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Daily RC Article 166

Bergson's Exploration of Intelligence, Instinct, and Intuition


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Animals are distinguished from plants on the basis of their mobility. While the relationship between consciousness and matter instantiated in the instinct of animals is sufficient and well adapted to their survival, humans are not adequately equipped in this respect; hence the necessity of something like intelligence, defined by the ability to make tools. Once again, from the point of view of real, concrete life that Bergson is here embracing, intelligence is essentially defined by its pragmatic orientation. From this, Bergson deduces not only the cognitive structure and the scientific history of intelligence, but also its limitations. This essentially pragmatic, hence analytic and quantitative orientation of intelligence precludes its immediate access to the essentially qualitative nature of life. Notice that the distinction between the two tendencies relies on the original distinction between the qualitative and the quantitative multiplicities. _______________ .

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Throughout Creative Evolution, Bergson"s crucial point is that life must be equated with creation, as creativity alone can adequately account for both the continuity of life and the discontinuity of the products of evolution. But now the question is: if humans only possess analytic intelligence, then how are we ever to know the essence of life? Bergson"s answer is that, because at the periphery of intelligence a fringe of instinct survives, we are able fundamentally to rejoin the essence of life. For, as the tendency and the multiplicity theories made clear, instinct and intelligence are not simply self-contained and mutually exclusive states. They must be called tendencies precisely because they are both rooted in, hence inseparable from, the duration that informs all life, all change, all becoming. There is, therefore, a little bit of instinct surviving within each intelligent being, making it immediately – if only partially – coincide with the original vital impulse. This partial coincidence, as we described above, is what forms the basis of intuition.

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Finally, we can return to the question of intuition. Bergson shows, once again, that our habitual way of knowing, based in needs, is the only obstacle to knowledge of the absolute. Here he argues that this obstacle consists in the idea of disorder. All theories of knowledge have in one way or another attempted to explain meaning and consistency by assuming the contingency of order. The traditional question, “why is there order rather than disorder?” necessarily assumes that the human mind is able to create order mysteriously out of chaos. But, for Bergson, the real question is: “order is certainly contingent, but in relation to what”? His answer consists in showing that it is not a matter of order versus disorder, but rather of one order in relation to another. According to Bergson, it is the same reasoning that underlies the ideas of chance (as opposed to necessity), and of nothingness (as opposed to existence). In a word, the real is essentially positive. The real obeys a certain kind of organization, namely, that of the qualitative multiplicity. Structured around its needs and interests, our intelligence fails to recognize this ultimate reality.

This text delves into Henri Bergson's perspective on intelligence, instinct, and intuition. Bergson distinguishes animals and humans based on mobility and argues that human intelligence, defined by tool-making ability, has inherent pragmatic limitations. The narrative emphasizes the need for creativity to explain life's continuity and evolutionary products' discontinuity. Bergson suggests that while humans possess analytic intelligence, a fringe of instinct survives, allowing them to reconnect fundamentally with the essence of life. Intuition, rooted in a partial coincidence of instinct and intelligence, becomes the basis for grasping the original vital impulse. Bergson challenges the idea of disorder and contends that the obstacle to absolute knowledge lies in the assumption of contingency and the failure to recognize the positive nature of the real, structured around qualitative multiplicity.
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