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Tuesday, February 5, 2013

The Observer
"Torah enables a spiritual person to engage the
world and find there all for which his soul thirsts."
-- Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson

Most of us have been raised to believe that the purpose of metaphysics/mysticism is to take us to a world beyond the world we live in.  This is misdirection.  As Rabbi Schneerson asserts, the place to acquire knowledge of God is in this world. 

 This is echoed throughout history.  When Moses was told that he could only see God's back (Exodus 33:23), it meant that he could only see the consequences of God's presence in this world.  Later, Maimonides declared that "we can only obtain a knowledge of Him through His works; His works give evidence of His existence, and show what must be assumed concerning Him, that is to say, what must be attributed to Him either affirmatively or negatively."  Variations of this idea are found in many metaphysical systems, such as Zen Buddhism and Yoga.  Then, in order to acquire knowledge of God, the metaphysician must seek evidence of God in this world.

In previous posts, I have tried to develop the idea that science, economics, national philosophy and even swimming in the ocean can demonstrate metaphysical principles.  Furthermore, I have addressed some of the issues of our own perception of the world that are barriers to our recognition of the metaphysical realities of our world.  If we choose to take the Anthropic Principle seriously, then all of these examples address our role as an observer.

Both the kabbalistic and the scientific approach to ourselves as observers recognize a paradox.  We are both the observer and the observed.  The role of an observer is to separate her/himself from the observed.  But, we are a part of the creation that we are trying to observe.  This causes a confusing complexity to our role of observer.  

The scientific method has demonstrated its ability to provide us with an extremely good method for approximating that separation.  The teachings of kabbalah contain the potential for achieving a similar level of approximation when applied to this world.  This is exactly what Rabbi Schneerson was referring to in the above quote.

To illustrate this paradox in concrete terms, I will go back to the results of a calculation that I did many years ago.  The problem was to determine the optimum body temperature for a living creature required to achieve maximum ability to perform work in the external world.  The result, relative to the Earth's average ambient temperature, was 98.6°F.  This is the average body temperature of a human being.  For creatures of higher temperature (e.g. birds), they have to use all their available energy for feeding and survival.  For creatures of low temperatures (e.g. snakes), they need heating from the sun in order to feed and survive.

It is this optimum temperature, relative to ambient temperature, that provides humans with the excess energy needed to acquire knowledge, and to build pyramids and spaceships.  It offers a profoundly personal demonstration of how the environment determines our behavior.  Furthermore, our acquisition of knowledge demonstrably affects our environment.

When we acquire knowledge of the external world, we are the observer.  When we apply that knowledge to influence the external world, we become part of the observed.  This creates a cycle of observer - observed that leads to growth and adaptability.  This is the path to Truth / God.  The challenge to the metaphysician is to maintain the delicate balance between observer and observed.
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