Monday, 13 March 2023

Bergson and the Sensorimotor Stage


Bergson’s theory of the move from the aggregate of images, what I have called the monistic cluster or that booming, blooming buzzing confusion of William James was an anticipation of the sensorimotor stage of development in early childhood  as understood by Piaget.  Here the child through single touch and double touch begins to discover where the world and himself begin to part company. Me/Not-Me stage takes two years so it’s not an immediate thing to grasp.  As the Subject/Object divide becomes established it seems to the individual knower to be a fundamental feature of reality.  It is not and again with Bergson’s  understanding of memory as not missing anything, as having all experience available for present use if the need arises certain reversions to that state can occur.  These can be like mystic states akin to a dissolution of the personality. Tennyson on the saying of his own name would lapse into such a condition:

. . . a kind of waking trance — this for lack of a better word — I have frequently had, quite up from boyhood, when I have been all alone. . . . All at once, as it were out of the intensity of the consciousness of individuality, the individuality itself seemed to dissolve and fade away into boundless being, and this not a confused state but the clearest, the surest of the surest . . . utterly beyond words — where death was an almost laughable impossibility, the loss of personality (if so it were) seeming no extinction, but the only true life. . . .

The savikalpa samadhi is somewhat like this from the accounts of yogis but they would probably reserve complete realisation as a gnosis that is an everyday thing, the sahaj samadhi.  Here in all states of mind the unity of being is never lost and even while in the subject/object mode of awareness realisation remains intact.  Ken Wilber who has reflected deeply on the nature of consciousness rejects the regression to the sensorimotor stage as a false samadhi.

Many theorists, following Jung, maintained that since mysticism is a subject/object union, then this early undifferentiated fusion state must be what is somehow recaptured in mystical unity. Being an earlier follower of Jung, I had agreed with that position, and had indeed written several essays explaining it. But as with much of Jung, it was now a position I found untenable. And more than that, annoying, because it unmistakably meant that mysticism is a regressive state of some sort of another. This was, as they say, a real sore spot with me.

I speculate that if the journals and notes of Bergson were available to us which they are not having been destroyed on his instructions, we might find evidence of odd and uncanny states of mind and experiences which led him later on to give credence to E.S.P.  It is likely that he destroyed his papers in order to not distract from his published works.

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