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Between Kabbalah and

Rav LaitmanA talk with Dr. Jeffrey Satinover and Michael Laitman, PhD, Israel, April 2005.

The Concept of Freedom in Quantum Physics

Rav Laitman: What is the existing outlook of science on the topic of freedom of choice?

Dr. Satinover: Modern science as a whole - and I’m using the term “as a whole” because I will shortly present a significant correction to it - perceives reality as mere material reality. It regards the material reality as whole, as a complex machine. I will demonstrate this concept using a toy-train model. If we switch on the train, it will ride the rails and little people will move about in it. This model is only a machine.

You will certainly say that in the toy-train model, each of its parts has no freedom of choice. Similarly, most contemporary scientists will tell you that the physical universe is exactly like the toy train, and that every action of each part in the universe is determined entirely by preceding events in the universe. They will even insist that there is no other model. Reality is made solely of a universe and a “toy train” within it; there is no builder, no engineer who designs and builds the toy train.

Alongside this view, there is a branch of modern science called “Quantum Mechanics.” This branch acknowledges that the theory we just presented is incorrect, and that there is in fact an element of complete freedom in the physical universe where particles of atoms do not behave mechanically, but “choose” how to behave. I am using the word “choose” in quotation marks because our language is too limited to explain it sufficiently. The real problem is that science cannot say anything about the nature of whatever makes those choices, hence they appear utterly random to us.

If one properly understands quantum theory - the most advanced of sciences - one can see that there is a possibility of genuine free will in humans. However, modern science cannot clearly explain how and where such free will is used.

Rav Laitman: It seems that beyond ordinary and accessible nature, particles have some way of “choosing freely,” but how does this affect human beings? All this does not imply that we have free choice in day-to-day life. Perhaps, somewhere, in the depth of matter, there are additional forces or probabilities that adhere to a regularity that we cannot conceive of in the ordinary determinism.

Dr. Satinover: Correct. These are subtle and complex discernments. The greatest minds of science have been arguing over them for the past eighty years. It appears that single electrons, despite their limitations, can “freely elect” from several trajectories. Electrons cannot do much; they cannot write books, marry, or go to war. Nonetheless, within their limitations, it appears that they do have a certain measure of freedom.

When I say that “the electron chooses,” I am using rather loose phrasing. The truth is, we don’t really know who or what makes the choice. What we do know is that the behavior of every particle of matter in the universe is twofold: in part, it behaves according to fixed laws, and in part, it behaves irregularly, affected by something that is not a part of our known universe.

Thus, one might say that, for instance, the creation of our universe is also twofold - in part, a result of prior physical processes, and in part, created by an Upper Force. But science cannot prove this. All it can prove is that we understand that physical actions are not determined solely by the physical actions that precede them. Rather, we understand that “something else” affects matter, but science cannot tell us what that something is, and certainly not how to research, confirm, or rebut it.

Some might argue that it is as though electrons had pseudo-brains of their own that make those decisions, but I do not endorse this theory. At this point, you are free to believe whatever you choose.

When a quantum object connects with another quantum object, it sets off the decision making process, ignited by the connection between them. This process can be with an observer who is watching the particle, but the observer is not mandatory.

The true mystery is not in the question of the external observer, but in the fact that there seems to be some latitude passed on within matter. That latitude points to “something” that is beyond the material universe, without telling us anything about the nature of that “something.”

Rav Laitman: I cannot see why we haven’t encountered this mystery thus far. When we research the human body and human psychology, we do not find any latent forces that cause unexplained behaviors. It is odd that we had to split atoms to the tiniest particles to eventually find that there is nothing in them but a tiny energy burst where we finally see that we don’t know where they will move in an instant, or even if we are facing a wave or a particle. Would it not make more sense to first find these hidden forces at a much higher level, one that pertains to human consciousness? Why is it that physicists, who study lifeless atoms, are the ones that suddenly find a hidden life among these particles?

Dr. Satinover: I think that this is one of the great ironies of the 20th century. Newtonian physics discovered a lifeless universe. The view that matter is lifeless, and perceiving it as a mere machine evolved as an offshoot of research in physics, chemistry, and biology. Eventually, physicists produced a perception that humans are nothing but machines, as well.

