Kabbalistic panpsychism

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Kabbalistic panpsychism

Prof. Hyman M. Schipper, MD, PhD, FRCPC

Quote:Notwithstanding the radically different lexicons naturally invoked by the various disciplines, there have come to light concordant perspectives on consciousness between the Kabbalah and modern formulations of quantum/Bohmian mechanics, idealism and process philosophy. Moreover, the writings of leading Kabbalistic and Chassidic authorities, buttressed by Scripture, the Talmud and other mainstream Jewish sources, support an ontology of consciousness that is panpsychist  in nature and informed by the tenets of panentheism (belief in a Deity that both transcends and is immanent within the physical universe). According to the Kabbalah, the mental pole of reality transcends and pervades, in fractal fashion, the entirety of Creation while remaining absolutely unified at its source. The Kabbalah understands consciousness to be holographically and hierarchically organized, relativistic, and capable of downward causation. Metaphysical constructs unique to humankind (in the spirit of imago Dei) augment intrinsic neural consciousness manifesting as self-awareness, enhanced intuition and subjective moral autonomy. In my forthcoming book entitled Kabbalistic Panpsychism: The Enigma of Consciousness in Jewish Mystical Thought (John Hunt Publishing), evidence supporting the latter is adduced from wide-ranging sources; implications of Kabbalistic panpsychism for female intuition, causation, neural organization, clinical states of awareness, free will, ethics, prophecy and cosmic evolution are explored; and the epistemological value of such exercises is considered.

Quote:Kabbalistic panpsychism may go further than many other traditions, scientific or otherwise, to capture the physical, psychological and spiritual dimensions of the human condition in a highly integrated and comprehensive manner. A number of salient contributions of the Kabbalah to the understanding of human and other consciousness may be distilled as follows:

1. At the heart of Kabbalistic doctrine is the notion that (i) all created things and events ultimately comprise ten spiritual ‘forces’, ‘attributes’ or ‘information packets’ referred to in Hebrew as Sefirot (sing., Sefirah) and (ii) the top three Sefirot of each thing or event are the latter’s ‘consciousness’. This holds true for all objects whether they belong to the inanimate, plant, animal or human domains, although the nature of the inhering consciousness is understood to differ radically among these categories. Thus, in inanimate objects consciousness informs form and substance (existence); in plant life it informs growth and reproduction; in animals, sentience; and in humankind, self-awareness, rationality and morality.

2. As a panpsychist discipline promulgating the ubiquity of proto-conscious Sefirot in every facet and at all scales of Creation, the Kabbalah effectively does away with Chalmers’ famous ‘Hard Problem’ of consciousness—how subjective experience (qualia) emerges from brain neurochemistry and electrophysiology.

3. A major criticism leveled against general panpsychism is the so-called ‘Combinational Problem’—how mediators of simple consciousness characteristic of ‘lesser’ creatures synergize within ‘higher’ organisms to yield more complex psychic phenomena. In common with aspects of idealism and cosmopsychism, the Kabbalah neutralizes this challenge by emphasizing the existence of a Universal Mind—specifically the Mind of God—which in a top-down, panentheistic manner progressively reveals itself within the Creation hierarchy.

4. Kabbalistic panpsychism is relativistic: When a mineral is incorporated within plant matter, the three top Sefirot of the mineral, which are associated with consciousness, are compactified within the seven lower (‘bodily’) Sefirot of, say, a tree. The tree, in turn, completes its own 10-fold Sefirotic structure by expression or revelation of three consciousness-conferring Sefirot endowing novel properties of growth and reproduction, which were latent within the mineral. In 1990, Bohm expressed a strikingly parallel conviction that “each mental side (of every physical-mental dipole) becomes a physical side as we move in the direction of greater subtlety.”3 An identical dynamic holds when ascending from vegetable to animal life: The entire 10-fold Sefirotic (three conscious, seven bodily) span of the plant is compressed as the seven bottom Sefirot of the animal while the latter exhibits or reveals a new set of three top-Sefirot mediating unprecedented animal consciousness. The capacities for growth and reproduction empowered by the conscious Sefirot of the plant persist within the animal kingdom (which also manifests growth and reproduction) but are subsumed within compactified bodily Sefirot, which are unconscious. The three newly-revealed ‘mindful’ Sefirot confer sentience, emotion and other neurological/behavioral features to the animal not observed in plants. Upgrading from animals to humans, the ten Sefirot of the former are compressed as unconscious bodily Sefirot endowing humankind with a broad spectrum of physiological and psychological functions necessary for our survival. Completing the 10-fold Sefirotic system in humankind is a triad of newly-revealed top-Sefirot conferring attributes of language, reason, self-consciousness, morality, free will and creativity unique to our species.

