Part Two — How do we know?
A short note before we start
Matthijs Cornelissen
last revision: 27 April 2021

N.B. The text of Part Two is still "under construction"! While this work 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”.

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 comprehensive explanatory framework for the reality as a whole and for psychology in particular. After this we had in Part One a look at the Self and the basic structure of the personality.

In this second Part we will have a look at cognition, and the crucial question how to 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 sufficient for psychology. As we will see in chapter one, there are other, more suitable types of knowledge, which can be developed with an equal open mindedness, intellectual rectitude and rigour, as we find at present mainly in the hard sciences.

In the second chapter we will explore how yoga, meditation and other elements of Indian know-how can be used to make these other types of knowledge more 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- and second-person research, and how such yoga-based research compares to the kind of objective research used in other disciplines.

In the fourth and last chapter of Part Two, 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.

The practical applications of these different types of knowledge we will take up in Part Four, Working on Oneself, and in Part Five, Working with Others.

There are a few short notes on the history of the different ways in which mainstream science has dealt with inner knowledge in the Appendix.