Diamonds in the Rough?
I continued my habit of putting on an informational video while I cooked up potatoes for my breakfast, and this morning chose a video on applying kabbalistic philosophy with insights from quantum physics. While I do believe it is entirely possible to sustain a worldview that understands that reality can equally be explained in spiritual terms as in scientific terms, I always have an adverse reaction to attempts to mesh the two together. To assert that a particular religious philosophical theory anticipates or otherwise applies to our knowledge of atomic or cell theory seems to me to be quite a stretch. The yeshiva educated scholar in the video felt at easy discussing our ability to access different scales of reality — cellular, molecular, atomic, subatomic — is described by some ideas in the Zohar, a major kabbalistic text. I have had no experience of the Zohar, it being very much beyond my ability to grasp as yet. Nevertheless, I can see no reason not to believe that the authors of the Zohar (be they 2nd century Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochi, as the text claims, or another author writing around the 13th century) reasoned that beyond our immediate experience of reality, lies much deeper, continually smaller scales of extraordinary complexity. It did not take 21st century science for human beings to develop a profound awareness of natural rhythms in their world, and certain spiritual thinkers saw no reason to assume that this order and complexity existed only on the scales which they could directly perceive.
This is very different, however, from affirming that any of these ancient systems of mystical thought had the same awareness of these deeper more complex levels of reality. They might have understood that they existed through reason and contemplation, but they never would have known that just beneath our perception of the human body lies a community of individual cells, many trillions strong, each working its particular individualized role in maintaining the complex biochemical process that is the human body. And while all this I’m saying certainly amounts to a dismissal of attempts to credit ancient mystics as the possessors of our modern scientific knowledge, there was still a single shining thing that the scholar in the video said which I found incredibly helpful for how I think about God.
I first encountered theologically the concept of God’s name or names when I studied Islam. Allah has many names, 99 of which are recited while performing one of many different meditative practices. I only understood it to be symbolic, although I knew that God’s name had a certain theological importance in all the Abrahamic religions. I had heard Rabbis and teachers say, “we do not know God’s name. We cannot know God’s name!” What the man in the video said shed some light on why exactly we cannot know God’s name. He said, “God’s name would amount to a total description of everything in the universe.” I smiled, in the increasingly indecipherable concatenation there was finally a point of clarity I agreed with. If a person were truly to refer to God by his name, that which describes him, you would have to refer specifically that everything exists not only in the realm of our own perception of reality, but in every possible perception of reality at any scale. Of course, no living creature could possibly have a neurology complex and vast enough to store such a monolithic amount of information. Every piece of every memory storage medium ever created by humanity from the first time a man in a cave smeared sloth blood on the wall up until the present super computers, could not even contain the first 10% of the first letter of God’s name.
This is why I am stubbornly attracted to my Judaism. I am young, and very much unable to properly process all the information I access, and yet despite my biases against religiosity, I find something so perfectly in line with what I have come to understand God to be that I refuse to give up my engagement with Judaism just because it contains remnants of an archaic, desert-dwelling past. We must keep wrestling!