivalent to energy.

* * * * *

Heisenberg realized that religious feeling should go hand-in-hand with intellectual understanding. He realized that, in his time, there was a dangerous gap between religion and science, between faith and reason. He realized that religion couldn’t survive on such shaky foundations.

At the dawn of religion, all the knowledge of a particular community fitted into a spiritual framework.... That is why society is in such danger whenever fresh knowledge threatens to explode the old spiritual forms. The complete separation of knowledge and faith can at best be an emergency measure.6

I’m confident that we can heal the rift between religion and science, and put religion on a solid foundation.

E. Contradictions

One of my chief principles is that truth is contradictory, reality is contradictory. Here again, my position is similar to that of quantum physics. Heisenberg writes,

In classical logic it is assumed that, if a statement has any meaning at all, either the statement or the negation of the statement must be correct. Of “here is a table” or “here is not a table,” either the first or the second statement must be correct. Tertium non datur, a third possibility does not exist. It may be that we do not know whether the statement or its negation is correct; but in “reality” one of the two is correct. In quantum theory this law tertium non datur is to be modified.7

Contradiction is at the heart of quantum physics, and at the heart of my philosophy. But Niels Bohr tried to transcend contradiction with his notion that opposites are complementary. For his coat-of-arms, Bohr chose the phrase Contraria Sunt Complementa (opposites are complementary). Bohr realized that the yin-yang symbol expresses the idea that opposites are interwoven, complementary.

Heisenberg is a deep thinker with an excellent grasp of philosophical ideas. But he doesn’t focus on what I find most interesting in quantum physics — particle behavior, particle interaction, particle telepathy. Instead, Heisenberg focuses on epistemology — the limits of our knowledge, how we can’t observe reality without changing it.

Heisenberg tells a charming story about the “dangers” of technology:

There was an old rabbi, a priest famous for his wisdom, to whom all people came for advice. A man visited him in despair over all the changes that went on around him, deploring all the harm done by so-called technical progress.

“Isn’t all this technical nuisance completely worthless,” he exclaimed, “if one considers the real values of life?” “This may be so,” the rabbi replied, “but if one has the right attitude one can learn from everything.” “No,” the visitor rejoined, “from such foolish things as railway or telephone or telegraph one can learn nothing whatsoever.”

But the rabbi answered, “You are wrong. From the railway you can learn that you may by being one instant late miss everything. From the telegraph you can learn that every word counts. And from the telephone you can learn that what we say here can be heard there.”

2. Pauli on Evolution

When Heisenberg was about 20, he met a fellow student, Wolfgang Pauli. “For the rest of [Pauli’s] life,” Heisenberg later wrote, “he was to be a good friend, though often a very severe critic.” Heisenberg won the Nobel Prize in 1932, Pauli in 1945.

Pauli collaborated with Jung for many years, and co-authored a book with Jung (The Interpretation of Nature and the Psyche). When Pauli was dying in 1958, he wanted to talk to Jung. Like Jung, Pauli believed that synchronicity played a role in evolution, and that the scientific establishment over-emphasized the role of chance in evolution. Pauli spoke of the “chance religion of the biologists.”

Pauli believed that genetic mutation wasn’t purely random; rather, it was meaningful mutation, i.e., synchronicity. We should view mutation not as a random, isolated event, but as an event that’s related to outer circumstance and inner emotion. In other words, we should view mutation in a holistic way, just as we view the Double-Slit Experiment in a holistic way. “There is no word more apt to describe the quantum world. It is holistic; the parts are in some sense in touch with the whole.”8

A reader might say, “Wait a minute. There’s an obvious error in your argument. You say that mutation is ‘related to outer circumstance and inner emotion.’ But mutation occurs in micro-organisms and plants that don’t have emotions.”

When I say “emotion,” I mean all sorts of quasi-psychic processes, such as reflexes.

Such processes are present in all organisms, even down to the simplest amoeba. In the case of a worm, an example of such behavior would be to come up to the surface when a sound resembling that of rain drops hitting the surface can be heard. Even an amoeba displays similarly so-called intelligent behavior, despite the fact that it does not have a brain.9

Genetic mutation isn’t purely random, it has a relationship with outer circumstance and inner urge. Genetic mutation can only be understood in a holistic way. Pauli argues that the scientific establishment over-emphasized chance because they wanted to banish teleology, they wanted to banish the notion of purpose.

