How, then, may we know this Life, this creative and original soul of things, in which we are bathed; in which, as in a river, swept along? Not, says Bergson bluntly, by any intellectual means. The mind which thinks it knows reality because it has made a diagram of Reality, is merely the dupe of its own categories. The intellect is a specialized aspect of the self, a form of consciousness; but specialized for very different purposes than those of metaphysical speculation. Life has evolved it in the interests of life; has made it capable of de aling with “solids,” with concrete things. With these it is at home. Outside of them it becomes dazed, uncertain of itself; for it is no longer doing its natural work, which is to help life, not to know it. In the interests of experience and in order to grasp perceptions, the intellect breaks up experience, which is in reality a continuous stream, an incessant process of change and response with no separate parts, into purely conventional “moments,” periods” or “psychic states.” It picks out from the flow of reality those bits which are significant for human life; which “interest” it, catch its attention. From these it makes up a mechanical world in which it dwells, and which seems quite real until it is subjected to criticism. It does, says Bergson, the work of a cinematograph: take snapshots of something which is always moving, and by means of these successive static representations —none of which are real, because Life, the object photographed, never was at rest—it creates a picture of life, of motion. This rather jerky representation of divine harmony, from which innumerable moments are left out, is useful for practical purposes: but it is not reality, because it is not alive.
This “real world” then, is the result of your selective activity, and the nature of your selection is largely outside your control. Your cinematograph machine goes at a certain pace, takes its snapshots at certain intervals. Anything which goes too quickly for these intervals, it either fails to catch, or merges with preceding and succeeding movements to form a picture with which it can deal. Thus we treat, for instance, a storm of vibrations which we convert into “sound” and “light.” Slacken or accelerate its clock-time, change its rhythmic activity, and at once you take a different series of snapshots, and have as a result a different human picture of the world. Thanks to the time at which the normal human machine is set, it registers for us what we call, in our simple way, “the natural world.” A slight accession of humility or common sense might teach us that a better title would be “our natural world.”
Let human consciousness change or transcend its rhythm, and say other aspect of any other world may be ours as a result. Hence the mystics' claim that in their ecstasies they change the conditions of consciousness, and apprehend a deeper reality which is unrelated to human speech, cannot be dismissed as unreasonable. Do not then confuse that surface-consciousness which we have trained as an organ of utility and nothing more —and which therefore can only deal adequately with the “given” world of sense—with that mysterious something in you, that ground of personality, inarticulate but inextinguishable, by which you are aware that a greater truth exists. This truth, whose neighborhood you feel, and for which you long, is Life. You are in it all the while, “like a fish in the sea, like a bird in the air,” as St. Mechthild of Hackborn said many centuries ago.
How then, asks the small consciously-seeking personality of the normal person, am I to become aware of...my larger self, and of the free, eternal, spiritual life which it lives?
Here philosophy, emerging from the water-tight compartment in which metaphysics have lived too long retired, calls in psychology; and tells us that in intuition, in a bold reliance on contact between the totality of the self and the external world—perhaps too in those strange states of lucidity which accompany great emotion and defy analysis—lies the normal person’s best chance of attaining, as it were, a swift and sidelong knowledge of this real. Smothered in daily life by the fretful activities of our surface-mind, reality emerges in our great moments; and, seeing ourselves in its radiance, we know, for good or evil, what we are. “We are not pure intellects... around our conceptional and logical thought there remains a vague, nebulous Somewhat, the substance at whose expense the luminous nucleus we call the intellect is formed.” In this aura, this diffused sensitiveness, we are asked to find our medium of communication with the Universal Life.
Such fragmentary, dim and unverifiable perceptions of the Real, however, such “excursions into the Absolute,” cannot be looked upon as a satisfaction of our hunger for Truth. We does not want to peep, but to live. Hence we cannot be satisfied with anything less than a total and permanent adjustment of our being to the greater life of reality. This alone can resolve the disharmonies between the self and the world, and give meaning and value to human life. The possibility of this adjustment—of union between our lives and that “independent spiritual life” which is the stuff of reality—is the theme alike of mysticism and of Eucken’s spiritual vitalism or Activistic Philosophy.