Categorized | Ask the Rabbi

Collective learning can make us all better

Posted on 06 July 2017 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,
I’ve been compelled recently by the concept of the collective mind (aka, collective soul, Adam’s mind, the universe, etc). The analogy says that each person is like a neuron within the collective brain. Just as the brain is segmented into regions, so the collective brain is segmented into the Jewish region, as well as other regions for people of other religions, for animals, for the laws of physics, and so forth… for all the parts of our world/universe.
The critical part of this analogy is that each region must have a different perspective in order to create a rich conscious experience. A brain made of identical neurons can process no information. I need my visual neurons to see the world through vision. I need my auditory neurons to see the world through sound. And so on. Therefore, each brain region holds a part of a higher truth.
This seems a perfect analogy for religions. Every brain region (religion) believes that it knows the “Truth” about the world, and so they also think that other brain regions (religions) are wrong. But really, if we zoom out, each brain region holds a critical part of the Truth. My consciousness depends entirely on each of my brain regions doing its job. So also, the collective mind should depend not only on Jews, but on everyone’s piece of the Truth.
Is there a concept that the ultimate Truth is beyond human understanding? If Torah is written by God for Jews, does this also allow to say that Torah is not the whole Truth, but the Jewish perspective on Truth? If so, this should also allow non-Jews to have some legitimate connection to Hashem (God).
Finally, if these are Torah ideas, then our disagreement with other religions is totally predictable, and critical! And if disagreement is critical, then we shouldn’t get hung up on it. In order to work together, we should lean away from the “I’m right, you’re wrong” mindset, and instead try to focus on the “we’re each a critical part” mindset. This would help us all find a deeper compassion and understanding for people of other religions.
Still, it seems that this is not a Torah idea, so how can we get it straight, and what can we learn from the analogy?
All the best,
Michael
Dear Michael,
I am fascinated by your inculcating your training as a neuroscientist into your quest for a deeper understanding of the Torah’s message and its application vis-à-vis us and the world. You have indeed touched upon a true and profound concept which, with a bit of tweaking, will provide much insight.
Rather than applying the concept of collective mind to different religions, and considering multiple, contradictory truths, our sources apply a similar concept to diverse peoples or nations. There are myriad essential, basic principles which apply to humanity, and each nation is unique in its development of one or more of those core principles. Some examples of such principles are what Stephen R. Covey discusses in the beginning of his classic The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (pp. 34-35). These are principles which he considers not to be esoteric or religious in character, but basic to the human condition. These include fairness, integrity, honesty, human dignity, service, quality, excellence, growth, patience, nurturance and encouragement.
The Talmud explains that every nation has developed uniquely one or more basic principles: principles which have, unlike Covey’s understanding, sources in holiness and were spread among the peoples of the world to perfect.
The Talmud teaches, in fact, that one of the purposes of our exile among the nations is to learn those unique lessons from each land we traverse and to inculcate those lessons into our service of God as Jews. It is well-known that Jews of different lands have indoctrinated the positive lessons of their hosts into their own service, such as the German Jews who are well-known for their punctuality. My mentor in Jerusalem ob’m once remarked, when discussing this concept, that one of the important lessons we learn from our sojourn in America is that “time is money.”
We can see the value and preciousness of every moment of time and make our best use of it, not squandering or wasting it. He explained the above Talmudic teaching that at the time that all the Jews will return to Israel at the end of our exile, we will bring the sum total of all these Diaspora lessons and return them to the fire of Sinai, bringing our “time away” full circle.

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