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Limits of modern science

The common illusion of an "absolutely real" within relativity breeds philosophical sophistries and in particular an empiricist and experimental science wishing to unveil the metaphysical mystery of Existence (1); those who seek to enclose the Universe within their shortsighted logic fail to be aware, at least in principle, that the sum of possible phenomenal knowledge is inexhaustible and that, consequently, present "scientific" information represents a naught beside our ignorance - in short that "there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy" (Shakespeare) and that in order to extend our means of investigation to fit the scale of the total cosmos, we would have to begin by multiplying our human senses in mathematical progression, which brings us back to the unlimited, therefore to the inaccessible and the unknowable. [Treasures of Buddhism, p. 41-42].

(1)With the aid of giant telescopes and electronic microscopes, if need be. Goethe, when he refuses to look through a microscope because he did not wish to wrench from Nature what she is unwilling to offer to our human senses, displayed a most just intuition of the limits of all natural science, and at the same time the limits of what is human.

In all this wish to accumulate knowledge of relative things, the metaphysical dimension - which alone takes us out of the vicious circle of the phenomenal and the absurd - is expressly put aside; it is as if a man were endowed with all possible faculties of perception minus intelligence; or again, it is as if one believed that an animal endowed with sight were more capable than a blind man of understanding the mysteries of the world. The science of our time knows how to measure galaxies and split atoms, but it is incapable of the least investigation beyond the sensible world, so much so that outside its self-imposed but unrecognized limits it remains more ignorant than the most rudimentary magic. [Treasures of Buddhism, p. 42].

It will doubtless be objected that modern psychology, for its part, is not a science riveted to matter, but this plea fails to take note of the merely empirical character of that science: it is a system of observations and hypotheses, compromised in advance by the fact that those who practice it are ignorant of the profound nature of the phenomena they set out to study.

A science, to truly deserve that name, owes us an explanation of a certain order of phenomena; now modern science, which claims to be all-embracing by the very fact that it recognizes nothing outside itself as valid, is unable to explain to us, for instance, what a sacred book is, or a saint or a miracle; it knows nothing of God, of the hereafter or the Intellect and it cannot even tell us anything about phenomena such as premonition or telepathy; it does not know in virtue of what principle or possibility shamanistic procedures may cure illnesses or attract rain.(2) [Treasures of Buddhism, p. 43].

(2) There is a singular irony in the indignation of those who consider that belief in sorcerers and ghosts is incompatible with the science of the "atomic age", whereas this age is precisely - and utterly -- ignorant of what said "beliefs" mean. Only what can be verified "with laboratory clarity" is held to be true, as if it were logical and objective to demand, in the name of truth, conditions which may be contrary to the nature of things, and as if it were a proof of imagination to deny the very possibility of such incompatibilities.

All its attempts at explanations regarding things of this order are vitiated basically through a defect of imagination: all things are viewed in function firstly, of empirical "matter" - even if called by some other name and secondly, of the evolutionist hypothesis, instead of primary consideration being given to the principial and "descending" emanation of "ideas" and the progressive coagulation of substances,(3) in conformity with the principle of individuation on the one hand and of demiurgic "solidification" on the other. One tries to explain "horizontally" that which is explainable only "in a vertical sense"; it is as though we were living in a glacial world where water was unknown and where only the Revelations mentioned it, whereas profane science would deny its existence. Such a science is assuredly cut to the measure of modern man who conceived it and who is at the same time its product; like him, it implicitly claims a sort of immunity or "extraterritoriality" in the face of the Absolute; and like him, this science finds itself cut off from any cosmic or eschatological context.[Treasures of Buddhism, p. 43-44.

(3) Where the perennial philosophy says "Principle, emanation substance" modern science will say "energy, matter, evolution." ...

The man who wishes to know the visible -to know it both in entirety and in depth - is obliged for that very reason to know the Invisible, on pain of absurdity and ineffectualness; to know it according to the principles which the very nature of the Invisible imposes on the human mind; hence to know it by being aware that the solution to the contradictions of the objective world is found only in the transpersonal essence of the subject, namely in the pure Intellect. [From the Divine to the Human, p.143].

Science is supposed to inform us not only about what is in space but also about what is in time. As for the first-named category of knowledge, no one denies that Western science has accumulated an enormous quantity of observations, but as for the second category, which ought to reveal to us what one abysses of duration hold, science is more ignorant than any Siberian shaman, who can at least relate his ideas to a mythology, and thus to an adequate symbolism. There is of course a gap between the physical knowledge - necessarily restricted - of a primitive hunter and that of a modem physicist; but measured against the extent of knowable things, that gap is a mere milliliter.[Light on the Ancient Worlds, p. 36].