On a day-to-day level, intuitively and emotionally, we experience ourselves as free creatures that make our own choices. Moreover, psychologists rely on the premise that their patients can choose freely. If I thought of my patients as machines, I would give up my practice as a psychologist.

Nonetheless, the reasonable and rigorous premise from the beginning of the 17th century up to the 20th century, a premise that all sciences relied on, is that all things are machines.

It is true that most people do not feel like machines in their daily lives, hence the inconsistency between the scientific worldview and the way people actually lead their lives. Modern medicine, modern psychiatry, and all the doctrines that research the human mind and nervous system leave no room for the assumption that people have free will.

Rav Laitman: What you are saying implies that physicists, too, did not want to cope with a non-mechanical system. Yet, the discoveries that arose from the experiments forced us to acknowledge that there is another force that abrogates the deterministic results we had anticipated.

Dr. Satinover: This is just what happened. It was evident only when rigorous experiments in quantum mechanics were executed at the subatomic level. The first results left the scientists dumbfounded. Einstein, for instance, supported the view that the world was a lifeless machine. He thought that quantum mechanics was impossible and even defined it as “insane.” The possibility that there might exist any freedom in matter made him proclaim his well-known assertion: “God does not play dice with the universe.”

Although Einstein used the word “God,” he was using that word cynically. What he meant was that at this level of matter, there cannot be any freedom such as the experiments demonstrated. He realized that if freedom existed at this level in matter, it would mean the end of science, which is why he said that science cannot be structured upon such postures.

Rav Laitman: Why does that have to mean the end of science? Hasn’t scientific research always impelled us to progress and to change our views? Why are so many scientists saying that we are approaching the end of science?

Dr. Satinover: First, Einstein was wrong when he thought that this would be the end of science. He was also wrong when he thought that quantum mechanics is false. Quantum mechanics research showed that scientific knowledge has its limits. Scientists of quantum theory reached the boundary of research and then left it.

I believe that the most important fact concerning your expertise is that quantum theory makes it very clear that there is a limit to science’s ability to know, and at the same time points out that there is “something else” on the other side of the boundary. I have noticed that many people miss that point, and get mixed up between quantum theory and Kabbalah. Quantum theory states unequivocally that science can reach that limit and prove that it exists, but quantum theory also says that science cannot say anything about what lies beyond that boundary. This is not in the hands of science to discover, and at this point, science admits its limitations.

Rav Laitman: Our perception of reality stems from our research of reality. It is created within us according to our senses and our perception. Quite possibly, if we had been created with mental and intellectual technologies that let us analyze what we see differently, we could cross that border. In other words, while this may be the limit of our present qualities, perhaps this limitation exists only in our present state. Is it possible that we could find some way to change our attributes and cross that boundary?

Let me put it differently: Is it possible that everything we do not know about quantum particles stems from the fact that we are caged within a framework of time, space, and motion? Were we somehow liberated from this boundary, could we have seen the whole process differently? Would the unknown become known if we improved our qualities?

Dr. Satinover: In this talk, I deliberately chose to leave my personal view of the world, of spirituality and of Kabbalah aside. I am not an expert on any of them. Here I am trying to serve as an emissary of the scientific world and remain self-effacing concerning what science can or cannot do.

It is possible that human beings were emanated as creatures of spiritual potential that enables them to cross that border. As a human being, I long to do just that, and I think that all people will strive to this. It might be that Kabbalah is the scientific method that makes doing that possible.

Yet, hard science requires us to be vigilant and to recognize its limits. Science can lead humankind to the borderline, but it cannot take us across. In other words, a scientist cannot use quantum theory as a method to cross the border that the method itself points to.

Rav Laitman: Concerning the argument that there are infinite possibilities around us, is it not the observing scientist who chooses from among them?

Dr. Satinover: We do not know. Quantum theory demonstrates that certain particles choose one trajectory and others choose another; but we cannot say where this choice comes from. Nothing can be said about it from a scientific point of view; it is a complete mystery.

The trick is to recognize the mystery, not to pretend that we have an answer when we don’t. Such recognition can prompt us to realize that there is a “beyond” to reality. This recognition does not tell us what it is, but it can bring us to start wondering about it.

