Monday, May 10, 2010

Four epistemic methods of consciousness

Interesting post from Sandeep at Integral Yoga of Sri Aurobindo & The Mother.

Four epistemic methods of consciousness

The human consciousness in its attempt to know something divides itself into two parts : the first is the movement of identity whereby one gets to know something by becoming that thing and the second is the movement of differentiation where one stands apart as the subject and analyzes the entity as an object. Building on this observation, Sri Aurobindo outlined four epistemic modes of consciousness which differ from each other in the relative intensity of these movements of identity and differentiation [1].

The four modes can be defined as

  1. Knowledge by identity: One knows something by completely identifying one’s consciousness with it. There is no differentiation from the thing one wishes to know.
  2. Knowledge by intimate direct contact: In this case, the sense of identification is greater than the sense of differentiation.
  3. Knowledge by separative direct contact: In contrast to the previous mode, the sense of identification is now lesser than the sense of differentiation.
  4. Knowledge by indirect contact: In this situation, the sense of differentiation is complete. One knows something only as it exists on the circumference of one’s consciousness.

The rest of this article will explain these modes using a few examples.

Four epistemic modes of consciousness

Four ways of cognizing an internal movement

In order to distinguish these four modes, one must observe how consciousness fluctuates between the region from the forehead and the stomach and, at times, detaches itself from the turmoil on the surface. Let us take the emotion of ‘Anger’ as an example:

  1. I am Anger”. This is the first phase of anger. There is an uprush of wrath and the whole consciousness turns into a wave of anger. You know what anger is because you have become Anger. Sri Aurobindo called this Knowledge by Identity.
  2. I am angry”. Now the initial wrath is subsiding. The region around the heart is still burns and the mind is unable to articulate any reason for getting angry. This can be called Knowledge by intimate direct contact because as yet there is very little separation from the wave of anger.
  3. I am angry and it is for the following reason ”. In this phase, the heart is a little agitated and the region around the throat is also stressed but the mind has firmer control of the overall movement of consciousness. As a result, one is able to clearly articulate the reason for being angry. This is Knowledge by separative direct contact, in which the anger is still part of one’s consciousness but one has not completely succumbed to it.
  4. I see Anger arising in me but it has no anchor within me”. This is the phase of detachment. One senses a pulse of anger arising but one has the strength not to get caught up in it. One is aware of the wave as it rises and ripples through the regions of the heart, throat and mind without growing into a storm in the consciousness. This is Knowledge by indirect contact in which one does not succumb to wave of anger.

Similarly, one can take the example of ‘grief‘ or ‘depression‘:

  1. Knowledge by Identity: In the first phase, you enter into a state of shock, seemingly unconscious of your surroundings, unable to speak or see anything beyond your grief.
  2. Knowledge by intimate direct contact: You feel weighed down by a big hole in the heart and you mumble incoherently about the loss.
  3. Knowledge by separative direct contact: The overwhelming depression has subsided but the heart still feels weak. The mind has recovered to take charge and is able to clearly articulate the problem.
  4. Knowledge by indirect contact: You sense the wave of depression but do not succumb to it. The consciousness has taken the stand in equanimity and remains unmoved by the troubles of life.
Go read the whole post.

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