What is Science? Part 4: Everything’s All Mixed Up

Emulsions courtesy of Orbiting Frog

Emulsions courtesy of Orbiting Frog

Summary: This is part 4 of a 10 part essay that suggests we can think of science as a weak form of samadhi. In Part 4, we roll up our sleeves and start getting technical and discuss the yogic theory of knowledge that underlies what occurs in samadhi.

Knowledge and Power…Again

The crucial aspect shared in common between the claims of yogic samadhi, and the tangible results of science is that knowledge equates to power.  Knowledge is not a bunch of empty meanings, but meanings that allow us to cause things to happen. When knowledge, scientific or otherwise, does not allow us to cause things to happen, then, I would suggest, it is not science at all.  It is poetry; more or less beautiful, perhaps, but poetry nonetheless.

When we consider the different views of science outlined in Part 1, they all treat the knowledge aspect of science, but do not focus on the power aspect.  The demarcation problem involves not only the idea of objective knowledge.  What the concept of “objective knowledge” implies is the ability to cause changes in nature, to exert power in nature.  The power aspect is just as important as the knowledge aspect.  Any attempt to define science that neglects the power aspect is incomplete. Whatever science is, it is as much power as it is knowledge.

Let us consider the general process underlying the release of this power. Whether we consider the history of our understanding of gravity, heat, light, or biology, we see people concentrating their minds to understand.  What causes the mind to become concentrated? A person’s will is what concentrates the mind.  Something drives and motivates a person to concentrate on a particular topic.   Then, as is accounted in the philosophy of science, the discovery process begins.  Discovery has been recognized to be haphazard and unpredictable.  Through trial and error, the efforts of thousands of people over historical time slowly peel back the dross, the false understandings, associated with a given phenomenon, and reveal the truth. Accompanying the truth is the ability to manipulate reality, which is to say, power is released.

A very similar thing happens in samadhi, only to a much higher degree because the concentration involved is so much greater.

The Core of the Seed

To understand what happens in samadhi, we must introduce some of the technical vocabulary of yoga.  Our word “truth” is synonymous with the Hindu word “svarupa”.  “Sva” means “within itself” or “self-contained”.  “Rupa” means “body” or “form”.  So, svarupa is the form of the truth of the thing within itself. More than a thousand years after Hindu’s began using the term “svarupa”, Kant presented the concept of “das Ding an sich”, “the Thing as such”, or the “thing in itself”.

Kant’s idea of the “thing in itself” and its attendant philosophical implications is the closest we in the West have come to the notion of svarupa.  Svarupa is the (theoretically) perfect understanding of a phenomenon.  Kant deduced this understanding was inaccessible to the human mind. He was only half right.  Such understanding is inaccessible to the human mind when it is in a state of vikshepa.  However, Kant did not know yoga. Part of what happens in samadhi is the yogi becomes one with the svarupa of the object of mediation and comes to understand the thing in itself.

The other aspect of perfect knowledge obtained in samadhi is called “artha”.  Artha is the technical yogic term to describe the result of the fusion of the observer and the observed.  Artha, as used in yoga, translates to the “real essence” of a phenomenon.  Generally in Sanskrit, “artha” means “goal” or “means” (as in means to an end).   Upon achieving samadhi on the object of meditation, it is said that the “artha”, the “power” of the object is released within consciousness.

Sometimes artha is equated with the core of a seed.  It is the core of the seed, and not the outer coatings, which contains the essence of the seed.  The outer coating is just a protective, and often nutritive, layer to protect the important stuff, the essence, at the core of the seed.  We now know the genetic material is in the core, and the genetic material indeed has power.  It has the power to make a new plant when circumstances allow.

Going Deeper Into Yoga

In Part 3 we introduced the intimate link between knowledge and power.  Science manifests this through a combination of empirical and mental means.  In yoga, it is found through purely mental means.  By concentrating the mind to an extreme degree on the object of meditation, the fusion of observer and observed occurs, and accompanying this is release of artha and the revealing of the svarupa of the object of mediation.

The truly fantastic claim of yoga is that it is possible to discover the truth, the artha, of a phenomenon, by performing samadhi on it.  The process involved is technical, complicated, and involves a level of effort unknown to people who do not practice yoga

Nonetheless, yoga is a systematic discipline and has an exact theory of how this process occurs.  The main text book of yoga is Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras.  The process by which artha is released in samadhi is described in aphorisms 1.42 and 1.43.  The following transliterations are from I.K. Taimni’s The Science of Yoga, a commentary on the Yoga Sutras:



The translations are:

“1.42: Savitarka Samadhi is that in which knowledge based only on words, real Knowledge, and ordinary knowledge based on sense perception or reasoning are present in a mixed state and the mind alternates between them.”

