Summary: This is part 5 of a 10 part essay that suggests we can think of science as a weak form of samadhi. Here we review and revise the history of science to recognize that yoga is one of the great scientific accomplishments of mankind.
We have now introduced most of the main ingredients of the story: the failure of the demarcation problem, the objectivity/subjectivity dualism, science as knowledge and power, samadhi, siddhis, and the three layers of knowledge. We are almost ready to dive headlong into discussing the difference between power that is released via sensory experience verses power that is released in samadhi. To set the stage for this task, Part 5 digresses on some history. Here we review, and revise, the history of science.
History Repeats Itself
Materialism is the intellectual position that the mind is caused by material factors; the brain, senses, etc. This view rose a generation or so before Newton, in the musing of Descartes. Descartes was not a materialist, but his thinking dichotomized existence into the mind on one hand, and the world, or matter, on the other hand. It is worth reminding the reader that both Descartes and Newton are founders of our modern Western science.
During the time of Newton, a pesky Irishman, who must have felt a kinship with Zeno of Elea, offered the opposite interpretation of things and stuff. George Berkeley gave us idealism. The main fact of idealism is that all understanding occurs within the mind. The implication of idealism is that the world we perceive with our senses is in some very deep sense secondary to the mind itself. The two positions have fought over the ensuing centuries, sometimes one, sometimes the other, gaining the upper hand.
An abbreviated history goes something as follows. Kant destroyed materialism and made idealism forever inaccessible. Given that the former was impossible but the later was only forever inaccessible gave idealism the upper hand to flourish until around 1900 (British idealism, anyone?). But in those 100 years after Kant, something happened to tip the scales of war: science became very successful. It generated the industrial revolution in the West. In other words, much power, much artha was released by science. Basking in the afterglow of 19th century science, logical positivism became the new materialism around 1900, with perhaps Bertrand Russell as its major cheerleader. But the glory was short lived. A bevy of onslaughts ensured its rapid demise: Gödel in mathematics, quantum mechanics and relativity in science, Wittgenstein in philosophy, Dali in art.
After about the 1930s, the world became a topsy-turvy post-modern simulacrum of the world, where down is up, black is white, matter is energy, mathematical deduction proves uncertainty, and kids dictate what adults do. This is the intellectual world we live in today. One word can describe it fairly comprehensively: unanchored.
The meaning of being unanchored was explained well by J. J. van der Leeuw:
“If we rush into activity, without having this realization of philosophy, we are as a man who undertakes a long journey without first acquainting himself with the nature of the country through which he must travel and the road he must follow. If we were to offer such a man the help of our experience by explaining to him a map of the country through which he has to find his way, and if he disdained such help, saying that it was not practical, that only in doing the thing, practical reality could be found, we should surely look upon such an one as foolish. In a similar way, if a man were to voyage across the ocean and disdained to learn the principles of navigation and the use of the compass, saying that all such theory was but superfluous and unpractical and that the right thing to do was to set out and undertake the voyage, we should again consider such an one as unpractical and lacking in wisdom. Yet in our daily lives we do disdain the knowledge of the country through which we must all travel, we do disdain the map which philosophy can show us and we have no time to learn the navigation of life.”
It’s All In Your Mind
Ironically, the drama, the intellectual history of the West, has played out in a world that is inside of people’s minds. It is the height of ignorance to not recognize the central tenet of idealism that all we know is inside the mind. All perception, all thought, all emotion, occur within the mind. All ideas of what we are and what the world is occur within the mind.
Nonetheless, the world presents itself with an overwhelming forcefulness. We see, hear, feel, and taste the world. We have a body in this world. It is incontrovertible that our bodies exert a tremendous influence over our minds. It is also the fact that we cannot just magically think a thing and it becomes so. The world itself offers a very solid and real resistance to our thoughts. It is this resistance of the world to our thoughts that is the basis of the materialistic position. It is not an unreasonable position at all. But it is not a deep position either. Materialism, and its current incarnation as physicalism, is the stance of a brute who does not wonder too deeply about the relationship between the world, body, and mind. Materialism is a philosophical map of sorts, something akin to a kindergarten child’s crayon drawing of a tree.
As it is a fact that we cannot just think any arbitrary thought and bend the world to our will, it is also a fact that we can think very specific, very technical thoughts and bend the world to our will. It is the inability to explain these facts that makes materialism so impotent. But by neglecting matter, by relegating it to a second hand status, idealism doesn’t offer help answering this question either.
