David left us with an interesting comment. He remarked that the material we were reading and discussing had to be taken on faith. Implying that it was not historically real.
He said that as if it was a problem, that it meant that the material was therefore tainted.
Let’s start with a bit of perspective.
Myths are ‘sacred history’. They are not verifiable historical facts. They are images, symbols, and stories that define a culture’s values and meaning.
Our TaNaK aka The Torah, Nevim (all the prophetic writings including the book of Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings, the major prophet books and well as the 12 Prophets book) and then the Ketuvim which is all the rest of the biblical text, aka The Hebrew Scriptures is not a historical document in the modern sense of the word, but a collection of mythology. There is nothing of significance that can ever by historically verified. The stories recount dialogues of the characters in the text – all of that is the significant and meaningful accounts and none of that can be verified.
There was no means of verification – without news reporters, eye witness written records, and clearly no audio records or video records – all the significant means of verification are lacking. Just as having the birth certificate of Abraham Lincoln does not verify the words he spoke at the speech we call the Gettysburg Address, so does all the archeological material that can be amassed will never verify what the Hebrews heard standing at Mount Sinai, or what songs David wrote and sung.
The most semi-verifiable texts are the major prophet and minor prophet texts when they contain the revelations of those prophets. Since these are the writings of some person recording their mystical vision and revelations . However, like the writings of Lao Tzu in the Tao Te Ching, or some of the texts of the Buddha – the possibility that we can ever verify who the author was and that the text contains the actual words of that author, this is not really possible. If you imagine how to verify Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and apply this to those text I mentioned you will see the difficulties. We can verify Lincoln’s writings but we can never verify those other texts with the same sort of accuracy.
The TaNaK is mythology. It is important as such. It should not be confused with a historical record of the events contained in it. It has more in common with the historical plays written by Shakespeare, or the Homeric tales of the Iliad and the Odyssey. The Rabbinic writings of the Oral Torah, such as Talmud, Midrash collections are again commentary on the Torah and the rest of the TaNaK writings. They are the opinions of the writers, but they are themselves not purporting to document verifiable history.
As for the Kabbalah writings for example of the Zohar and Rabbi Isaac Luria, all of these are again not of much historical verifiable information but rather the accounts of the mystics and their understanding as gathered from their mystical events. They contribute to the mythology of Rabbinic Judaism.
Mythology is not to be confused with verifiable historical information. It may be coincidence contain facts that can be verified, but that is not the reason those stories are recorded and recounted. For example, it turns out that there was a city of Troy and the citizens were involved in a war with those who we call the ancient Greeks. But those Homeric myths are not trying to record history as we now know it but were recording mythology – sacred/important stories that define and describe the cultural values of a people.
For the most part we all take on faith the writings of historians, scientists, and news reporters. We almost never verify what those people are recounting ourselves. We do not do the actual fact checking. We simply take on faith that someone has and can fact check those statements. Thus, we take on faith the theory of the Big Bang as describing the creation of the universe. The writings of William James fully explores these important idea in his books Pragmatism, The Meaning of Truth, and his essay The Will To Believe.
We can on faith many things – since we do not actually have the time or the means to do actual fact checking ourselves. So, dismissing something because we have to take it on faith is a foolish statement since it fails to appreciate how much we rely on trusting others to do the job of fact checking and verifying. We simply assume that something like the Big Bang theory of creation is verifiable whereas the account of creation in the Torah or in the Zohar and in the teachings of Rabbi Luria are not capable of being fact checked.
Mythology is not important because it can be fact checked. It is important because it brings purpose and meaning to one’s life. Viktor Frankl in his books Man’s Search for Meaning and The Doctor and the Soul, explore and explain the vital importance for a person’s psychological well-being and even physical survival is vital for having something, some ideas, that can affirm that life is worth living. Mythology is created for that very purpose. It is a means to give and to explain how and why life is worth living. Mythology inspires us.
A differentiate between verifiable facts that can be said to be true and ideas that are inspirational and that are truths. I take the word ‘truth’ from the Declaration of Independence wherein it states: ”We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” It is important to recognize that statement contains no verifiable fact. It merely states an inspirational declaration of faith. It has become a political doctrine that is the motivation for the laws that have been enacted in our country. It is more like the mythology of America then any statement of history or science.
For more of an exploration of these ideas you can refer to my essays in my book Find Your Way.
Therefore, I believe we can find inspiring truths contained within the writings of the Jewish mystics. They are records that continue to describe, explore and explain our people’s mythology. It would be a serious mistake to think that they contain any verifiable statements. However, it would also be a serious mistake to dismiss them. We need myths to give life meaning.
Let’s go back to Newtonian physics. Let’s return to the game of billiards. A perfect Newtonian physic playground.
Causality is the understanding that according to the rules of Newtonian physics that govern the way large visually observable objects interact we can tell that for every action there is an opposite and equal reaction. Causality works with probabilities. There is always a chance for the unexpected and for error.
Let’s say I am extraordinarily good billiards player. I have my pool stick and I examine the billiard table. I decide to hit the cue ball with my stick and aim it so that it the ball will strike the eight ball and send it traveling to end up in the back right pocket on the table.
Causality says I should be able to do this. If I successfully hit the cue ball with my stick with the proper impact and the proper angle it will careen into that eight ball and then send the eight ball to move and go into that pocket.
Determinism says that I will always, 100% of the time will have success. I will never fail. It is inevitable. The outcome is determined by my action and the laws of Newtonian physics.
But, the real world doesn’t work that way.
I can make a mistake.
