Monday, June 21, 2010

Paradigm Shift


It has been a long and short sixteen years since the great spiritual leader Rabbi Menachem Mendel Scheerson has departed. To many who just marked the anniversary of this very difficult date, he is known simply as the Rebbe, a term that carries multiple connotations of endearment.

Peering through the time tunnel of all those years since I first became introduced to his teachings, I reflect back on how my life has been so far touched by his teachings.

Truthfully, his teachings enriched my understanding in too many ways to innumerate. However, there is one teaching that keeps popping up as I look back.  However, in order to appreciate why this teaching hit the spot with me, I need to lead up to it.

It's human to make certain automatic assumptions about the very fabric of existence, simply taking certain features of the universe as axiomatic. For instance, it's common knowledge that certain people once accepted that the earth is flat. This was axiomatic to their world view. Many thought that if a sailor went too far out to sea, he'd slip off the edge of earth and be cast into space.

I have found a couple of my own similar "axioms" over the years that needed correcting. In my early teens I thought that time was simply part of the very fabric of existence. I thought that time had to be extremely primordial because everything needed a framework of time to exist in. If it had no time to exist, it would cease existing. If there's existence, then axiomatically there also had to be a time frame work to allow it's existence.

Based on this perspective, it seemed perfectly plausible to pop the question to a Rabbi, "Who created the Creator?"

He calmly responded, "Well, the Creator created time just like He created mountains and lakes. Since time is His own creation, He's beyond time, completely transcending it without being affected by it."

"Notions like before and after are functions of time. Without time, there's no before or after. Therefore, your question does not even begin."

I must admit that it was a real paradigm shift for me to essentially flip frameworks. Instead of thinking of time as so axiomatic to reality and unintentionally considering it an all encompassing framework, including of the Creator Himself, I now began to think of the Creator as the all encompassing framework for everything, including of time itself. From this point onward, I considered time merely a sub-framework (which still encompassed much of creation).

I encountered a paradigm shift of similar magnitude from studying the Rebbe's teachings.  Like time, I thought that logic and reason were part and parcel of the very fabric of existence. Only, this "axiom" I carried  into my adulthood; Possibly because Judaism, being quite at home in rational and logical thought, rarely challenged this "axiom". The few bumps I encountered carrying this "axiom" on Judaism's road I simply glossed over as ideas that might one day make sense when thought through more carefully (possibly in a mystical light).

When studying the Rebbe teachings I encountered for the first time that the earliest stages of creation were pre-logical and pre-reasonable. At these very early stages the Creator was just expressing His divine desire. Only later on in creation, He created logic and reason as a means for bringing His primordial desire into fruition. 

This is similar to an architect who first desires a certain house and only afterwards draft blueprints on a drawing board, charting a logical course to bring his desire into fruition.

Therefore, logic is just a created tool to bring the divine desire into fruition. However, just as the Creator transcends time, so too, He transcends logic. Logic is a creation just like mountains and trees (and time) are.  Consequently, reality passed through a phase when logic and reason had not yet emerged on scene. Creation was naked divine desire, yet to don clothing of logic.

When we look at certain Biblical commandments, many make sense, some don't. While it might make sense not to allow certain social ills that almost everyone can relate to, do all the ritually based commands readily make sense, if at all?

This was how the Rebbe's teachings paradigm shifted me, I was taught to realize that a command is a divine desire. As desire the commands were brought into being before logic was. Therefore, the commands are truly beyond logic. Therefore, they are not bound to follow logic. Sometimes on the way down to the earthplane, like much else of reality, the commands dress themselves in logic - either more fully or less fully. However, the logical side of a commandment, no matter how compelling, is only its clothing, not the real commandment itself.  The real commandment is a soul that logic cannot contain!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

New Dimensions


Admittedly, the following essay is speculative. However, it represents a sincere attempt to make sense of our larger reality to the best of my capacity, as of the time writing this essay. At the very least, the essay offers some interesting food for thought.

In her work “Warped Passages”, the physicist Lisa Randall defines a dimension as a passage, a new direction. The following “two dimensional analogy” is not mine. Credit belongs to Edwin A. Abbott (1838-1926) who wrote it into a novel called, "Flatland". It was a work of genius that woke up many intellectuals to the implications of dimensionality.

We live in a universe that has three dimensions of space. Our three dimensions are length, width and height. Had our universe been a two dimensional universe, it would have been flat, containing only length and width. Hence, the name for the fictional universe called, “Flatland”.

A two dimensional creature living in the two dimensional universe of Flatland observes as a three dimensional ball crosses the flat plane of his universe. As the ball moves through, what does this two dimensional creature see? He sees a series of separate discs moving through his universe. In three dimensional space a ball is a single unit. However, in two dimensional space the same event translates into a vision of a series of flat discs.

In its own way, this is a commentary on the state of our own perception. We are biologically wired to see within the limits of three dimensions of space. If an entity existing in four or five dimensional space were to pass in front of our eyes, it would be perceived as fragmented. Perhaps limiting the dimensionality of a creature’s perception is part of the secret for providing that creature with a diversified universe. What's whole in a higher dimensional perception appears fragmented in a lower dimensional perception.

This might also be part of the secret of spiritual realms. These realms don’t necessarily have to exist in a different universe. They simply can be the way creatures wired to perceive more dimensions than we do experience the very same universe. Therefore, what some of what we experience as fragmented, they perceive as whole. So for example a prophet in deep meditation might isolate his or her soul from physicality to the level where s/he might perceive past, present and future as a singular whole, seeing the future with the same ease that s/he sees the present. By contrast, in his or her normative consciousness the past, present and future are experienced in distinct fragments.

A Kabbalah teacher of mine uses this notion to demonstrate how sometimes realities that seem at odds or even contradictory to the human experience, can be in perfect harmony or even a unified oneness in a spiritual realm that has more dimensions to hold it together. For example, he explained the particle/wave paradox of light using this notion.

The doorway to the area of physics known as Quantum Mechanics was opened by experiments that produced mixed messages about the nature of light. In certain experiments light behaved like a steam of particles, called photons. In other experiments, light behaved like a wave. Physicists were confused, “Is light particles or waves?”

My teacher taught me based on the teachings of Kabbalah that light is both waves and particles. Both expressions of light are simultaneously true and co-exist as one seamless entity in a higher reality. If light were seen from the vantage point of its true realm (not from where we're seeing it) it would look like a singular reality. It only manifests separately as particles and waves because human perception can only process in limited dimensions. As a result light fragments in our realm, splitting up an item that is one in a higher dimensional reality.

Following this logic consistently to one of its possible inferences, it seems that a what makes one realm higher than the next might merely be the amount of dimensions that its creatures can perceive in. So literally the perceptions of its creatures create the realm. Creatures capable of perceiving in more dimensions are just by their own perception living in a higher spiritual realm than creatures who perceive in fewer dimensions.

Our Creator is infinite in most absolute sense. He creates and removes dimensions to differentiate realms. He exists as if infinitely dimensional.