The Revolution Science Brought To Philosophic Thinking

by Roger Bourke White Jr., copyright March 2018


One of the interesting insights that has come to me while reading about Asian philosophies is what a revolution the scientific method created when thinking about esoteric issues such as "What is our role in the universe?" This is a question that is at the heart of many philosophies, religions and scientific inquiries. The difference, the revolution, is how closely the insights are tied to what is happening in the real world. In philosophy and religion arbitrary choices are made and these become the core of the thinking. In science choices are made and are then constantly checked to see if they still harmonize with the real world.

The Yoga Example

Lets use Sankhya and yoga as an example of philosophy addressing this issue.

According to the Asian Philosophies by John M. Koller book, Chapter Eight, the school of Sankhya, which created yoga, was concerned with the issue of whether or not there were surprises possible in our universe and whether or not our human essence was linked to the essence of the universe. Arbitrary answers were declared and then philosophical thought and rituals were structured based on those choices. Yoga was the ritual that evolved. The goal of yoga was to reduce the suffering an individual experienced. If the person practiced yoga well, they would learn to meditate well, and they would both gain insight and reduce their worldly suffering.

Again, the key to this school of thought are the arbitrary choices made as premises: no, there are no surprises, and no, the human essence is not part of the universe. These choices were made when the philosophy was founded around fifth century BCE, and they are not reexamined in the light of how the real world functions. They are taught, and along with them yoga is taught.

The scientific method, on the other hand, constantly reexamines how the real world functions. This is the heart of science experiments. And, based on the results of those experiments, the view of the world is updated.  I speculate that the aspiring scientists of those ancient days in South Asia when Sankhya was being created were disparaged as “farmer philosophers” because they spent so much time studying the land and material things instead of devoting their attention to higher aspirations such understanding Brahman and Atman.


In the world of science this updating is a never ending process, and this is the revolution that has made scientific inquiry so distinct from philosophical and religious inquiry.



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