The Gulf Between the World of Ideas and the World of Life and Action

By the limitations of its very nature, the reasoning intelligence of man finds it difficult to hold two apparently contradictory ideas at the same time.  We tend towards formulations of “either/or” rather than an inclusive and holistic view that incorporates both.  This tendency helps to explain why the thinker, the idealist, the philosopher, the abstract scientist seems to have such a difficult time dealing with the complexity of the life energy, and why the practical man of action has little understanding for or patience with the abstractions of the ideal world of thought.  Yet both represent necessary elements in the human development.

Sri Aurobindo notes:  “…when it attempts a higher action reason separates itself from life.  Its very attempt at a disinterested and dispassionate knowledge carries it to an elevation where it loses hold of that other knowledge which our instincts and impulses carry within themselves and which, however, imperfect, obscure and limited, is still a hidden action of the universal Knowledge-Will inherent in existence that creates and directs all things according to their nature. … The idealist, the thinker, the philosopher, the poet and artist, even the moralist, all those who live much in ideas, when they come to grapple at close quarters with practical life, seem to find themselves something at a loss and are constantly defeated in their endeavour to govern life by their ideas.  They exercise a powerful influence, but it is indirectly, more by throwing their ideas into Life which does with them what the secret Will in it chooses than by a direct and successfully ordered action.  Not that the pure empiric, the practical man really succeeds any better by his direct action; for that too is taken by the secret Will in life and turned to quite other ends than the practical man had intended.  On the contrary, ideals and idealists are necessary; ideals are the savour and sap of life, idealists the most powerful diviners and assistants of its purposes.  But reduce your ideal to a system and it at once begins to fail; apply your general laws and fixed ideas systematically as the doctrinaire would do, and Life very soon breaks through or writhes out of their hold or transforms your system, even while it nominally exists, into something the originator would not recognise and would repudiate perhaps as the very contradiction of the principles which he sought to eternise.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development, Chapter 11,  The Reason as Governor of Life, pp. 111-112