“1.43:  On the clarification of memory, when the mind loses its essential nature (subjectivity), as it were, and the real knowledge of the object alone shines (through the mind) Nirvitarka Samadhi is attained.”

Aphorism 1.42 contains the meat and potatoes of the process, whereas 1.43 explains the expected result of successful samadhi and will be discussed in Part 5.  Here we discuss 1.42, which provides a theory of the nature of knowledge.  It claims there are three types of knowledge that, under ordinary circumstances, are indelibly mixed in the human mind.  These three types of knowledge are listed in 1.42 as (the quotes are definitions from Taimni):

  1. Sabda – “…refers to knowledge which is based only on words and is not connected in any way with the object which is being considered”. Sabda means “sound” and refers to the arbitrary words and symbols we use to denote the objects of our experience.
  2. Jnana – “…refers to the ordinary knowledge based on the perception of the sense-organs and the reasoning of the mind.” This is empirical knowledge.
  3. Artha – “…refers to the true knowledge about the object or its real meaning which the Yogi wants.”  This is Kant’s “thing in itself”, and, as you see, is described by the word that translates as “power”: artha.

Let’s quote Taimni a little more because his description is perfectly lucid:

“The condition of not being able to distinguish clearly between these three kinds of knowledge with the result that the mind hovers between them is sought to be conveyed by the word Vikalpaih. This is inevitable as long as the three kinds of knowledge have not separated out, as it were, in three separate layers but are present in a state of mixture or con-fusion which is indicated by the word Samkirna. It will perhaps help the student to understand this progressive resolution of the three kinds of knowledge if we illustrate the process diagrammatically as follows:”

q3Figure 6 from Taimni’s The Science of Yoga.

He explains this diagram as follows:

“It will be seen that while in the first step knowledge based on Sabda only covers the other two, the progressive resolution results in the last step in the complete separation of the three. Students of Science will also find the analogy of an emulsion helpful in understanding this progressive resolution and separation into two separate and distinct constituents. If two immiscible liquids are shaken together vigorously it is possible to prepare an emulsion in which both appear to be present in a homogeneous condition though they really remain separate. But if the emulsion is allowed to stand for some time the two liquids will gradually separate out into two separate layers. This analogy is especially apt because it is the absence of agitation which leads to the separation of the two layers just as in Savitarka Samadhi it is really the extreme tranquillization of the mind which brings about the separation of the different kinds of knowledge.”

An important idea is in play here that has not yet been explicitly stated about yoga.  Meditation involves relaxing the mind to an extreme degree.  In the West, meditation is associated with a casual type of relaxation, but real yoga consists in the complex technical discipline to train the mind to not move at all.  The very definition of yoga is: “yogah chitta vritti nirodhah”.  This means “yoga is the silencing of the modifications of the mind”.  Therefore, as Taimni rightly points out, this extreme state of mental silencing results in the object of mediation undergoing a process that is analogous to the separation of an emulsion into its constituent immiscible parts.

Yogic Knowledge Theory and Science

While there are many theories of knowledge, the yogic theory described above is operational. Scientists of all stripes should be able to appreciate the value of operational ideas.  The above concepts derive from the experience of yogis in altered states of consciousness.  It is therefore not merely an intellectual exercise, but is the information required to understand and comprehend what advanced yogis experience in meditative states.

The knowledge and ideas in our normal waking mind, what Taimni calls vikalpa, underlies the distracted state of vikshepa.  In our everyday life, we see the world in this confused, compound state where sabda, jnana and artha are mixed up in what appears to be a homogeneous state of mentation.  In the West, we do not even realize that our mental states have this form.

Understanding the three tiered yogic theory of knowledge helps us better understand what science is trying to accomplish. Science is about separating sabda from jnana.   This is why the (good) scientists are so adamant to eliminate the observer and subjectivity from the picture.  The arbitrary subjectivity is sabda; words, symbols and concepts we use to describe things that do not have any substantial link to the thing itself.

For example, we see the Sun in the sky.  The Sun is really there, it is really an objective event in our perception.  But then there are all kinds of surrounding ideas related to us and not to the Sun itself.  We call it “Sun”, which is our word, not its real name. Past cultures had all kinds of myths about the Sun God.  These are all words and sounds, sabda, unrelated to the Sun as a thing in itself.  Science tries to separate out the sabda aspect and this is why science wants to eliminate the observer from its descriptions of nature.  It is trying to isolate the essence of the phenomenon, independent of all the subjective aspects included in sabda.

