Search This Blog

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Self-Recognition (Revised)
"... and you shall see My back; but My face shall not be seen."
-- Exodus 33:23
Henceforth, we shall consider the Anthropic Principle as the axiomatic basis of our journey to the metaphysics of self-empowerment: "The universe must have properties that allow life to develop because it was designed to generate observers."  As an axiom, this statement is not provable, but it is demonstrable.  If observation supports it, then it is assumed to be valid.
If the universe requires an observer, then does that imply that the universe, in some sense, has a purpose?  Purpose implies intelligence.  Does this imply that some aspect of the universe is intelligent?  If this is true, does it then mean we have a rudimentary concept of something that could be called "God"?
In "The Guide for the Perplexed", Maimonides defined the essential attributes of God.  God exists, is one, ls incorporeal, is intelligent, creates and governs.  Parallels to this can also be found in St. Thomas Aquinas' "Summa Theologiae".
The existence of God, like the Anthropic Principle, is axiomatic.  An axiom is similar to a statement of faith.  In both cases, you assert the truth of something based on observation.  Then you apply the statement to other observations.  If the other observations consistently support the statement, then the axiom can be considered to be true.  We now have two complementary axioms, one scientific and the other metaphysical.  Both assert the need for an intelligent observer.  Then, if we are to acquire knowledge of God, what are we to observe?  The quote from Exodus 33:23 can provide an answer.  It can mean that you cannot see me directly, but you can find me in the results of my presence, that is, my creation.  Both Maimonides and St. Thomas Aquinas assert that, because God is incorporeal, the only way to acquire knowledge of God is through the study of God's creation.  Then, a metaphysical Anthropic Principle might assert that God and the universe require an observer.  The task is made more difficult because the observer is also part of the observed.  We are part of God's creation.

According to Kabbalistic thinking, the first step to self-empowerment is self-recognition.  The term self-recognition definitely does not imply narcissism, megalomania or self-indulgence.  To the contrary, it requires a balance between the "inner self" (observer) and the "outer self" (observed).

Self-empowerment is achieved through the acquisition of knowledge of God.  This is an awesome and challenging task.  In a previous post (11/4/12), we found that if you see yourself as a "grasshopper" you are unable to meet the challenges presented by God.  Numbers 13 asserts that even the greatest power in the universe cannot empower people unless they choose to empower themselves.  And this starts with self-recognition.
The basis of this self-recognition lies in the realization that we were intended to have a special purpose in creation.  Knowledge itself is not a sufficient purpose.  Knowledge must be applied to become purposeful.  We, the acquirers, must become the appliers.  In this way, we become participants in the continuing process of creation.
Is this what prompted the psalmist to declare:
"8:5. What is man, that you are mindful of him? And the son of man, that you visit him?
6. For you have made him a little lower than the angels, and have crowned him with glory and honor.
7. You made him to have dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet;"

Original content copyright © Secular Kabbalist

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

A Request to My Readers

As an educator, I have preferred the Socratic approach: questions and conversation.  In setting up this site, I had hoped to apply the same approach.  However, the worldwide web is not a classroom.  It is too unwieldy to maintain classroom decorum.  Nevertheless, I still wish to, somehow, transform the spirit of the classroom to this website.  In this effort, I am requesting your assistance.

The word verification component of the comments section has been removed in order to provide easier access.  I am requesting that you use this to submit your questions and suggestions.  Please ensure that your input follows three basic rules: brevity, respect and relevance.  I cannot respond to each of your remarks, but I do promise that I will try, wherever possible, to incorporate your feedback into future posts.  It is my hope that this will make "The Secular Kabbalist" more responsive to you.

Thank-you for your assistance in this endeavor.  In the spirit of true connection, may we, together, create a site that is pertinent to the lives of many others.

Monday, December 17, 2012

The Challenge
"But of the Tree of Knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat of it, ..."  --  Gen. 2:17

From the beginning, it appears that humanity's purpose has been to challenge those forces that are beyond us.  In previous posts, I have emphasized the power of those forces and the need to adapt to them.  Most living creatures accept the environment and adapt themselves to it.  However, humans are driven to test every aspect of the environment, most often at considerable cost.

Does this uniquely human characteristic imply some cosmic purpose?  The parable of Adam and Eve indicates that this question has engaged the human psyche since humans have become self-aware.  The similar tales found in other ancient cultures further support this.

