Since the earliest days, whenever a human being has perceived a real threat on his life (be it a tiger or a gun facing him), he has taken it seriously, without any doubt. Surprisingly, the same human being who ‘perceived’ the sun ‘moving’ around the earth with the same sensory apparatus had at some time in history, an element of ‘doubt’. It is the faculty of doubting that led him to look behind appearances. He had to employ his rational discrimination so that his senses could be invested with ‘correct’, ‘error-free’ values.
The hard question is how did that element of doubt creep into his system, leading to a ‘synthetic reinterpretation’ and ‘revaluation’ of his perceptual information? Was it instinct? Was it some sort of intuition?
It may be argued that ‘Reason’ itself supplied that doubt. Of course, it is the function of Reason to argue and doubt. That is how man has been able to rise above superstitions, dogmas, and stereotypes. But by the time Reason had developed to an optimal level as a universal faculty, man was already flooded with a multitude of perceptual inputs. Reason therefore needed some ‘guidance’ to ‘select’ those perceptions that required ‘correction’ or ‘revaluation’. This ‘guidance’ must have been ‘instinctive’ or ‘intuitive’. To understand this phenomenon, we need to appreciate the metapsychology of Reason.
The Metapsychology of Reason
In Chapter V11 of The life Divine, Sri Aurobindo deals with the metapsychology of Reason. Reason is supposed to be a faculty that is logical, unbiased, error-free and engaged in the disinterested pursuit of ‘Truth’. But who decides what ‘Truth’ is? Who decides what Falsehood is? Or else who decides what is a ‘greater’ truth or a ‘lesser’ truth? Why do we prefer ‘honesty’ to ‘dishonesty’, ‘life’ over ‘homicide’, and ‘peace’ over ‘discord’? If Reason has to choose, how does it arrive at an error-free choice? If Reason is unbiased and disinterested, how can it vouchsafe for certain values, declaring them to be positive and impose it on our being?
The interesting thing is that certain objectives are equally valid to the spiritual aspirant as well as to the atheist – both would reject dishonesty, discord, disease, death – both would vouchsafe for honesty, peace, health and life! There is unanimity in whatever is considered ‘positive’ to life
This means that the human being’s concept of whatever is positive already pre-exists somewhere in consciousness. Sri Aurobindo describes that there is a POSITIVE, PRE-EXISTENT TRUTH (The Life Divine, pg. 63). Reason moves towards this Truth by elimination of error, progressing through the dualities of ‘right’ knowledge and ‘wrong’ knowledge
(‘right’ knowledge is that which moves towards the unitary principle, while ‘wrong’ knowledge is that which is ‘exclusive’ but unable to shift from the multiplicity to the unitary poise of Reality). Thus, at every moment Reason has to make a ‘conscious’ choice to move towards ‘Truth’.
This indicates that “in the principle of reason itself there
is the assertion of a Transcendence.” (Ibid)
Problems of Reason
(a) The metapsychological perspective has to deal with two problems of Reason: Despite
the element of Transcendence that exists in Reason and leads man
to ‘positive’ constructs of Truth, Reason also succumbs to the
stark practical reality that contradicts man’s highest ideals.
Man’s idea of Truth is “an absolute of all that is positive to
his own concepts and desirable to its own instinctive aspiration
- Knowledge without its negative shadow of error, Bliss without
its negation in experience of suffering, Power without its
denial by incapacity, purity and plenitude of being without the
opposite sense of defect and limitation” (Ibid). But the
practical reality is just the opposite of what our highest
ideals envisage. The world as we perceive appears to be the
denial or contradiction of our absolutist ideals. Therefore,
Reason has to constantly make a compromise, opting for “a
conditioned, limited and precarious knowledge, happiness, power
and good” (Ibid).
