Science & Spirituality|Jun 11, 2008 9:33 AM| by:

Search and Research (II)

The Qualitative Dimension

A new or rather a double line of approach is therefore needed in our search and research. It is research into the qualitative, subjective and experiential dimension of life. It is research into what is not measurable but definable, not quantifiable but cognisable, since large sections of humanity have experienced and continue to experience it, cutting across boundaries of time and space. It is to probe into the inner being of man to find what sleeps there unseen to others and sometimes even to him. This is not easy, true, but should the effort not still be made? It is risky since we tread a slippery, undefined and an unlimited territory, but should we give up the search? It was man’s irresistible urge to probe the real and not so real, concrete and yet ethereal, ‘undefined and unlimited’ sky and its horizons which gave birth to the modern space age. Who knows what marvels await us when we explore the inner spaces with an equal zeal and enthusiasm? But here we face another difficulty, how are we to study what seems so unreal to the ordinary intellect of man and his sense-bound physical mind which is so limited to the surface view of things?

A twofold approach is proposed. Firstly, there already exists a large body of unclaimed data, especially in India, in the written and oral records of the many saints and sages starting from the Vedic tradition. There is a whole body of knowledge which is being lost due to general neglect by the political and administrative machinery. While there is massive funding for quantitative research, there is very little, perhaps not even a trickle, for research in this area. The whole thing is left in the hands of ill-equipped religious bodies which do little more than reprint the ancient scriptures with a better sheen on good quality paper. Some have gone a little further, especially in some of the spiritual movements that the century has witnessed. But here too, barring one or two exceptions, the interpretations are largely traditional and therefore unable to connect with the needs of our present times. Human life has become increasingly complex under the pressure of the progressive mind. While on one side this complexity has created new and unique problems, on the other it has enriched the repertoire of human experience and thereby opened doors to new possibilities. The demand and need of our times is not a blind ceremonial worship of these great texts in the hallowed name of this or that tradition but their ability to answer questions relevant to our times. For thus alone, this great body of knowledge can become a living tool for today, a tool to help quench man’s insatiable thirst for truth, a tool to orient his life towards the light and the right, a tool to direct the fire of aspiration for earthly perfection, a tool to put the derailed engines of modern life back on the right track. The Vedas have to be rescued not only as sacred palm leaf manuscripts (that indeed is necessary), but even more as a divine document written in the human heart and soul, as a textbook of inner practical psychology, initiating us into an intensely fascinating journey of inner mysteries. In other words, instead of treating these books as books of philosophy containing some abstract intellectual conceptions or as orthodox treatise emphasising moral do’s and don’ts that uphold age-old social customs, we have to take a fresh look at them as books of the deepest psychology, carrying profound insights and experiences into the hidden aspects of human nature. A philosophical rendering of these books confines them to the domain of art and philosophy, a ritualistic interpretation relegates them to orthodox religion, but a psychological understanding culled from these marvellous works brings them immediately into the domain of science. State-supported and state-funded research is badly needed in this area, which would include drawing relevant experiential data and integrating it with a deeper understanding of human psychology. This is one line of research. It is akin to a search into the discoveries made by the past, a search into the methods of knowledge used in the past, a search into the retrievable priceless gems of the past.

The Need of an Indian Perspective

Recent research in the West has however not paid much attention in this direction. The reasons are obvious enough. The Western world has explored life through its analytical mind and a reductionist method that isolates an object and studies it. While this provides detailed information about the object itself, it fails to tell us its relation and place in the totality. Also, Western science has presumed that matter is the sole reality and sense observation the only means to probe it. It has little intrinsic faith in other levels of reality and other means of approaching it. As a result, it has a general tendency to ignore the subtler spiritual realms and energies and feels at a loss when confronted by them. Hypnotised as we are by the outer glitz and glamour of polished shoes and ironed trousers, we accept being cheated and forget our strength which lies in the domain of the spiritual. This brings us to another important reason: crass commercialism and the disease of utilitarianism.

