The Complex Factors Limiting Human Ability to Understand Cause and Effect Through Past, Present and Future

In the material world we see certain results that repeat themselves time and again, and we make for ourselves laws of physics, laws of chemistry, etc.  We are able to define cause and effect using these laws and as a result, can develop incredible powers of action and organization.  When it comes, however, to the vital and mental worlds, which we call “social” science rather than physical science, we find it virtually impossible to completely understand and thereby predict cause and effect.  Social scientists, such as psychologists or sociologists, attempt to apply techniques suited to physical science to the operations of individuals and social groupings, and to a certain extent, they may find some relative success.  In the end, however, this success is both fragmented and limited in scope, and our best theories of economics, psychology, sociology, human interaction, etc. wind up being upset by factors that we have not taken into account.

Sri Aurobindo explains:  “This is because mind and life bring in a great subtlety and intricacy of movement, each realised movement carries in it a complex of forces, and even if we could disengage all these, all, that is to say, that are simply actualised and on or near the surface, we should still be baffled by all the rest that is obscure or latent,– concealed and yet potent contributory causes, hidden motion and motive force, undeployed possibilities, uncalculated and incalculable chances of variation.  It ceases to be practicable here for our limited intelligence to calculate accurately and with certitude as in the physical field from precise cause to precise effect, that is to say, from a given apparent set of existing conditions to an inevitable resultant of subsequent or a necessary precedence of antecedent conditions.  it is for this reason that the predictions and previsions of the human intelligence are constantly baffled and contradicted by the event, even when largest in their view of the data and most careful in their survey of possible consequence.  Life and mind are a constant flux of possibles intervening between spirit and matter and at each step bring in, if not an infinite, at least an indefinite of possibles, and this would be enough to make all logical calculation uncertain and relative.  But in addition there reigns behind them a supreme factor incalculable by human mind, the will of the soul and secret spirit, the first indefinably variable, fluid and elusive, the second infinite and inscrutably imperative, bound, if at all, only by itself and the Will in the Infinite.  it is therefore only by going back from the surface physical mind to the psychic and spiritual consciousness that a vision and knowledge of the triple time, a transcendence of our limitation to the standpoint and view range of the moment, can be wholly possible.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Four: The Yoga of Self-Perfection, Chapter 25, Towards the Supramental Time Vision , pp. 859-860


The Human Effort to Understand and See the Past and the Future and Its Limitations

While we live our lives very much from moment to moment, there remains still a strong impulsion or aspiration to both understand the past, and to see or understand what lies in the future.  This impulsion has its hidden springs in the evolutionary movement of consciousness, but while we remain locked into the physical mind and the senses, the ability to actually accomplish either knowledge of the past or insight into the future is constrained by the actual tools and instruments available to our mental nature.

Sri Aurobindo describes this effort:  “His first aid is that of the reason proceeding forward from cause to effect and backward from effect to cause, discovering the law of energies and their assured mechanic process, assuming the perpetual sameness of the movements of Nature, fixing her time measures and thus calculating on the basis of a science of general lines and assured results the past and the future.  A certain measure of limited but sufficiently striking success has been gained by this method in the province of physical Nature and it might seem that the same process might eventually be applied to the movements of mind and life and that at any rate this alone is man’s one reliable means in any field of looking with precision back and forwards.  But as a matter of fact, the happenings of vital and still more of mental nature escape to a very great degree the means of inference and calculation from assured law that apply in the field of physical knowledge: it can apply there only to a limited range of regularised happenings and phenomena and for the rest leaves us where we were amid a mixed mass of relative certainties, uncertain probabilities and incalculable possibilities.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Four: The Yoga of Self-Perfection, Chapter 25, Towards the Supramental Time Vision , pp. 858-859

The Limitations of the Time Consciousness Bound by the Framework of the Physical Mind and Senses

Our reliance on the physical mind and the senses, the current limitations of these instruments, and the impact they have on our perception of the world and our experience of time, is the major reason for the fragmented manner in which we experience the movement of Time.  A different sense of time could be obtained through a new standpoint of consciousness, such as the shift to the universal standpoint, or the shift to the supramental plane of awareness, but in theory, a different time-consciousness is also possible if the physical mind and senses were able to do away with the limiting frame and experience the present tied to our individual experience, and thereby experience the universal present.

