Merce Cunningham by Marvin Silver

Merce Cunningham by Marvin Silver

S+ Stimulant: Élan Vital 


Élan Vital (vital impetus) is a term coined by French philosopher Henri Bergson in his 1907 book, Creative Evolution. The term was principally used to describe a phenomenon that Bergson believed explained organic evolution rivaling Darwin’s theory of natural selection. Bergson claimed that this essence not only pushes forth evolution but is also the original impetus for life.

Although Bergson was unable to explain the origins of élan vital,  he did believe that its mysteries and roots are intertwined with those of the universe, both inner and outer; and that our consciousness and intuition are both essences of this phenomenon.

While Bergson’s theory is more biologically inclined, it is not dissimilar to ideas purported in other cultures; for instance, the concept of an essential life energy is common in Chinese belief (Chi) as well as Sanskrit (Prana) and the principle underlying exercises in hatha yoga.

Of course, these ideas are not accepted by modern Western science (despite the fact that Bergson won the Nobel Prize in 1927 for his work on Creative Evolution); yet, most of us would accept their existence on everyday levels. When we say that we are ‘run down,’ that our ‘energy levels are low’ or that we need to ‘recharge our batteries,’ we are referring to a mysterious entity that gives us drive, momentum and vitality. This mysterious entity is the source of all our powers. When it’s charged we’re capable of almost anything; when it’s depleted we’re not capable of much.

Published: July 2nd, 2015

Previous in this series:

S+ Stimulant: The Gutai Group

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