Confusion Results from the Process of Acquisition of Knowledge

Sri Aurobindo analyzes the knowledge-acquisition process and determines both the steps that are involved, and the places where those steps are subject to error, falsehood or mis-interpretation. “Consciousness in its acquisition of knowledge proceeds from the known to the unknown; it builds a structure of acquired experience, memories, impressions, judgments, a composite mental plan of things which is of the nature of a shifting and ever modifiable fixity. In the reception of new knowledge, what comes in to be received is judged in the light of past knowledge and fitted into the structure; if it cannot properly fit, it is either dovetailed in anyhow or rejected: but the existing knowledge and its structures or standards may not be applicable to the new object or new field of knowledge, the fitting may be a misfitting or the rejection may be an erroneous response.”

An excellent example of this actually took place in the work of Albert Einstein. His first formulation of the theory of relativity implied an expanding universe. He was, however, not prepared to accept that conclusion, so he modified the theory to avoid this conclusion. Later, when astronomical data confirmed the expanding universe, he had to go back and modify the theory to incorporate the data. The intuition he obtained initially was correct, but because it did not fit within his existing framework of knowledge, he erroneously rejected part of it, modified it, and had to later acknowledge the new facts.

Sri Aurobindo describes this process and its role in creating confusion and error: “But intuition itself is limited in the human mind by mental misprision of its intimations and is unable to act in its own right; for whether it be physical, vital or mental intuition, it has to present itself in order to be received, not nude and pure, but garbed with a mental coating or entirely enveloped in an ample mental vesture; so disguised, its true nature cannot be recognized and its relation to mind and its office are not understood, its way of working is norgnored by the hasty and half-aware human intelligence.”

“A great confusion of half-grasped material and an experimental building with it, a representation or mental structure of the figure of self and things rigid and yet chaotic, half formed and arranged, half jumbled, half true, half erroneous, but always imperfect, is the character of human knowledge.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part I, Chapter 14, The Origin and Remedy of Falsehood, Error, Wrong and Evil, pp. 617-618

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