At present a theoretical model of biological evolution seems to have found wide acceptance among biologists; it is based on a combination of directionless (random) mutations with “selection.” The latter, taken over from Darwin, expresses the influence of the environment. This model of evolution is an attempt in line with the ideas of the second half of the nineteenth century, to uphold theoretically the complete elimination of all trace of teleology. The latter must then be replaced in some way by the introducing of “chance.”

If evolution were driven by random mutation, how long would it take for a human being to evolve from an amoeba? Pauli says that biologists don’t try to estimate how long random evolution would take; instead, they assume an infinite length of time. “Treating the empirical time scale of the evolution theoretically as infinity they have then an easy game, apparently to avoid the concept of purposesiveness.” Pauli says that biologists speak of chance without trying to estimate probability; thus, their word “chance” is “more or less synonymous with the old word ‘miracle’.”

Some rational thinkers might object, “You seem comfortable with terms like ‘purpose,’ ‘striving,’ ‘teleology.’ Do you believe that the first one-cell organism was trying to become a human being?” No, but I think the first one-cell organism was striving not just to survive and reproduce, but to create a form, a mutation, that would help him and his offspring to survive and reproduce. We need to take a holistic view of mutation, and reject the view that mutation is a purely random process, but we don’t need to view mutation as aiming at a distant goal, such as building the Parthenon. The first one-cell organism was trying to become more, but it wasn’t trying to become a human being.

Like Pauli, Jung believed that the long process of evolution was accelerated by synchronicity, by meaningful mutation:

It staggers the mind [Jung wrote] even to begin to imagine the accidents and hazards that, over millions of years, transformed a lemur-like tree-dweller into a man. In this chaos of chance, synchronistic phenomena were probably at work, operating both with and against the known laws of nature to produce, in archetypal moments, syntheses which appear to us miraculous.

Pretend you sat a monkey in front of a laptop. What are the odds that he would hit a key? One in ten? Now estimate the odds that he would write Hamlet — not by evolving or learning, but just by dumb luck. Very remote odds indeed, right? The scientific establishment is asking us to believe that man evolved from a one-cell organism by sheer chance, by random mutation. They’re asking us to believe something as unlikely as a monkey writing Hamlet. They argue that, if you give the monkey billions of years, you’ll eventually get Hamlet, and if you give one-cell organisms billions of years, you’ll eventually get the life that we see around us.

No wonder that philosophical thinkers like Nietzsche, Bergson, and Shaw immediately saw that Darwin’s theory was flawed, that it was a typical product of rigid 19th-century thinking. No wonder that religious people refuse to believe Darwin, and reach for “intelligent design.”

Just as Jungians can see the flaws of the Darwinian theory, so too people who work in Systems Theory can see its flaws. Mitchell Waldrop, for example, pointed out that evolution by random mutation is extremely unlikely (as unlikely as a monkey writing Hamlet):

To make a single protein molecule, for example, you might have to chain together several hundred amino-acid building blocks in a precise order. That’s hard enough to do in a modern laboratory, where you have access to all the latest tools of biotechnology. So how could such a thing form all by itself in a pond? Lots of people had tried to calculate the odds of that happening, and their answers always came out pretty much the same: if the formation were truly random, you would have to wait far longer than the lifetime of the universe to produce even one useful protein molecule, much less all the myriads of proteins and sugars and lipids and nucleic acids that you need to make a fully functioning cell.10

The evolution of man “staggers the mind,” as Jung put it. Experiments like the DoubleSlit Experiment and the PairedParticles Experiment also stagger the mind. The best way to view these experiments, as Heisenberg and Pauli realized, is holistically; we can’t make sense of these experiments if we view the individual parts in isolation.

Pauli realized that the same is true in biology: we should view the evolution of life, and the origin of life, in a holistic way, we should view mutation as part of a whole that includes outer circumstance and inner urge. Once you become comfortable with a holistic view of one subject, you’ll be able to view other subjects in a holistic way. For example, if you learn to see evolution as a holistic process, then you’ll be able to understand quantum physics, historical events, Jungian psychology, etc.

Pauli’s understanding of quantum physics enabled him to understand evolution better than the biologists who spent their lives in the field of biology. As Heisenberg said, “It is probably true quite generally that in the history of human thinking the most fruitful developments frequently take place at those points where two different lines of thought meet.” If we take an inter-disciplinary approach, and if we discover the advantages of a holistic view, we can solve the thorniest problems of biology, physics, history, etc.