The Family Unit

Dr. Satinover: What is the Kabbalistic approach to relationships between men and women at the start of the 21st century and what is the Kabbalistic prognosis in that field?

Rav Laitman: From the perspective of Kabbalah, it is important that a man and a woman be together, marching together on the path of self-correction and reaching congruence with the Upper Force. By doing that, they will complement one another on both material and spiritual levels. Both the man and the woman have certain corrections to make. By making their personal and reciprocal corrections, they will come to the right connection in such a way that their relationship will resemble the Upper Force.

The difference between what is happening in the 21st century compared to what happened throughout history is that today we are involved in a comprehensive crisis. This crisis is evident in every field of human engagement, including personal and familial.

Its cause is the intensification of the ego and the desire to indulge in pleasure. Today, human ego is at its apex; we can no longer control it. As a result, we are losing the ability we once had to cope with ourselves and our world.

We no longer want to belong to each other or to a family. As the ego runs amuck, people cannot stand to be near one another. Family relationships in general, and spousal relationships in particular, are the first to be harmed by the ego’s outburst, as our spouses are the closest people to us.

In the past, the family was sheltered from fluctuations - it was an island of stability. When there were troubles in the world, we left home and fought, but longed to return to it. When we had troubles with our neighbors, we could relocate, but our family unit was always considered a safe haven. Even when we did not really want a family, we kept the family unit alive to care for our children or elder parents.

Today, however, the ego has grown so much that nothing can contain it. We keep trying to handle our egos and fail repeatedly. It is true that in some places, the situation is not yet so extreme. However, this will soon change, due to the awakening of the ego throughout the globe.

The solution to this problem is to begin correcting our nature - correction of our egos. If we do nothing to correct our egos, we will all plunge into drug abuse or suicide, or experience the violence of global terrorism. We will certainly not want to have children or raise families, a trend we are already seeing. Even without ecological catastrophes, we will decline into chaos and self-destruction. Our present situation requires that we ask ourselves what we are truly living for, and if there is a way out of our plight.

This is the point where we arrive at the wisdom of Kabbalah. Kabbalists have written that at times such as ours, the Kabbalah will surface to help us correct our nature. We can thus use Kabbalah to rise to a new level of eternal and complete existence.

Personal Fate and Collective Fate

Dr. Satinover: What is the Kabbalistic explanation of personal fate and collective fate? I understand the importance of unity among people, but does Kabbalah have a position concerning each individual regardless of the fate of others?

Rav Laitman: The wisdom of Kabbalah specifically promotes personal growth. We can demonstrate it through the Kabbalistic approach to education; Kabbalah maintains that the proper education is achieved solely by means of personal example. It is pointless to try dictating to people.

Proper rearing is based on building a correct, effective environment in addition to providing good personal examples. People will act according to the examples they observe and use them according to their personal level of evolvement. We must treat every person according to his or her individual strength, since everyone in the world is unique.

All of us are segments of one collective soul, and each of us possesses a unique part of the whole. If even one part of the general soul is absent, the structure will be incomplete and we will not reach the purpose of Creation. Hence, we must cherish the personal part of each and every person. We must allow everyone to evolve in a way suitable for them to flourish.

Kabbalah distinguishes between a proper social life and personal, individual evolution. To sustain society, everyone must certainly adhere to the rules it has set. But when it comes to personal growth, the uniqueness of every person must be fervently guarded. Kabbalah explains in great detail how personal growth and adherence to society’s rules should be intermingled, and specifies how to build a correct society that allows for all of its members to evolve in their own unique way.

Kabbalah strictly objects to any cultural or educational coercion from Western countries toward third-world countries. This is harmful to both. Coercion ruins the uniqueness of these peoples because it does not let them evolve at their own pace and according to their own rules and culture. This situation is creating a real deformity within humankind and producing deplorable results.

The Tzadik (Righteous)

Dr Satinover: What is the nature and role of the Tzadik (righteous person)?

Rav Laitman: The term Tzadik refers to a person who is at a degree where he or she Matzdik (justifies) the actions of the Upper Force. The Tzadik justifies everything that happens in Creation because he or she has come to sense the whole of Creation, not just the part accessible to our five senses. The righteous sees the rules that govern the realm beyond the boundaries of our five senses - the rules that affect our world, create everything within it, govern the unfolding of every event, and lead it to the purpose desired by the Creator.

