This book must be read slowly and deliberately -- do so and it will give you an insight into the brilliance of one of the most revolutionary and extraordinarily perceptive philosopher scientists of the 20th Century, IMO.
Bergson changed the way scientists see the world by introducing his conception of an "original impetus", which began simply (if "intelligently") and evolved matter into living, increasingly complex lifeforms and concurrently evolved an increasingly complex consciousness within it -- as an "imperceptable thread" (my wording) ultimately called the elan vital.
In my case, after reading carefully and filling the book's margins with notes, Professor Bergson seems to be proving (showing) that all science up until his time (circa 1930's) was concerned with objects as they were at a particular moments, whereas in fact these objects were and are in a state of continual "being" (duration), making their actuality or essence unknowable.
He chronologically takes us through the writings of Plato and Aristotle (the natural trend of the intellect)-- Descartes, Spinoza and Leibniz (becoming in modern science) -- and even through the Criticism of Kant and the evolutionism of Spencer. Bergson thoroughly critques each philosophy and shows us why they are not dealing the world as it really is.
Through this he weaves his own philosophical system based on Creation and Evolution by (quote):
". . . showing us in the intellect a local effect of evolution, a flame, perhaps accidental, which lights up the coming and going of living beings in the narrow passage open to their action: an lo! . . . (making) of this lantern glimmering in a tunnel a Sun which can illuminate the world.
"Boldly (Kantian and Spencerian science) proceeds with the powers of conceptual thought alone, to the ideal reconstruction of things, even of life. . . . But the essence of things escapes us, and will escape us always; WE MOVE AMONG RELATIONS; THE ABSOLUTE IS NOT IN OUR PROVINCE; WE ARE BROUGHT TO STAND BEFORE THE UNKNOWABLE.
" . . . BUT AN INTELLECT BENT UPON THE ACT TO BE PERFOMED AND THE REACTION TO FOLLOW . . . WOULD DIG TO THE VERY ROOT OF NATURE AND MIND."
In simpler words, the observation of any object changes reality for that object. It is only real as a moving "being", animated by an original impetus and kept real by an "elan vital" which cannot be known because "being" cannot be defined. What we call "real things" are illusions which beomce "real" to us only when we stop their duration. Heidegger spends thousands of pages unsuccessfully trying to define "being", which ultimately he can only label as "dasein". What we observe as the real world is matter and consciousness evolving concurrently from simple to complex as they move through space and time.
This means that the original impetus, the spark, the first flame, began neither in space nor time. Later quantum physics would support Bergson's insight, considering that an electron (as one example) cannot be seen without turning it into something else, or ever stranger, disappearing into what can only be other universes parallel to our own.
IMO, this means a creative force must exist that animates matter and consciousness; and that could only have originated in that Singularity outside time and space which I in my particular need call the thought of "God". You can call "it" what you will: the Tao, Bhudda, Nature, et al.
In my possession is a 1932 edition of "Creative Evolution" which had lingered on a library shelf over eighty years but had been checked out only three times after 1970. Sometimes I wonder where are my fellow philosophers and why I seem in my pained isolation to be the last of the 20th Century philosophers of mind. But that is because I am a crazed crackpot in the collective mind of those who measure men by their wealth. My contemporaries are in the universities, religious orders and lecture tours, where they belong. Yet even I am animated by the elan vital. Even I am part of the "God" finally perceived by Henri Bergson.
"Creative Evolution" was a sensation when it first appeared in 1932, the work of an already distinguished Professor Bergson of the College de France. It gave the world at last a new and scientific conception of the God long intuited by prophets, priests, poets, writers and grizzled, scarred, aging gray bearded philosophers like myself, dumb beasts of intellectual burdens, who desperately need a new physics to help us embrace an unknowable God created out of a Singularity and connecting our minds and bodies to what the Apostle Paul called Love.
Richard Lee Fulgham, Bel Air, 2009