Adam and Eve were created in the comfort of the Garden of Eden.  Then they were given freedom of choice.  God warned (commanded) them not to eat of the Tree of Knowledge, and they chose to test God's warning.  This led to consequences of their own making.  They were forced to leave the comfort of the Garden and dwell in a harsh world.  Does this imply that human beings were created to deviate from Divine governance?  If you believe in one God that created and governs everything, then the answer is yes.  Then, why did that all-powerful God create a creature that had the power to deviate from God's will.

Could the answer be found in the text: Now the Lord God said, "Behold man has become like one of us, having the ability of knowing good and evil," (Gen. 3:22)?  Note that the text says, "having the ability of knowing good and evil".  The acquisition of knowledge requires challenge, and is achieved with great discomfort.  Is it possible that humans were intended to have the power to acquire knowledge?

A response to that question might be found in the anthropic principle of astrophysics and cosmology.  The four forces that govern the interaction of matter and energy have just the right properties to allow atoms to bond together into molecules.  These are the building blocks of the universe, and, ultimately, of intelligent life.  If the value of the fundamental constants, that determine the nature of these forces, were to deviate by an infinitesmal amount our universe would not exist.  This theory of the "fine tuning" of creation, is called the anthropic principle.   This led Brandon Carter, one of the founders of the anthropic principle, to state that "The universe must have properties that allow life to develop because it was designed to generate observers."  I consider this the most profound metaphysical statement of the twentieth century.  This also raises another question.  Does this need for intelligent life imply that the universe, or some aspect of it, is intelligent?

The function of an observer is to acquire knowledge.  Is that the purpose of humanity?  Maimonides responded to that question in metaphysical terms.  He asserted that the perfection of humans is attained by the acquisition of knowledge of God. 

As observers, humans have the capacity to interact with the cosmos.  Within certain limits, we can use our knowledge to adapt our environment to our purpose.  We are not corks floating on a vast sea.  We can choose to be partners in creation.

However, there is a price to pay for this elevation of humanity.    The price, as Genesis 3:15-24 teaches, is we become responsible for our choices and their consequences.  In this way, God's response to our challenge is to challenge us.  This is the gateway to self-empowerment.
Original content copyright © Secular Kabbalist

Monday, December 10, 2012

The Metaphysics of Economics - II

"We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them."  --  Albert Einstein

Our lives have largely been determined by the economy we have lived in over the past seventy years.  Our skills, our jobs and personal economic behavior are the result of that economic environment.  Now we face a changing economic environment, and the demand is on us to adapt to it.

Again, the principles of connection and balance come into play.  We must recognize that we are connected to everything in the economic world.  As that world changes, the nature of our connection changes.  Then, we must restore our balance within the changing connections.

The Bible story of Joseph provides a parable for dealing with the current economic environment.  Joseph was a prince among his people.  Suddenly, his world changed.  He became a slave, then a prisoner.  However, he ultimately became the second most powerful person in Egypt.  In each situation, he confronted the reality before him.  He then adapted all of the talents and skills that he possessed to that reality to achieve success.

The first thing we must do is to increase our awareness of that world that exists beyond our self.  Further, we must recognize that our self exists within that world, just as I was within the churning ocean as described in a previous post.

According to Adam Smith, labor is the most important currency in the economic world.  From an economic perspective, we trade our labor for our economic benefit.  However, the value of our labor is determined by the world beyond our self.  The law of supply and demand sets that value.  In a national economy, the value of labor is largely determined within the borders of the nation.  In a global economy, the value is determined globally.  We are currently in the turmoil of transforming from a national to a global economy.  This is changing the value of our labor.  History has taught us that these changes are usually irreversible.

The challenge for the individual, who has been living in a national economy where his/her labor had high value, is how to sustain the value of his/her labor in the global economy.  The measure of their success will be determined by their adaptability, their ability to rebalance their relationship with the external world.

The first step is to do as Abraham did.  Go out from yourself to the word beyond yourself.  What is going on in the changing world that is affecting the value of your labor?  If you are in manufacturing, can the same job be done somewhere else for less?  If you are doing telephone sales or service are there workers anywhere in the world who can do it for less.  This is the shift of the tide of the law of supply and demand from a national to a global economy.  If you want to sustain your economic value, you have to determine the labor of higher value that is needed in a global economy.  Then you must align yourself with the changing tide.

