The Quest and Denials
A pilgrim of our times, earnest in his quest and scrupulous in his methods, burning with a single aspiration to search for truth and to consecrate himself to the tasks that would flow from that search for the fulfilment of himself and for the eventual fulfilment of the human journey, finds himself arrested by various forms of denial and scepticism that pronounce the message that the present organisation of consciousness is the last limit and that the only course of rationality or reasonableness is to limit himself to the boundaries of that organisation and be content with limited certainties and probabilities and ever crumbling ideals of tolerable existence for oneself and the world.
There is, indeed, a layer of human intellectuality which is tied to senses so exclusively that it finds its station and resting place in what these instruments perceive and cognize, and even if it reflects, it finds nothing more satisfying than the argument that senses are our sole means of knowledge and that nothing can be known and nothing can be valid if it does not refer back to its origin in sense experience.
Not long ago, materialism held the central field of inquiry, and it had predominant influence over the seekers of
knowledge and persuaded them to limit the aim of life to a feverish effort of the individual to snatch what he may from a transient existence or to dispassionate and objectless service of the race and of the individual, knowing well that the latter is a transient fiction of the nervous mentality and the former only a little more long lived collective form of the same nervous spasm of Matter.
It is true that materialism is no more being advanced so overwhelmingly, and it has been largely conceded that materialism cannot be defended as a metaphysical philosophy. This is because, in the first place, those who are inclined psychologically to favour materialism have largely come to the conclusion that no metaphysical philosophy, including materialism, is logically sustainable.1 It has also come to be recognized increasingly that it is impossible to argue that just because physical senses are our instruments of knowledge, we must conclude that they are the only means of knowledge and that from the premise that matter is an object of cognition by physical senses, it cannot be argued that matter alone exists.2
Nonetheless, materialistic bias has continued to preponderate in the field of philosophy, epistemology, science and philosophy of science. And this preponderance can be seen in the way in which concepts such as those of infinity, eternity, universality, essence, explanation, causality and others have come to be dealt with during the last hundred years.3 All these concepts have been scrutinized with the microscopic lens which permits only those deliverances which are ultimately warranted by physical senses.
At one time, the knowledge of the phenomena was sought to be understood in the light of noumena, but this is no more
considered to be a necessary requirement of rational understanding. At one time, there seemed to be in the world an iron insistence on order, on a law basing on the possibilities. But today even while granting some apparent operations of laws of nature, what is predominantly emphasized is the unaccountability and freak and fantasy and random action. It is increasingly being recognized that the theory of Mechanical Necessity by itself does not elucidate the free play of the endless unaccountable variations which are visible in the universe as also in the evolutionary processes. Perceiving, however, that there is a good deal of freak and fantasy combined with a good deal of order, there is a trend to explain the world by pointing to a self-organizing dynamic Chance or to give up the idea altogether of explanation in terms of any universal law of causation. It has even been argued that one should not aim at explanation of the phenomena of the world, but one should remain content with their descriptions.4
It is true that science still aims at explaining phenomena apart from describing them in terms of the how and the why. But considering that induction is a necessary method of science, and since the assumptions of induction in regard to the law of uniformity of nature and the law of causation now are seen to be inconsistent with the freak and fantasy of the world-phenomena, various theories have been developed to explain induction empirically without the need to acknowledge non-empirical belief in the laws of universality and causality. As a result, philosophers of science have largely come to the conclusion that scientific knowledge is bound to remain subject to various shades of scepticism or fallibility.
It is against this background that science is being looked upon as a body of knowledge, the certainty of which can
never be guaranteed, and which will constantly be subject to corrigibility and fallibility. It is being admitted that on account of fallibility' of scientific knowledge, while the boundaries of knowledge can be indefinitely expanded in course of time, questions such as those of the origin of the universe, mysteries and wonders of the universe, the paradoxes of the universe as also questions pertaining to the aim of life and those relating to fulfillment of the individual and the collectivity need not be raised, and even if raised, cannot be answered. It is also acknowledged that this conclusion and consequent attitude may be found unsatisfactory, but it is argued that there are no ascertainable faculties other than those of physical senses and those of anthropological rationality by the help of which any higher knowledge can be attained.
Bertrand Russell, speaking on his own behalf as that of like-minded philosophers, stated towards the end of his History of Western Philosophy, "They confess frankly that the human intellect is unable to find conclusive answers to many questions of profound importance to mankind, but they refuse to believe that there is some 'higher' way of knowing by which we can discover truths hidden from science and the intellect."5
D.P. Chattopadhyaya, in his book, Induction, Probability and Scepticism, has stated :
"The real world and the objects in it are not revealed to us all at once. We know them gradually, historically, and can never be cognitively sure of their absolute certainty. The knowing self and the known (and knowable) world are differently interlocked, inter-animated, and interactive, both biologically and epistemologically. In our knowledge of the
world we do not, rather cannot, stand totally apart from it. From the evolutionary point of view what is called survival value is in a way akin to truth value, truth of what our organism is informed of the world around us. Situated in the world, we have to know it. In spite of our ability to transcend our situation, in a limited way, we cannot totally get out of it. It is somewhat like our inability to jump out of our own skins and schemes."6
Science and philosophy of science have thus come to advise us to accept in all humility our limitations in respect of knowledge, in respect of truth and in respect of certainty. But is this the end of the journey? Human aspiration refuses to accept it, and a question is raised : Are there any avenues which we can justifiably pursue, such as those proposed by religion, occultism, rationalistic philosophy and spirituality and persuade science and philosophy of science to join what can become a combined or synthetic quest, not only for the purposes of expanding conquest of the realms of truth but also those of the realization of the highest possible ideals of human welfare, human solidarity and human fulfillment?
