Where Science and Metaphysics Fall Short

Excerpt from Sri Aurobindo’s ‘The Spirit of Hinduism’, Kena and Other Upanishads.


Metaphysical systems arise and metaphysical systems fall; Hegel disappears and Kant arrives; Pantheism, Theism, Atheism pursue their interminable round, and there is no finality.

Then Science comes and declares the whole vanity, for all is physical and there is nothing metaphysical save in the brain of the dreamer; and yet though Science has spoken still there is no finality. For the soul of man refuses to be dissolved into a force or a procession of sensations or a composite effect created by the action of outward things on the neurons of the brain. It persists in saying “I am”; it persists in demanding an explanation of its existence, and will not be satisfied without an answer. But where is that answer to come from or how is it possible to arrive at any conclusion?

The rock on which all metaphysics come to shipwreck is the same unsurpassable barrier before which Science itself becomes a baffled and impotent thing; it is that behind everything, beyond everything, when all knowledge has been acquired, when matter has been pursued into its subtlest unanalysable element, there is always an Inexplicable Something which remains.

Metaphysics seeks to tell us What the Universe is and Why it is; in other words to explain the Inexplicable; but the end of this process is inevitably a juggling with words which must repel all clear-minded thinkers. At the end of all metaphysical systems we find an enthroned word which apparelled in the purple of finality professes to explain the Universe, and yet when we look into it, we find that it stands itself in need of explanation, that it is merely a Word which stands for the Inexplicable.

Science avoids the difficulty by professing that the ultimate results of its analysis are a sufficient description of the Universe, a sufficient answer to the What, and as to the Why it rests in the great fact of Evolution.

Again we find that we have landed ourselves in unexplained words beyond which lies the same region of darkness involved in yet deeper darkness; the tamas tamasā gūḍham of the Scriptures; Evolution, Force, Kinesis, these are words in which we gather up our observation of certain phenomena; they are the sum of the workings of a nameless, unintelligible Thing, but what that Thing is and why It is, remains an unsolved mystery.

Whether it is that the human mind is intrinsically unable to pierce beyond the veil or whether it has the power latent or potential but as yet unevolved, we may at least safely assert that so far man has not been able to understand Finality; he is constitutionally incapable of imagining a Final Cause which his reason when faithfully interrogated will not refuse to accept as Final, will not be forced by its own nature to subject to the query How & Why.

There are only two ways of meeting the difficulty; one is to assert that the reason of man as at present constituted is imperfect and by reason of its imperfection unable to grasp Finality which for all that exists; the other is to assert that the reason of man is right and that Finality is inconceivable because it does not exist.

The latter is the answer which Hinduism has selected; the human mind cannot arrive at anything final because there is nothing final, for all the universe is OM and OM is Infinite, without beginning and without end either in Time or in Space. It has indeed been advanced that the human mind can realise only the Finite and not the Infinite,—a sorry paradox, for it is truer to say that the only fact which the human mind can realise is Infinity; the Finite it grasps only as a phenomenon, the very conception of which depends on the wider conception of the Infinite.

Sri Aurobindo, ‘The Spirit of Hinduism’, Kena and Other Upanishads.



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