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A Review
Henri Louis Bergson's Book
Creative Evolution
Chapter II: The Divergent Directions of the
Evolution of Life, Torpor, Intelligence, Instinct
Topic 21: Animal Life
by Doug Renselle
Doug's Pre-review Commentary
Start of Review

Chapter I II
Introduction 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 
Chapter III IV
22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45  46 47

Move to any Topic of Henri Louis Bergson's Creative Evolution,
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Topic 21...............Animal Life


(Most quotes verbatim Henri Louis Bergson, some paraphrased.)

(Relevant to Pirsig, William James Sidis, and Quantonics Thinking Modes.)


"What constitutes animality, we said, is the faculty of utilizing a releasing mechanism for the conversion of as much stored-up potential energy as possible into "explosive" actions. [We think Bergson's 'potential energy' mentioned here is close kin of Boris Sidis' and Henry James' 'reserve energy.'] In the beginning the explosion is haphazard, and does not choose its direction. Thus the amoeba thrusts out its pseudopodic prolongations [temporary unicellular flagella] in all directions at once. But, as we rise in the animal scale, the form of the body itself is observed to indicate a certain number of very definite directions alone, which the energy travels. These directions are marked by so many chains of nervous elements. Now, the nervous element has gradually emerged from the barely differentiated mass of organized tissue. It may, therefore, be surmised that in the nervous element, as soon as it appears, and also in its appendages, the faculty of suddenly freeing the gradually stored-up energy is concentrated. No doubt, every living cell expends energy without ceasing, in order to maintain its equilibrium. The vegetable cell, torpid from the start, is entirely absorbed in this work of maintenance alone, as if it took for end what must at first have been only a means. But, in the animal, all points to action, that is, to the utilization of energy for movements from place to place. True, every animal cell expends a good deal—often the whole—of the energy at its disposal in keeping itself alive; but the organism as a whole tries to attract as much energy as possible to those points where the locomotive movements are effected. So that where a nervous system exists, with its complementary sense organs and motor apparatus, everything should happen as if the rest of the body had, as its essential function, to prepare for these and pass on to them, at the moment required, that force which they are to liberate by a sort of explosion.

"The part played by food amongst the higher animals is, indeed, extremely complex."

(Our brackets, bold, and color.)

Bergson restarts his footnote counts on each page. So to refer a footnote, one must state page number and footnote number.

Our bold and color highlights follow a code:

  • black-bold - important to read if you are just scanning our review
  • green-bold - we see Bergson suggesting axiomatic memes
  • violet-bold - an apparent classical problematic
  • blue-bold - we disagree with this text segment while disregarding context of Bergson's overall text
  • gray-bold - quotable text
  • red-bold - our direct commentary




We are unsure, but sense this may be where Mae-wan Ho began to intuit Bergson's 'explosion' as a precursory metaphor of quantum cohesion.


"In the first place it serves to repair tissues, then it provides the animal with the heat necessary to render it as independent as possible of changes in external temperature. [Mix Bergson's 'independent' with his 'explosive' quantum cohesion. Again, this hints at Mae-wan's quanton(cohesion,autonomy).] Thus it preserves, supports, and maintains the organism in which the nervous system is set and on which the nervous elements have to live. But these nervous elements would have no reason for existence if the organism did not pass to them, and especially to the muscles they control, a certain energy to expend; and it may even be conjectured that there, in the main, is the essential and ultimate destination of food. This does not mean that the greater part of the food is used in this work. A state may have to make enormous expenditure to secure the return of taxes, and the sum which it will have to dispose of, after deducting the cost, of collection, will perhaps be very small: that sum is, none the less, the reason for the tax and for all that has been spent to obtain its return. So it is with the energy which the animal demands of its food.

"Many facts seem to indicate that the nervous and muscular elements stand in this relation towards the rest of the organism. Glance first at the distribution of alimentary substances among the different elements of the living body. These substances fall into two classes, one the quaternary or albuminoid, the other the ternary, including the carbohydrates and the fats. The albuminoids are properly plastic, destined to repair the tissues—although, owing to the carbon they contain, they are capable of providing energy on occasion. But the function of supplying energy has devolved more particularly on the second class of substances: these, being deposited in the cell rather than forming part of its substance, convey to it, in the form of chemical potential, an expansive energy that may be directly converted into either movement or heat."

(Our brackets, bold, and color.)