5. Mainstream neuroscience construes consciousness as a ‘secretion’ and prisoner of the brain. The Kabbalah disagrees and intimates that trans-corporeal (non-local) properties of human consciousness, mediated by specific constructs within the Kabbalistic hierarchy and mirroring or ‘entangled’ with transcendent aspects of Divinity, may account for extrasensory perception, prophecy, the near-death experience and other ‘paranormal’ phenomena documented in virtually every culture.

6. For millennia the Kabbalah has endorsed the intriguing, albeit counterintuitive, notion of ontic (as opposed to epistemic) paradox—paradox that is intrinsic to the Creation and not contingent on limitations of human knowledge. This position was anathema to the business of scientific inquiry until the early twentieth century, when physicists were compelled to reappraise their grasp on reality after embracing the wave–particle duality of light. In its description of a construct known as the RADLA (Hebrew acronym for ‘Unknowable Head’) and two complementary modes of awareness (referred to as Orech and Oivi), the Kabbalah paints a picture of human consciousness which paradoxically permits a profound sense of free choice and the exercise of morality in a universe pre-ordained by God. The metaphysic undergirding the latter envisions the RADLA to be functioning as a Markov blanket4,5—a mathematical object which, in the current context, constitutes a barrier or membrane that seals off human awareness from its embedding matrix, the transcendent Mind of God.

7. Based on a Talmudic analysis of the simulated ‘life form’ known as the Golem, the Kabbalah might predict that artificial intelligence, irrespective of its level of complexity or sophistication, will never achieve the status of human consciousness and therefore will not require protection by legislation equivalent to human rights. On the other hand, the Torah does ascribe to the Golem animal-like sentience and, by extension, it is conceivable that future robotics may be similarly endowed with animal-level consciousness. Should this prove to be the case, Jewish law (Halachah) currently in place to minimize animal suffering may be applicable to advanced AI.

8. Kabbalistic predictions regarding a future epistemology of consciousness is decidedly optimistic. In so far as Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle of quantum mechanics and the Kabbalistic RADLA are conceptually equivalent (a position we vigorously defended in earlier publications1), and extrapolating from the fact that the Kabbalah recognizes named entities ‘beyond’ the RADLA, it is conceivable that science may eventually discover the means to probe the fundamentals of Creation at ‘resolutions’ currently prohibited by the Uncertainty Principle. In so doing, the Kabbalah anticipates that a missing fifth epistemic pillar of reality—the Keter-Malchut axis denoting the ingredient of Kedushah (Holiness) and linked to conscience and morality—will combine with the four dimensions of space-time to complete a Theory of Everything. The Kabbalah specifically alludes to the advent of a Seventh (Messianic) Millennium as a phase transition (i) when revelations will render tractable an appreciation of consciousness as a fundamental force of nature and (ii) inaugurating humankind’s ultimate journey towards an enlightened state of cosmic consciousness.
'Historically, we may regard materialism as a system of dogma set up to combat orthodox dogma...Accordingly we find that, as ancient orthodoxies disintegrate, materialism more and more gives way to scepticism.'

- Bertrand Russell


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Quote:Dr. Schipper is a professor of neurology and medicine (Geriatrics) at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, a clinical neurologist at Montreal’s Jewish General Hospital and the director of a neuroscience laboratory in the hospital’s affiliated Lady Davis Institute for biomedical research. His research focuses on degenerative diseases affecting the brain and mind and he is the author of over 200 peer-reviewed papers on these and related topics. Prof. Schipper has long been interested in the interface between contemporary science and the Jewish mystical tradition (Kabbalah). His work in this area was initially published in Yeshiva University’s Torah u-Madda Journal (2012-13) and more recently in Unified Field Mechanics II (RL Amoroso et al. eds., World Scientific 2018) and Bar-Ilan University’s DAAT: Journal of Jewish Philosophy & Kabbalah (2019). Dr. Schipper is a member of Essentia Foundation's Academic Advisory Board.
'Historically, we may regard materialism as a system of dogma set up to combat orthodox dogma...Accordingly we find that, as ancient orthodoxies disintegrate, materialism more and more gives way to scepticism.'

- Bertrand Russell



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