Exploring the Differences Between the Power of the Intellectual Reason and the Other Powers of Knowledge

The power of the intellectual reason, while a distinctly human capacity, is not the sole, or even, for many people, the primary mode of knowledge upon which they rely in their daily life and action.  The physical mind of sense perception and response, the power of built in habit known as instinct, the various forms of emotional or vital sensitivity and knowing, as well as others, all represent specific powers of knowledge upon which we rely for much of our response to life.  The primary difference seems to turn on the self-reflective potential of the reason, versus the absorbed and involved action of these other powers.

Sri Aurobindo explores this question at length:  “All action, all perception, all aesthesis and sensation, all impulse and will, all imagination and creation imply a universal, many-sided force of knowledge at work and each form or power of this knowledge has its own distinct  nature and law, its own principle of order and arrangement, its logic proper to itself, and need not follow, still less be identical with the law of nature, order and arrangement which the intellectual reason would assign to it or itself follow if it had control of all these movements.  But the intellect has this advantage over the others that it can disengage itself from the work, stand back from it to study and understand it disinterestedly, analyse its processes, disengage its principles.  None of the other powers and faculties of the living being can do this; for each exists for its own action, is confined by the work it is doing, is unable to see beyond it, around it, into it as the reason can; the principle of knowledge inherent within each force is involved and carried along in the action of the force, helps to shape it, but is also itself limited by its own formulations.  It exists for the fulfilment of the action, not for knowledge, or for knowledge only as part of the action.  Moreover, it is concerned only with the particular action or working of the moment and does not look back reflectively or forward intelligently or at other actions and forces with a power of clear coordination.  No doubt, the other evolved powers of the living being, as for instance the instinct whether animal or human, — the latter inferior precisely because it is disturbed by the questionings and seekings of reason, — carry in themselves their own force of past experience, of instinctive self-adaptation, all of which is really accumulated knowledge, and they hold sometimes this store so firmly that they are transmitted as a sure inheritance from generation to generation.  But all this, just because it is instinctive, not turned upon itself reflectively, is of great use indeed to life for the conduct of its operations, but of none — so long as it is not taken up by the reason — for the particular purpose man has in view, a new order of the dealings of the soul in Nature, a free, rational, intelligently coordinating, intelligently self-observing, intelligently experimenting mastery of the workings of force by the conscious spirit.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development, Chapter 11,  The Reason as Governor of Life, pp. 103-104


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