Philosophical Zombies with Chairs in Philosophy of Mind, or Confessions of a Neo-Dualist

Purkinje-Cell

For Rebecca Goldstein

Daniel Dennett called one of his books Consciousness Explained. He should have called it Why, Even with My Gifts, I Cannot Explain Consciousness Away. Dennett gives a compelling account of how various unconscious events occur in our brains and how some of these come to our attention, and he makes jolly good fun of what he calls the “Cartesian theatre” with its “homunculus” inside, “watching the show,” but he stops just short of explaining away consciousness, and there is a reason for this: It cannot be done. I shall argue, below, that some of the pretheoretical intuitions that nonphilosophers have about the reality of consciousness are surprisingly robust, clear, and distinct, while the dismissal of those intuitions by orthodox contemporary professional Anglo-American philosophers (who, by and large, accept some version of physicalism or functionalism) is an article of “faith” strong enough to cause them to dismiss that which is not only the clearest, most distinct of our understandings but also prerequisite to any clarity or distinctness. For the physicalists and functionalists, believing is seeing. Theirs is a kind of theology, and, as Wallace Stevens says, “theology before breakfast/sticks to the eye.”

There are many, many binary oppositions that seem to entail a default dualism on the part of those who employ them: mind/body, immaterial/material, universal/particular, proposition/sentence in a language, use/mention, a priori/a posteriori, sentience/nonsentience, being-for-itself/being-in-itself, thought/action, nominal/real, rule-creating/rule-following, subjective/objective, first-person/third-person, free/determined, teleological/nonteleological, experiencer/experienced. Contemporary reductionists who would exorcise mind from our vocabulary as though it were necessarily a ghost in the machine aren’t taking, I think, a scientific attitude with regard to the mind/body problem. George Santayana wrote in Reason in Religion that it’s easy enough for a worm-eaten old satirist to poke fun at the scientific inaccuracies of religion, but it’s much more difficult to account for it. The same is true of the default dualism that informed the development of those binaries. The burden is upon us, as philosophers, to account for the fact of the overwhelming tendency, throughout the centuries, of philosophers and nonphilosophers alike to carve up nature in that way. That most people, some pretheoretically and some theoretically, have considered it given that such binaries carve nature at its joints, to use an unpleasant but apt analogy, is itself a fact of nature that it is the job of our science to observe and explain. That these binaries are perfectly intelligible and that each is well-attested in our experience of the world means something, as I hope to show, below, and it means more than simply that we’ve always been confused, as when we thought that the sun rose and night fell. The inescapable fact is that intelligibility itself requires an ontological entity to which a concept can be said to be intelligible—that spooky experiencing mind that reductionists so anxiously wish to rid us of.

Let’s deal with the last of challenges to reductionism first. It’s simple enough to create physical processes that instantiate functional analogues of concepts, such as the sum of an addition, but there’s a difference between such a set of processes and an entity such as ourselves that experiences the having of concepts. That’s the point, of course, of Searle’s Chinese Room Gedankenexperiment, which has never been adequately refuted. People who identify the two are making a category mistake as surely as do those who confuse, say, use and mention. What is true of concepts and other ideas such as beliefs is true, as well, of qualia. One can say that my experience of pain entails that I have these C-fiber impulses (such an experience does except in a few bizarre, wildly pathological states), but one cannot say that the experience IS those. C-fiber impulses and experienced pains are ontologically distinct entities. A feeling is not the neural impulses that give rise to it. A mind is not a brain. Entailment or supervenience is not identity. One cannot make the mind-body problem go away, as, say, Richard Rorty attempts to do in Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature, by claiming that it’s just a matter of using the language wrong, of hypostetizing a predicate and making it a subject, in which case “This pain is terrible” is, like “Redness is yummy,” a loose use of language. (Rorty’s argument is a little more complicated, but that’s what it boils down to.) The mind-body problem and the universals-particulars problem are no more the same than a proposition is the same as the English (or Swahili) sentence that states it. Only a highly trained analytic philosopher could come to the Rorty’s conclusion, and it’s conclusions that preposterous that give philosophy a bad reputation among people who think that philosophers are supposed to be MORE careful in their thinking than the rest of us are. (Though, of course, there are highly trained analytic philosophers, Saul Kripke, for example, who don’t speak so outlandishly on this subject. See his discussion of pains and brains in Naming and Necessity.)