Thus, clearly a Tzadik is a Kabbalist, one who discovers the Upper World, the World of Forces, the level at which plans concerning this world are made, and from which they come down to operate it.

The nature of the Tzadik corresponds to the level the individual Tzadik has reached. Kabbalah explains that all that we feel in reality adheres to the principle of “equivalence of Form,” the “congruence principle.”

In each of our five senses, we perceive a certain span of reality. For example, our sense of hearing enables us to hear a certain range of frequencies, and our eyes can see a finite range of colors. If we had additional senses, we could perceive reality differently and perhaps perceive additional dimensions.

Actually, we cannot even imagine how we would perceive reality if we had other senses. It turns out that our five senses with their specific spans create limits defining our sense of reality. We cannot exceed this limit.

There is, however, a method that allows for perception beyond this picture of reality, including the forces that govern our reality, which we call “the Upper World.” The way we are able to perceive them is based on the same principle that applies to our perception of reality, namely “equivalence of Form.” In other words, we must match ourselves to these forces.

Our task is to cultivate the attributes that inhabit the Upper Sphere, which conducts our world. However, it is impossible to know these attributes before we reach them. Hence, here we are assisted by Kabbalists, those who are already “there,” who teach us how to acquire these attributes. They explain how one can develop an additional, internal sense, a “soul,” through special activities. Using that sense, we can perceive an additional reality that was previously hidden; hence the epithet of Kabbalah - “the wisdom of the hidden.”

Perceiving that hidden reality brings us to understand the formulae by which it operates us, the goal to which it is leading us, and the way in which it is executing these formulae. The Kabbalist is inside that reality and is an integrated part of it, a part that justifies it. In that state, a person is called a Tzadik, and this is the Tzadik’s nature.

125 degrees comprise the justification of the Creator’s actions. Total agreement with the Creator’s actions is achieved at the last degree. Every person must reach this final degree. This process of life and death, which repeatedly “recycles” us to this world, is what enables us to rise to the degree of utter righteousness, that of one who completely justifies the Creator.

Human Suffering

Dr Satinover: I think the topic that people find most difficult to accept is human suffering. On the one hand, suffering motivates people to search for spirituality. On the other hand, it is very hard to accept suffering. How does Kabbalah relate to this question?

Rav Laitman: This is indeed a question that troubles everyone. On the one hand, we are speaking of a benevolent Upper Force, but if it is “Upper,” it means it is better than us. Yet our world is filled with anguish and torment. Do anguish and torment also come from this Force? Is there more than one Force, and if so, are they at war with each other?

Satinover: I am referring not only to the philosophical question of the nature of suffering, but also to the practical aspect.

Laitman: Reality is made of our desire to enjoy and the pleasure that motivates this desire to operate. These are the only two components on all levels of reality - the pleasure and the desire to receive pleasure. In Kabbalistic terms we call them “the Light and the Kli (vessel).”

When pleasure is absent, it creates a sensation of a desire to enjoy. But sometimes the deficiency of pleasure is so intense that it creates a sensation of suffering. Because everything is made of a certain measure and quality of a desire to receive pleasure, everything also suffers when it is absent - minerals, plants, animals, and people.

In fact, suffering is a necessary sensation that impels a creature to leave its present state and move on to the next. Without suffering, there is no motion. In fact, motion means that my present state is unsatisfactory, so I decide that I will be better off in a different state. Suffering enables us to make the necessary effort to move toward a situation that seems better. Hence, without suffering, progress is impossible.

The Upper Force has no other way of promoting us to better states except through suffering. If it created us as egoists with a desire to indulge in pleasure, then the only way it can move us from one state to the next is through a sensation of suffering.

However, we still need to explain why there is so much more suffering today than before. The purpose of Creation is for humankind to reach the highest degree in reality.

The only way to approach that goal is with an immense drive to reach it, or phrased differently - from the greatest suffering. This does not necessarily relate to physical suffering. We seemingly have everything today, yet we feel that something is missing, and that sensation of absence is the greatest degree of suffering.

To advance, to exit the boundaries of this world and begin to search for something higher, we must suffer. We must feel suffering at the deepest level so that we can demand the correspondingly highest state. That sublime state of being that stands vis-à-vis this world is the spiritual world; hence the suffering, too, must be spiritual, not physical.