Meanwhile In a Universe Far, Far Away, Long Long Ago…
In a wonderful talk about Patanjali’s Yoga, Jay Lakhani of the Hindu Academy makes what I feel is an absolutely critical point about yoga that is not generally appreciated in the West. He points out that the Hindus were smart enough to first question the nature of the human mind before trying to describe the objects of perception. While there are echoes of a materialism/idealism debate in Indian philosophy, this debate never amplified to the toxic extent it did in Western history. Instead, India went in a completely different direction. Jay explains this in his talk specifically here. I will quote a few important bits from his talk:
“In ancient times human beings throughout the world were trying to make sense of the human condition: “who are we?”, “what are we doing here”, what is the nature of reality?”, “who am I?”, “what is going on here?” … this is how the story began.
Now you see, somehow we were forced to live in India, and because of the weather conditions or whatever, that the journey went inwards. He says “Before I make sense of the world external, what is the nature of this reality, let me first suss out what tools I possess. What is my ability to make sense of this world? What are the tools I possess? What is my own credential? So the journey went inward.
And this is important …unless you know what is your own capacity, the answer you’re going to get regarding nature of reality, it’s not really put into the right perspective. What is your capacity to understand the nature of reality? You must first of all suss out, look at your tools and say “yes, I possess such powerful tools, I can find a resolution to the human condition”. So you must look at your own tools…this is what we did, we went inward and said “what is our own nature?” This is where we hit the jackpot. “
Indeed, they hit the jackpot. As Mr. Lakhani explains Kapila discovered yoga. Even the history buff and Indiophile I am, I had never heard of Kapila before hearing this talk.
This story, of how yoga arose in India, is not at all a part of the Western version of the history of science. The story of the history of science in the West begins with Newton, with some hat tipping to the ancient Greeks. India’s contributions are relegated to mere footnotes. Nowhere in this story is found the towering achievements of Kapila, Patanjali, Abhinavagupta, or the many other contributors to the science of yoga over the millennia. Western science simply does not know about, let alone acknowledge, the techniques and methods they invented to “go inwards” to “suss out the tools we possess…to make sense of this world”.
Certainly Western philosophy has its share of trying to suss out the tools we humans possess to understand the world. It is called epistemology, the branch of philosophy about the nature of knowledge and about our mental attributes. The various forms of psychology that disguise themselves as science have, here and there, glimmers of insight, much as occasionally a shiny rock is found amongst the dull rocks at the beach. But our Western psychologies are of the nature of skipping a rock over the water, and none of them have the faintest idea of the depths upon which they skip. At this point in the discussion, we have established that true science releases power. By this criterion, Western psychologies are less than firecrackers.
There is a quantum difference between Western and Hindu understanding of the mind. This is an untold story in the history of science because we in the West are ignorant of what yoga entails. Yoga is not merely intellectual; it is not just words and philosophy. Yoga is a set of techniques and methods for directly studying the nature of the mind and consciousness. The understanding in the West is that of the armchair philosopher: it is mere ideas and arguments, endless words. Yoga is activity: it is understanding based on method and experience. In this, science and yoga are the same. Both have left a trail of highly technical methods, recipes, procedures and protocols that, when followed, release power in the world.
So, what is the purpose of this brief history lesson? It is to recognize yoga as one of the great scientific achievements of mankind. Yoga is neither religion nor philosophy. The closest we can come in our Western experience to understand yoga is to recognize it as most like what we call “science”. However, the general knowledge of yoga in the West is that of Hatha yoga, the yoga of how to position the body. This is only a very small subset of what yoga is. Again, Mr. Lakhani discussed the place of Hatha yoga in the scope of all the yogic disciplines, and it is hoped the interested reader will take the time to watch his wonderful talk.
Religion is merely belief. It is only sabda: sounds, words, myths, beliefs. Philosophy is an echo of sensory experience, a reflection on experience. So, philosophy is not just sabda, but has some bit of jnana. But then, the echoes compound one upon another into a cacophony of chaos. Because of this, Western philosophy by itself does not release power, other than perhaps the titillation accompanying airy abstractions, or perhaps the occasional political revolution (that invariably never is what it was supposed to be).
But then there is science. Weird little symbols with very specific meanings, and highly ordered sequences of thoughts and actions that translate into to the release of power. Knowledge sculpted and disciplined by the regularity of our sensory apparatus. Yoga is like science, but much, much deeper, because it is not limited to the realm of sensory experience, but encompasses the totality of mind and consciousness. The totality of mind and consciousness is the domain of yoga.
Science put the cart before the horse trying to understand the world before understanding the mind.
Yoga has the horse pulling the cart by having first understood the mind.
Then the world fell into its rightful place.
Jump to the other parts of What is Science?