Because of the concomitance of physical and mental states, there is, of course, a sense in which talk about mental entities/experiences/states is adjectival, and it’s philosophically interesting that that’s so, but one can’t say, as Rorty does, that making that observation “dissolves” the mind-body problem. Neither is there anything scientific about trying to do so. A scientist does not ignore some facts, in this case the experience of entertaining a thought or of feeling a pain, just because they are inconvenient. Instead, a real scientist says about unexplained phenomena, “There are some things that I don’t yet understand.” There is no shame in that. Quite the contrary. That’s just being honest about the current state of knowledge and understanding. Dennett dismissively calls those who think that there is a hard problem of consciousness mysterians. But isn’t the proper response to a mystery to say, “That’s mysterious”? What other response is possible except silence?

One must sit down before the facts like a little child, Huxley said. That statement is in the true spirit of science and of philosophy, and it is in this spirit that we must reject the reductionist program that runs from Laplace, through the Vienna Circle misinterpreters of the younger Wittgenstein, to Ayer and Carnap and Ryle, to the twentieth-century behaviorists and the contemporary physicalists, functionalists, and hetereophenomenologists, a program that simply ignores much of what requires explanation. As Einstein is reputed to have said but did not, to our knowledge, actually say in precisely these words, our job is to seek answers that are as simple as possible, BUT NOT SIMPLER. Qualia (perceptions, bodily sensations, imagery, emotions) and other mental experiences (representations, beliefs, concepts, goals, intuitions) are not the physical processes on which they supervene. The world we experience has this dual aspect. As David Chalmers put it, that I have toes and thoughts are very different things. That’s simply the way things are. The universe contains us and other sentient entities with these spooky things called experiences, and professional philosophers need to accept that if they are to stop talking what is clearly arrant, errant nonsense.

Imagine a grandfather and his grandchild watching a PBS production of Romeo and Juliet on television. Romeo finds Juliet in the crypt, seemingly dead, and kills himself. The grandchild exlaims, “Why did he do that?!” The grandfather explains that a television camera recorded some actors in a studio, that the analogue recording was edited and sampled and digitized and stored as orientations of metal filaments on disc drives, that the recordings were played back by means of a mechanism that translated those orientations of metal filaments into streams of photons sent down fiber optic cables to a set-top box that transduced them into streams of electrons shot by a gun onto a fluorescent screen at one end of a cathode ray tube. An explanation like the grandfather’s (much elaborated) might be close to complete (though it cannot, our science tells us, be complete), but IT IS NOT AN ANSWER TO THE DAUGHTER’S QUESTION, which is asked AT A COMPLETELY DIFFERENT DESIGN LEVEL about phenomena at a completely different design level.

I suspect that there are two aspects of the hard problem of consciousness that make it particularly hard. One is that we have limited access to the way things are. We are like a child, confined to a room throughout her life, looking through a particular window at a particular courtyard and taking that courtyard for the world. Many years ago, the semiotician Jakob van Uexkull asked us to consider the lowly tick. A tick has four senses: she can sense light on her back; she can smell butyric acid, given off by the sebaceous (sweat) glands of mammals; she can sense temperatures in a narrow range around 35 degrees centigrade (the temperature of mammalian blood); she can feel with her feet. That’s it. That’s the entire access to the universe of a tick. Now, imagine that it is raining. For the tick, it’s welling up. The point is that we are ticks, too. There are explanations for phenomena experienced by the tick to which the tick has no access whatsoever. Clearly, the same is true for us, as the examples of other creatures with different kinds of access and the changing of our access through the building of prostheses, such as spectroscopes and electron microscopes and superconducting supercolliders demonstrates, but at any given time, there is much that we simply cannot know because we haven’t the perceptual or other cognitive tools, and in fact there are truths about the world that we are pretty sure that we shall never know, such as whether Socrates felt rain on his forehead on a particular day in his 23nd year. There’s no reason to think that we great apes have the conceptual machinery to understand why we have experiences as well as toes or how we can have real agency, that is neither determined nor random. Yet it is impossible for us to dispense with these very real aspects of our lives. That’s problem one. The second problem is that many complexly interacting systems evince characteristics at the design level of the system that do not exist in the substrate of the system’s components. In other words, they give rise to emergent phenomena. We are existence proofs that certain complexly interacting physical systems give rise to the phenomena of qualia, mattering, agency, purpose, freedom, what Sartre referred to as nonpositional reflective being, contents of consciousness, situatedness, thrownness, fallenness, orientation to Others, mind. We haven’t a clue how that can be so. But it is.

