Four knowledge realms
last revision: July, 2016
 

The Four Knowledge Realms

Once we recognise how much the naïve and expert modes of these four types of knowledge differ from each other, it becomes clear that there are actually eight clearly distinct forms of knowing that give access to eight different aspects of reality. For psychology it is practical to order these eight methods of knowing on a trajectory that reaches from the purely physical outer reality (studied by objective science) to the deepest innermost self (studied by yoga). Doing so, we can then group the aspects of reality, which these eight methods of knowing allow us to explore, into four distinct 'knowledge realms': 'objective knowledge', 'subjective knowledge', 'inner knowledge' and 'self-knowledge'. Only the first two, 'objective knowledge' and 'subjective knowledge', can be accessed with some confidence in the ordinary waking consciousness (OWC). Normally only an extremely limited, vague and often confused sense of the deeper realms of 'inner knowledge' and 'self-knowledge' can be obtained while one is in the OWC. For a complete understanding of human nature, a detailed and accurate knowledge of these realms is however essential and getting access to them tends to require considerable 'inner work'. In the Indian tradition, this inner work is often referred to as 'yoga' and in this text we use the word 'yoga' in this broad and general sense (without implying in any way that it would not be possible to explore these two realms through other methods). Table 2 presents an overview of the four knowledge realms that are needed for a complete psychological understanding. It shows how the naïve and expert modes of Sri Aurobindo's four knowledge types work themselves out into eight forms of knowing that can be used to explore eight different aspects of reality.

 

Knowledge Realm

Known Reality

Knowledge Type
(acc. to usage)

Knowledge Type
(acc. to Sri Aurobindo)

 

Objective knowledge

Physical world

A. objective science

expert separative, indirect knowledge
(type 4)

O
W
C

B. ordinary, sense-based knowing

naïve separative, indirect knowledge
(type 4)

Subjective knowledge

outer nature

C. introspection

naïve separative, direct knowledge
(type 3)

D. superficial experience

naïve knowledge by intimate, direct contact
(type 2)

surface self

E. superficial awareness of own existence

naïve knowledge by identity
(type 1)

Inner knowledge

inner nature

F. puruṣa-based witness consciousness
(sākṣībhava)

expert separative, direct knowledge
(type 3)

Y
O
G
A

G. consciousness directly touching other consciousness

expert knowledge by intimate, direct contact
(type 2)

Self- knowledge

intuition;
Real-Ideas; Self

H. gnosis, truth-consciousness

expert knowledge by identity
(type 1)

Table 2. Four knowledge realms

 

The four 'knowledge realms' indicated in table 2 can be described as follows:

Objective Knowledge

This is the knowledge we have of the physical and socio-economic world around us. It is sense-based and (supposed to be) guided by reason and 'common sense'. There are two varieties of it. The naïve variety is simply whatever ordinary people know about the world outside of themselves. The expert variety is science. These two don't differ in principle, but they differ considerably in their actual processes and results. Science is more rigorous, specialised and cumulative; the senses are extended by instruments that have been constructed with the help of knowledge of this same type; the reason is extended in the form of mathematics. Modernity is the scene of an almost incredible collective growth of this type of knowledge.

Subjective Knowledge

Subjective knowledge is the knowledge we have of what is happening inside ourselves. The word 'subjective' has nowadays largely negative connotations, and I use it here only for the naïve variety of what we know about our own nature and our own self-existence. Within the realm of subjective knowledge, one can distinguish three types: (i) introspection, which is a naïve attempt at being 'objective' about oneself (knowledge of type three); (ii) experiential knowledge, which deals with processes we intimately identify with (knowledge of type two); (iii) a basic awareness of our own self-existence. All three are limited in scope and 'subjective knowledge' has access only to a very small part of all that happens inside us.

Inner Knowledge

This consists of the sophisticated, expert variety of the first two types of knowledge of which subjective knowledge uses the naïve variety. Expert knowledge of Sri Aurobindo's type three is the pure detached witness consciousness that allows genuinely 'objective' knowledge of whatever happens in one's own inner nature. The expert variety of type two, knowledge by intimate direct contact, allows one's consciousness to touch directly the consciousness in others and even in things so that one can know these by an intimate unmediated direct contact.

Self-Knowledge

This is the expert variety of knowledge by identity (type one), and it leads us directly to who we are in the very essence of our being. The little of real self-knowledge that reaches our surface consciousness may never attain that level of perfection, but according to the Indian tradition this type of knowledge is in itself intrinsically true and perfect: it is the secret origin of whatever there is of real truth in all other types of knowledge. As there is ultimately only one Self, a perfect knowledge of oneself is also supposed to make perfect knowledge of everything else possible.

As mentioned before, the realms of objective and subjective knowledge (as defined here) are the only ones that can be accessed fully in the ordinary waking consciousness (or OWC). Because we have made such tremendous progress with the expert variety of objective knowledge (at least in the physical domain), we tend to rely on it almost exclusively for our public affairs. Only where this type of knowledge can clearly not provide the answers, for example on issues that demand a value judgment, we respect subjective knowledge. The mainstream culture tends to doubt and distrust all forms of inner knowledge and what we have here called 'self-knowledge. The reason for this seems to be that the little we know about these inner realms tends to be either encrusted in irrational and self-contradictory religious dogmas, or based on all kind of non-self-critical experiments and beliefs at the margin of the global civilisation. As a result of all this, the little we know from here impresses the scientific mind as an intractable mixture of partial truths and total confusion that should perhaps be tolerated in people's private lives, but that has no place in public life or the hallowed halls of science. To get high quality inner knowledge and self-knowledge, we need an exceptionally high level of inner purity and an extremely difficult to achieve mastery over a whole range of different types of consciousness based on an inner discipline for which mainstream American psychology has no established method. There can be no doubt that mystics and other especially gifted individuals have gone far in this direction in all times and cultures, but the Indian tradition has specialised in it to a degree and on a scale for which there seems no parallel. In the process it has developed an enormous amount of detailed know-how. In the following chapters we will try to show how we can make use of this to develop a more comprehensive psychological understanding.

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