Common sense, noted Henri Bergson, is fatiguing. Along with every other aspect of our waking lives, common sense requires effort. Conversing requires effort. Nourishment requires effort. Abiding by social norms requires effort. Even relaxation, a seemingly effortless state, requires us to tap into the entirety of our experience, our respective banks of consciousness, in order to tailor reality to our expectations and desires. We are, in a sense, programmed by our experiences, in the form of memories; pulling from those memories, organizing and substituting them at opportune moments, it all takes considerable effort, even when we fail to perceive it as such. Including and excluding, strategically, constantly.
In the essay “Dreams,” Bergson’s Waking Ego catches his Dreaming Ego attempting to escape in that split second between deep sleep and the reawakening of consciousness, the moment in which all dreams begin rising like smoke and leaving us with handfuls of air as we tragically grasp at them. The Waking Ego, as if catching a behind-schedule burglar darting out of his front door with the sunrise, demands answers. He wants to know what his counterpart stole, and what makes them, identical twins, so different from one another. Two challenging, implicative questions that surprisingly don’t phase the Dreaming Ego in the least. Plus, he has the rest of the day off. Might as well stick around for a quick chat with his accuser, his interrogator, his brother.
“I differ from you precisely in that I do nothing,” he replies with a blank face. “The effort that you give without cessation I simply abstain from giving. In place of attaching myself to life, I detach myself from it. Everything has become indifferent to me. I have become disinterested in everything. To sleep is to become disinterested.”
As the Waking Ego stares straight ahead without saying a word, puzzled and hurt, the Dreaming Ego twists the knife.
“I will tell you what you do when you are awake. You take me, the me of dreams, me the totality of your past, and you force me, by making me smaller and smaller, to fit into the little circle that you trace around your present action. That is what it is to be awake. That is what it is to live the normal psychical life. It is to battle. It is to will.”
The Waking Ego hints at a response but is cut off abruptly.
“As for the dream, have you really any need that I should explain it? It is the state into which you naturally fall when you let yourself go, when you no longer have the power to concentrate yourself upon a single point, when you have ceased to will.”
For a few long seconds they face each other, both drained, both wrong, until the Waking Ego looks down at his wrist.
“I should already be at work.”
The Dreaming Ego nods, spins like a top and vanishes.
Neither have the courage to admit it, but each depends on the other entirely. For they are brothers, and brothers are brothers forever.