Humanity: Today & Tomorrow|Apr 16, 2014 4:03 AM| by:

Machinery and Logical Intelligence – Part I

nolini das

There is no doubt that the machines, factories and workshops of the modern age have helped us immensely, facilitating our life in many ways; but, at the same time, they have been destroying such a thing in man, the absence of which cannot be replaced by any other thing. Whenever man does any work he takes the help of machines, that is to say, he does not utilise his hands and feet, eyes and ears. At the most, he utilises them only to the extent as is necessary to run the machine. As a consequence, the natural capacities in man’s limbs and sense-organs are not getting much scope to blossom; they are getting withered and they are perishing due to disuse or misuse. Sister Nivedita has said somewhere that as the Europeans use spoons and forks for eating, their fingers suffer from a sort of wooden-stiffness and they seem to lack expression. On the contrary, as the people of India make use of their fingers for eating, they look so lively, as if they were a living expression of an idea caught and expressed artistically at every stage. However poetic these words may sound, it cannot be said convincingly that they do not contain any truth in them.

We find now-a-days that each one of our students inevitably requires an ‘Instrument Box’ – they need either a ‘foot-ruler’ or a ‘set-square’ in order to draw a straight line. They have virtually forgotten how to draw just with hands a perfectly straight line or a neat circle. The clay modeller prepares dolls, the goldsmith makes ornaments, the weaver spins thread and weaves cloth moving so deftly their fingers and observing so keenly with their eyes. The modern craftsman, in contrast, would require so many thermometers, barometers and a host of other apparatus for measurement. But even today we are charmed by the carpentry of a Chinese artisan, whereas the work done by a machine fails to please our eyes. There is no knowing in how many ways the machines have assailed us, overwhelmed us.

After the invention of the printing press, printing and dissemination of books has become enormously convenient for us. In the past we needed so much time and labour to print a book, and now the matter has become so easy, so cheap for us. While previously it was so difficult to procure a single book, we can now collect thousands of books for the asking and those too with a variety of get-ups. The printing type has done a world of good to us, but it has driven out one thing which may or may not be useful materially and outwardly, but was the inner essence of man. There was a science or an art of calligraphy which has been destroyed by the assault of the modern printing machines. Formerly every book used to be regarded not merely as a book but as a collection or an album of pictures. But today we are forced to move at every step with the help of and by the grace of machines. We are unable to move forward without their certification. Bereft of machines, we are a helpless lump of matter — darubhuta murari (God turned into wood).

It is not our purpose here to analyse how the disharmony, the newer forms of injustice, oppression, conflict and strife have emerged in our society or how the health of our people is being wasted or how the moral degradation is taking place as a sequel to the outbreak of machines and factories. We want to look into the matter from a bit deeper perspective and focus on a still profounder menace. The fundamental problem is that the very nature of man is undergoing a change: his mental and moral qualities, his impetus towards action and his exaltation, both inner and outer, are dwindling and their sharpness is gradually waning and becoming more and more hardened and inert resulting in a rigid and restricted movement instead of a playful, unobstructed and spontaneous movement of life. We no longer believe in the truth that sense organs of man possess an innate power, a keen perception and a flawless instinct. We cannot even imagine any more how infallibly the vigilant sense organs move, how effortlessly they can master things. That is why the Vedic seers used to call the sense-organs deities; but, in this ‘enlightened age’, we no longer offer food to the deities, we do not even believe in them. Today the deity is no more, there is only the black geode – because of lack of work, lack of use, our hands and feet have become inactive or as a result of unenlightened action or imprudent use they have become blunt and useless.

But the fact is that machines accelerate production, minimise the overall involvement of labour. Besides, we have realised much the value of time and we need commodities also; hence there is no way out without machines. Whether there exists or not any way out, we can see it clearly that though we are producing heaps of articles in a great hurry we are getting, really speaking, very few beautiful things. Indeed, beauty is a colour of the heart; how shall we find beauty in things which we have not created with all our heart, with the loving touch of our senses? Still, we do not mind whether we get beautiful things or not, but it is the man himself who is the worst victim – his senses, his heart are becoming inane, powerless and helpless.

By slow degrees, we have become so much dependent on machines that we can no longer rely easily on our own physical organs, on our own senses; we always harbour this fear lest we should make a mistake, we grope at every moment for apparatus, we want to rely entirely on them, making ourselves completely subservient to them. But whose powers [vibhuti] and riches are these apparatus, these machines? Who created them in the beginning? These questions never appear in our mind. The senses are not blind, they are not inanimate – they do not go about making mistakes alone. The senses are like the self-poised Self who knows what to do, where and how. If we can pick up courage to liberate our senses in order that they may move unimpeded in their own way, then we will get in no time the proof of the wonderful power that our senses possess. A man is indeed talented only to the extent he has been able to extricate himself from the tyranny of machines and to the extent he has been able to make his own sense organs awakened and strong. No one knows which tools were used to build the Taj Mahal or how many cranes and engines and other things were used to construct a Buddhist monastery, yet, it can be said, without an iota of doubt, that they did not use even one percent of the huge and variegated equipment that the present day engineering knowledge is using to build the Victoria Memorial Hall [Kolkata].