Quantum physics helps us to understand biology, it helps us to see the flaws in Darwin’s theory, it helps us to understand the rigid 19th-century mind-set that produced Darwin’s theory. As I said earlier, “Heisenberg credits quantum physics with helping to break this rigid frame, this rigid worldview, this shallow materialism.”

If Darwin’s theory is obviously flawed, if the philosophical thinkers of Darwin’s day (Nietzsche, Shaw, etc.) immediately saw its flaws, why didn’t Darwin himself see those flaws? The scientists of Darwin’s day were probably taught to avoid everything mystical, everything metaphysical, everything teleological. Perhaps philosophers like Bacon and Descartes had persuaded people that the parts could be understood in isolation from the whole, they had persuaded people not to take a holistic view.

Many philosophers in Darwin’s time realized that his theory was only a partial truth, that Darwin had neglected an important factor. These philosophers realized that mutations/varieties were the result of some sort of will, urge, striving, not just the result of blind chance. Schopenhauer spoke of a Will to Life, Nietzsche spoke of a Will to Power, Bergson of an Elan Vital, Shaw of a Life Force, Freud of a Life-Instinct. But today’s biologists insist that all these philosophers were wrong, that the monkey wrote Hamlet by blind chance. To understand the evolution of life, and the origin of life, we need to use the concept of will/urge/instinct, we need to take a holistic view of mutation, will, and environment.

The progress of Western technology blinded Western intellectuals to the flaws of their rigid worldview. Oriental thinkers understood the holistic approach, but the confident West didn’t realize that it had much to learn from the East. Now we’re beginning to build a grand synthesis, a synthesis of Eastern philosophy, Jungian psychology, quantum physics, alternative biology, etc. We’re beginning to understand that matter and spirit are equally important, and together form an organic whole, unus mundus. We’re beginning to understand that this is an inter-connected world, and it can only be understood holistically.

Perhaps one sign of the world’s inter-connectedness is that Pauli seemed to have some sort of rapport, some sort of relationship, with laboratory equipment. Everyone who knew Pauli said that his presence caused equipment to break. Like Heisenberg, Pauli preferred theory to experiment; “I hate the whole business of handling instruments,” Pauli said.11 Perhaps the instruments sensed that Pauli hated them! Perhaps Pauli’s hatred caused the instruments to break, like an “evil eye” that makes a cow sick. Here’s a story about “The Pauli Effect”:

A mysterious event that did not seem at first to be connected with Pauli’s presence once occurred in Professor J. Franck’s laboratory in Göttingen. Early one afternoon, without apparent cause, a complicated apparatus for the study of atomic phenomena collapsed. Franck wrote humorously about this to Pauli at his Zürich address and, after some delay, received an answer in an envelope with a Danish stamp. Pauli wrote that he had gone to visit Bohr and at the time of the mishap in Franck’s laboratory his train was stopped for a few minutes at the Göttingen railroad station.

For many years, Pauli tried to determine the “fine structure constant,” eventually deciding that it was 1/137. When Pauli was dying of pancreatic cancer, his assistant visited him in the hospital, and Pauli asked, “Did you notice the room number?” It was 137. An inter-connected world indeed.

* * * * *

Einstein was uncomfortable with quantum physics, and said, God does not play dice. Einstein felt that if we studied particles more closely, we would find the causes that determined their behavior, instead of being satisfied with behavior-probabilities. Pauli felt that Einstein’s whole approach was wrong, Einstein was a prisoner of linear thinking, linear causality: “I remarked to Bohr [Pauli said] that Einstein was regarding as an imperfection of [quantum physics] within physics what in fact was an imperfection of physics within life.” Pauli called for “a reunion of physics with parapsychology.”12 As Remo Roth put it, “The hidden dimension behind quantum physics is not a physical one, but one of life itself, and to explore this world of wholeness we must overcome our one-sided causal view and include depth psychology as well as parapsychology.”

3. Jung on Synchronicity

Jung defined synchronicity as, “[The] simultaneous occurrence of a certain psychic state with one or more external events which appear as meaningful parallels to the momentary subjective state.” Example: “A female patient was telling [Jung] about a dream she had in which a fox was involved, just as an actual fox appeared on the forest path along which she and Jung were walking.”13

Another example:

A young woman I was treating [Jung writes] had, at a critical moment, a dream in which she was given a golden scarab. While she was telling me this dream I sat with my back to the closed window. Suddenly I heard a noise behind me, like a gentle tapping. I turned round and saw a flying insect knocking against the window-pane from outside. I opened the window and caught the creature in the air as it flew in. It was the nearest analogy to a golden scarab that one finds in our latitudes, a scarabaeid beetle... which contrary to its usual habits had evidently felt an urge to get into a dark room at this particular moment.14

A third example:

I should like to mention [Jung writes] another case that is typical of a certain category of events. The wife of one of my patients, a man in his fifties, once told me in conversation that, at the deaths of her mother and her grandmother, a number of birds gathered outside the windows of the death-chamber. I had heard similar stories from other people.

