The business of reason

“The reason cannot grasp all truth in its embrace because truth is too infinite for it; but still it does grasp the something of it which we immediately need, and its insufficiency does not detract from the value of its work, but is rather the measure of its value. For man is not intended to grasp the whole truth of his being at once, but to move towards it through a succession of experiences and a constant, though not by any means a perfectly continuous self-enlargement. The first business of reason then is to justify and enlighten to him his various experiences and to give him faith and conviction in holding on to his self-enlargings. It justifies to him now this, now that, the experience of the moment, the receding light of the past, the half-seen vision of the future. Its inconstancy, its divisibility against itself, its power of sustaining opposite views are the whole secret of its value. It would not do indeed for it to support too conflicting views in the same individual, except at moments of awakening and transition, but in the collective body of men and in the successions of Time that is its whole business. For so man moves towards the infinity of the Truth by the experience of its variety; so his reason helps him to build, change, destroy what he has built and prepare a new construction, in a word, to progress, grow, enlarge himself in his self-knowledge and world-knowledge and their works.”
— Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle, p. 122)

One thought on “The business of reason

  1. Wonderful post, Matthijs. I like that Sri Aurobindo presents a balanced picture, recognizing that in the beginning, reason can enlighten us, and it is only when we are ready to move on that reason can take its rightful place, as servant rather than master.

    On a much more “exoteric” (surface?) level, British psychiatrist Iain McGilchrist offers a brilliant look at the difference between critical reason and intuition in his book “The Master and His Emissary.” The “master” here is the right hemisphere, or more accurately, the “right mode” thinking for which the right hemisphere plays a major role. the Emissary is “left hemisphere” or “left mode” thinking, involving the left hemisphere of the brain.

    Left mode thinking is critical, it tends to divide, it cannot see context, it cannot grasp the “whole”, it prefers the known to the unknown, and is generally characterized by separative knowing. Right mode thought is comprehensive, intuitive, it can grasp the whole, it loves metaphor, the unknown, and is far more capable than the left at integrating knowing, feeling and sensation.

    Though of course McGilchrist doesn’t deal with it, I suspect that right mode thinking gives us access to the inner far more than left mode does (by “inner”, for those not familiar with Sri Aurobindo’s terminology, I’m referring to what in Indian philosophy is traditionally referred to as “swapna”, or the subtle realm).

    The “MPFC” – or mid-prefrontal region of the brain – at least as described by Dan Siegel – seems to be related in some way to what Sri Aurobindo refers to as the “quiet mind” – Siegel describes someone who has a well developed MPFC as acting from a core of quiet, tranquillity, equanimity, peace, stable joy (not vital or over-enthusiastic but deep, empathic, connnected joyfulness), with a deep abiding sense of meaning and purpose in life, and a sense of being connected to a greater whole.

    The right MPFC may in some way be the physical correlate (or the physical “notation” as the Mother sometimes referred to the physical) of the “third eye” – though it also may involve a profound integration of the left and right MPFC.

    The MPFC – this is from a strictly neuroscientific view, not bringing in any yogic knowledge – is apparently closely related to the “heart intelligence”. This refers to a large number of neurons surrounding the heart, that work together as a “brain” and are constantly exchanging information with both the “head” brain and the stomach brain, or enteric nervous system.

    The heart intelligence is described as a having a kind of feeling based knowing, and some psi research suggests that much of what we call “telepathy”, “precognition” and “remote viewing” may be rooted in the “knowing” of a heart which is connected to others in ways most scientists still do not understand. This heart intelligence is said by researchers to provide intuitive guidance when the “head brain” is unable to comprehend a situation or make a decision. It is characterized by such qualities as kindness, gratitude, forgiveness, compassion, and the wisdom of the “heart.”

    The more we are able to see the connections between the latest science and the age-old Indian/yogic wisdom, the faster will be, I think, the overall evolution.

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