Some reductionists have fallen back on an epiphenomenal account of consciousness. Yes, experiences are quite real, but they ride on top of and are entirely accounted for by bottom-up systems (whether or not these are conceived of as deterministic). However, it should be obvious enough to those with scientific dispositions that nature is rarely so frivolous, so lacking in economy, as to create something complex that serves no purpose whatsoever. It’s a violation of the economy, the parsimony, so evident, everywhere, in nature to believe that experiencing does not, itself, play an causative role, top down. It’s difficult to understand why the same sorts of people who would accept as wholly reasonable the heuristic of, say, cladistic parsimony (motivated by repeatedly confirmed economy in nature), would think of experiencing as an inconsequential, non-causative free rider.

It would be the ULTIMATE irony, wouldn’t it, if that were so? That that to which things matter is the one thing that doesn’t matter?

The stubborn persistence of Anglo-American academic philosophers in their denial of mind is almost enough to make one think that David Chalmers’s philosophical zombies actually exist. Maybe there are such entities, and they all hold chairs of philosophy, and for THEM, pains are just C-fiber impulses because they don’t have a clue (or a functional physical process resulting in an output interpretable by a sentient consciousness as a clue) about what it means when people talk about “the experience of a pain.” Maybe one of those was named Richard Rorty. Maybe another is named Daniel Dennett. Maybe these zombie philosophers are marvelous to behold–philosophy machines of enormous sophistication–but just don’t have any there there, to borrow Gertrude Stein’s marvelous phrase. Maybe Kripke and Nagel and Chalmers have qualia and Dennett and the Churchlands, say, don’t. That would explain a lot.

Dennett points out that people are default dualists. As an evolutionist, he should have taken pause at that. It’s like saying that we’re default eaters or default procreators. We’re that way because it is possible for stuff to have experiences, because having experiences itself confers survival value to reproduction, enables us in this minimal sense to fare well, and evolution is a machine for faring well in the world. There’s nothing supernatural about any of this, of course, for whatever is, is the natural. But there’s nothing to suggest that experiencing is necessarily explainable by creatures such as us or by any creature living in a universe constructed like ours. Perhaps in the mind/body problem we are bumping up against our current cognitive limits or against more fundamental limits to any understanding that we might ever develop. There is much in nature that remains mysterious, much that our science tells us MUST remain mysterious, much that many think is not knowable, in principle (such as the precise simultaneous position and momentum of an elementary particle).

Some of the Gnostics said that first there was Sophia, and she gave rise to Eros, but they had it backward. First, there was the raw fact that some entities fared well and others didn’t. Blind processes (perhaps–we have scant evidence to the contrary) gave rise, in time, to a spectacularly successful means for faring well, to sentience and to an essential characteristic of sentient entities, the ability to reason, which is deeper than and considerably antecedent to the ability to create symbolic representations. I suspect, as Ginsburg and Jablonka have argued, that sentience is very, very ancient, that the first life forms with some version of sentience arose at the end of the PreCambrian and that that event in the history of life accounts, in part, for the Cambrian Explosion because, of course, even rudimentary sentience has enormous survival value. Perhaps inexplicable experiencing and making of choices acts upon the substrate that first gave rise to it, making it different in ways that confer survival value; perhaps reasons are fundamentally different from reactions, as the naively unphilosophical are inclined to think when they contrast a twitch with a grasp. Certainly, the choices that we make at the wholly different design level of the experiencing mind affect our wiring. Philosophy, if it is to be, in fact, fundamental, needs to go back to its source, its spring. It should conceive itself as the art of applying reason to the goal of faring well, which is why reason evolved in the first place.

While I’m dissociating myself from a number of received notions current among reigning philosophic and scientific intelligentsia, I might as well add this: It’s a commonplace of evolutionary theory that evolution is not teleological, and there is a sense, of course, in which that is true. But once the blind process of evolution hit upon the strategy of creating conscious minds, it gave birth to purposeful designers and purposeful design and so became teleological. We choose our mates, and often enough, fortunately, we do so based on the quality of their minds, though we have no notion what those might be.

And finally, in the next step, should we survive, we are in the process of becoming the designers of the designing process itself and may even, in time, use technological means that exploit the supervenience of the mental upon the physical to develop the means to bridge the ontological gap between subjectivities (my mind over here, yours over there), as, perhaps, other entities throughout the universe have long since done. That’s a scary and exciting possibility, fraught with potential dangers and rewards. But it does seem that we are headed in that direction, and again, as was true after the arrival of sentience, everything changes.

