This book will discuss some fundamental issues, such as the nature and meaning of life, the nature of the mind, and biological, individual and social development. Before these subjects are considered though, the method used in the process needs to be clarified first.

Knowledge of the world, as the philosopher Aristotle argued many centuries ago, comes through experience interpreted by reason[1]. However, throughout history, experience as a source of knowledge has acquired different faces. For example, scientific observation is considered empirical (based on experience), but this is very different from ordinary experience - it is even assumed that to reach objectivity, scientists have to detach from any personal involvement. In fact, three qualitatively distinct types of experience can be recognised overall: personal experience, impersonal experience (observation), and transpersonal experience (experience that transcends common perception). These have led to three corresponding approaches to knowledge acquisition: common sense, science and spirituality. On the other hand, it is generally accepted that reasoning (the other component mentioned above besides experience) has given rise to philosophy[2].

What all these four approaches share is that they are dynamic processes. Due to language and other limitations, we can never grasp truth fully, but we can keep moving closer and closer. So, in principle, knowledge acquisition can go on endlessly. However, each of these approaches has been situated within social frameworks and practices that have an organising and restraining function. Common sense is rooted in various cultural settings, science is normally associated with materialism, spirituality is traditionally linked to various religions, and philosophy is frequently embedded in certain ideologies or ‘-isms' (such as Marxism, existentialism, post-modernism).

In this part, common misconceptions about these four approaches, their relevance, the relationship to their respective social frameworks, and their limitations are examined first. On this basis two claims are made. One is that each of them is incomplete on its own. The other is that remaining strictly within their respective frameworks is not helpful any longer. It is suggested that more comprehensive and coherent understanding than we have at present requires rising above the existing frameworks and the synthesis of essential elements imbedded in these approaches. A model that attempts to do so (and is implemented throughout the book) is described at the end.

  • [1]. The concern here is only with unmediated knowledge. Indirect sources, such as verbal communications or written materials, may well be the main ones nowadays. They are not included as a distinct category though, because of their derivative nature (in principle, they can be traced back to the above sources).
  • [2]. In practice, of course, none of these approaches relies strictly on one source, and they all use reason to some degree.