Sri Aurobindo delves much more deeply into the issue:  “If we could be aware of all the present, all the action of physical, vital, mental energies at work in the moment, it is conceivable that we would be able to see their past too involved in them and their latent future or at least to proceed from present to past and future knowledge.  And under certain circumstances this might create a sense of real and ever-present time continuity, a living in the behind and the front as well as the immediate, and a step farther might carry us into an ever present sense of our existence in infinite time and in our timeless self, and its manifestation in eternal time might then become real to us and also we might feel the timeless Self behind the worlds and the reality of his eternal world manifestation.  In any case, the possibility of another kind of time consciousness than we have at present and of a triple time knowledge rests upon the possibility of developing another consciousness than that proper to the physical mind and sense and breaking our imprisonment in the moment and in the mind of ignorance with its limitation to sensation, memory, inference and conjecture.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Four: The Yoga of Self-Perfection, Chapter 25, Towards the Supramental Time Vision , pg. 858

The Fragmented View of Time From the Perspective of the Mind of Ignorance

Our time sense is primarily conditioned by our reliance on the physical senses and the impressions provided by them.  For most people, this means we live a series of impressions which are real to us for the moment, but fade into a past which is no longer alive to us, other than through the faded lens of memory, and which themselves quickly give way to the next moment’s impressions without us having a clear sense of the future to which our lives are tending.  The limitations of our physical mind and senses means that we do not experience in a real sense the continuity of past, present, and future as one unified field of existence, indivisible from one another and connected intimately to one another.

Sri Aurobindo notes:  “This is because the mind in the Ignorance lives in the moment and moves from hour to hour like a traveller who sees only what is near and visible around his immediate standpoint and remembers imperfectly what he has passed through before, but all in front beyond his immediate view is the unseen and unknown of which he has yet to have experience.  Therefore man in his self-ignorance moving in time exists, as the Buddhists saw, only in the succession of thoughts and sensations and of the external forms present to his thought and sense.  His present momentary self is alone real to him, his past self is dead or vanishing or only preserved in memory, result and impression, his future self is entirely non-existent or only in process of creation or preparation of birth.  And the world around him is subject to the same rule of perception.  Only its actual form and sum of happenings and phenomena is present and quite real to him, its past is no longer in existence or abides only in memory and record and in so much of it as has left its dead monuments or still survives into the present, the future is not yet at all in existence.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Four: The Yoga of Self-Perfection, Chapter 25, Towards the Supramental Time Vision , pp. 857-858

The Consciousness of Time for the Mind of Ignorance

Having described the 3 conditions or stages of development of the mental consciousness in the human evolutionary movement, Sri Aurobindo now proceeds to link each of these stages to a different relationship to and awareness of the movement of Time.  The mind of ignorance is the normal action of mind for most people, most of the time.  It is a mind that seeks after knowledge and tries to piece together facts, inferences and the promptings of past experience to achieve some kind of understanding of the world.  It starts from ignorance and tries to move toward a form of knowledge.  This mind, which is framed and limited in its scope, does not have a direct perception and awareness of the past, present and future as one continuum; rather, it lives in the present, uses imperfect memory to recall the past, and can only speculate about the future.

Sri Aurobindo describes the relation between this mind of ignorance and the consciousness of Time as follows:  “At first man in the mind of ignorance can neither live in the infinite time consciousness nor command any direct and real power of the triple time knowledge.   The mind of ignorance lives, not in the indivisible continuity of time, but successively in each moment.  It has a vague sense of the continuity of self and of an essential continuity of experience, a sense of which the source is the deeper self within us, but as it does not live in that self, also it does not live in a true time continuity, but only uses this vague but still insistent awareness as a background, support and assurance in what would otherwise be to it a constant baseless flux of its being.  In its practical action its only support other than its station in the present is the line left behind by the past and preserved in memory, the mass of impressions deposited by previous experience and, for the future, an assurance of the regularity of experience and a power of uncertain forecast founded partly upon repeated experience and well-founded inference and partly on imaginative construction and conjecture.  The mind of ignorance relies on a certain foundation or element of relative or moral certainties, but for the rest a dealing with probabilities and possibilities is its chief resource.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Four: The Yoga of Self-Perfection, Chapter 25, Towards the Supramental Time Vision , pp. 856-857