BTW, even now we have a rough means for bridging that ontological gap, of course. We call it love.

Copyright 2013, Robert D. Shepherd. All rights reserved.

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About Bob Shepherd

interests: curriculum design, educational technology, learning, linguistics, hermeneutics, rhetoric, philosophy (Continental philosophy, Existentialism, metaphysics, philosophy of language, philosophy of mind, epistemology, ethics), classical and jazz guitar, poetry, the short story, archaeology and cultural anthropology, history of religion, prehistory, veganism, sustainability, Anglo-Saxon literature and language, systems for emergent quality control, heuristics for innovation
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8 Responses to Philosophical Zombies with Chairs in Philosophy of Mind, or Confessions of a Neo-Dualist

  1. Shulamith Bakhmutsky says:

    “They were naked, the man and his wife, and they were not ashamed”. Geneses

    Adam and Eve… consciousness…

    There was only one commandment God has given to Adam and Eve – not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge. It is hard to believe that God had wanted then to be ignorant. From the very beginning Adam was imbued with such wisdom, he was able to name every plant, every animal, every form or being that existed in his world. To name something in Biblical terms meant that Adam understood the essence, the structure, the purpose and the meaning of each creation. As if every textbook of every subject that was or will ever be written, every idea, thought or discovery was open to him. To extrapolate from this, it can be said that the consciousness of Adam and Eve, including all its aspects – knowledge, understanding, intuition, precognition, emotion, belief, processed and unprocessed experience… just to name a few, was connected directly with the consciousness of God.

    So, what was God, actually saying to them? Don’t eat from Eitz HaDat Tov V’Ra – The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Bad. The word used in Torah is “rah” – “bad, not “r’esha” meaning “evil”. Contrary to the popular belief, Knowledge of Good and Bad, did not represent only the moral issues that confronted a human being, but all information necessary for survival of God’s creation. Something as simple as what is good to eat, and what is not. How to learn new things and how to imprison oneself with doubts and misconceptions.

    God was saying: “Please, don’t eat from this tree. Do not take My Knowledge into the darkness of your bowels where it will disintegrate and be excreted in shame”. “On the day u eat it, you shall surely die”. Adam and Eve lived a long life. God told them of the future in which they will know death, suffering, the dichotomy of spiritual and physical, pain of living without palpable connection with the Divine consciousness, and, consequently without understanding of themselves and their world.

    It is an accepted fact that “part of eternity is eternity”. No glamour or excitement in being in this state. The shortcut to attaining “wisdom” was undeniably tempting, as proven over the ages by “the new age” promoters. The dudes ate the fruit. “Then the eyes of both of them were opened”. They were not blind, what has happened to them? Before the event their consciousness by its connection with God transcended the entire creation. With the fruit pulled from the tree, and their healthy digestion making a quick job of it, the reality-challenged human consciousness was torn away from God and opened its baby eyes.

    As if being limited by time and the three dimensional left over world was not bad enough, new factors stood on the way of the developing creatures. Beside the lost knowledge of nature and themselves, humans grew uncontrolled emotions like, fear, envy, guilt, love of power, etc…The evolving consciousness, its need for understanding, education, artistic and spiritual expression has been continuously hindered by forces desiring control and dominance.

    Erroneously, the exile from The Garden, is being considered a punishment, when in reality it was the only opportunity for the children of Adam and Eve to have the experiences through which they could start gathering the lost knowledge, separate the miniscule sparks of truth, search for their origin and their purpose, rediscover laws of physics and to encounter their souls – the essence of their being, and part of the eternity that is the eternity of God.

    So, what is consciousness? It’s everything – in the nonlinear time, it is our connection with God, and our loss of that connection. It both “is” and is a process. It is our knowledge, perception and memory. It is the dreams, beliefs, hopes and skills of all generations before and after us. It is a question that one day might be answered.

    “All are lunatics, but he who can analyze his delusion is called a philosopher”
    Ambrose Bierce

    Liked by 1 person

    • Bob Shepherd says:

      But Shulamith, what if the story is told by humans, with all their limitations, after the fact, after the fall, and so is dramatically distorted because of those limitations?

      You have probably read the short story “Flowers for Algernon” or the novelization of the tale from the movie version, Charly. A mentally challenged fellow becomes, via medial magic, extraordinarily brilliant. We get the tale of his shame regarding what he had been (which shows that he isn’t that brilliant, after all, but that’s a problem with the tale as told).