It is true that man is man because he has invented machines, because he knows how to use them; but machines are beneficial so long as they are only instruments. But we find that the machine no longer remains a machine always, it turns out to be a master; coming in close contact with the machine man becomes a part of the machine itself. In this situation, man can no longer wield his wakeful authority, his conscious power to which he is wont; he does not feel that it is he who is creating and controlling things. Though he works, yet it seems as though the work was merely being done by him – he is not moving, he is being moved. He is not the master but only an agent. He ends up losing his sense of uniqueness, freedom and individuality. Man no longer drives the machine, it is the machine who drives man. Even in this modern age, it is in the domain of material science that our Jagadish Chandra has become so much successful; the reason is that he had in him the attitude of a master, not of a machine. The Western scientists were most surprised because his subtle theories were based on such simple and unsophisticated machines. Jagadish Chandra had in him a vigilant and independent sense-perception – it is this that created his instruments and it is this that brought even into his instruments such a simplicity and liveliness.

When we talk about machinery, the very first thing that comes to our mind is the physical science. In fact, machines are, in a way, a creation of the physical science. Along with the development and advancement of the physical science, there has been a spectacular growth and improvement of the machinery too. If we want to show the deficiencies of the machinery, we have to show the deficiencies of the physical science itself. It is the physical science that has shaped the mind in such a manner that the senses’ natural vigour of perception no longer exists and man’s spontaneous and lively power of comprehension dies gradually. How does the physical science exhort man to see the world, on which part does it put more stress, on which faculty does it rely in order to move?

The support of the physical science is the logical faculty, the sceptical intelligence of man. The physical science does not want to come to a conclusion immediately and directly – it collects first a few material facts, that is to say, such facts about the veracity of which the gross senses of each and every human being can give evidence; thereafter, it tries to reach gradually from cause to effect, from a narrower and grosser truth to a greater and subtler truth by comparing these facts with one another, arranging and putting them in order and discriminating one fact from the other. Even the new truth which it uses is tested in two ways: firstly, it discovers the existence of new material facts from this truth, that is to say, the existence of such facts which the individual sense-organs cannot always seize easily and ordinarily; secondly, it makes sure that this new truth does not take a stand diametrically opposite to the simple material facts – rather it gives a sound explanation for their existence and continues to substantiate them at every step. It is this method that is termed as Scientific or Experimental Method, isn’t it?

Now, this method is fraught with two defects. In the first place, our attention remains always confined to the exterior, we put an excessive emphasis on the material part of the thing, on the slough of it. We hold on tightly to the superficial level of the thing, to its solid, fixed and static aspect with the help of a similar mould that the sense organs too possess. In other words, the logical faculty gives the Laws of Solids, or to put it in a more general way, the Laws of Gross Expansion of things – the essence or the gist of the Scientific Method is the Geometric Method. But, is solidity the sole property of a thing, or does the thing extend only in material space? Are there no other properties of a thing or is there no other thing which possesses still more properties of different kinds? If they exist, they cannot be detected through a scientific method.

The second defect of this method is that it cannot move even a step forward without comparison and classification. To test and understand a thing, it first segregates the thing, cuts and clips it, and then it starts comparing it with other things, equally segregated, cut and clipped in the same fashion; at the time of this comparison too, it sees each thing analytically, separating one limb from another, opening and tearing out the layers one after another like what one does while peeling an onion. It cannot get the identity of a thing by the self of the thing, keeping each thing entirely as it is and contemplating only on the thing in question (Patanjali in his Yogasutra has termed this process as Samyama). Hence the ultimate conclusion of the scientific method is the Law of Relativity – to a scientist, the world is nothing but a system of relations. There is no absolute truth in creation, all truths are relative; one truth depends on another, that is to say, a particular truth is considered to be a truth only when another particular truth proves it to be a truth. Again, this last mentioned truth also stands leaning against another truth. Thus the creation has, as though, taken the form of a closed chain. The earth is motionless in relation to the movement of man, but it is in motion in relation to the static position of the sun; the sun again is in motion in relation to the static solar system; the solar system is in motion in relation to the static position of the whole space. In this way, truth is constantly being reversed. The thing which you call a truth or a fact has no absolute substance too, what we call a thing or a fact is but a sum-total of various properties – even these properties are only a manner of observation. Hard or soft, cold or hot, small or big – everything without exception is comparative, the result of looking at the same thing by relating it to different kinds of things.

