1 MAY 1999
Science is a manifestation of the dual operation of Reason, dispassionate and interested. In its dispassionate movement, science pursues truth for the sake of truth and knowledge for the sake of knowledge; in this movement, science is performing its natural function; it is exercising its highest right. In the work of the scientist labouring to add something to the stock of our ascertainable knowledge, there is a perfect purity and satisfaction. It may even be said that even if there is any individual error or limitation, it will not matter; for the collective and progressive knowledge of the race can be trusted to get rid of the error.
But difficulties and faults arise when science turns to its interested operations and tries to apply its discoveries and inventions to life situations. For there it becomes the plaything of forces over which it has little control. Science then becomes subject to what it studies and the servant and counsellor of the forces in whose obscure and ill-understood struggle it intervenes. This is the reason why the balance sheet of science is a mixed one, and in many respects the negative aspects outweigh the positive ones. While, on the one hand, science has made discoveries which have served practical humanitarianism, it has, one the other hand, supplied monstrous weapons to egoism and mutual destruction; while, on the one hand, it has made a gigantic efficiency of organisation utilisable for the economic and social amelioration of the nations, it has, on the other hand, placed the same efficiency of organisation in the hands of national rivalries for mutual aggression, ruin and slaughter; while, on the one hand, it has given rise to a large rationalistic altruism, it has, on the other hand, justified a godless egoism, vitalism, vulgar will to power and success; while, on the one hand, it has drawn mankind together and given it a new hope, it has, on the other hand, crushed it with the burden of a monstrous commercialism. Actually, this commercialism, which can be called another kind of barbarism, — economic barbarism, — marks a terrible regression that has sunk humanity in mud of desire and hunger on a massive scale. For it makes the satisfaction of wants and desires and accumulation of possessions its standard and aim. Its concept of the ideal man is not that of the cultured or noble or thoughtful or moral or spiritual, but the successful man. To this barbarism, the opulent plutocrat and the successful mammoth capitalist and organiser of industry are the supermen, and it is to them that this barbarism assigns the actual power to rule the society. Pursuit of vital success, satisfaction, productiveness, accumulation, possession, enjoyment, comfort, convenience for their own sake ‒ these are essential ingredients of economic barbarism. To the barbaric economic man, beauty is a nuisance, art and poetry a frivolity or a means of advertisement.
His idea of civilisation is comfort, his idea of morality social respectability, and his idea of politics the encouragement of industrialisation, opening of markets and exploitation.
It is not surprising that increasing number of sensitive and refined thinkers in recent decades have come to equate science and technology with domination and violence. We also find new trends of thought which advocate new philosophies of growth; the idea of the "small is beautiful" has achieved a wide appeal. There is a growing awareness that all is not well with science, particularly with technology, that things cannot be allowed to develop unchecked and unchallenged, that fundamental issues of humanity's future are involved, and that we are required to consider urgently as to how to deal with our present state of society.
According to one trend of thought, science is knowledge and knowledge is power, but power for evil just as much as for good. The conclusion that is drawn is that unless human beings increase in wisdom as much as in knowledge, increase of knowledge will be increase of sorrow.
This brings us sharply to the theme which has recently come to be discussed prominently, the theme of science and spirituality.
First of all, we may consider the relationship between science and materialism. It is true that the first tendencies of science have been materialistic; scientific explanations of the universe were for a long time mechanistic, which laid emphasis on inexorable and rigid laws, leaving no room for freedom or intelligent purpose; and the indubitable triumphs of science have been confined to the knowledge of the physical universe and the body and the physical life. But, fundamentally, this materialism has been an expression of the mind turning its gaze upon its vital and physical frame and environment to know and conquer and dominate Life and Matter. From the point of view of advancing knowledge, there was a need to know the processes of Life and Matter so that they can rightly be transcended. It may even be said that the perfection of the physical sciences was a prior necessity and had to be the first field for the training of the mind of man in his new endeavour to know Nature and possess his world.
