Is factual not actual?

by October 15, 2011

Question: Why should we bother about some other world that spiritualists often talk about? Shouldn’t our actual life be based on the factual world – the world that we see around us?

Answer: The word “factual” comes from the Latin facio, “to make or do.” Thus a fact is what has been made or done. It is a product of the work of our senses—our seeing, hearing, touching, smelling and tasting. ISKCON scholar Suhotra Swami explains in his remarkable book, Dimensions of Good and Evil:

“Factual knowledge can only be knowledge of the past. When we look up at the night sky, we do not see the stars as they are but as they were. It takes time for their light to reach our eyes. According to modern cosmology, the light of many of the stars we see now may be several thousand years old. Some of them may have exploded centuries ago…The ‘factual’ sun that brightens our eyes is always eight minutes in the past. No one on earth has ever seen the ‘actual’ sun. A slight time lag divides us from even the nearest objects of our perception. This ‘factual’ world of human sensory experience is the phenomenal world—a world that has already changed by the time we know it. Thus the phenomenal world, the world of facts, is a world of secondary, dead information. The world that is, the primary living reality, we never know. Facts, far from being ‘the whole truth’, are just signals conveyed by the network of our senses.”

Science can only explain the factual world, the world of the senses, whereas the actual world, the world of life, remains forever beyond the reach of science. That’s why factual science is silent about the fundamental questions of existence – origin, value and purpose. And yet knowledge of these directs our actual lives consciously and subconsciously.

The claim that science can explain all of reality, that the factual world is the actual world, is pseudoscientific and is called scientism.  From the viewpoint of the Bhagavad-gita (18.22), scientism is knowledge in the mode of ignorance: “That knowledge by which one is attached to one kind of work as the all in all, without knowledge of the truth, and which is very meager, is said to be in the mode of ignorance.” Factual knowledge makes us attached to one kind of work: material progress. It is ‘knowledge in ignorance’ because it increases our knowledge of the factual world, while keeping us in ignorance of the actual world.

Because we mistakenly call this dead world as “factual”, spiritualists remind us of the actual world of life and love where we originally belong and where we need to return to attain the immortality and ecstasy that is our destiny.

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