In spiritual suffering, one does not suffer from absence of mundane fulfillments. While mundane fulfillments exist, they do not provide a sensation of livelihood, or even a sensation of being alive. Those who specifically regret a lack of “feeling alive” will have the strength to ask for something beyond this life.

For this reason, we are not going to see a satisfied humankind in the near future. On the contrary, suffering will intensify and will take on a more spiritual form. The sensation of absence of spiritual fulfillment will overshadow any physical abundance. There will be nothing satisfying and nothing joyful for us. Depression will spread throughout the world and the sensation of distress will not let us live our lives in peace.

The result of this distress will be an increase in conflicts, terror, outbreaks of diverse psychological and psychiatric problems. These things will happen specifically with the material abundance in the background, showing us that what we lack in our world is not material sustenance, but the sensation of living. This is how Kabbalah explains the process that lies ahead.

The way to meet this challenge is to utilize Kabbalah to understand the source of suffering. This will sweeten the suffering, since we will see that there is a reason for it. This will allow us to begin the correction before we plunge into affliction. This is why we are working so hard to prevent, rather than to cure, and prevention means letting humanity become aware of the wisdom of Kabbalah before it plummets into deep depression.

Perhaps it will be easier to come to terms with Kabbalah’s concept and purpose of suffering if we understand its perspective on death in general. Here’s what Kabbalah says about death: We are all individual parts of one spiritual Kli, called Adam ha Rishon (The First Man). The soul of Adam ha Rishon was split into billions of souls that came down to this world. This world occupies myriad bodies, each with its own soul. The goal is for each person to return to the same root in Adam ha Rishon from which he or she came down.

When we first come into this world, our souls are but a “point.” If we do not build a spiritual Kli out of this point while living in this world, our souls return to their roots in Adam ha Rishon like seeds that did not evolve, unconscious, lifeless points. To put it differently, we do not feel our own existence until our souls dress a new body in this world.

However, if we cultivate this point through the altruistic intention until it becomes a spiritual Kli, that Kli will remain after the demise of our physical bodies, since we’ve begun to feel the Upper Force while living in this world. This connection remains, since it is not a part of our biological body.

The spiritual Kli perceives what is outside of us, regardless of our natural sensory perceptions. Once we are outside ourselves, physical life and death do not affect how the soul perceives. Therefore, we don’t feel life and death in this world so intensely, since spiritual sensations remain intact. Put more accurately, eventually we must transcend this biological alternation between life and death to the point that we are not affected by it whatsoever.



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ruleIn dwelling, live close to the ground. In thinking, keep to the simple. In conflict, be fair and generous. In governing, don't try to control. In work, do what you enjoy. In family life, be completely present.” -- Tao Te Ching

Keywords: kabbalah, what is kabbalah, introduction to kabbalah, kabbalist

Rav Michael Laitman is a Kabbalist, Founder and President of Bnei Baruch Kabbalah Education & Research Institute. Bnei Baruch is a non-profit organization that is spreading the wisdom of Kabbalah to accelerate the spirituality of humankind.

Dr. Laitman received his PhD In philosophy and Kabbalah from the Moscow Institute of Philosophy at the Russian Academy of Sciences, and his MSc in Medical Cybernetics from the St. Petersburg State Polytechnic University, in the faculty of Biological Medical Cybernetics.

In addition to being a scientist and a researcher, Dr. Laitman has been extensively engaged in Kabbalah for the past thirty years. He has published thirty books on Kabbalah and numerous publications on Kabbalah and Science. For more information
Kabbalah, Science and the Meaning of Life
Kabbalah, Science and the Meaning of Life
by Rav Michael Laitman, PhD

Kabbalah, Science and the Meaning of Life traces the milestones of the evolution of science with which we are familiar, such as Newton's and Einstein's theories but goes further to present the science of Kabbalah as the basis for understanding the hidden parts of reality which scientists are now discovering.

While other sciences research the definable world around us, Kabbalah teaches us how the spontaneous changes occurring within us affect our surrounding reality. The wisdom of Kabbalah enables us to monitor those changes and control them, and in so doing change our world for the better.
More info