If modern Materialism, it may be urged, were simply an unintelligent acquiescence in the material life, the advance might be indefinitely delayed. But we find that the latest trends are highly significant of a freer future. For as the outposts of scientific knowledge come more and more to be set on the borders that divide the material from the immaterial, so also the highest achievements of practical science are those which tend to simplify and reduce to the vanishing-point the machinery by which the greatest effects are produced. Wireless telegraphy is a signal for a new orientation, since the sensible physical means for the intermediate transmission of the physical force is removed, preserving it only at the points of impulsion and reception. It is also being increasingly acknowledged that materialism can be maintained only by ignoring or explaining away a vast field of evidence and experience which contradicts it. The arbitrariness of the materialistic premises is also being admitted in disguised or explicit forms. At one time, it was confidently asserted that the physical senses are our sole means of knowledge and that reason, therefore, cannot escape beyond their domain. But today it is being acknowledged more and more widely that physical senses cannot give any disproof of anything that may be lying beyond their domain, if any, and that therefore there is no warrant to assert that physical senses are the only means of knowledge. In other words, physical senses cannot find any justification for the universal sweep contained in the orthodox premises of materialism. There is also today an overwhelming view among philosophers of science that the function of science is to describe the processes of Nature and not to venture on what may or may not be lying behind the observable and measurable processes. Science, it has been urged, is precluded from making metaphysical or ontological affirmations or negations. It is even being maintained by many, if not most, that the so-called metaphysical statements of materialism or idealism or of any other school of thought are literally nonsensical.
The orthodox theory of mechanistic materialism has been overpassed. The idea of causal necessity that had denied freedom in the universe has ceased to dominate the realm of science. Materialism as an ontological theory is no more in the field; the last fort of materialism as an ontological theory and as a sociological theory was Marxism — and that, too, has now almost collapsed. And yet, all this has not amounted to the denial of materialism. Materialism is still lingering in subtle forms. While Matter is no more placed as the ultimate reality, there have emerged formidable methodologies of analysis or empiricism which do away with any conception of ultimate reality, thus preventing the formulation of any possible theory of Spirit as an alternative to crumbling theory or theories of materialism. At the same time, the climate has greatly changed. Science has become less rigid, and it is unable to reject a priori any claim of supraphysical experience. This does not mean that Science has come to accept the realm of supraphysical experience; but when pressed to do so, it does not deny it outright. It stands thus in a middle position, and from there, it is able to throw the ball in the court of the advocates of the supraphysical and the spiritual with a demand to come up with clinching evidence. This is where the conflict between science and spirituality stands today.
In the meantime, several theories are emerging which tend to weaken the sting of materialism or the outlook that is still fixed on Matter with some kind of exclusive concentration. First, both physics and biology seem to concede that while it is not their business to come up with any ultimate or final explanation of the universe, there seems to be a great deal even in the processes of the universe which are mysterious and in regard to which not any laws but some kind of magical chance could be the only possible answer. But if theory of chance is pressed far enough, it becomes clear that in its very nature it can be put forward not as an inevitable or clinching theory but only as a possible plausible theory.
This clearly opens up the possibility of other alternative theories and gives room for the consideration of those theories which are based upon experiences of the supraphysical or spiritual realities. We may also observe that in the field of biology, while the Darwinian theory of evolution by random chance, natural selection, struggle for existence and survival of the fittest is still surviving, powerful trends have emerged to challenge it through such theories as those of vitalism of Bergson, emergent evolution of Alexander, holism of Smutts, ingressive idealism of Whitehead, and spiritual evolution of Teillard de Chardin. In our own country, Sri Aurobindo's theory of supramental evolution is a formidable answer to Darwinism and to materialism in general.
A major difficulty involved in a possible dialogue between science and spirituality lies in the insistence laid by physical sciences on the application of their methods on all sciences, even when the subject matters are not physical in character. The scientific method is so conceived that no evidence could be accepted of a fact unless it is objective and physical in character; even if the fact be very apparently supra-physical, this method refuses to accept as such unless it is totally unexplainable by any other imaginable hypothesis or conceivable conjecture. But it should be evident that this demand for physical valid proof of a supra-physical fact is irrational and illogical. For the method of knowledge should be appropriate to the object of knowledge. If the nature of the object is itself supra-physical, would it be reasonable to demand that it should be physical and should be scrutinisable by means of physical senses? The occult, psychic and spiritual sciences have developed various kinds of evidence of the existence of other planes of being and communication with them. They include objectivisation to the outer sense, subtle sense contacts, mind contacts, life contacts, contacts through the subliminal in special states of consciousness exceeding our ordinary range. It is normally argued that subjective experience of subtle-sense images can easily be deceptive, since we have no recognised method or standard of verification and a too great tendency to admit the extraordinary and miraculous or supra-natural at its face value or on the ground of belief.