There has to be another research which challenges this paradigm, explores beyond the boundaries of the physical, tests the limits of ‘laws’, probes into the secret spaces of the soul, enters the heart of the inner silence and makes it speak. It would mean accumulating data on the varieties of subjective experiences that open their doors to man. The Vedas are indeed precisely that, — a source record of the profoundest self-experience received in another state of consciousness. If we record all the possible varieties and states of consciousness (or for sake of convenience, let us take the various subjective states of consciousness that humanity has experienced and still continues to experience), we may be able to arrange these in a hierarchical manner. Right now there is much confusion and misunderstanding about the inner being of man. So much so, that we still make a jumble between the superconscious and subconscious, between the mystic and the psychotic. An understanding of these various states will give us a deeper understanding of human nature and unravel the knots of our complex and intricate psychological frame-work. Studies of this kind can easily be taken up along lines of qualitative research, which have already broken fresh ground in this area. According to this type of research, we need not deal only with quantifiable data. Much that is truly precious to us and marks us as human, i.e. peace, love, kindness, courage, love, bliss, beauty, faith, devotion, etc. is non-quantifiable. Yet all these immeasurables are true and real in the human consciousness in so many hues and shades. Simultaneously, one can observe if these subjective states are associated with a particular internal or external event. Thus, to take a commonplace example, a feeling of sadness may be linked to the loss of something held dear to the ego or its association or to an external loss. Similarly, a state of peace, strength and wisdom appear following meditation or consecrated action or prayer, states of joy and gladness come forward following selfless works, etc. There exists a kind of natural affinity or correlation between our thoughts and emotions, between our attitudes and quality of action, between action and the state of consciousness that we experience within us. This kind of probe will give us a fair idea of the path of human ascension and open doors to another kind of research.

A third line of research can be pursued in the direction where the subjective and objective meet. That is to say, we need to study the effect of our internal subjective states on external events and processes. For example, we can experiment to see how our thoughts and feelings, hopes and prayers, faith and despair, affect the healing process. Or at a still higher level, we can observe how ‘peace’ affects the elemental forces of physical nature, of our body functions, etc. This, if thoroughly pursued right to the end will be a conquest of power in the deepest sense. For all knowledge and power essentially belong to the ‘Self’. It is only in our surface egoistic consciousness that they appear divided and limited. And because we experience only a small narrow fragment of the greater Self, we are constantly conditioned by a narrow self-regard and limited world-view. This constant sense of limitation is almost like a self-hypnosis, which persists through millennia of habit and is reinforced by all our sciences with their evidence of facts and figures. The result is a constant limitation of power and bliss.

However, since there is in all of us, a vague background memory of some long-forgotten great Self, a Self of absolute truth, absolute consciousness, absolute power and absolute bliss, we are constantly searching for that in this or that object and try to rediscover it, though vainly, by uniting the fragmentary pieces of existence. This method cannot lead us to the one great Self, since that is not defined by a sum of the parts, although the parts derive from it. Even losing itself in each atom, it is ever the same. Paradoxically, science itself is perplexed at this paradox which it is beginning to glimpse. Thus, one clearly observes the workings of a perfect consciousness in the atom and the stars, in the simple cell and complex organism, in the honeycomb and the flower, indeed every-where in the cosmos. The whole universe speaks of this ‘great wonder’, if we care to listen. But present-day models of research have increasingly robbed us of this wonder and replaced the living body of light, love and force with a hard and cold material universe. Looking through the obscure lens of a physical eye, science is so hypnotised by the stone that it fails to perceive the godhead asleep in it. And since it fails to perceive, therefore it fails to awaken, inspire or realise.

The Statistical Fallacy

It is also important to discuss here a little about the means of knowledge we have adopted over the last few centuries. The beginnings of knowledge, according to our current approach, were through the information received by the senses. This information may not necessarily be true, as science itself has discovered. Science tries to circumvent this difficulty in the following ways. It tries to augment the power of the senses by devising instruments that can register a greater range of phenomena than our eyes or ears can record or transmit. It tries to validate the preliminary observation not so much through reason (since reason depends upon the premises we take) as through a complex system of mathematics. In the field of medicine, for instance, it resorts to the statistical method, to prove or disprove a hypothesis. The idea is that for an event to be true, let’s say a certain new diagnostic method or a drug’s efficacy, it must be statistically significant when compared to the possibility of it being there simply due to chance. Now this is very strange logic. For it means that we ignore other factors involved in knowledge and action. These other factors have been clubbed together under the general rubric of ‘chance’ or explained away by other careful terms such as the ‘placebo effect’. What it amounts to is simply that there are factors which we do not know. People can know things without the usual sense observation or diseases can be healed without medicines through some hitherto unknown mechanism of Nature. But this ignorance is seldom admitted. It is rather carefully covered under the dubious term of ‘chance’, which like its metaphysical counterpart of ‘fate’, remains as much a mystery. But a sincere look reveals that chance is simply another expression for ‘I don’t know’. Yet these unknown factors may carry the key to deeper things, but we find nothing there since we are looking at a small aspect of the total phenomenon; maybe only at the end-point of a long chain of cause and effect!

