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Reason, the arbiter of truth
Knowledge is power enabling the human being to subjugate the forces of nature and to exercise control over nature and his fellowmen. There are two ways to gain knowledge of nature and life: 1) scientific method and 2) mysticism. The scientific steps to acquire knowledge about the world and life are:
1. Observation: A stone piece sinks in water and a plastic piece does not sink in water but floats on it.
2.Hypothesis: A thing having density more than that of water such as a piece of stone sinks in water and a thing of density less than that of water such as a piece of plastic does not sink in water but floats on it.
3. Test/experiment: We put both the stone piece and the plastic piece on the water. The stone piece sinks in water and the plastic piece floats on it.
We conducted this test repeatedly and the result was the same.
4. Evidence: A thing having density more than that of water sinks in it and less than that of water floats on it.
5.Conclusion: We have some evidence that a thing having more density than that of water sinks in water and less than that of water floats on it. This is the way to discover truth about the world scientifically and to obtain evidence of the truth.
Natural sciences like physics, chemistry, and so on and medicine, pharmacy, and so on follow this method to discover truth about nature and life. These sciences are exact sciences.
Truth is ‘that which is true or in accordance with fact or reality’, fact is ‘a thing that is known or proved to be true’ and knowledge ‘true or justified belief; the sum of what is known.’(Oxford English Dictionary).
Claims of truth about the world and life beyond the test and falsifiability are not scientific. Scientific claims are rational.
Rationality is scientific. Every day we live our lives rationally and protect ourselves from risks and survive. We avoid risks from poison, fire, flood, wild animals, human frauds, vehicular traffic, diseases, and so on by using our rational knowledge of the risks. There are limitless risks to human life. Some risks are known, some are unknown, and some may remain unknown.
History is witness to the fact that no yogi has transcended the laws of nature. To transcend nature is to perform a miracle. He has not produced child without a mother, brought rain through his prayer, defeated death, walked on water, and so on. Mythological miracles are not facts.
As science is progressive, scientific evidence of truth about the world is provisional and not conclusive. New facts may be found out and may modify or overturn the existing scientific conclusions. Science, unlike religion, is not dogmatic and humble enough to accept its limitations.
Human knowledge is limited. Mysteries of nature are limitless
The mystic, Eastern or Western, claims that he has direct and empirical apprehension of truth about the world and life and that his vision of truth about the world and life is intuitive and completely reliable. This vision is a spark of light in the darkness.
The mystic is like a poet or artist. He is a visionary.
Dr S.Radhakrishnan, the respected Indian idealist philosopher claims: ‘The deepest things of life are known only through intuitive apprehension. We recognize their truth but do not reason about them.’
The philosopher further claims:
‘For the Hindus, a system of philosophy is an insight, a darshana. It is the vision of truth and not a matter of logical argument and proof.’
Logic can know the physical and not the spiritual. It can understand the without and not the within.
But the mystic’s insight of truth about the world and life may not be fully true or may be false since such truth is claimed to be not subject to repeated test, falsifiability, always open to the public and is purely subjective.
It is true that philosophers accept the element of truth in the mystic’s vision of the world and life.
Bertrand Russell, the passionate skeptic writes: ‘… in fact, insight, untested and unsupported, is an insufficient guarantee of truth, in spite of the fact that much of the most important truth is first suggested by its means.’
‘But in fact, the opposition of instinct and reason is mainly illusory. Instinct, intuition, or insight is what confirms or confutes;…… Reason is a harmonizing, controlling force rather than a creative one. Even in the most purely logical realm, it is insight that first arrives at which is new.’
Dr Radhakrishnan also ultimately agrees with this stance: ‘Though intuition lies beyond intellect, it is not contrary to it.’
There has been a constant co-existence and harmony between science and mysticism in the search for truth about the world and life.
Russell declares that the philosophies of Heraclitus and Plato represent this harmony and co-existence between science and mysticism.
Intellect is superior to mysticism in discovering the truth about the world and life. The rationalist is the decisive arbiter of truth about the world and life.
The Buddha’s rational advice to us about truth is:
Merely because you have been told it.
Or because it is traditional.
Or because you yourself have imagined it.
Do not believe what your teacher
teaches merely out of respect
for the teacher.
But whatever after due examination and analysis
you find it conducive to the good, the benefit,
the well-being of all things,
that doctrine believe and cling to and take it as your guide.’
You may test if the intellect or reason is- or is not- the sole guide to discover the truth about the world and life.