This argument has a great force, and it may be conceded that belief by itself is not evidence of reality, and that it must base itself on something more valid before one can accept it. All truth, supra- physical or physical, must be founded not on mental belief alone, but on experience, — but in each case experience must be of the kind, physical, occult or spiritual, which is appropriate to the order of truths into which we are empowered to enter; their validity and significance must be scrutinised, but according to their own law and by a consciousness which can enter into them and not according to the law of another domain. In any field of experience, error is possible; error is not the prerogative of the inner subjective or occult parts of us; even where physical and objective methods are employed, there is room for error. Mere liability to error cannot be a reason for shutting out a large and important domain of experience. As in the physical sciences, so in the supra-physical sciences, it is a reason for scrutinising it and finding out in it its own true standards and its characteristic appropriate and valid means of verification. It is important to observe that the very basis of our objective experience is our subjective being; hence it is not probable that only its physical objectivisations are true and the rest unreliable. The supra-physical consciousness, when rightly interrogated, is a witness to truth and its testimony is confirmed again and again even in the physical and the objective field; that testimony cannot, then, be disregarded when it calls our attention to things within us or to things that belong to planes or worlds of a supra-physical experience.
The question is whether there is or there can be a science of supra-physical data, the scientific character of which is as great as that of the sciences of the physical data. Often we seem to be hesitant to answer this question, and often our claim for spiritual knowledge and its validity is sought to be authenticated on the basis of only a few examples of intuitions, divinations, inspirations, or random radical experiences of the soul and the spirit. It does not occur to us that our Indian culture has developed over millennia a multi-sided science through the pursuit of which faculties which lie above the ranges of physical senses and rational intelligence can be developed. This science has developed assured methods resulting from the principles, powers and processes that govern experiences and realisations of the highest possible objects of knowledge.
This science is, what Swami Vivekananda called, science par excellence. This is Indian yoga, developed and matured by Rishis and yogins of the Veda and the Upanishads and still further perfected in an unbroken chain throughout the history of India right up to our own times. This yoga has been looked upon as practical psychology and yogic methods have something of the same relation to the customary psychological workings of man as has the scientific handling of the natural force of electricity or of steam to the normal operations of steam and of electricity. And they, too, are formed upon a knowledge developed and confirmed by regular experiment, practical analysis and constant result. Indeed, yoga is a science — an intuitive science — which deals with the ranges of psychological and spiritual being and discovers greater secrets of physical, psycho-physical and other higher worlds. As in physical sciences, so in yoga, the object is an assured method of personal discovery or living repetition and possession of past discovery and a working out of all the things found.
Spirituality is thus not a matter merely of sporadic or occasional experience, but a matter of authentic possession of knowledge and effective power of realisation and action. It is on the basis of this science that we can bridge the gulf that seems to be existing between science and spirituality.
It is on the basis of the yogic knowledge that one can confidently hope to seek enlargement of physical sciences and also to develop the required power of transformation of human limitations, human passions, human ignorance and all the frailties which are found in human nature. The dreams of science can come true, the developments of science can be guided properly, the evil uses to which scientific knowledge normally becomes subject in its application can also be prevented or cured, provided that humanity consents to undertake a great effort that yoga demands. Indeed, mere ethical control, rational control or social control are not enough; even religious piety and religious life of ritualistic worship is not enough; spirituality transcends the limitations of ethics and religion and opens our mind and heart and our total being to the light and power by the infusion of which human nature can begin to be changed, converted and transformed. Science has so far produced its own effects on society, the time has come now when society needs to awaken and produce effects on science and technology.
When sciences of the physical and those of the supra-physical and the spirit will meet in one spectrum, the individualist age, which brought forth and nourished the modern epoch of science, could culminate into the spiritual age. Problems of this transition and culmination deserve a special and separate study. Fortunately, a detailed study has been made by Sri Aurobindo, particularly in his three major works, "The Human. Cycle", "The Ideal of Human Unity", and "The Foundations of Indian Culture."
Let us hope that research in this study will form a part of the immediate Agenda of India, which needs to be chalked out as a fitting conclusion of these important celebrations.