The general trend today is to maintain that there can be excursions from these strict methods of pursuit of knowledge, excursions in the form of imagination very largely that is the artist’s privilege to go into the realm of imagination. There can be formation of hypothesizes. A hypothesis is a possible explanation of facts, so there can be intellectual operations of formulation of hypothesizes, there can be speculations, but these are excursions, they are not strictly scientific in character.
About speculations in fact, Newton had said, “Hypothesis, non fin go”, “I cannot even imagine anything like a hypothesis.” A possible way of explaining, in which you can speculate whether this can be the explanation or that can be a explanation in a strictly scientific process, even hypothesis formation, he does not accept, although many scientists today accept this hypothesis formation but you can see, how, in a purely strict scientific process, what is called speculation is avoided. People may grant there is something like a speculative process but this speculative process is only an amusement, it does not lead you to any knowledge. It is therefore, argued that anything that you arrive at by imagination, merely by hypothesis formation or by speculation is not strictly called knowledge.
It is argued that that since philosophy,………… which moves out of the totality of the whole field of experience, this is the speciality of the intellectual process of rationality and particularly of philosophy that philosophical reason, philosophical intellectual perception is capable of withdrawing from the total field of experience and sitting over it, as it were. This is what is called the critical functioning of the intellect. A critical functioning is to go above whole field of experience and watch the whole field of experience and claim that this process of going above the field of experience is a very superior method and by this method whatever conclusions you arrive at is of a greater significance and a greater validity, is the claim of the philosophers, as opposed to the claim of the scientists.
Let us examine this aspect, because that will give us the key to the entire method of ‘The Life Divine’. Why Sri Aurobindo expounds the way in which he expounds the whole theme of ‘The Life Divine’; it is by following the philosophical method. The essentiality of the philosophical method is to take the entire field of experience and to brood over it and then apply the canons of reasoning to judge whether such and such experience is possible or not possible. This is how philosophical thinking works. An experience is proposed, another experience is presented, a third experience is presented; a philosopher examines the claims of all these experiences. In order to arrive at a judgment, whether such and such experience is possible or impossible and if possible to what extent, and by what means can you affirm the validity of this experience or that experience. This is what is called specially the philosophical method. A critical understanding of experience, a critical judgment of experience, a critical overview of the realm of experience is a speciality of the philosophical method.
Sri Aurobindo says, the primary function of the intellect, – is understanding, to understand whether it is scientific or philosophical, understanding is the common ground, in both the processes of science and philosophy there is a process of understanding. Understanding is to stand below, to stand under an object and to look upwards and try to grasp what it is, that is understanding. The critical understanding tries to rise above the object and then to make a judgment. Sri Aurobindo has used in ‘The Synthesis of Yoga’ also the word over standing, when you arrive at a spiritual experience, intuitive experience, you are able to stand above the object and grasp and possess the object, as it were from above. That is the superiority of the intuitive knowledge, you do not get subjected to and you are not standing under the weight of the object, which is the fact in the process of understanding, you are not even trying to go above it, because critical understanding is an effort always to lift oneself from understanding to rise to a higher level of judgment it’s an effort which is very limping, it’s is a lame effort. Although, critical thinkers believe it is one of the greatest achievement, but from the higher point of view this is a limping effort, you go higher above and when you go above and over standing then the object is possessed concretely and there can be no error in it. Both in the understanding and in the process of critical understanding or judgment there is always a possibility of an error, but when you stand above and grasp it, there is no error.
That is why it is said, intuition is free from error. If it’s a true intuitive knowledge, and there is no error possible, that is a mark. Very often intuition is not understood properly, even guessing something is called intuition. That is not true. Very often, one says I guess it so well, I intuitioned it so. In guessing there is no intuition. It may be an effort at going above whatever you have understood for the moment, you are essaying possibilities, but true intuition, and it is devoid of error. It is certain, it is sure. There is a certainty in the intuitive knowledge. That is the process of over standing. But in this critical process, which we are considering, which is the speciality of the philosophical thinking, the true philosophical thinking it is critical thinking.
So long you only observe, and coordinate, deduce and induce, there is no critical thinking, it is only a recording with a greater sophistication, when you record the facts as you see, it is scientific, rigorous, accurate, verifiable, repeatable, but it is not critical. A critical thinking first of all becomes aware of all the assumptions which are present in the observation. When I observe an object, normally, I am not aware of the assumptions under which I am observing.
Human beings are not so very wide awake that when they observe things that they are also aware of the context in which they are observing, the assumptions under which you are observing. I will simply give you an example, – If you lock your room and go out, when nobody is present, either in the room or outside the room. You go out and come back and you see the room intact, as you had left it. You are observing, the first observation was of the room in a certain position ‘x’, you go out and come back and you see the room again in the position ‘x’, you are sure that the room was continuing to exist exactly as it was before. When you come back and you see the room exactly as it was earlier, you assume, now, I am using the word ‘assume’ that the room or you conclude, perhaps; the better word is assumption, you assume that the room was exactly as it was during your absence.
A critical reflection would ask you the question, how do you know that the room was exactly in the same position as you left and as it appeared when you came back. It is a critical reflection, it was exactly like before, but are you sure that during your absence the room did not disappear altogether. How do you know that it did not? It could have, is there any guarantee that it could not and it did not.