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Science and mythologies

The question of the spiritual sense underlying the myths is one of those which people gladly relegate to the realm of feeling and imagination and which "exact science" refuses to treat otherwise than through the medium of psychological and historical conjectures.(1)

(1) Some honorable exceptions are to be found among the anthropologists of recent years, whose approach to the peoples and the folklore they study in various parts of the world is neither patronizing nor hampered by an ingrained rationalist or materialist prejudice: in short they take into account the spiritual dimension of man, at least in some degree. However, the question remains open as to how far their studies are officially admitted into the category of 'exact science'.

For those of us, however, who disbelieve in the efficacy of a knowledge isolated from the truth as a whole (unless it be a mere matter of knowing physical things, actually palpable) a science run on these lines suffers precisely from this, namely that it is prone to substitute "exactness" for intelligence, let this be said plainly; it is in effect this very exactness, practically confined as it is to the quantitative order, which stands in the way of the decisive operations of pure intelligence, just because a meticulous and often arbitrary cataloguing of facts, possibly of small significance or rendered such thanks to the point of view adopted, replaces the intellectual and qualitative perception of the nature of things.

Science claims to be characterized by its refusal of all purely speculative premisses (the voraussetzungsloses Denken of the German philosophers) and at the same time by a complete liberty of investigation; but this is an illusion since modern science, like every other science before it moreover, cannot avoid starting out in its turn from an idea: this initial idea is the dogma concerning the exclusively rational nature of the intelligence and its more or less universal diffusion. In other words, it is assumed that there exists a unique and polyvalent intelligence (which in principle is true) and that this intelligence is possessed by everybody and furthermore that this is what allows investigation to be entirely "free" (which is radically false).

There are truths which intuitive intellection alone allows one to attain, but it is not a fact that such intellection lies within the capacity of every man of ordinarily sound mind. Moreover the Intellect, for its part, requires Revelation, both as its occasional cause and as vehicle of the 'Perennial Philosophy,' if it is to actualize its own light in more than a fragmentary manner.

In any case, when people speak of 'objective analysis' they nearly always forget the principal interested party, namely the intelligence (or unintelligence) of the man who analyses; they forget that, in many cases, the analysis of facts intended to prove such and such a thing whereof the existence or nonexistence is nevertheless evident a priori only serves to cover the absence, whether basic or accidental, of intellection and therefore of an intelligence proportioned to the magnitude of the problem as set.

When true myths are done away with, they inevitably come to be replaced by artificial myths. In practice, a mode of thought which is content to rely on its own logic alone while operating in a realm where ordinary logic opens up no vistas, thereby becomes defenseless against the various scientific mythologies of the time, rather in the same way as when religion is done away with, this leads in fact, not to a rational view of the Universe, but to a counter-religion, with its own 'Faith,' its dogmas, its taboos, in the name of which it will not be long before rationalism itself is eaten up.

To treat man as absolutely free - man who plainly is not absolute - is to set free all manner of evils in him, without there remaining any principle whereby their propagation might be kept within bounds. All this goes to show that basically it is a kind of abuse of language to give the bare name of' 'science' to a knowledge that only leads to practical results while revealing nothing concerning the profound nature of phenomena; a science which by its own showing eschews transcendent principles can offer no sort of guarantee as to the ultimate results of its own investigations.

Pure and simple logic amounts only to a very indirect manner of knowing things; it is, before all else, the art of coordinating data (whether true or false) according to a given need of causal satisfaction and within the limits of a given imagination, so much so that an apparently faultless argument can yet be quite erroneous in function of the falseness of its premisses; the more elevated the order of the thing to be made known, the more vulnerable will be the mind in that case.

What one is criticizing here is not the exactitude of science, far from that, but the exclusive level imposed on that exactitude, whereby this quality is rendered inadequate and inoperative: man can measure a distance by his strides, but this does not make him able to see with his feet, if one may so express oneself. Metaphysics and symbolism, which alone provide efficient keys to the knowledge of supra-sensible realities, are highly exact sciences -with an exactitude greatly exceeding that of physical facts - but these sciences lie beyond the scope of unaided ratio and of the methods it inspires in a quasiexclusive manner... [The essentials writings of F. Schuon, p. 337-338].