I being an extraordinary player can do this say 95% of the time. Or even say 99% of the time. See, what I said. But if you watch real players and watch them over every game they play, there is some chance that they will flub up. Old age, having too much to drink, still being angry with a love one, or some worry about work, whatever, something can cause even the best player to make a mistake. That 1% or 5% possibility pops up and you don’t hit the cue ball with the right angle or the right amount of energy and off it goes and fails to hit the eight ball in the needed way and the eight ball travels but doesn’t go into that far right pocket. It goes somewhere other than where I intended.
Causality with probability is how the real world operates.
Causality with probability explains how and why billiard balls move.
The game of billiards is never a pre-determined inevitable outcome.
Determinism is a fantasy.
Probability and causality is a reality.
“In the history of science, Laplace's demon was the first published articulation of causal or scientific determinism, by Pierre-Simon Laplace in 1814. According to determinism, if someone (the demon) knows the precise location and momentum of every atom in the universe, their past and future values for any given time are entailed; they can be calculated from the laws of classical mechanics.”
Laplace lived at a time when Newtonian physics and the idea of a ‘clockwork universe’ was considered a reality. Thus the idea of the universe being deterministic made sense. Now, with the reality of the Quantum physics it seems foolish.
The perfect Newtonian playground is a pool table. Billiard balls getting hit is a perfect example of Newtonian physics and its rules to explain the movement of those balls.
Let me demonstrate the folly of believing that we live in a deterministic universe.
Imagine a game of billiards. All the balls are nicely racked up in that triangle. Two players whose skill level is known are the two players. Now, if the universe was truly deterministic then here is a perfect set up to prove it. Can anyone possibly determine that game of billiards exactly and perfectly? Describing each move in the game before it happens, perfectly and completely with 100% accuracy?
The answer is no.
It is impossible.
Yet, that game of billiards is a played out in a completely Newtonian physics situation. Each move is prescribed by Newtonian physics. Nothing that happens in that game is not determine by the laws of Newtonian physics. Yet, each move, each event can not be perfectly predetermined with 100% accuracy.
Hence the idea that the universe is deterministic is utter nonsense.
The universe does operate according to the laws of quantum physics on the atomic and subatomic scale and the universe operates according to Newtonian physics on the macro scale, but that doesn’t mean it is deterministic. It simply means that it is governed by certain laws and situations and outcomes are probabilities.
As William James wrote in his diary in April 30, 1870: “My first act of free will shall be to believe in free will.” (Robert D. Richardson’s William James: In the Maelstrom of American Modernism, 2006, pg. 120)
Why Are You Here? A Foreshadowing.
To give you a preview, a foreshadowing of what is to come later in the book, I wish to present one of my own overarching themes in this brief description of a mythic map.
I believe that the creator, the infinite Divine, aka the Tao aka Ayn Sof, needs us.
I believe that the act of creation did not go as planned.
I believe that the act of creation led to the cosmos being flawed and in a state of disharmony.
I believe that sentient beings were created to help restore harmony, although this is a choice that each one of us has to make throughout our lifetime.
We are needed by the infinite Divine/ Tao/ Ayn Sof to restore harmony to ourselves, to the cosmos and to the Divine / Tao/ Ayn Sof.
This task that we may choose to participate in is called in Hebrew: Tikkun Olam. That phrase means in English, to heal / to restore/ to repair / the World aka the cosmos.
You are here because you are needed to contribute to this cosmic need.
You are here to assist in restoring, repairing, and healing yourself, the cosmos and the Divine.
You can do this at every moment of your life.
You can do this by any act of goodness, truth, beauty, justice, and harmony.
Will you answer the call of the Divine?
Will you help?
And if not now, when?
How should you approach reading this book?
Well it is a book-of-ideas, more about that later, but it means that the specific facts are meant to bolster the presentation of the ideas and it is all not meant to be memorized. It is intended to inspire and effect how you feel and think. When you come upon complex or difficult sections, just blow through them and don’t worry about getting it. Let the words wash over you and if you don’t seem to understand what is being said—it’s no big deal. Books like this one are meant to be experienced and re-read later on after you have had a chance for the ideas to percolate in your unconscious for a while. If I have done my job right, you will be affected and will start to pick up on my ideas sort of subliminally. Then later, after months or a year or more goes by, pick it up again and you might be surprised that more of it makes sense on the next read through.
I consider myself a philosopher, a lover of wisdom.
I use this term, philosopher, in the classic sense harkening back to Pythagoras, who is said to have coined the term.
I believe that a philosopher is interested in wisdom of how to live a fulfilled life, rather than examining the world to make it knowable. The thinker who is concerned with trying to make something understandable is the kind of philosopher who follows in the footsteps of Aristotle. Aristotle’s endeavors led to those thinkers who are more lovers of acquiring insight into the workings of the cosmos than lovers of wisdom.
One could call perhaps call them philo/lovers of – episteme/knowledge to distinguish them from the philo/lovers of –sophie/wisdom. Hence, Socrates and Pythagoras were philosophers while Aristotle was a philoepistemer. (The Greek word Episteme is etymologically derived from the Ancient Greek word ἐπιστήμη for knowledge or science, which comes from the verb ἐπίσταμαι, ‘to know’.)
At a young age I had a mystic event that has guided my life ever since. I wish to present my wisdom tradition that is the findings of my life’s efforts, and that is what is contained in this book.
I will eventually offer you a bit of biography, to give you a context, so you have some idea who am, and how I came to be, and believe what I do.
The first section of this book tells my story and the making of this book, then I present my pragmatic orienting system, next is a set of commentary, and after that some essays that show you how I apply this system. In the last section of the book, I will offer some inspirational truths that have helped me to find my way.
I hope that all of this will help to guide you to find your way.