(b) Reason works through doubts and inhibitions and lacks the spontaneous, uninhibited quality possessed by non-rational faculties like ‘emotion’. It is as if Reason lacks the ‘instinctive certitude’ that ‘emotion’ possesses. Sri Aurobindo explains that this happens because emotions like ‘happiness’ have an implicit, in-built element of ‘Faith’. “If our reason has not the same instinctive certitude with regard to the other aspirations of humanity, it is because it lacks the same essential illumination inherent in its own positive activity. We can just conceive of a positive or absolute realisation of happiness, because the heart to which that instinct for happiness belongs has its own form of certitude, is capable of faith and because our minds can envisage the elimination of unsatisfied want which is the apparent cause of suffering.” (Ibid, pg 63-64). Reason not only lacks faith but is countered, contradicted and challenged by faith.
Man cannot remain satisfied unless what presents to ‘Reason’ as ‘instinctive aspirations’ are turned into ‘realisable potentialities’. This is difficult to achieve as
“The error of the practical reason is an excessive subjection to the apparent fact which it can immediately feel as real and an insufficient courage in carrying profounder facts of potentiality to their logical conclusion” (Ibid, pg. 64). One could cite a common experience. We know very well how difficult it is to eliminate pain and death. Yet we cannot deny the fact that “the rejection of pain is a sovereign instinct of the sensations, the rejection of death a dominant claim inherent in the essence of our vitality” (Ibid). Indeed we have been trying to eliminate negative phenomena like pain and postpone death as far as possible. We have been trying to detect and minimize the causes of error, falsehood, ignorance and suffering. To the last moment we do not want to lose hope for a moribund subject. We try to keep a comatose subject in the life-support system as far as possible. We try to explore our ‘present potentiality’ to the maximum extent so as to move inch by inch towards our ‘constructs’ of truth. We do not call a full stop to research; we do not call for a halt to our endeavor for progress beyond our present capacities.
Sri Aurobindo is optimistic and points out that
“present potentiality is a clue to future realization” (Ibid). He is confident that the scope of the present levels of human experience (viz. sensory perception and reason) can be extended for ‘conceptualising’ and ‘willing’ an
anterior potentiality. This can only be possible by an expansion of the faculties of knowledge. That expansion necessitates a surpassing of Reason and harnessing hereto-untapped ‘suprarational’ faculties. These suprarational faculties have been sporadically available to exceptional individuals scattered in space and time. But Sri Aurobindo previsions their emergence as a more generalized, universal experience. He works out this concept in The Life Divine.
Not by Reason…
For not by Reason was creation made
And not by Reason can the Truth be seen
Which through the veils of thought, the screens of sense
Hardly the spirit’s vision can descry
Dimmed by the imperfection of its means:
The little Mind is tied to little things:
Its sense is but the spirit’s outward touch,
Half-waked in a world of dark Inconscience;
It feels out for its beings and its forms
Like one left fumbling in the ignorant Night.
In this small mould of infant mind and sense
Desire is a child-heart’s cry crying for bliss,
Our reason only a toys’ artificer,
A rule-maker in a strange stumbling game.
But she her dwarf aides knew whose confident sight
A bounded prospect took for the far goal.
The world she has made is an interim report
Of a traveller towards the half-found truth in things
Moving twixt nescience and nescience.
For nothing is known while aught remains concealed;
The Truth is known only when all is seen.
Attracted by the All that is the One,
She yearns towards a higher light than hers……
Our ignorance is Wisdom’s chrysalis,
Our error weds new knowledge on its way…….
Even now great thoughts are here that walk alone:
Armed they have come with the infallible word
In an investiture of intuitive light
That is a sanction from the eyes of God;
Announcers of a distant Truth they flame
Arriving from the rim of eternity.
A fire shall come out of the infinitudes,
A greater Gnosis shall regard the world
Crossing out of some far omniscience
On lustrous seas from the still rapt Alone
To illumine the deep heart of self and things.
A timeless knowledge it shall bring to Mind,
Its aim to life, to Ignorance its close.
(Sri Aurobindo, Savitri, pg. 256-258)
Date of Update:
- By Dr. Soumitra Basu