THE FUTURE OF SCIENCE
February 4, 1992
Science has been the driving force for unlocking the secrets of nature and technology that have made possible the development of modern societies. Today it is the main hope for creating a better future for all humanity.
At the time of its emergence more than three centuries ago, science was a reaction to the imaginative speculation, superstition and mysticism that dominated thought and belief in a previous age. Science countered these earlier belief systems by establishing rationality, systematic methodology, predictability and repetition as fundamental principles in the quest for knowledge. As a counterpoise to the earlier preoccupation with supraphysical phenomena, it concentrated its experimental method almost exclusively on physical phenomena, physical mechanisms and processes, physical experiments and techniques, physical measures and results--so much so that this emphasis on the physical has ben mistaken for an essential characteristic of science.
In the last few centuries, this orientation has enabled humanity to discover many of the mechanisms of physical nature, but it has left largely unexplained the underlying processes which govern these mechanisms and the nature of the essential reality of the world we live in. Science has thus far focussed on secondary causes and phenomenal realities rather than on root causes and essential knowledge. It has arrived in some areas at the power to manipulate circumstances but not at the essential control of creative processes.
There is mounting evidence to justify a re-examination of basic assumptions that may perhaps lead to a re-definition of what constitutes the essence of scientific endeavor. This evidence emerges when we consider the essential questions confronting science in many important spheres of investigation.
Science posits that the original creative principle in the universe is a physical energy of nature moving without intelligence, design or purpose yet somehow constituting out of itself an ordered system of physical forces, elements and forms of matter. This original cosmic indeterminate gives rise to a number of general determinates--elemental properties, physical laws and principles of action. How does this cosmic indeterminate give rise to the general and specific determinates that govern the nature and development of the universe?
Basing itself on the primary reality of matter, science traces the emergence and evolution of inanimate life forms from inanimate substance. Chemistry and biology seek to explain the creation of life as a fortuitous and spontaneous product of physical circumstances. The logic and statistical probability of this explanation calls for a leap of faith by the thinking mind similar to that demanded by religion in a previous age. Yet even if science is able to reproduce the creation of life in a laboratory, the achievement would only prove that animate life has manifested in inanimate matter. It would not prove that these chemicals are the primary constituents of life.
The discovery of a graded series of biological forms resembling each other in type but representing a progressive development of different characteristics and potentialities has prompted the conclusion that one life form has given rise to the emergence of the next in an evolutionary progression. Our knowledge of heredity demonstrates that it is an effective mechanism for preservation of what has evolved. But the evidence is far from conclusive that it is also the mechanism for emergence of new types. The fact that genetics has shown that mutations can be effected by radiation and other means through the genetic mechanism does not prove that a random process of mutation is responsible for the genetic differences between species. In fact, the perfect order and symmetry of plant and animal kingdoms makes this explanation difficult for the rational mind to concede in the presence of a more logical alternative explanation. In addition, the gaps between different species are quite considerable and the complete absence of intermediary types--while explicable in one way or another--raises a question that generally applies to many scientific observations. Is the identification of an antecedent circumstance or form sufficient to conclude that this antecedent is the cause of the later result?
These questions are compounded by the emergence of mental consciousness in homo sapiens and the effort to explain all mental processes--including the creations of a Shakespeare or Beethoven--in terms of chemical and electrical events. How can the mind of man conceive that the mind and emotions of our race have emerged along with all the complex lower life forms by some accident of a mechanical random physical energy of nature?
These questions and many others--such as those in psychology relating to inheritance of character--cannot and will not be resolved by a mere modification of existing theory, by developments of technology or by further experimentation. For they arise a priori as natural and inevitable products of the basic premises upon which modern science is operating, but which are not essential to the fundamental principles of the scientific quest for knowledge.
A shift in perspective and approach is called for that does not abrogate basic principles but widens the field of enquiry and evidence beyond the original limits imposed as a reaction to the exaggerations and flights of imagination of a previous age. This shift will open up new fields of enquiry, new sources of evidence, new methods and concepts that can resolve all the present conflicts and inconsistencies and propel a rapid advance of scientific knowledge, discovery and invention.
The shift called for is a re-examination and revocation of the concentration of science on physical substance and physical energy to the exclusion of all else. It is a shift that has already been made in many isolated fields of enquiry, without prompting a more general lifting of the ban. Science has discovered many instances in which the knowledge of the physical senses directly contradicts the evidence generated by the scientific method. To our senses, the earth is flat and the sun revolves around the earth, but we know both to be false. To our senses matter is solid, permanent and immobile, but we know that this is an illusion. The perception of matter is caused by the rapid motion of high energy, transitory particles.
It must have been extremely difficult for the initial discoverers of these phenomena and the original audience for their findings to conceive of a perspective quite contrary to the evidence of the senses. The experience resembles a turning of the world upside down. A questioning of the physical assumptions of science involves a no less dramatic and difficult shift. But it does not require an abandonment of the fundamental principles of science.
It is possible to conceive of other systems of knowledge that adhere to the principles of science--which we have earlier identified as the experimental method, rational thought processes, predictability and repetition--as strictly as modern science, yet without being limited exclusively to the physical assumption. The ancient systems of Indian yoga fit this description. Through long experimentation they developed, tested and verified methods that can be repeated to obtain predictable results with a high degree of precision. Only the methods employed and results produced were not primarily physical ones. The Indian seer Sri Aurobindo has experimentally verified and logically described in The Life Divine not only the essential view of reality discovered by the ancients but also the process of creation by which that reality manifests as matter, life and mind.
Suppose purely as an experiment and working hypothesis that we suspend and invert our normal view of life and physical nature. Instead of viewing unconscious (or inconscient) matter or energy as the basic reality and originating principle of all that has emerged during the evolution on earth and subconscious life and conscious mind as only derived accidental products of this original unconsciousness, we postulate a Conscious Force as the original principle of which matter is the final stage of a process of involution that precedes and supports the evolutionary emergence of life and mental consciousness from matter.
Based on this postulate, the unresolved questions of physics and biology lend themselves to rational explanation. Since the original principle is an intelligent determinate capable of design and purpose, it is but natural that it gives rise to general determinates that define the properties of matter and laws of physical energy. Since a conscious force that is involved within matter, self-absorbed and concealed below the surface, it is not surprising that science should reveal matter as form of energy or that it should give rise to animate, subconscious life forms, conscious animals and self-conscious humanity. Then the evolution of biological forms can be understood as an outer expression of an underlying and self-propelling process of evolving consciousness.
One incidental but important implication of this view is that if the individual scientist--as a manifestation of this evolving conscious force in humanity--fully understands this creative process of nature, he can utilize it consciously to control the nature and type of scientific discoveries.
We are arguing, not for an abandonment of science or embrace of mysticism, but for a broadening of the scope of enquiry to permit examination and experimentation with other principles and methods. The criteria for evaluation should be the ability of these alternative perspectives to shed light on the processes of nature which are as yet still incompletely understood and to generate fresh discoveries in fields where science is encountering limits to its powers of creation. If a new perspective can generate these pragmatic results, it will surely warrant serious consideration by the entire scientific community.
One further criterion may be introduced that is not essential but promises to be highly beneficial. The historical preoccupation of science with discovery by a process of physical trial and error is the primary reason why scientific discoveries often generate unpredictable and dangerous effects that could not be foreseen and cannot easily be controlled. We believe that the adoption of a new approach based on a wider perspective can produce more balanced and harmonious discoveries that do not suffer from these negative side-effects.
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