Addressing the Limitations of the Ego-Centric Standard of Knowledge

Sri Aurobindo describes our modern prediliction to try to evaluate everything by what he calls an “ego-centric” standard. We want to refer everything to our individual mind for evaluation and determination of its validity; or else, we want to evaluate everything based on some universal standard that we can all look at and agree upon. The facts of the physical world are evaluated in this way, and, despite the limitations of this approach, provides at least some level of consistency to the process. Of course, it is easy to prove that such an approach is not necessarily factual. For instance, the ideas that the earth is flat, or that the sun revolves around the earth creating day and night, represent interpretations of fact that were determined by referral to the ego-centric experience of individuals for most of humanity’s history. Today we correct these incorrect assessments through the universal validation process, but there are clearly other such “facts” which are based on inadequate understanding or insufficient wideness of understanding.

Similarly, one of the failings of any attempt at understanding the validity of subjective experience is just this tendency to look for physical factual confirmation. Subjective experience cannot be measured on an external physical yardstick. While there can be admixtures of inaccurate interpretation or fantasy in relation to conclusions drawn from subjective experience, this is in fact no different than the type of inaccuracies and false conclusions that occur in our external world-view as well.

Sri Aurobindo guides us toward a more balanced approach to the standard of knowledge: “The truth behind it is that each man has to think for himself, know for himself according to his capacity, but his judgment can be valid only on condition that he is ready to learn and open always to a larger knowledge. It is reasoned that to depart from the physical standard and the principle of personal or universal verification will lead to gross delusions and the admission of unverified truth and subjective phantasy into the realm of knowledge. But error and delusion and the introduction of personality and one’s own subjectivity into the pursuit of knowledge are always present, and the physical or objective standards and methods do not exclude them. The probability of error is no reason for refusing to attempt discovery, and subjective discovery must be pursued by a subjective method of enquiry, observation and verification; research into the supraphysical must evolve, accept and test an appropriate means and methods other than those by which one examines the constituents of physical objects and the processes of Energy in material Nature.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part 2, Chapter 15, Reality and the Integral Knowledge

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