Advaita Vision

Advaita for the 21st Century

Science and Knowledge
Chittaranjan Naik

flower pictures
Chittarnajan Naik


Read Chittaranjan's discourse on the A Realist View of Advaita.


The following was re-posted to the Advaitin Egroup Oct. 2005 (originally written for the Nitya Kalyan group).

We have today abolished Vedic education from our universities and have installed in its stead scientific education. But how many of our students would suspect that the foundations of science are really shallow? How many of them would come to know that it is here in India that rationality has been carried to its ultimate limit, going far beyond the juvenile explorations of science, far into deep realms where lie the subtlest distinctions of thought from which it formulates concepts about the world? Most of us would hardly know this because our modern education does not tell us that such things exist. Our educational system does not even bother that the foundation of Western science has never been established with veridical certainty.

Why was it that Immanuel Kant felt compelled to establish the validity of science after David Hume wrote his 'Treatise on Human Understanding'? What was this thing called 'synthetic a priori judgment' that he tried to justify so that science may have a foundation to stand on? Why was it that the Logical Positivists, a group of scientists and philosophers that belonged to the Vienna Circle, tried to establish a set of verifiability criteria for science? And why was it that experiments with the verifiability criteria came to a disastrous end?

Etymologically the word 'science' means 'to know'. Unfortunately, this meaning of the word that is pregnant with an unbounded sense of knowing has undergone a dramatic change as a result of Baconian and Newtonian conceptions of knowledge until we are left with a 'science' that tells us that the love we feel in our hearts is a chemical called testosterone. Today, science has come to mean 'to know in a certain manner', to wit, through narrow channels of paradigmatically bound methods that have appropriated the name of science. The result of this historical constriction in human epistemology is a divide between philosophy and science, between the immediacy of experience and the alien-ness of scientific theories that are constructed to explain the facts of experience.

It is true that the paradigm of science has changed after the advent of Relativity Theory and Quantum Theory, but unfortunately again, it is a change of direction that has forged ahead without attempting to analyse the very conceptions that our intellect uses as the paraphernalia for constructing the edifice of science. The method of science is model-construction, whereas the meaning of the word 'knowledge' points to revelation - to revealing a thing's nature - and not to knowledge as something to be constructed.

I am no opponent of science, but I am saddened by the awe that it evokes today in the minds of people and obstructs the free use of their intellects. Science today has become the opium of not only the masses but also of the scientists. I do not deny that science has something great in it that is truly scientific - the ability to predict phenomena and to construct, through the employment of these predictive models, wonderful artefacts that are put to human use. But there is another respect in which science is nothing but a mere perpetuation of the primordial ignorance that has brought us down from our Divine Home into the prison of saMsAra - the inability to discriminate between sameness and difference.

Socrates, that valiant Athenian, spent his life in stemming the tide of this sophistry, but ironically it is from the very soil of Greece where he lived that the seeds of science sprouted to grow forth in Europe to mask all that was once higher knowledge with that which is lower. For science is built on the very aporia (Sanskrit viparyaya) that has brought about the fall of the soul, and this aporia surfaces in the arena of science as the inability to discriminate between correlates and identities. Science violates the first law of logic - that a thing is identical to itself. Science has thus lost its right to speak about the immediacy of human experience as it unfolds to us truly in the light of pure consciousness - it cannot speak truly, for example, about the moment after sundown when, below the canopy of the night, the moonlight shimmers on the midnight stream like a thousand diamonds dancing to the mystery of the night. Why is there a schism between the panorama of fluid experience and the geometrical nets of scientific theories that we lay over experience, so much so that the romance of experience dries up in the denuded desert of scientific explanation?

There is something the matter with science, this unruly daughter of European philosophy that has made the intellect of man servile to its call. Is science truly knowledge? How can it be so when it has still not recognised the first principle of knowledge - that knowledge is intrinsic and not extrinsic? For, how indeed do we know something if not by the innate stamp of knowledge within us? Without this stamp of truth within us as the measure of things, it would be meaningless to talk of knowledge for there would be nothing within us that would ever fix a thing as being true and free from doubt. True knowledge is unshakable. It is the re-attainment of the stamp of truth in our soul after the soul has journeyed far and wide in its quest for truth and returned home to find that very truth in the nativity of its soul. We must ultimately return to our ancient home for the fulfilment of our quest. But look at what we have done when we had set out over foreign waters. Have we not made the Earth alien to us and constructed theoretical webs of 'knowledge' that we lay out over Her bosom?

All theoretical constructs are nothing more than analogues - they are not what are seen in experience, but what are constructed to explain experience. The cool breeze that flows over the fields, the riot of colours spread out by the twilight sun, the bloom of a thousand flowers in the vale - these are the inviolable truths of nature for they are simply the way they are in the immediacy of experience. When they are seen through the stilled mind, they tell us the one apodictic truth of what She is as She brings Herself forth to our consciousness.

We must learn to be in the solitude of our souls when we experience this world. That alone is the true science if we are to go by the true meaning of the word 'science'. But through this thing we today call 'science' we have become alien to our Mother that has given birth to us and nurtured us through this life. Science has given us a surrogate for this Beautiful Earth. It has waged war against Her who has given us the cool breeze and the fresh grapes from the warmth of Her bosom. No, we do not need science to conquer Her, we need eyes to see that She is us - that She is the blood that flows within our bodies, the air that we breathe, and the thoughts that we think, and even the war that we wage against Her. She is all of everything that is. It is better to be a fool amongst people that are tethered to the pole of science than to be tethered oneself. I had once quoted these words of Rumi here before, and I quote them again, for painfully do they echo in my heart:

Ah, Love, could thou and I with Fate conspire
To grasp this sorry Scheme of Things entire,
Would not we shatter it to bits - and then
Re-mould it nearer to the Heart's Desire!

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Page last updated: 10-Jul-2012