Phenomenon of Consciousness: Problem of Science and Spirituality
In an important development in the recent march of science, the phenomenon of consciousness has begun to command increasing attention. As a matter of fact, as far back as the close of 19th century, the great Indian scientist, Jagdish Chandra Bose, had demonstrated the presence of consciousness in plants and even in metals. But, consequent upon the latest developments in Quantum Mechanics, such as Bell's Theorem,7 scientists have begun seriously to inquire into the mystery of consciousness.
Roger Penrose8 has, in his celebrated book Shadows of the Mind: A Search for the Missing Science of Consciousness, attempted to address the question of consciousness from a scientific standpoint. He has strongly contended that an essential ingredient is missing from the contemporary scientific picture. He acknowledges the precision and scope of physical laws but he complains that they contain no hint of any action that cannot be simulated computationally. He points out that there are, however, reasons for believing that there is in them a hidden non-computational action that the functioning of our brains must somehow be taking advantage of. He further argues that questions should be asked as to why the scientists have failed to recognize the fact that a non-computational phenomenon like consciousness should be inherent at least potentially in all material things. According to him, it is quite possible in physics, to have a fundamentally new property completely different from any contemplated hitherto, hidden, in the behaviour of ordinary matter.
David Bohm in his book. Wholeness And The Implicate Order,9 argues that the Quantum Theory presents a serious challenge to the theory of the mechanistic order. He points out that the key features of the Quantum Theory that challenge the mechanistic theory are:
1. Movement is in general discontinuous, in the sense that action is constituted of indivisible quanta (implying also that an electron, for example, can go from one state to another, without passing through any states in between).
2. Entities, such as electrons, can show different properties (e.g., particle-like, wave-like, or something in between), depending on the environmental context within which they exist and are subject to observation.
3. Two entities, such as electrons, which initially combine to form a molecule and then separate, show a peculiar non-local relationship, which can best be described as a non-causal connection of elements that are far apart (as demonstrated in the experiment of Einstein, Podolsky and Rosen).
These three key features of quantum theory, according to Bohm, clearly show the inadequacy of mechanistic notion. Thus, if all actions are in the form of discrete quanta, the interactions between different entities (e.g. electrons) constitute a single structure of indivisible links, so that the entire universe has to be thought of as an unbroken whole. In this whole, each element that we can abstract in thought shows basic properties (wave- like and particle- like, etc.) that depend on its overall environment, in a way that is much more reminiscent of how the organs constituting living beings are related, than it is of how parts of a machine interact.
Bohm discusses the relationship of matter and consciousness on the basis of some common ground and propounds an idea of a new world- view based on the concept of unbroken wholeness. He states:
"To obtain an understanding of the relationship of matter and consciousness has, however, thus far proved to be extremely difficult, and this difficulty has its root in the,very great difference in their basic qualities as they present themselves in our experience. This difference has been expressed with particularly great clarity by Descartes, who described matter as 'extended substance' and consciousness as 'thinking substance'. Evidently, by 'extended substance' Descartes meant something made up of distinct forms existing in space, in an order of extension and separation
basically similar to the one that we have been calling explicate. By using the term 'thinking substance' in such sharp contrast to ''extended substance' he was clearly implying that the various distinct forms appearing in thought do not have their existence in such an order of extension and separation (i.e. some kind of space), but rather in a different order, in which extension and separations have no fundamental significance. The implicate order has just this latter quality, so in a certain sense Descartes was perhaps anticipating that consciousness has to be understood in terms of an order that is closer to the implicate than it is to the explicate."
According to Bohm, matter as a whole can be understood in terms of the notion that the implicate order is the immediate and primary actuality (while the explicate order can be derived as a particular, distinguished case of the implicate order). The question that arises here, he pointed out, is that of whether or not the actual substance of consciousness can be understood in terms of the notion that the implicate order is also its primary and immediate actuality. He contends that if matter and consciousness could be understood in terms of the general notion of order, the way would be opened to comprehending their relationship on the basis of some common grounds. He concludes that in this way one could come to the term of a new notion of unbroken wholeness, in which consciousness is no longer to be fundamentally separated from matter.
Synthesis of Science and Spirituality: Not Yet
With the increasing evidence of the presence of consciousness or of the possibility of presence of consciousness in the physical, we seem to have entered into a new phase of
the development of scientific knowledge and of the philosophy of scientific knowledge. We seem to be arriving at a meeting point of matter and consciousness, of the physical and the supra-physical. But it would be premature to conclude that the identity of matter and consciousness and of the physical and the supra physical has been proved, and that, therefore, we have arrived or that we are soon going to arrive at the synthesis of science and spirituality.
The presence and operation of consciousness in the physical world has been admitted by a number of philosophical systems, and these philosophical systems, even though they contain valuable insights, do not provide as yet any firm ground for the relevant verifiable knowledge. It has been found necessary, in order to know with greater certitude, to follow the curve of evolving consciousness until it arrives at a height and largeness of self-enlightenment in which highest subjective consciousness is discovered to be capable of the generation of objective universe.