When her husband’s treatment was nearing its end, his neurosis having been cleared up, he developed some apparently quite innocuous symptoms which seemed to me, however, to be those of heart-disease. I sent him along to a specialist, who after examining him told me in writing that he could find no cause for anxiety.

On the way back from this consultation (with the medical report in his pocket) my patient collapsed in the street. As he was brought home dying, his wife was already in a great state of anxiety because, soon after her husband had gone to the doctor, a whole flock of birds alighted on their house. She naturally remembered the similar incidents that had happened at the death of her own relatives, and feared the worst.15

Birds are often a symbol of the soul. Since death can be viewed as the soul leaving the body, birds can symbolize death. In this example, the birds may be said to have a synchronistic connection with the man’s death, or with the woman’s intuition about her husband’s death.16

In this example, birds provide a clue about future events. The Greeks and Romans (and other early peoples) observed birds in order to acquire clues about the future. Early peoples believed that the world was inter-connected. The theory of synchronicity justifies the practices and beliefs of early peoples; these practices and beliefs weren’t the crude superstitions that Blockhead Rationalism says they were.

4. Henri Bergson

Henri Bergson was a popular and influential philosopher from around 1890 to 1930; his lectures and writings had broad appeal. In 1927, he won the Nobel Prize in Literature. He was from a distinguished Jewish family, but he admired Catholicism, and thought seriously of converting to Catholicism. He married Proust’s cousin, and Proust was the best man at his wedding.

Bergson championed intuition over logic, free will over determinism, and evolution-by-vital-impulse over evolution-by-random-mutation. William James met Bergson, and was much impressed with him. “I have the strongest suspicions,” James wrote, “that the tendency which [Bergson] has brought to a focus, will end by prevailing, and that the present epoch will be a sort of turning point in the history of philosophy.”

Bergson seems to agree with one of my main ideas, the idea of life- and death-instincts (I got this idea from Freud); Bergson believed in “two tendencies of life (degradation towards inert matter and mechanism, and continual creation of new forms).”17

Update 2022
My theory of history uses the life- and death-instincts to explain renaissance and decadence, and to predict future renaissances and decadences. My theory says that instincts change over time; my theory stresses the importance of time. So when I heard that Bergson viewed time as an “ontological force, a force of being,” I felt that I had something in common with Bergson.

Where did I hear this? A BBC podcast on Bergson (the phrase “ontological force” is at 17:00 of the podcast).

The podcast said (8:12) that Bergson belongs to the New Spiritualists, who argued that even matter had some sort of spirit/consciousness/agency; in other words, New Spiritualism is Pan-Psychism. Here again Bergson’s philosophy overlaps with mine; I’ve often argued that everything, even matter, has a kind of life/consciousness.

The podcast said (39:37) that, after World War I, Bergson was criticized for being too nationalistic, for beating the drums of war in 1914. This criticism was made by, among others, Julien Benda, author of The Treason of the Intellectuals (1927). I have some sympathy for this criticism, I realize that the costs of World War I, for France, far outweighed the benefits. On the other hand, I have some sympathy for Bergson’s position since I myself supported the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq; it’s difficult to see the futility of a war at its outset.

The podcast said (39:12) that Bergson is generally optimistic — another similarity to my philosophy. After World War II, this optimism was out of fashion, and contributed to the decline of Bergson’s reputation. Existentialism, with its pessimism and despair, caught the mood of the time better than Bergson.

The podcast said (15:15) that Bertrand Russell was a sharp critic of Bergson, perhaps because Bergson stressed intuition, and didn’t try to build logical arguments. In my view, to be criticized by Russell is a badge of honor for a philosopher.

The podcast said (44:56), “Bergson had a great respect for novelists because he thought that novelists, unlike scientists, could actually deal with the details of human experience, and actually show the singular quality and character of human experience.” Here again Bergson’s approach is similar to mine. One might say that philosophy has a poetic aspect and a mathematical aspect; William James, Bergson, and I deal with the poetic side, while Bertrand Russell and most academics favor the mathematical side.