Remainder of this paragraph appears to suggest that Bergson does not intuit a quantum complementary interrelationship twixt actuality and nonactuality. As we read this, our interpretation is that Bergson sees actual food energy extracted by actual animal organisms—absent any quantum complementary interrelationship with nonactuality. Nor does he hint, as does Mae-wan Ho, any nonactual mediation, e.g., via quantum cohesion.


"In short, the chief function of the albuminoids [AKA scleroproteins] is to repair the machine, while the function of the other class of substances is to supply power. It is natural that the albuminoids should have no specially allotted destination, since every part of the machine has to be maintained. But not so with the other substances. The carbohydrates are distributed very unequally, and this inequality of distribution seems to us in the highest degree instructive.

"Conveyed by the arterial blood in the form of glucose, these substances are deposited, in the form of glycogen, in the different cells forming the tissues. We know that one of the principal functions of the liver is to maintain at a constant level the quantity of glucose held by the blood, by means of the reserves of glycogen secreted by the hepatic cells. Now, in this circulation of glucose and accumulation of glycogen, it is easy to see that the effect is as if the whole effort of the organism were directed towards providing with potential energy the elements of both the muscular and the nervous tissues. The organism proceeds differently in the two cases, but it arrives at the same result. In the first case, it provides the muscle cell with a large reserve deposited in advance: the quantity of glycogen contained in the muscles is, indeed, enormous in comparison with what is found in the other tissues. In the nervous tissue, on the contrary, the reserve is small (the nervous elements, whose function is merely to liberate the potential energy stored in the muscle, never have to furnish much work at one time); but the remarkable thing is that this reserve is restored by the blood at the very moment that it is expended, so that the nerve is instantly recharged with potential energy. Muscular tissue and nervous tissue are, therefore, both privileged, the one in that it is stocked with a large reserve of energy, the other in that it is always served at the instant it is in need and to the exact extent of its requirements."

(Our brackets, bold, and color.)

"More particularly, it is from the sensori-motor system that the call for glycogen, the potential energy, comes, as if the rest of the organism were simply there in order to transmit force to the nervous system and to the muscles which the nerves control. True , when we think of the part played by the nervous system (even the sensori-motor system) as regulator of the organic life, it may well be asked whether, in this exchange of good offices between it and the rest of the body, the nervous system is indeed a master that the body serves. But we shall already incline to this hypothesis when we consider, even in the static state only, the distribution of potential energy among the tissues; and we shall be entirely convinced of it when we reflect upon the conditions in which the energy is expended and restored. For suppose the sensori-motor system is a system like the others, of the same rank as the others. Borne by the whole of the organism, it will wait until an excess of chemical potential is supplied to it before it performs any work. In other words, it is the production of glycogen which will regulate the consumption by the nerves and muscles. On the contrary, if the sensori-motor system is the actual master, the duration and extent of its action will be independent, to a certain extent at least, of the reserve of glycogen that it holds, and even of that contained in the whole of the organism. It will perform work, and the other tissues will have to arrange as they can to supply it with potential energy. Now, this is precisely what does take place, as is shown in particular by the experiments of Morat and Dufourt.(1) While the glycogenic function of the liver depends on the action of the excitory [excitatory] nerves which control it, the action of these nerves is subordinated to the action of those which stimulate the locomotor muscles—in this sense, that the muscles begin by expending without calculation, thus consuming glycogen, impoverishing the blood of its glucose, and finally causing the liver, which has had to pour into the impoverished blood some of its reserve of glycogen, to manufacture a fresh supply."

Note (1) - Archives de physiologie, 1892.

(Our brackets, bold, and color.)

"From the sensori-motor system, then, everything starts; on that system everything converges; and we may say, without metaphor, that the rest of the organism is at its service.

"Consider again what happens in a prolonged fast. It is a remarkable fact that in animals that have died of hunger the brain is found to be almost unimpaired, while the other organs have lost more or less of their weight and their cells have undergone profound changes.(1) It seems as though the rest of the body had sustained the nervous system to the last extremity, treating itself simply as the means of which the nervous system is the end."

Note (1) - De Manacéine, "Quelques observations expérimentales Bur I'influence de l'insomnie absolue" (Arch. ital. de biologie, t. xxi., 1894, pp. 322 ff.). Recently, analogous observations have been made on a man who died of inanition after a fast of thirty-five days. See, on this subject, in the Année biologique of 1898, p. 338, the résumé of an article (in Russian) by Tarakevitch and Stchasny.

(Our bold and color.)

