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Henri Bergson: Intellect vs. Intuition

Henri Bergson (1851 - 1941)

Henri Bergson - a most eloquent and ingenious French Scientist turned Philosopher that was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1927, is the desperate need of our times. His wisdom needs to be rediscovered and sprinkled all over the world, so critical thought and creative leadership may once again blossom across the length and breadth of the globe. Bergson's philosophy posits to transcend all the differences between the various schools of Western philosophical thought and makes us travel right within our conscious psychic selves, with his method of empathizing with oneself, which he called intuition.

Intuition Defined

“Intuition is the ability to acquire knowledge without proof, evidence, or conscious reasoning, or without understanding how the knowledge was acquired.”

Bergson's Intuition

Bergson approaches intuition from a negation of the intellect when it comes to life and living. Of the intellect, he says:

“The intellect is characterized by a natural inability to comprehend life."

Please mark the italicized word inability. This is because intellect, which is a most precious gift from Nature to human beings that unequivocally sets us apart from any other living organism (and automatons, if I dare say so), has its stifling limitations in acquiring the knowledge about life and our own selves. According to Bergson, analyzing part by part and putting those pieces back together - which is what the intellect does, especially through the scientific method, may work for inert and insentient things like for example, an automobile.

Life however, is not a machine. Human body is not a lumbering piece of equipment, that can be analyzed part by part and put back together for a complete understanding using only the faculty of the intellect. Biology does that, but Bergson argues that intellect is a faulty faculty for understanding life, because it loses the uniqueness and creative aspects of it which can never happen in dead, insentient matter. His seminal works on evolution, philosophy and metaphysics goad us to instead apply the faculty and the method of intuition and transcend the intellectual approach of dividing into body parts, organs and cells.

According To Bergson

"Intuition is a simple, indivisible experience of sympathy (or empathy) through which one is moved into the inner being of an object to grasp what is unique and ineffable within it."

Hence to simply know without proof how we perceive or understand something is intuition. Intuition is self-evident as the sun is. You don't need another source of light to prove the existence of the sun! Thus intuition can be as immediate and self-evident as a bulb glowing in a room, or the perception of sweetness of a piece of truffle or a piece of melody. It can also be time delayed as in trying to learn bicycle riding. Neither the sweetness nor the act of biking can be expressed using concepts, words or symbols. They are ineffable knowledge, which is simply known and become self-evident when the intellect is transcended. That is intuition.

Intuition As We Understand Today

Indian drone instrument (tānpurā) demonstration to a class of montessori preschoolers.

We tend to associate intuition with new age 'mumbo-jumbo' and 'voodoo' like synchronicity, extra sensory perception, paranormal activity, telepathy etc. While this blog's scope is not to refute or prove these phenomena, it needs to be pointed out here that Carl Jung, whose seminal works on human psychological states and archetypes including synchronicity, have been greatly influenced by Bergson's works.

Suffice it is to say, that intuition as a method must be inculcated more and more in our school curricula. The transition from STEM to STEAM is a great movement throughout the world, which gets children to express the best of their intuitive nature and be a creative leader in their own right.


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