The Third Condition of the Human Consciousness in its Evolutionary Progression Toward Supermind

As the human consciousness progresses from ignorance toward knowledge, it goes through various stages of development.  The third stage or condition of consciousness identified by Sri Aurobindo has a basis in knowledge, but, working within the human mentality, it is framed and limited by where the attention is being turned.  The focus brings knowledge and illumination forward, while the rest of the universal knowledge is reserved and held in the background.  All the knowledge is thus accessible, once the attention is turned in the direction required.

Sri Aurobindo explains:  “The third state of consciousness is that of the mind of knowledge in which all things and all truths are perceived and experienced as already present and known and immediately available by merely turning the inner light upon it, as when one turns the eye upon things in a room already known and familiar,– though not always present to the vision because that is not attentive,– and notes them as objects of a pre-existent knowledge.  The difference from the second self-forgetful state of consciousness is that there is here no effort or seeking needed but simply a turning or opening of the inner light on whatever field of knowledge, and therefore it is not a recalling of things forgotten and self-hidden from the mind, but a luminous presentation of things already present, ready and available.  This last condition is only possible by a partial supramentalising of the intuitive mentality and its full openness to any and every communication from the supramental ranges.  This mind of knowledge is in its essentiality a power of potential omnipotence, but in its actual working on the level of mind it is limited in its range and province.  The character of limitation applies to the supermind itself when it descends into the mental level and works in the lesser substance of mentality, though inits own manner and body of power and light, and it persists even int he action of the supramental reason.  It is only the higher supramental Shakti acting on its own ranges whose will and knowledge work always in a boundless light or with a free capacity of illimitable extension of knowledge subject only to such limitations as are self-imposed for its own purposes and at its own will by the spirit.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Four: The Yoga of Self-Perfection, Chapter 25, Towards the Supramental Time Vision , pg. 856

The Second Condition of the Human Consciousness in its Evolutionary Progression Toward Supermind

If the first condition of the evolutionary progression is the mind of ignorance seeking to accumulate information in order to have knowledge, the second is a more inward process that recognizes that there is a more universal form of knowing that the human individual can contact within, and thus, knowledge resides within even if not directly known to the individual initially.  This view is epitomized by the Greek philosopher Socrates views on education, in which he posits that all knowledge resides within and the individual need only “remember” even things for which there had been no direct conscious relationship, such as mathematics in the example he cited.  This line of understanding also underpins the work of C.G. Jung and his efforts to put the mind in touch with the “collective unconscious” wherein resides the answers needed by the human individual.

Sri Aurobindo describes this second condition in the human evolutionary progression of consciousness:  “…it is that in which the mind seeks for its source of knowledge rather within than without and becomes to its own feeling and self-experience, by whatever means, a mind, not of original ignorance, but of self-forgetful knowledge.  This mind is conscious that the knowledge of all things is hidden within it or at least somewhere in the being, but as if veiled and forgotten, and the knowledge comes to it not as a thing acquired from outside, but always secretly there and now remembered and known at once to be true,– each thing in its own place, degree, manner and measure.  This is its attitude to knowledge even when the occasion of knowing is some external experience, sign or indication, because that is to it only the occasion and its reliance for the truth of the knowledge is not on the external indication or evidence but on the inner confirming witness.  The true mind is the universal within us and the individual is only a projection on the surface, and therefore this second state of consciousness we have either when the individual mind goes more and more inward and is always consciously or subconsciously near and sensitive to the touches of the universal mentality in which all is contained, received, capable of being made manifest, or, still more powerfully, when we live in the consciousness of universal mind with the personal mentality only as a projection, a marking board or a communicating switch on the surface.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Four: The Yoga of Self-Perfection, Chapter 25, Towards the SupramentalTime Vision , pp. 855-856