      Suppose we tell the tale in reverse. The genius becomes the mentally challenged one. There he is, after the loss of what passes among us for brilliance, among his books and papers and collections of intellectual and artistic curiosities–handwritten scores and mathematical papers, perhaps–and all of this, including his own work previous work, is indecipherable. Pehaps any given bit of this material is suggestive, contains intimations of something–something important, with particular emotions attached to it.

      The tale of disobedience and presumption and the anger of the patriarch seems all too simple, too like other such tales from cultures in a similar phase of development. So what if much of the tale is simply the attempt of the one, post-fall, to make sense of something only very dimly and partially remembered and filled in, crudely, to make a coherent narrative (for we are storytellers; that’s a major means by which we make sense of the world, and our psychological studies show that we are terrible confabulators and are not even aware of most of our confabulations)?

      What if all that is true in the story told by this post-fall Homo ignorans is the part about the former connection and bliss and the current disconnection and want and need? What if the rest of the story is simply the event-clothed guilt of the one who fears that he or she must have displeased someone or something powerful? By this reading, parts of the tale you told above would be a primitive fiction. But the part about the One would be real.

      it is not for me to say, but I am curious to hear your response to this.

      I recognize, of course, that the version you told has the force of someone’s revelations behind it. Whose, I do not know. I am largely ignorant of Jewish mysticism, alas.

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  2. Shulamith Bakhmutsky says:

    I happened to find your site by sheer accident or in a different version by “Hashgoha Protis” – The Divine Providence. By reasons I can explain at some other time, it was a very significant event in my life. I chose to stay with it and, actually, write my comments because of you and the clarity of your of writing.

    What I mean “because of you,” is you lack of arrogance and the lack of the presumption that what you know and think is “The Real Truth”. I love the way you present possibilities, ask questions and develop ideas. You don’t know the answers and are not afraid to put it in writing. It takes insight, courage, maturity, and occasional victory in the struggle for accepting yourself with all the limitations and faults. I admire that, while I consider intelligence and talent gifts, one might just be lucky to receive.

    As you have, probably, guessed I am neither a teacher nor an academic. My ideas, analysis and thought process are intimately interwoven with personal experience. Because of that, I am not sure I feel comfortable to put some of them on the public blog. If you are willing to share your email address with me, I’ll, gladly, respond to you wonderful questions with more freedom to express myself.

    The parts of interpretations of Adam and Eve’s story, in which I bring the controversial possibility that the knowledge was lost, rather then, the commonly accepted one, that by ingesting the fruit, they knew evil and have become evil, as well as the second idea, that the exile from the Garden was not the punishment, but, a though thoroughly unpleasant one, an opportunity to attain some form of Paradise without the obvious miraculous intervention – are not the Jewish mystical revelations, but my incidental thoughts on the subject.

    Two of my very diversified brood became Hassidic Rabbis. Though strictly religious, they possess inquiring, idea-hungry open minds. As a result, they have no problem discussing alternative perspectives with their non-religious mother. Since I am not a scholar, and their knowledge of the Torah is far superior to mine, I use their comments to keep my facts straight, but my thoughts free to roam wherever they please.

    Thank you for to taking time to write to me and for your thoughtful answers.

    My email address is gypsyjew@gmail.co

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  3. Shulamith Bakhmutsky says:

    Just saw that by mistake I wrote “to taking time”. Too late for editing, but let me do something else with it –

    To taking time
    We feel entitled,
    But who is giving it
    And why?
    Some,
    In their depth
    Might know
    The answers
    Without knowing
    The truth,
    But seeing some of it
    Through misconceptions
    And the lies.

    j

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  4. Shulamith Bakhmutsky says:

    1. “…..what if the story is told by humans, with all their limitations, after the fact, after the fall, and so is dramatically distorted because of those limitations?”

    My answer to this is simple: – “So what?” If something brings comfort and hope to human beings branded by suffering and death, I don’t care for the “so called Truth and the origins of that comfort. I bless God for letting and helping people find something that gets them through hopelessness and despair. If the same is used by fanatics to start “holy” wars, inquisition and crusades, it is the nature of those fanatics to distort ANY material to fit their hatred and perversion.
    There are as many logical and well-documented proofs of Godly origins of Torah, as there are scientific researches proving the opposite. I abstain from either, while I find the depth of knowledge, wisdom and miraculous coherency in Torah presentation beyond anything I personally encountered anywhere else in my life. I’ll expand on that further on.

