The Successes, the Limitations and the Failures of the Human Power of Reason

The power of reasoning is an essential element of the mind’s action in the human individual.  As a result of this power, and the associated skills that support it, such as observation, categorization, analysis and extrapolation, virtually all of our modern day successes in terms of harnessing the powers implicit in Matter can be attributed.  At the same time, the power of reason functions in a linear fashion and limits its focus to a line of development, exclusive of many other lines of development.  We thus see not only great progress in certain directions, but also a vast array of unintended consequences or countervailing forces that eventually bring about a state of gridlock and inability to solve the complex issues that face us.  That is the state of the world today, as we have apparently reached the limits of reason and thus are facing system failures of a magnitude that overwhelms our capacities.

In The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development, Sri Aurobindo observes:  “Here there has been the work of a reason that seeks always after knowledge and strives patiently to find out truth for itself, without bias, without the interference of distorting interests, to study everything, to analyse everything, to know the principle and process of everything.  Philosophy, Science, learning, the reasoned arts, all the agelong labour of the critical reason in man have been the result of this effort.  In the modern era under the impulsion of Science this effort assumed enormous proportions and claimed for a time to examine successfully and lay down finally the true principle and the sufficient rule of process not only for all the activities of Nature, but for all the activities of man.  It has done great things, but it has not been in the end a success.  The human mind is beginning to perceive that it has left the heart of almost every problem untouched and illumined only outsides and a certain range of processes.  There has been a great and ordered classification and mechanisation, a great discovery and practical result of increasing knowledge, but only on the physical surface of things.  Vast abysses of Truth lie below in which are concealed the real springs, the mysterious powers and secretly decisive influences of existence.  It is a question whether the intellectual reason will ever be able to give us an adequate account of these deeper and greater things or subject them to the intelligent will as it has succeeded in explaining and canalising, though still imperfectly, yet with much show of triumphant result, the forces of physical Nature.  But these other powers are much larger, subtler, deeper down, more hidden, elusive and variable than those of physical Nature.”

“The whole difficulty of the reason in trying to govern our existence is that because of its own inherent limitations it is unable to deal with life in its complexity or in its integral movements; it is compelled to break it up into parts, to make more or less artificial classifications, to build systems with limited data which are contradicted, upset or have to be continually modified by other data, to work out a selection of regulated potentialities which is broken down by the bursting of a new wave of yet unregulated potentialities.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Future Evolution of Man, Chapter Three, The Present Evolutionary Crisis, pp. 14-15

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