The podcast said (46:27) that T. S. Eliot was a fan of Bergson, then became a critic of Bergson. Five years ago, I noted that Eliot’s friend Wyndham Lewis was “savagely critical” of Bergson. Lewis’ opposition to Bergson probably inspired Lewis to write Time and Western Man.

The podcast said that a good place to begin with Bergson is his 1907 book Creative Evolution.

Bergson apparently believed that “clock time” draws a sharp distinction between past, present, and future, but we experience time differently, we experience time as “duration,” our experience of time mixes past, present, and future.

In the late 1800s, the idea of time seemed to be “in the air” — Darwin’s theory emphasized time, Proust deals with time and memory, etc. So when the podcast says “Bergson influenced Proust,” or “Bergson influenced Virginia Woolf,” I wonder if writers like Proust and Woolf were really influenced by Bergson, or if they were influenced by an idea that was “in the air.”

© L. James Hammond 2019
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1. I discussed Capra in 2010 and Zukav in 2004. back
2. The original German title of Physics and Beyond is Der Teil und das Ganze (The Part and the Whole). Physics and Philosophy was originally a series of lectures in Scotland, so Heisenberg probably wrote it in English. back
3. Heisenberg said that science often isolates one set of connections. Newton, for example, focused on a certain type of connection, and described it clearly and precisely. But if reality is made up of multiple sets of connections, then a scientist like Newton fails to capture reality as a whole. Heisenberg: “When we represent a group of connections by a closed and coherent set of concepts, axioms, definitions and laws which in turn is represented by a mathematical scheme we have in fact isolated and idealized this group of connections with the purpose of clarification. But even if complete clarity has been achieved in this way, it is not known how accurately the set of concepts describes reality.” Heisenberg compares a set of connections to an artistic style. back
4. Marx exemplifies rigid, materialistic, 19th-century thinking. His hostility to religion is well known. back
5. “The Copenhagen interpretation of quantum theory starts from a paradox. Any experiment in physics, whether it refers to the phenomena of daily life or to atomic events, is to be described in the terms of classical physics. The concepts of classical physics form the language by which we describe the arrangement of our experiments and state the results. We cannot and should not replace these concepts by any others. Still the application of these concepts is limited by the relations of uncertainty. We must keep in mind this limited range of applicability of the classical concepts while using them, but we cannot and should not try to improve them.” back
6. This is a quote from Physics and Beyond. I found it in the appendix of Physics and Philosophy. Though it’s put in the mouth of Wolfgang Pauli, Heisenberg says he agrees. back
7. Heisenberg: “Even in the most precise part of science, in mathematics, we cannot avoid using concepts that involve contradictions. For instance, it is well known that the concept of infinity leads to contradictions that have been analyzed, but it would be practically impossible to construct the main parts of mathematics without this concept.”

We find a similar movement in philosophy. William James said that Bergson had persuaded him “to give up logic, squarely and irrevocably.” back

8. A quote from John Gribbin. See ljhammond.com/phlit/2014-03.htm#2

Instead of using the term “holistic,” we could use the phrase “mutual arising.” In an earlier issue, I quoted Joseph Campbell: “A great number of things round about, on every side, are causing what is happening now. Everything, all the time, is causing everything else. The Buddhist teaching in recognition of this fact is called the Doctrine of Mutual Arising.” Evolution results from a “mutual arising” of mutation, circumstances, will, etc. back

9. “Meaningful Mutations: Reflections on the Synchronicity of Evolution,” by Ritske Rensma, digitalcommons.ciis.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi? article=1499&context=ijts-transpersonalstudies. See also Remo Roth’s website, paulijungunusmundus.eu/synw/ pauli_parapsychology_p1.htm back
10. Quoted in “Meaningful Mutations.” Systems Theory has various related fields, such as Chaos Theory and Complexity Theory. “Stuart Kauffman... who studies evolution from a complexity perspective at the Santa Fe institute, wrote that there ‘simply was not world enough and time for chance to have created life as it exists today.’” back
11. Quoted in the appendix of Physics and Philosophy, Harper Perennial paperback; quoting from Physics and Beyond back
12. This isn’t a quote from Pauli, it’s Remo Roth’s description of Pauli’s views. See Roth’s website. back
13. “Meaningful Mutations” back
14. Quoted in “Meaningful Mutations” back
15. Quoted in “Meaningful Mutations” back
16. You may want to compare these remarks on synchronicity with the remarks I made in 2002, 2005, 2009, 2010, 2013, and 2018. back
17. Wikipedia back