If we take a step further, we might question whether, even if we were to find a fact repeated a hundred times out of a hundred, is it really true? Or rather, does it become true because it is repeatedly happening? Let’s take an example. Gymnasts can learn to do near-magic with their bodies. Are then the limits of physiology set by the normal average man the truth? We could extend it to many other areas. Let’s take for instance the use (or rather abuse) of medicines and many other procedures. Now people did get well before this medical revolution (the fact that humanity has survived robustly is proof enough!). People get well now too and we give the credit to drugs since the statistics say or prove so. But could it simply be a habitual association in the mind developed over decades of scientific brainwashing that medicines and sophisticated doctors cure us? Could it simply be a faith in the doctors and his pills (as indeed some studies seem to indicate)? After all, each decade had its magic pill that worked well and stopped working so well when another was introduced in the market. Was it the medicine or a collective faith that helped the body recover? Especially when this faith was supported by strong advertising and a ‘knowledgeable’ doctor whom we unquestioningly trust! We can go even further. Is illness simply a habit of the body to respond in a certain way to the challenges imposed upon it? Can this habit be undone by teaching the cells to respond in another way? Is illness a maladaptive response that can be corrected by training and educating the body through a mind-body programme for a more correct response? Yes, but prove it statistically. Now here’s the catch. The body’s faith in natural healing has been destroyed over centuries or at least decades, so it is quite possible that the method may not work in many. And the reason may very simply be an inability of the body to get rid of a false habit that it has systematically and scientifically acquired. For the body takes time to learn and equally a long time to unlearn and re-learn. So even if another method of cure is truer, it may not statistically show up till a few decades pass during which time some men keep trying it and succeed; even if they are not statistically significant and even a minority! And who knows, we may one day discover at the end of our long search and research that it was not the method, pill or system, but simply our faith in it, the body’s faith, the collective faith of humanity that cured and worked the miracle?

We are like men in a box, or let’s say a little more generously, men in a room who are keenly studying and observing all that we are able to observe within that room. We carefully note down our observations, find out the associations in terms of time and space and deduce a hypothesis of causality. The associations recur and we conclude that our hypothesis is correct. So too, men of old hypothesised about the universe before they entered Space! But once they got out of that big box called the earth, they discovered to their amazement that it was moving at a tremendous speed amidst appalling immensities. The classical laws still worked within their limits but failed when they were applied to space. It was as if two parallel laws simultaneously existed, each true in its own place! A similar situation is increasingly encountered in the realm of medicine, or shall we say, the complex bio-psycho-social organism called man. Medicines cure an illness but we also find reports of cure by other means, especially through mental intervention. The two truths do not cancel each other but rather complement. One applies so long as we look within the box of the body. The other applies the moment we recognise and enter into mind space! But there are spaces and spaces — the mind space, the life space, the soul space and so on and so forth, each with its own laws and properties! As our world and vision expands, we also find the ground below our feet changing and new hypotheses replacing old ones to explain better and control better.

In the end, we may well find that what we call laws are only recurrent patterns and habits of Nature, that laws can be changed depending upon where we station ourselves: as the observer, witness or initiator of action. Maybe our statistically proven theories are simply self-fulfilling prophesies. Perhaps imagination is sometimes closer to the truth and even has the power to change things as it can step out of the fixed groove of thought and explore and enter unknown territories. Indeed Nature does not formulate laws but evolves patterns, patterns of energy weaving the texture of matter, patterns of interrelation between matter and life-force that we call living beings, patterns of thoughts and feelings that form our so-called personality, to which we are so tenaciously attached and which appear our permanent and prized property! Yet all this can change, since they are not ineluctable laws. Even death and disease are not laws but simply habits of Nature that have evolved to serve a particular purpose; they are one type of response that matter or rather living matter gives to certain challenges. But it can give another response too, if it so wills. The biggest statistical fallacy is that it tells us what is, but gives us absolutely no clue about what can be. Rather by proving the obvious pattern, it strengthens the hold of this pattern upon the mind. The anomalous which it discards as improbable may be the real clue to man’s future possibilities. Statistics only read present or perhaps past patterns, but if we take them as the sole truth, we remain ever at the mercy of Nature and its laws. The people who have truly helped humanity are those that have gone beyond laws, challenged and changed them. This can be the goal and method of a new science, the science of the future.

(to be continued)


Tags: ,