Matter and Memory: An Essay on the Relation of Body and Spirit, is a complex exploration of human nature and the spirituality of memory. In this work, Henri Bergson investigates the function of the brain, and opposes the idea of memory being of a material nature, lodged within a particular part of the nervous system. He claims that Matter and Memory “is frankly dualistic,” leading to a careful consideration of the problems in the relation of body and mind. His theories on sense, dualism, pure perception, the concept of virtuality, and his image of the memory cone may make this a confusing and challenging existentialist work. However, the years of research and extensive pathological investigations he spent in preparation for this and other essays have gained him great a justly deserved distinction as a brilliant theorist and philosopher.
Bergson wrote Matter and Memory in reaction to The Maladies of Memory (1881) by Théodule Ribot, in which he claimed that the findings of brain science proved that memory is lodged within a particular part of the nervous system; localized within the brain and thus of a material nature. Bergson opposed this reduction of spirit to matter. Defending a clear anti-reductionist position, he considered memory to be of a deeply spiritual nature, the brain serving the need of orienting present action by inserting relevant memories. The brain thus being of a practical nature, certain lesions tend to perturb this practical function, but without erasing memory as such. The memories are, instead, simply not “incarnated,” and cannot serve their purpose.
French philosopher Henri-Louis Bergson (1859–1941) was influential in the tradition of continental philosophy, especially during the first half of the 20th century until the Second World War. Bergson is known for his arguments that processes of immediate experience and intuition are more significant than abstract rationalism and science for understanding reality.
He was awarded the 1927 Nobel Prize for Literature “in recognition of his rich and vitalizing ideas and the brilliant skill with which they have been presented.” In 1930, France awarded him the Grand-Croix de la Legion d’honneur.