However, it is not even that sabda means subjective.  The sabda components of knowledge are arbitrary and do not relate to the perceived object. Science is confused by not clearly distinguishing “arbitrary” from “subjective”.  Again, all awareness occurs in the mind, so all awareness is, in this sense, subjective.  It’s just that some subjectivity is better than other subjectivity.

In addition, there is further confusion in science because, the West in general, does not distinguish jnana from artha. We feel the Sun’s heat and see its light, its size, its distance from us.  Color, heat, shape, distance, etc. are consequences of our nervous system; are the means by which our nervous system distinguishes the Sun from other objects of perception.  Does color and heat as we experience it exist outside of our minds? Is the Sun really yellow-orange or is that just how our mind pieces together the actions of the nervous system?  Certainly the Sun gives off radiation, the frequencies of which our nervous system codes as color. The radiation has force, which our nervous system codes as heat and warmth.  But when we feel warmth from the Sun, or see its yellow color, this is a product of our nervous system.

The level of understanding of empirical and relational characteristics is jnana.  From a science perspective, what we call the “Sun” is the bundle of our sensory perceptions and associated ideas that give meaning to those sensory perceptions.  Science operates at the level of jnana because it is primarily concerned with the empirical.  Empirical is that which is presented to the mind by the senses.

Do scientists try to understand the deep essence of the Sun?  In a way they do, but the efforts are not systematic, and not thought of as such.  Via the theory of nuclear reactions, we know something about what occurs in the Sun’s interior, about events that are outside of our sensory experience altogether.  We understand nuclear chemistry and mimic it here on the Earth, and certainly, as pointed out elsewhere, artha, power, is released.  But these efforts are haphazard.  There is no operational framework in any of the Western sciences that clearly separates jnana from artha.  Hence, things like the collapse of the wave packet cause endless confusion.

There are much deeper aspects to artha.  If science was interested in knowing the artha of the Sun, it would know the Sun’s real name.  It would understand the Sun, not as a statistical example of one sun among a myriad of stars, not as a sensory entity at all.  It would understand the Sun as the unique being it is in the overall scheme of things. It would know the spirit of the Sun.  Such understanding is implied in the artha of the any object, a concept we elaborate in future parts of this essay.

Wrap Up

To wrap up for now, the yogic theory of knowledge gives us three categories of understanding:

Sabda is the purely arbitrary aspect of language and symbols, where the symbols used to designate a phenomenon have nothing at all to do with the essential nature (the artha) of the phenomenon.  This is the realm of post-modern analysis of linguistics.  There is value in discerning hidden implications in words, and this level of understanding is a critical aspect of yogic practice.  But, in the final analysis, the level of sabda must be discarded to get at true, deep understanding.  But one cannot get to the jnana and artha levels in any real depth without first sublimating the sabda level, and its potential hidden meanings of emotion and egoism.

[In passing I note that there is a means to link the sabda level directly to the artha level.  This is called Nada Yoga, and our modern sciences are already moving along this path of discovery – but elaborating this is a topic for a future post.]

Jnana is that understanding that comes from the senses and from the understanding in the mind based on what the senses present to it.  This level is confusing in Western science because there is no systematic understanding of how the sense and the mind, as middle men, condition the things perceived.  What is perceived in the mind has a very specific appearance in the mind, not only because of the nature of the object, but also because of the nature of our biological, emotional, psychological, and yes, spiritual, constitution.  The Sun is not yellow-orange except in our minds.  Nor is sun-light warm, except in our minds. Science is mostly caught up at the level of jnana.  This is so because, first, science is self-defined as being empirical, as relying on the input of the senses in arbitrating understanding.  Second, Western sciences ignored Kant and never bothered to systematically tackle the issue of the World as a thing in itself verses how the World is presented to the human mind.

Artha is the true essence of a thing.  In general, science does not distinguish jnana from artha. Science haphazardly, in a few instances, has stumbled into aspects of the artha of some of the facets of nature. These haphazard discoveries, mainly in physics and chemistry, but recently in biology as well, have completely transformed the world by the tremendous release of power they have engendered.  But because the discoveries have been haphazard, they are incomplete and lack the true perspective in which ideas such as relativity, quantum mechanics, information theory, etc belong.

However, in yoga, distinguishing jnana from artha is an operational necessity.  It is the direct experience of yogis that what is all mixed up in the mind of a normal person precipitates out into the constituent phases in meditation.  Samadhi directly reveals artha.

Above we outlined the “how” of this process. It is not until Part 9 that we will discuss how it is possible that ideas in the mind of the yogi are not only comparable to sensory perceptions, but superior to them.

Jump to the other parts of What is Science?

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6
Part 7
Part 8
Part 9
Part 10

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