The Scientist and the Visionary – M.S.Srinivasan

The youth who will build the future world has to combine in himself or herself the objective look of the scientist and the extended gaze of the visionary.  They represent two clusters of faculties, which are essential for creative remoulding of human life.

The Objective Look

The essence of the scientific temper is an objective, unbiased and impersonal look on facts as they are.  A simple look with a silent mind without any preconceived mental and moral notions is a much more fertile source of insight than laborious analysis and voluminous speculations.  Here are two illustrative and amusing stories on this subject.

The venue is a conference of scientist and scholars.  They were discussing animatedly a profound problem: How many teeth a donkey has? Each one was giving a different figure supporting it with elaborate explanations, theories and quotes from authorities.  A young scientist in the conference silently went out of the conference room.  After a few minutes he came back to the room, holding a donkey in his hand.  He opened the mouth of the donkey and said to the shocked audience: “Now Count”.

Here is another story. A Master and his disciple were walking in a park.  The Master points out to a rabbit and says to his disciple “Look, there is a rabbit, how does it look like.”  The disciple exclaims “Oh, it looks like a glorious God.”  The Master quips “I thought you are an intelligent boy, I never expected such an idiotic answer from you.”  The disciple, very much irritated, replied sharply.  “Yes, I agree I am an ignorant man. But you are an enlightened soul.  How does the rabbit look like to you”?  The Master replied calmly: “Like a rabbit”.  So to look at the rabbit as a rabbit is part of the scientific outlook.

The other aspect of scientific objectivity is a certain moral equanimity in observing or understanding the negative side of life.  Harsh, self-righteous and condemnatory judgements are contrary to the scientific as well as the spiritual outlook.  There has to be a non-judgemental moral equanimity like for example the attitude of a chemist to the poisonous or beneficial substance or that of a true social scientist or criminologist to criminal behaviour.  A true chemical scientist has no mental or moral revulsion for poison nor has he any moral attraction to honey. He can analyse both cyanide and honey objectively without any emotional or moral reactions and say why cyanide kills and honey is healthy.  Similarly a criminologist with a well-developed scientific mind will never judge or condemn the criminal, which he leaves to the police, judiciary and the media.  He will try to understand with an impersonal objectivity what are the economic, social, cultural and psychological causes of criminal behaviour within the individual and in the society and how to prevent, minimize or eliminate these causative factors.

However we must keep in mind this moral equanimity applies only to the process of observation and understanding and not to the end-use of knowledge.  A criminologist will not lend his knowledge impartially to police as well as the criminal.  He will not lend his knowledge to a criminal to enhance his criminal effectiveness! This scientific objectivity has to be kept not only in observing the outer world but also our inner world.  In the following passage, The Mother gives a vivid and clear description of how to observe ourselves for self-knowledge.

 “—to become conscious of all the constituent elements of the being, material and sensory as well as intellectual and spiritual; we must become acquainted with the mechanism of the life within us, with all its tendencies, qualities, faculties and varied activities, very impartially, without any preconceived idea of good and evil, without any absolute or arbitrary judgement (for our judgements are inevitably lacking in clear-sightedness) about what should subsist and what should disappear,  what should be suppressed.  Our vision of what we are must be objective, without bias, if we want to be sincere and integral.  We are faced with a universe which we must explore down to its smallest details, know in its most obscure and infinitesimal elements, with a scientific attitude of perfect impersonality, that is, without any a priori judgement.”

The Extended Gaze

However the scientific outlook alone is not enough for a total and transformative action.  This way of looking at things is mainly confined to the present and visible facts.  If it is pursued to its utmost limits of perfection, it can discern the hidden patterns or laws behind the outer phenomenon and tends towards the visionary gaze.  But the gaze of the visionary is predominantly oriented towards the invisible and the future.  The visionary is the one who can see or intuit the invisible realities behind the outer phenomena and the future possibilities behind present trends.  While observation and reason are the main faculties of the scientist, intuition and imagination are the predominant faculties of the visionary.

All the great artists are visionaries who can see the unseen, occult and spiritual truths behind the outer form.  Here is an interesting episode from the life of a great Indian artist.  He was supervising a group of students in the large lawns of a venerable institution.  One of the students was drawing a huge tree.  The great artist came to the student and asked “have you seen the tree”.  The student was surprised and thought how can I miss such a big tree.  The artist said to the perplexed student “I am not talking about the outer form of the tree but asking have you seen the spirit of the tree.”  Similarly when Michael Angelo was asked how he chose the figure for his sculptures, he replied he could see the figure in the stone!

The other type of visionary is the idealistic thinker who can visualize a world of Utopian perfection, or a world of truth, beauty and goodness free from all the ugliness and imperfections of the present.  Such Utopian visions cannot be dismissed lightly as idle dreaming.  For, our thought and imaginations are not abstraction but creative forces and can evoke or invoke possibilities which lie in the womb of the future.  As Sri Aurobindo points out: “Earth’s winged Chimeras are Truth’s steeds in Heaven”.  And if, these visions are in harmony with the truth and law and destiny of humanity or the world, they acquire a realising force.  Again as Sri Aurobindo points out: “The ideal creates the means of attaining the ideal, if it is itself true and rooted in the destiny of the race.”

The third type of visionaries are the leaders of action in business, politics and society with a pragmatic intuition into some unmet needs or unmanifest possibilities.  They are not only dreamers but realisers because they put their vital force and executive skills into their dreams.  For example Bill Gates was able to see the future potentialities of software and created the software industry.  Similarly, the political visionaries of America like Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin gave a practical form to the ideals of democracy.

But the highest and the most creative type of visionaries are spiritual visionaries.  This is because spiritual consciousness is more or less in direct contact or union with the creative consciousness of the universe.  So, a spiritual vision of life projected from a spiritual consciousness has the highest creative force; it releases a spiritual force which can make and remake a nation or a civilization.  As Sri Aurobindo explains, the spiritual force “not only creates the future but creates the materials for the future.”  All great civilizations and cultures are built by such spiritual visionaries like the Vedic sages of India, Laotse and Confucius of China, Socrates and Plato of Greece and Mohammad of Islam.  Whenever such a spiritual vision is activated in the consciousness and life of a nation, it will be followed by a new era of all round progress and prosperity for the nation.

The Implications for Human Development

We are now brought to the practical questions: what are the implications of the above discussion for education, training and human development.  The first important factor which we have to understand is that the faculties of the Scientist and Visionary are not contradictory but complement each other.  They can be developed simultaneously.

The discipline for developing the scientific faculties are an objective, impersonal and unbiased observation of the world within and around us without likes and dislikes, judgement, condemnation, preconceived mental or moral notions or preferences.  Along with this discipline of observation there must also be other qualities like intellectual honesty and rectitude in using reason, openness of mind, critical questioning and a pragmatic turn towards experimentation, testing and application.  The path for developing the visionary faculties is systemic cultivation of intuition and imagination through mental silence, inner awareness, meditation and creative visualization.

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