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Professor Bergson's theory of dreaming here set forth in untechnical language, fits
into a particular niche in his general system of philos
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ophy as well as does his little book on Laughter. With the main features of his
philosophy the English-reading public is better acquainted than with any other
contemporary system, for his books have sold even more rapidly here than in
France. When Professor Bergson visited the United States two years ago the lecture-
rooms of Columbia University, like those of the Collège de France, were packed to
the doors and the effect of his message was enhanced by his eloquence of delivery
and charm of personality. The pragmatic character of his philosophy appeals to the
genius of the American people as is shown by the influence of the teaching of
William James and John Dewey, whose point of view in this respect resembles
Bergson's.
During the present generation chemistry and bio logy have passed from the
descriptive to the creative stage. Man is becoming the overlord of the mineral,
vegetable and animal kingdoms. He is learning to make gems and perfumes, drugs
and foods, to suit his tastes, instead of depending upon the chance bou nty of nature.
He is beginning consciously to adapt means to ends and to plan for the future even
in the field of politics. He has opened up the atom and finds in it a microcosm more
complex than the solar system. He beholds the elements
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melting with fervent heat and he turns their rays to the healing of his sores. He
drives the lightning through the air and with the product feeds his crops. He makes
the desert to blossom as the rose and out of the sea he draws forth dry land. He
treats the earth as his habitation, remodeling it in accordance with his ever -varying
needs and increasing ambitions.
This modern man, planning, contriving and making, finds Paley's watch as little to
his mind as Lucretius's blind flow of atoms. A universe wound up once for all and
doing nothing thereafter but mark time is as incomprehensible to him as a universe
that never had a mind of its own and knows no difference between past and future.
The idea of eternal recurrence does not frighten him as it did Nietzsche, for he feels
it to be impossible. The mechanistic interpretation of natural phenomena developed
during the last century he accepts at its full value, and would extend experimentally
as far as it will go, for he finds it not invalid but inadequate.
To minds of this temperament it is no wonder that Bergson's Creative Evolution
came with the force of an inspiration. Men felt themselves akin to this upward
impulse, this élan vital, which, struggling throughout the ages with the
intractableness of inert matter, yet finally in
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some way or other forces it to its will, and ever strives toward the increase of
vitality, mentality, personality.
Bergson has been reluctant to commit himself on the question of immortality, but he
of late has become quite convinced of it. He even goes so far as to think it possible
that we may find experimental evidence of personal persistence after death. This at
least we might infer from his recent acceptance of the presidency of the British
Society for Psychical Research. In his opening address before the Society, May 28,
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