Observation of the wave-action on the surface of an ocean does not show us the true nature of ocean in its depths. We cannot see the pressures of the deep, the innumerable life-forms, the “food chain” nor the world-straddling currents that take place through the interaction of warmer and cooler ocean areas. We also cannot see, from that superficial view, the impact of warming or cooling of the ocean has on the climate in the air, nor the effect on the land.
Similarly, if we observe the day to day flurry of activity on the surfaces of our human existence, the daily issues, concerns, and conflicts in society which occupy so much of our attention, we are unable to plumb the depths of the longer term currents and significance of the development of human civilisation and of the individuals living within that civilisation.
And yet, it is these deeper movements which actually determine the true direction, scope, intensity and speed of human development, just as it is the depths of the ocean that present the true nature of the ocean and its importance for global action in the material world.
Sri Aurobindo observes: “…the knowledge of life’s profundities, its potent secrets, its great, hidden, all-determining laws is exceedingly difficult to us. We have found no plummet that can fathom these depths; they seem to us a vague, indeterminate movement, a profound obscurity from which the mind recoils willingly to play with the fret and foam and facile radiances of the surface. Yet it is these depths and their unseen forces that we ought to know if we would understand existence; on the surface we get only Nature’s secondary rules and practice bye-laws which help us to tide over the difficulties of the moment and to organise empirically without understanding them her continual transitions.”
In the West, the students of sociology attempt to find out trends and directions through statistical analysis of factual data. This is the mind’s methodology and while it points towards the need of the deeper understanding that Sri Aurobindo discusses, it is still limited by the framework of the mental consciousness and its restricted view. Sociology therefore falls short, as it focuses its view primarily on the surface factual data and simply organises and filters that data to come up with an understanding of the developments taking place in any society. What is missing here is an understanding of the deeper currents that throw up to the surface these various directions and trends, and the deeper import of what is systematically trying to manifest through human individuals and their societies.
Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part I, Chapter 1, The Turn towards Unity: Its Necessity and Dangers, pg. 9