The Bias of the Modern Scientific Mind in Explaining Human Society in Terms of Material Events

Western science divides between what are considered to be the “hard” sciences, those that encompass physical facts, matter, chemistry, physics and biology, i.e. those things which can be measured, dissected, analyzed and probed directly, and the “soft” sciences, which deal with human behavior, psychology, sociology, anthropology and history, for example.  The extraordinary results obtained in the hard sciences through their methodologies have convinced many that similar methods and systems can be applied equally when viewing human behavior, whether as individual human beings or in groups, or through time in response to various factors, whether natural or human caused.  Entire disciplines within psychology, for example, try to explain the human mind and traits such as insight, rational thought, or compassion by virtue of specific chemical activities within the brain, and the practitioners of these disciplines go to extreme lengths to try to explain away everything, including religious or spiritual experience, in terms that can be boiled down to brain chemistry, hormone cycles, and external impulses from the physical world.  Of course, this world view finds it impossible to see an evolutionary patterns, any higher impulsions that may be causing the phenomena they are viewing and measuring.  Sri Aurobindo takes exception to this world view and presents a different understanding that does not treat physical explanations as the primary causative factors, but rather, as the result of influences, powers and drives that create the material forms for purposes not measurable by physical science.  The question arises, how a scientist understand the complexity of the universal creation and its changing forms and actions if he does not accept nor try to determine ultimate non-physical causative factors?

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “Modern Science, obsessed with the greatness of its physical discoveries and the idea of the sole existence of Matter, has long attempted to base upon physical data even its study of Soul and Mind and of those workings of Nature in man and animal in which a knowledge of psychology is as important as any of the physical sciences.  Its very psychology founded itself upon physiology and the scrutiny of the brain and nervous system.  It is not surprising therefore that in history and sociology attention should have been concentrated on the external data, laws, institutions, rites, customs, economic factors and developments, while the deeper psychological elements so important in the activities of a mental, emotional, ideative being like man have been very much neglected.  This kind of science would explain history and social development as much as possible by economic necessity or motive, — by economy understood in its widest sense.  There are even historians who deny or put aside as of a very subsidiary importance the working of the idea and the influence of the thinker in the development of human institutions.  The French Revolution, it is thought, would have happened just as it did and when it did, by economic necessity, even if Rousseau and Voltaire had never written and the eighteenth-century philosophic movement in the world of thought had never worked out its hold and radical speculations.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development, Chapter 1, The Cycle of Society, pg. 5