The Method

It seems that nowadays we have to choose between either rational but meaningless worldviews, or meaningful but irrational worldviews, but this does not need to be the case. The Synthesis is an attempt to see the world as both rational and meaningful. From this perspective, we will address some fundamental issues, such as the nature and meaning of life, the nature of the mind, biological evolution, and social and individual development.

Before considering these subjects though, we first need to clarify the methods used in the process. 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 regarded as empirical, but this is very different from our ordinary, everyday experience – it is even assumed that in order 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 ordinary perception). These have led to three corresponding approaches to knowledge acquisition: common sense, science and spirituality. Regarding reasoning (the other component mentioned above besides experience), there is a general agreement that it has given rise to philosophy[2]. 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 usually 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, we examine common misconceptions about these four approaches, their relevance, the relationship to their respective social frameworks, and their limitations. On this basis we make two claims. One is that each approach is incomplete on its own. The other is that remaining strictly within their respective frameworks is no longer helpful. We suggest that a more comprehensive and coherent understanding than we have at present requires rising above the existing frameworks and the synthesis of essential elements embedded in these approaches. A model that attempts to do so (and is implemented throughout the book) is described at the end.

[1] Indirect sources of knowledge, such as written materials or verbal communications, are not included as a distinct category 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.


The Method Chapters

The Common Sense Approach

Common sense is based on ordinary personal experiences (that are then shared). Although often neglected in scholarly writings, it is the most widely spread way of acquiring knowledge, skills and understanding. Common sense essentially uses heuristic methods that enable drawing intuitive insights or tacit knowledge from our experience.

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The Scientific Approach

This is the dominant approach at the moment. At its best, it combines inductive method (observation and experiment) and deductive method (e.g. theories, mathematical findings) and produces reliable explanations of natural phenomena.

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The Spiritual Approach

There are diverse views on what spirituality means. In this context, ‘spiritual approach’ is used as a general term for those perspectives that do not adhere to strictly materialist or reductionist views. In other words, it includes attempts to reach beyond immediate sensory perception and make cognitive claims about that which transcends ordinary experience.

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The Philosophical Approach

For centuries philosophy was an umbrella term for all the methods of rational enquiry.  Gradually, however, more and more disciplines gained their independence. Especially after the apparent failures of grand philosophical systems (such as Hegel’s), its field was rapidly shrinking.

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The Synthesis Method

All the above approaches contribute in their unique ways to the understanding of reality, but none of them is likely to provide a full picture. Not only are they incomplete and insufficient on their own, but they also seem to be stuck in ostensibly irresolvable conflicts with each other.

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