"To sum up: if we agree, in short, to understand by "the sensori-motor system" the cerebro-spinal nervous system together with the sensorial apparatus in which it is prolonged and the locomotor muscles it controls, we may say that a higher organism is essentially a sensori-motor system installed on systems of digestion, respiration, circulation, secretion, etc., whose function it is to repair, cleanse and protect it, to create an unvarying internal environment for it, and above all to pass it potential energy to convert into locomotive movement.(1) It is true that the more the nervous function is perfected, the more must the functions required to maintain it develop, and the more exacting, consequently, they become for themselves. As the nervous activity has emerged from the protoplasmic mass in which it was almost drowned, it has had to summon around itself activities of all kinds for its support. These could only be developed on other activities, which again implied others, and so on indefinitely. Thus it is that the complexity of functioning of the higher organisms goes on to infinity. The study of one of these organisms therefore takes us round in a circle, as if everything was a means to everything else. But the circle has a centre, none the less, and that is the system of nervous elements stretching between the sensory organs and the motor apparatus.

"We will not dwell here on a point we have treated at length in a former work. Let us merely recall that the progress of the nervous system has been effected both in the direction of a more precise adaptation of movements and in that of a greater latitude left to the living being to choose between them. These two tendencies may appear antagonistic, [rather, we would say, "quantum complementary"] and indeed they are so; but a nervous chain, even in its most rudimentary form, successfully reconciles them."

Note (1) - Cuvier said: "The nervous system is, at bottom, the whole animal; the other systems are there only to serve it." ("Sur un nouveau rapprochement à, établir entre les classes qui composent le regne animal," Arch. du Muséum d'histoire naturelle, Paris, 1812, pp. 73-84.) Of course, it would be necessary to apply a great many restrictions to this formula—for example, to allow for the cases of degradation and retrogression in which the nervous system passes into the background. And, moreover, with the nervous system must be included the sensorial apparatus on the one hand and the motor on the other, between which it acts as intermediary. Cf. Foster, art. "Physiology," in the Encyclopaedia Britannica, Edinburgh, 1885, p. 17.

(Our brackets, bold, and color.)
126 "On the one hand, it marks a well-defined track between one point of the periphery and another, the one sensory, the other motor. It has therefore canalized an activity which was originally diffused in the protoplasmic mass. But, on the other hand, the elements that compose it are probably discontinuous; at any rate, even supposing they anastomose [i.e., connect, as by blood vessels], they exhibit a functional discontinuity, for each of them ends in a kind of crossroad where probably the nervous current may choose its course. From the humblest Monera to the best endowed insects, and up to the most intelligent vertebrates, the progress realized has been above all a progress of the nervous system, coupled at every stage with all the new constructions and complications of mechanism that this progress required. As we foreshadowed in the beginning of this work, the rôle of life is to insert some indetermination into matter. Indeterminate, i.e. unforeseeable, are the forms it creates in the course of its evolution. More and more indeterminate also, more and more free, is the activity to which these forms serve as the vehicle. A nervous system, with neurones placed end to end in such wise that, at the extremity of each, manifold ways open in which manifold questions present themselves, is a veritable reservoir of indetermination. That the main energy of the vital impulse has been spent in creating apparatus of this kind is, we believe, what a glance over the organized world as a whole easily shows. But concerning the vital impulse itself a few explanations are necessary."

(Our brackets, bold and color.)



Bergson's use of "functional discontinuity" begs examples from other authors and other disciplines. Heinz Pagels, of Dreams of Reason fame, called this meme "causal decoupling," which we find in retrospect a tad too classical. David Finkelstein, Nick Herbert, et al., refer this meme as quantum islands. Both memes are non-objective. In quantum disciplines, what Bergson refers accounts significantly for related memes of nondistributivity, noncommutativity (e.g. Poisson bracket of position and momentum), contrafactual definiteness, et al. As we repeat too often, both "causal decoupling," and "quantum island" memes belie Aristotle's syllogistic excluded-middle. They belie any validity of Western culture's current 2500+ year old love affair with classical objectivism.

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Doug Renselle
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©Quantonics, Inc., 2000-2009 Rev.15Nov2007  PDR Created: 20Sep2000  PDR
(31Dec2001 rev - Add top of page frame-breaker.)
(23Aug2002 rev - Correct p. 126 comments spelling mistake.)
(5Feb2003 rev - Add p. 126 comments link to our remediation of 'commutative.')
(15Nov2007 rev - Reformat slightly.)

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