It is the first natural tendency of mankind to utilize its native powers to try to gain an understanding of the world and its processes, and the meaning of our lives. We can view the development of science as one tool in the human quest for deeper understanding. New instruments are devised to provide us ever more subtle insight, to the point that humanity now has ways to understand the sub-atomic particles and their action to a great degree, while at the same time, through powerful telescopes, humanity has been able to begin to explore the secrets of the physical universe.
The limitation of this approach however is that it only can examine the physical world and universe, and cannot grasp what is supra-sensible to even our subtlest powers of examination, observation and analysis. Sri Aurobindo points out: “If then we confine ourselves to what the senses and their physical aids reveal to us and refuse from the beginning to admit any other reality or any other means of knowledge, we are obliged to conclude that nothing is real except the physical and that there is no Self in us or in the universe, no God within and without, no ourselves even except this aggregate of brain, nerves and body.” This is in fact the essence of the traditional opposition between religion and science, where the one relies on faith and belief, while the other denies the existence of anything outside the realm of physical “reality” and thus, must deny faith in supra-physical or supra-sensible realms of reality. This opposition is starting to be healed through new approaches, such as that brought to the fore by Sri Aurobindo, as well as through the breakthroughs being developed in various advanced fields of science that are leaving behind the obsession with the purely physical and beginning to grapple with concepts such as string theory, multiverses, and the acceptance of the reality that not only does Matter consist of Energy, but that Energy consists of Consciousness; thus, opening the door to new ways of knowing and the need to overpass the physical senses and the mind’s bondage to the physical world.
But intellectual reasoning also cannot reach the complete grasp of Reality, even when it enters realms far more subtle and abstract than the physical mind can accept. The Upanishad reminds us that “the mind turns back without attaining….” Each field of knowledge utilizes its own specialized instrumentation in order to be perceived and understood. The electron microscope aids us in viewing the subtleties of sub-atomic physical space; it cannot explore the subtleties of the spiritual Essence of the universe. The intellect itself is limited: “So also the intellect by following a certain line of rigorous analysis can arrive at the intellectual conception and the intellectual conviction of the Self and this conviction can be very real, very luminous, very potent as the beginning of other and greate things. Still, in itself intellectual analysis can only lead to an arrangement of clear conceptions, perhaps to a right arrangement of true conceptions; but this is not the knowledge aimed at by Yoga. For it is not in itself an effective knowledge. A man may be perfect in it and yet be precisely what he was before except in the mere fact of the greater intellectual illumination. The change of our being at which Yoga aims, may not at all take place.”
Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Two: The Yoga of Integral Knowledge, Chapter 2, The Status of Knowledge, pp. 287-288