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A Theory of Everything
by Dr. Arnie Gotfryd

None of the parts has any inherent control over the others and yet we know that the harmonious and unified functioning of the entire system is itself a phenomenon. Hence it must be due to some cause. 

The Rebbe, Mind Over Matter, p.6.

 

The Abraham Principle - Part 2

It's official. The most powerful concept in world history was developed by a child thinking deeply about food. Yes, he was Jewish. And no, it did not have to do with his mother.

Plurality

boy dockWhat is the Abraham Principle?

What concept did that venerable sage actually innovate? And how did he figure it out?

The most authoritative information I could find about all this comes from what one might call family records - ancient and mediaeval rabbinic sources like the Midrash HaGadol, the Midrash Rabba, the Talmud and Maimonides all referring us ack to the year 1948. (No, not that 1948. You are thinking of the year that the modern State called Israel was formed. I mean the year that the Patriarch Abraham was born according to the Jewish calendar, 1948 years from Creation, some 3800 years ago.)

There it explains how Abraham since his earliest childhood was an exceptionally inquisitive and independent thinker obsessed with trying to figure out why things were the way they were. Of course kids tend to be that way in any case and Abraham was neither the first nor the last. But he was unique in how far he would push the logic.

His context was pagan. His parents were pagan, his neighbors were pagan. In fact paganism was the only religious expression in the Mesopotamian culture that he was born into. What this means is that they believed in many gods - a whole collection of separate powers each guiding its own part of the natural world.

People were not stupid. They realized they were powerless against the forces of nature and that there is more to life than meets the eye. They also realized that these forces can oppose and conflict with each other or they could also be independent of each other. What they did not realize was the unity behind the forces of nature. So when they wanted rain, they prayed to a rain god. When they wanted to be blessed with children, they prayed to a fertility goddess.

By the way, people today think they are smart because they believe in one whereas others believe in many. But if you stop to think about it, what do we do if the One G-d says to do something we don't want to do. We say to ourselves, "Well... there are more important things than what He wants right now." So now there is a greater reason than G-d for doing this or that? Aren't we making that reason into a G-d?

Ever heard of the Almighty Dollar? And that's in addition to all the official religions that practice one form or another of pagan worship.

The way Chabad.org summarizes the Midrash, it tells us that "Abraham started with this question: Why should we bow down to idols, gods that we ourselves make? We should bow to the earth, for it produces crops that sustain us. Therefore, he began to worship the earth."

Of course he didn't stop there, but I'd like to dwell on this stage of his thinking, just for a moment. Would you have thought of doing that if you lived back then? Everybody's doing the socially acceptable thing because that's the way you do it. Don't ask questions. Just accept it. Does this sound familiar? How free are kids today to question the wisdom of their parents, their teachers, their culture? I wonder.

I think it was a pretty smart cognitive leap for a three-year-old. You eat food. Where does it come from? For those of you who think it grows in Aisle 3 in the grocery store, I'll tell you: It grows from the ground. So why pray to some statue you made yesterday when the ground that gives or doesn't give its bounty has been sitting around forever. If there is a spiritual force behind that, let's talk, the child thought. I want dinner tomorrow. I'm not interested in a drought or a crop failure. If I'm going to say please and thank you, I'm going to do that to the right being. So he prayed - whoops, to the earth - but he prayed.

But this leaves us with a question. Why should anyone imagine that the earth knows anything at all about our needs? Why should one imagine that it hears prayer? Or that it controls one's destiny? It's just dumb dirt, right? One would normally be tempted to just write this off to pagan foolishness, but the fact that Abraham himself took this step in life (albeit as a child), and that it's recorded in the Midrash as part of Torah proves that there is a lesson in it for us.

It seems to me that the lesson is that Abraham understood that there has to be consciousness somewhere involved in the earth/food/human ecosystem. How so? There are three things here, none of them conscious of how food from the ground sustains a human. Carrots don't know me. I don't understand them. But there has to be consciousness of what the carrot can do for me as well as what I can get from it somewhere. Otherwise how else could a dumb carrot do such a sophisticated job as sustain a human's life?

It made sense to Abraham at the time that the common factor is the earth. I need the earth. Carrots need the earth. It's big, it's everywhere and everything is connected with it. Voila! The conscious powerful beneficient being is the earth! Okay, so it's wrong, but a good try nonetheless.

Now back to the story. "Then he saw that the earth needs rain, and began to worship the sky." This is deep. He sees the earth is not in control of its own food-giving ability. It depends on some external factor, rain, and that comes down from the sky. If the sky is the source of the rains then the sky is ultimately in charge of whether I eat and therefore whether I do or do not live. Besides, it's bigger. Much, much bigger. But a thinking person realizes that the sky is not the be all and end all either. What good would the sky be for sustaining life without the sun?

solar eclipse 

"Later, he saw that the most brilliant creation in the sky was the sun, and began to worship it. Afterwards, when the sun set and the moon rose, he began to worship the moon. When the sun rose the next morning, he did not know what to do. He did not see which was stronger: the sun or the moon. So Abraham continued in a quandary, questioning what was the true G-d."