We have slipped into the domain of philosophy while talking about science. After all, the fundamental principle of science is included in philosophy itself. In philosophy too the logical intelligence has carved a niche for itself – we would rather say that by the very word philosophy we mean the play of the logical intelligence. Science and philosophy go hand in hand. What we call in one place the Scientific or the Experimental Method, in another place we call it the Critical or the Rational Method. What is the Critical or the Rational Method? Its base is doubt; if one wants to attain the truth one must also move relying on this doubt (Descartes). What the ordinary mind accepts easily and directly as truth, the philosophical mind frowns and hesitates there – it asks: what is right, what is truth? Everything has to be viewed sceptically. Mind is a slave of prejudices and the senses perceive wrongly – therefore, one must begin with nothing, one must make one’s mind like a clean slate to begin with, a tabula rasa (Locke). Well, suppose we make our mind empty, but then how do we go about it? With the help of reflection [vichara]. Then, what is reflection? After all, the sense-experiences have to be admitted – all right, then admit them, but for the time being only, as experimentation; see what happens after you admit them and also see in what manner they should be admitted so that consistency is maintained in every way and no self-contradiction comes to surface. Reflection has three steps: admission, denial and synthesis, or, support, opposition and conclusion (Affirmation, Negation, Limitation of Kant and Thesis, Antithesis, Synthesis of Hegel). It is the gradual succession of these three steps that constitutes the Critical or the Rational Method. Now, in philosophy, the result of following this method is that the innate and sure sense of reality in man, or more clearly, the common sense in man disappears. The logical intelligence erects an imaginary world, a system of theories bringing out of itself various deductions like a spider; it gets entangled in theories in its quest for the fundamental principle of creation, while the real creation is neglected and left aside.

When we proceed relying on the logical intelligence alone, we do not find any absolute truth in philosophy too as in science. We lose as if the very yardstick of truth which we hold as something real, immutable and eternal. Just as in science we visualise our world as a System of Relations, so in philosophy too we consider the truth as a System of Consistencies. Truth is that in which there is consistency, and as long as there is consistency there is truth – where there is no inconsistency, either inner or outer, there lies the ultimate truth. The reason is that, by logical intelligence we do not find anything as absolute – everything is phenomenal according to the logical intelli­gence. The world is only a cumulation of experiences. Reality or Noumena is unknown and unknowable to this faculty. The Buddhist philosophy is the culmination of the logical intelligence: it is silent about soul or God or the existence of an eternal Self in creation. Not only is it silent but it does not believe in them as well – it is concerned only with the ‘cycle of karma’, with the ‘collection of momentary cognitions’.

In the West, the master of ‘Critical’ Philosophy, Emmanuel Kant, too has shown that the veracity and the existence of soul, God and the original Nature cannot be proved by Pure Reason; he intended to establish these things with the help of another faculty called Practical Reason. Even our Rishis of the past never wanted to treat doubt as the basis of knowledge. According to them, knowledge, true knowledge begins with sraddha [faith] – sraddhavan labhatejnanam (he who has faith attains knowledge). They also said clearly that the Absolute, the Self, the Truth cannot be attained with the help of reflection – naisa tarkena matirapaniya (This wisdom is not to be had by reasoning); That can be seized by That alone, and not by any other means – Yamevaisa vrnute tena labhya Tasyaisa atma vrnute tanum svam. (Only he whom this Being chooses can win Him; for to him this Self bares His body.)

We shall try to clarify our subject of discussion citing two domains of knowledge where this Critical or Experimental Method is being applied today in a great measure. Let us take history first – especially archaeology, which is related to it. What is the ‘scientific’ method of recovering ancient history? The first and foremost requirement is that the mind should be made free from all sorts of prejudices, anticipations, predilections, from all propensities towards all directions – the mind must be vacant (a tabula rasa, of which we have already spoken). The next requirement is to collect data without harbouring any likes or dislikes; whatever signs or tokens relating to the happenings and state of affairs concerning the period of history in question are traceable, have to be searched out and assembled — be it a legend, a piece of literature, a ballad, a document, a deed of gift, a coin, royal inscriptions, a handicraft or a piece of art — they have to be gathered as far as possible from all possible sources. Thereafter, they have to be compared, checked and after selection, arranged and placed in order; thus a complete picture has to be derived from them. In other words, the scientific problem of history is this: is it possible to reconstruct a complete creature out of a few pieces of bones that have been discovered, and if possible, what would it be like? Now, if we say that everything hinges on the sleight of hand, then shall we be too much at fault? At least, this can be said without any hesitation that the scientific method merely gives us a few theories and it may also at its best indicate which one of these theories is more consistent but seldom can it say anything definite about what is pure truth or whether the pure truth is a thing totally different or not. The uncouth wrestle amongst the historians is a clear proof of it. As a consequence, the scientists are reluctant to pay attention to the two defects that lie at the very root of the scientific method, knowing fully well that they cannot be avoided by any means. First of all, it is impossible to collect all the data, yet a decision is taken relying on a few of them. Secondly, the personal equation factor also is there. The mind of the scientist, that is, the mind of man cannot remain vacant – the moment you get the data or begin to put them in order, even the moment you make up your mind to do it, then and there or even before, a rough idea, a formation, be it distinct or indistinct, develops in your mind. Realising very well how difficult it is to get at the pure truth in this manner, Renan, the great thinker and scholar, at the fag end of his mortal days, somewhat frustrated, observed with a sigh: ‘our poor little conjectural sciences!’

                                                                                                                                                                          (To be continued…)

– Nolini Kanta Gupta

(Nolini Kanta Gupta was a revolutionary, linguist, scholar, critic, poet, philosopher and a man of deep spiritual realisation. Author of nearly 60 books he was a Trustee of Sri Aurobindo Ashram.)