This paper was presented at the
National Seminar on
Indian Psychology: Theories and Models

SVYASA, Bangalore,
December 26 - 28, 2007


Yoga as a research tool for rigorous enquiry in the subjective domain

Matthijs Cornelissen — Indian Psychology Institute


For most of the 20th century mainstream psychology has tried to be as objective as possible. Even where experience is allowed back in as a legitimate field of study, it has been “objectivised”, either by embedding it within objective methods of enquiry like statistical and textual analysis, or by linking it with social, biological and neuro-physiological phenomena that can be studied objectively. There are serious epistemological, ontological, and ethical difficulties with this approach, for people are not “things”, and problems do arise when people are treated as if they were.

The question is, however, whether we can study the subjective domain in a manner that is reliable, effective and intellectually satisfying. We all know that the present global civilization, in which science plays such an important role, has failed to develop the right tools for rigorous subjective enquiry, but that does not mean that they do not exist. In this presentation I will argue that the Indian tradition has developed effective methods for rigorous subjective enquiry as part of yoga, because yoga is in its essence not only a soteriological technique for personal salvation, but also a logically coherent system to arrive at reliable knowledge in the subjective domain. I will first deconstruct some common prejudices against subjective enquiry; then indicate some of the genuine problems that arise in the subjective domain, and finally I will describe how one of the core methods of yoga could be used to develop a rigorous and logically coherent science of consciousness, experience and agency.

Email the author, Dr. Matthijs Cornelissen, at