Part One — How do we know?
A short note before we start
author: Matthijs Cornelissen
last revision: January, 2019
As we noted in the Introduction, psychology is in a class of its own. While all other sciences are about the outside world and about things that can be studied objectively, psychology is about ourselves. The problem with this is, that what we are in our own selves, can only be accessed by going inside, subjectively, and it is not easy to make subjective knowledge reliable. So much so, in fact, that in the beginning of the twentieth century, mainstream academic psychology simply gave up on it. It redefined itself as the science of behaviour and by doing so, it turned psychology into a science of the objectively observable outside world like all the others.
We already saw that in Infinity in a Drop we will not follow this path. We will stick instead to the original and more natural definition of psychology, and we will take psychology as the science of the psyche, the soul, consciousness, and our own human nature as seen — at least primarily — from the inside. This means that we will have to face all the ontological, epistemological and methodological difficulties which behaviorism so successfully escaped from. The core of all these issues is our understanding of consciousness, and so we had, in the Introduction, a closer look at three major concepts of consciousness: the physicalist concept that supports modern medicine and much of mainstream scientific research, the group of exclusive spiritual concepts that support most Indian systems of yoga and meditation, and the integral concept Sri Aurobindo developed. We also explained there why we chose the integral understanding of consciousness as the foundation for our understanding of ourselves and the world in which we live. More specifically, we saw how Sri Aurobindo's concept of an ongoing evolution of consciousness provides a rich explanatory framework for the reality as a whole and for psychology in particular. So now, with all this background in place, it is time to start our real business, and take up the core issues of psychology.
Since everything in science is dependent on the validity of one's knowledge claims, the first area that Infinity in a Drop will take up is the central question, how we can make psychological knowledge more reliable and incisive.
Before we can get into this, however, we need to get a clearer picture of the broader domain of knowledge, its different types, modalities, realms, degrees of awareness, objectives, and stages. The reason we need to do this is that the kind of explicit, constructed, and evidence-based knowledge in which mainstream science presently specialises, is not the only kind of knowledge that can be made reliable. There are other types of knowledge that we humans have at our disposal, and some of these are actually more promising for psychology than the kind of knowledge science has concentrated on so far. We'll have a look at this issue in Chapter One.
In the second chapter we will explore how yoga, meditation and other elements of Indian know-how can be used to make subjective, inner knowledge precise, detailed, and reliable.
In the third chapter we'll then take up the difficult question, how these yoga-based approaches to psychological knowledge can be used for high quality first-person research, and how such yoga-based research compares to research in other disciplines.
Finally, in the fourth and last chapter of Part One, we will have a look at the result of all these efforts: the different types of intuitive and "higher" knowledge that can be developed by the techniques mentioned in the earlier chapters.
While this material is in progress, readers can resort to a stand-alone article that contains some of the material that will be covered in the first two chapters: “What is knowledge? A reflection based on the work of Sri Aurobindo”.