So much for the Midrash.

Let's step back and look at Abraham's quest as a logical problem. By this time the question was larger than who's taking care of dinner. He realized that just like he needs his lackings filled so does everything else. By now he was seeking some entity capable of creating and sustaining the world as a whole. With nothing more than the world itself to go by, he had to work by inference.

Knowing that everything that happens, happens for a reason, Abraham set out to discover that reason. Put another way, he set out to explore what it is that's responsible for the existence of... well, you name it: Matter, energy, motion, and life on the grandest scale imaginable. A theory of everything, if you will.

No wonder, then, that he tried worshipping the sun. It is huge, powerful, and immensely influential. It is our preeminent source of light and heat. It drives the hydrological cycle and makes the plants grow and the animals thrive. It sets the days and seasons.

Today, we can overlook the sun. There are countless thousands of people who wake up indoors, take elevators down to subways, commute to skyscrapers they access from underground, and return home at the end of the day after shopping, dining and taking in a show, all without stepping outside. But back then, who knows, in a Middle Eastern Bronze Age society, it was probably a no brainer to imagine the sun as the creator of all.

But the sun has its limits. The moon rules the night. Tides, biorhythms and moods are all heavily linked to lunar cycles. Recent studies have even shown that the frequency with which animals bite humans is closely linked to the phases of the moon. And if the moon can act where the sun cannot, it shows a certain greatness above and beyond the sun itself. So Abraham worshipped the moon.

Now he could have stopped right there, like the rest of his compatriots. Each heavenly body with its own sphere of influence. Radiate and reflect, give and take, positive and negative, masculine and feminine, duality works fine for many cultures and faiths. But not for Abraham. He recognized duality, yet he suspected an underlying unity. But why?

Unity

The sun and the moon have a special relationship. While different as night and day (in light, in heat, in motion, in phases, and in seasons), they nevertheless share two remarkable qualities. First, they are exactly the same angular (or apparent) size, even though the sun is huge and far and the moon is small and close. Second, their paths intersect every once in a while resulting in spectacular eclipses. Whoever has witnessed a total solar eclipse knows the awe and wonder this majestic event evokes. It was obvious to Abraham that the coordination of the sun and the moon was not a mere chance phenomenon.

Abraham understood that most basic principle of human logic that everything that happens, happens for a reason. The very fact that solar and lunar sizes and motions are coordinated is itself a something, albeit an abstract something, which requires an explanation. The sun and moon should be viewed as an orderly system with a suitable cause.

Now the question was, what could the cause of this systemic property be? Could the two-part, sun-moon system originate in a duality or other plurality, say pantheon, of forces? Remember that Abraham had no clue about monotheism at the time. He addressed his question first using the pagan cognitive tools that were his heritage.

Well, he probably thought, if it were the case that some divine plurality created the system, what was coordinating the parts of that higher plurality? And if nothing was coordinating the higher plurality, then how did their coordination come to be? Abraham wasn't ready to drop cause and effect. Ascribing the natural system to a supernatural system only pushes off the coordination issue. Abraham concluded that there had to be ultimately one factor unifying the sun-moon system. But what was it?

Beyond Within

marionetteWhat could be coordinating the sun-moon system? 

One possibility was that the control was within the system. That would mean, in effect, that the sun and the moon were coordinating themselves. But that did not seem feasible because seeing their individual orbits and properties, it was clear that the sun was not controlling the moon and the moon was not controlling the sun. Therefore the control must be some factor which is not the sun and not the moon. Perhaps it was the earth, but that could not be because the earth was itself integrated systematically with the sun and the moon, for after all, that's why Abraham worshipped them originally. The stars and planets too had their regular, integrated motions and specific roles in the grand scheme of things, so they were not the organizing force.

Clearly, whatever that force or being was, had to have two properties. It had to be external to the parts of the system, and it had to be more powerful than them, to keep all the parts in systemic order. Given that the system under consideration was now not just the sun and the moon but indeed the heavens and the earth as a whole, being external to it all implied being transcendent, and being more powerful than it all meant being omnipotent.

So now Abraham was looking beyond the system for a transcendent, omnipotent force responsible for creating and managing the entire physical universe. Okay, you may think, problem solved, odyssey over, monotheism established. . . or is it? Abraham might not have jumped to the One G-d idea quite yet. But "Why not?" you may ask. "How many transcendent, omnipotent beings are there?" 

To be continued.

Care to comment? Click here for the article online.

Dr. Aryeh (Arnie) Gotfryd, PhD is a chassid, environmental scientist, author and educator living near Toronto, Canada. To contact, read more or to book him for a talk, visit www.arniegotfryd.com or call 416-858-9868

 

 


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