The next step is to go into your self.  The way to restore balance of self and the external world is self-recognition, transformation and training.  This begins with a thorough examination of all of your prior experience and skills.  Then you have to determine if one, or a combination, can be applied to increasing the value of your labor.  Many people simply do not recognize that they have skills, talents and experience that can be rebalanced to increase the value of their labor.  Finally, some training might be needed to complete the process.  Wherever possible, the training should focus on existing capabilities.  The idea is to reapply yourself, not to remake yourself.

For example, there is a person with manufacturing experience, who relates well with fellow workers and is an outstanding Sunday school teacher.  He/she can become a trainer or advisor to companies that have a large population of workers who have little familiarity with modern manufacturing.  If large companies can outsource, why can't individuals outsource their labor?  This can also encourage entrepreneurs to create the infrastructure needed to connect individuals to opportunities.  (Do you know how many millionaires were created by the Great Depression?)

Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson taught, "We hold the keys to our freedom, but we use them to lock ourselves in."  The same applies to our opportunities in a tumultuous world.


Original content copyright © Secular Kabbalist


Monday, December 3, 2012

The Metaphysics of Economics - I

The incident of the changing tide of the ocean in the previous post is analogous to our current economic situation.  The tide of our economy is changing and we are required to adapt to it.  We must learn to form a "partnership" with it. 

Furthermore, history has taught us that, in the case of economies, when the tide settles, the "ocean never returns to its previous state.  Humans started in a hunter-gatherer economy.  That was transformed into an agricultural economy, which was then transformed into a merchant economy.  Then came the industrial economy.  Now we are in what we call the postindustrial economy.

Each of these economic transformations produced major ad long lasting social changes.  Hunter gathers required tribes.  Agriculture led to settled villages.  Merchants required city-states; and industrialization led to nations.  Notice that each transformation contained the seeds for the next, which, thus far, have been irreversible.  Each of these transformations has also impacted on the life and role of individuals.  This is one example of the principle of connection in the lives of individual people.

What is our current transformation?  We have already named it, the global economy.  The great technological advances in communication and transportation have changed the nature of the connection among people.  The craftsman does not have to live in the same city.  The manufacturer no longer needs to be in the same country.  The strength of distant connections has increased.  Now we must adapt to those forces that impact on us.  First, we must recognize that we cannot "swim back to the same spot on the beach" and succeed.  We must accept that we will end up in a new and different reality and prepare ourselves for it.   We must align our self (From now on, I will use the word "self" instead of "inner world".) with a new reality.

Let us look at that new reality.  After World War II, the United States was the only significant industrial nation.  There was huge demand for manufactured goods and only the US had the capacity to respond.  With the help of the Marshall Plan, the US became the leading manufacturer, and the richest nation, in the world.  This also was the time when the power and value of labor increased.

Over time, the other nations began to catch up.  The major cost in manufacturing is labor.  The advantage began to shift to those nations that had manufacturing capacity and low labor costs.  The balancing forces of supply and demand kicked in.  Over the past forty years, the world has been remaking itself.  A current example is found in the following quote: "In just five years, China has surpassed the United States as a trading partner for much of the world, including U.S. allies such as South Korea and Australia, according to an Associated Press analysis of trade data." (AP 12/2/2012).

In this emerging world, the rich nations must learn to provide high value labor that is not available elsewhere.  An example of this is the company that used to produce computer-based design and support for special manufacturing equipment, and then manufactured the equipment.  After a while, they found that their overseas customers were using their designs to build the equipment cheaper than they could.  The company fell into serious trouble, and was planning to shut down.  Then they came up with an adaptive solution.  They would shut down manufacturing and sell their design and support services under an exclusive proprietary contract to those overseas companies that manufactured their equipment.  They thrived.

You might ask, what happened to those who did the manufacturing?   I am not sure.  But, as someone who is experienced in the application of Statistical Process Control, I do know that the people who do the manufacturing are best equipped to recommend what is needed for performance and process improvement.  Some of them could have been retrained, at little expense, and incorporated as advisors to the design and support teams.

Thus, the metaphysical principles of connection and balance apply to economic pragmatism.  In Part II we will examine how these principles may apply to the individual.



Original content copyright © Secular Kabbalist