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So Far Out, It's In
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.

Abraham Principle - Part 3.

What started off as a child's inquiry into "who's in charge of the food around here?" morphed into a lifelong passion about "how does the world work and why?"

These days such questions are still being asked and the two major ways of dealing with them boil down to Science or Religion. In the minds of most, Science and Religion mainly disagree but truth be told, that's old-think. New think is more about synergy.

That's why Abraham's logic is more relevant today than ever. He analyzed systems, breaking them down into component parts and also viewed them as a whole greater than the sum of the parts. The analytical part is called reductionism and that's the hallmark of 19th Century science. The system view is called holism and that's the ever-increasing scientific style of 21st Century.

Rewinding back to our patriarch's mental odyssey, in Part 2 of this series we followed his reasoning to the point where the system under question was the universe as a whole. What he came to understand, and now we understand it too, is that the force beyond the universe has to be above it all (transcendent), aware of it all (omniscient), and in control of it all (omnipotent) as well.

One of the qualities that Abraham ascribed to the One Above is at once the very best and the very worst. It is the best because it has the greatest explanatory power. And it is also the worst, because it poses major marketing challenges.

That property is transcendence. What does this mean? It means above and beyond, but beyond its spatial connotation it means abstraction. Ultimately, abstraction means no space, no time, no body, and no parts.

But how do you communicate an idea like that to your average Joe? Nothing to see, smell, taste, touch or hear. An imperceptible ultimate force. But even that would not have been so bad as long as people could imagine someplace in heaven where this entity could reside, and some kind of form, albeit abstract, that this entity could have. But Abraham did away with all that, and not on a whim, either. In a word, the ultimate being had to be abstracted from any notion of space and form, physical or spiritual.

To exemplify, let's consider the popular notion that the Creator resides in heaven. Sounds fair. People live on earth and the Big Guy lives in heaven. Isn't that what most people think? But what and where is heaven, and what does it mean that He lives there? If they told you "Take a Voyager Taxi to Alpha Centauri, turn left and it's right beside Andromeda, you can't miss it, just ask for the Boss and tell him I sent you" I don't think you would buy it.

With a little more abstraction, we could call heaven a higher world and say the Creator lives there because He is spiritual and not physical. Well, that would be a little better because at least it shifts the discussion above the physical plane. But still, it relegates the Creator to a place, a spiritual place but a place nonetheless, so Abraham had to accept that the Creator transcends spiritual "space" just as He transcends physical space.

Now how about time? Time is a creation as well; it's part of the spacetime continuum, and Abraham figured this out too. If everything has one source and time is part of everything then that one source created time too. Abraham had never heard of Genesis because Moses hadn't written about it yet, and he had not yet met any other monotheists, but still, he deduced that there had to be a beginning and that the true Source had to "precede" that beginning. The Creator had to be beyond time just as He/She/It had to be beyond space.

What does it mean to be beyond time and space? It sounds absurd. "Outside" is a spatial concept. To be outside of space makes no sense. Similarly, "before" is a temporal concept. To be before time makes no sense either. But the fact that human reason cannot quite digest the conclusion does not mean that the reasoning is faulty.

On the contrary, it reflects the greatness of the idea that cannot be grasped by the logic that conceived it.
So Far Out, It's In

The ultimate beyond. What an expression. In a way it's scary, wild, yet attractive, mysterious. But we need not let go of our rational faculties, at least not yet, because the Abraham Principle is a logical notion and we have yet to exhaust its rational implications.
We have said that transcendence is about being above and beyond, being abstracted from any limitation. But is that not also a sort of limitation?
To explain, imagine you've got some unlimited being and you have to figure out where to put it. If you place it within the world and not beyond it, you have definitely limited it, so that's not the right placement. If you put it beyond the world and not within it, you have limited it in a different way, by being beyond and not within.
To be truly unlimited means that beyond and within are equal in relation to it. Ultimately, to be beyond beyond must include to be within.
So here we have a Being, an ultimate being, that is not only beyond the world but within it too. Not only beyond space but within its confines; not only before time but in time as well.
But wait a moment, you might say. Weren't we looking for an explanation of space and time? An explanation that was beyond the parts, beyond the system, transcendent? So what are we doing coming full circle, looking for the Creator within space and time? Isn't that what Abraham was rebelling against in the first place?
Good question. And in good Jewish style, we will answer this question with another question... the famous "Are we or aren't we?" paradox. Stay tuned.
Are We or Aren't We?
Once the patriarch Abraham realized that the Prime Mover was had to be just as much in the world as beyond it, he was faced with the very same dilemma that has plagued philosophers ever since: The Are We or Aren't We Paradox.
Simply stated it amounts to this: If G-d exists, he must be infinite. That's Monotheism 101, no way around it. Being that He's infinite, there is no place devoid of Him, that is, He must be omnipresent, He exists everywhere. So if there is no place where He isn't, He must be here where I am. Because if He is not here where I am, He is limited spatially, and if He's limited in space, He's not unlimited and therefore He's not G-d. So He must be here where I am. The only problem is, I'm here and I'm not Him. And if it's really Him that's here and not me, then what am I doing here? Do I really exist? What's going on here?
To understand this better, there is a famous story about a Chassidic charity collector who traveled to a Jewish community that was not friendly to the Chassidic movement. So anti-Chassidic were they, that they appointed a community leader to interrogate visiting charity collectors to ensure they weren't members of "The Sect" as those townsfolk not-too-lovingly referred to the Chassidic movement.
So this erstwhile Chassidic alms-gatherer was being pointedly questioned by the community leader, saying "What is your opinion of the Sect?"
The collector replied, "Oh them. They are always thinking about themselves whereas the fine people of this town are always thinking about G-d!" Satisfied with this answer, he was given a note of endorsement to support him in his rounds. Once he had finished is work in town, he stopped by the local synagogue to bid farewell to the congregants.
He walked up to the lectern, gave it a bang and announced: "Gentlemen! Some of you may have been wondering what I meant when I said that the Chassidim are always thinking about themselves whereas the people of this fine town are always thinking about G-d. What I meant was this: What is reality? You are probably thinking 'what a silly question'. Reality is what you see all around you. So for you, the fact that you are real is obvious. So you will always be wondering about the Creator, asking yourself how could it be that He is here when the fact is that you are here and not Him? The Chassidim however, realize that G-d is the true reality, so they are always wondering about themselves, thinking how can they be here, when the fact is that G-d is really here, and not them!"
With that he dashed out the door into the waiting wagon and sped off down the road before they had a chance to react to their lesson in philosophy.
And so, dear reader, there is no way around it. All of existence is a paradox, and we live in an enigmatic universe. And with regards to whether and how one might come to resolve the Are We or Aren't We Paradox, that's a topic for next week.

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 or call 416-858-9868

Abraham's cognitive quest takes him to the great beyond, indeed the ultimate beyond.





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