    2. “…Suppose we tell the tale in reverse.”

    Whatever the origins of the story are, most likely, we are telling it in reverse. A) We are not privileged to live in more than one-directional flow of time. B) There is the phrase commonly heard in the Orthodox Jewish community: – “We are the midgets standing on the shoulders of giants”.

    3. “So what if much of the tale is simply the attempt of the one, post-fall, to make sense of something only very dimly and partially remembered and filled in, crudely, to make a coherent narrative…. But the part about the One would be real.’

    My rendering of “The story that will be believed” is deeply personal. I don’t believe in The One as I don’t believe in electricity or existence of bacteria. I met Him in the atheistic country, raised by atheistic parents, without any outside knowledge or presence influencing my development. I met Him, when “I was lost on the road to Larissa”. He did not mistake me for the” Woman of the roads” (my sincere apology to Leonard Cohen for paraphrasing his beautiful poem). He found ways to teach me all I know, get me through my life – often contradictory to itself, and has shown me things that did not become less miraculous with time.

    My way of expressing thoughts and ideas through the entity of Torah is not based on religious beliefs. It is a very conscious choice. Through the very little something I know about anything, I found out that any philosophical, esoteric, psychological, legal and religious ideas or questions ever raised, have been already written, debated or alluded in Torah writings.
    It is a respected tradition for some Torah scholars to learn Talmud by heart. I am privileged to know one of them. I am very lucky that he finds the time and the patience to discuss my foreign sounding ideas, giving me the insight to find information I need.

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  5. Shulamith Bakhmutsky says:

    This is a part of the letter I wrote to my daughter. She is pregnant and does not want have circumcision in case her baby is a boy. She wants her child to have The Choice. I asked her permission to express my point of view. She agreed. This letter explains further my personal decision to express myself through Jewish metaphor and beliefs. Though I am not religious myself, I have great respect and gratitude to those who are,

    “I am going to refer to certain aspects of Torah simply not to have to invent a vocabulary or concepts that have been clearly stated much further back in time than my own short and chaotic existence. In no way I claim anything to be the absolute truth, except for the truth that is personally mine.

    My own truth is the compendium of momentous revelations, analyses of empirical data, milliseconds of blinding faith, collection of too many coincidences impossible to ignore, tiny bit of education, and God given ability to see beyond imprinting and conditioning. After all that, my religious truth is simple: “I am a Jew and the rest I don’t know”.

    One of the general axioms of Torah study is the belief that every letter written in Torah, every word, every repetition has its own absolute meaning, that nothing is there for the beauty of style, that nothing at all is random. Why then one of the most solemn prayers Jews have addresses God with the words: “My God, God of my fathers, God of Abraham, Yitzhak and Yaakov”? Isn’t it clear from the first part that we are talking to our One and Only?

    I will try give u one of the explanations that makes most sense to me. Growing up in the atheistic family, in the country were any religion was an anathema, and belief in God was considered to be a mental illness, I was blessed with miraculous discovery – I found MY GOD (a long and complicated story for further discussions). The fact that I was a Jew, the child of THE GOD OF MY FATHERS, was beaten into me with contempt, fists, ridicule and discrimination pounded daily into my head from the world around. On the other hand, with all my being I felt a great sense of honor to be a part of this little tribe, people who dared to stay proudly apart despite humiliation and fear; who acknowledged THE GOD OF MY FATHERS with their deeds, with quality of their bloodlines, and not of the religious obligations.

    Of Abraham, Yitzhak and Yaakov I knew nothing at the time and will explain the meaning of that part of the verse a little later. When I came to America, I studied Judaism, psychology, philosophy, married a Rabbi, raised a family. The marriage ended in divorce. As the result my community and my family divorced me too.

    I was desperately alone, looking for a teacher, for a guru, for anyone who would help me grow spiritually, help me survive that unbearable disaster. Following my inclination, I studied occult, esoteric writings, witchcraft, mythology, magical traditions, mystical practices… and, after a full circle, ended up back home… everything I read, every idea I discovered, any knowledge I acquired lead me back to the Jewish texts that systematically expounded all of those ideas to a much greater depth. To my total surprise I found out that numerous secret magical rituals are practiced by orthodox Jews as common daily activities prescribed by the 613 commandments. Can u imagine, magical laws as mundane as the laws of physics and chemistry?!

    At some point I had to ask, how is it possible that my tiny tribe had survived without losing its identity and culture? All the great Western civilizations are gone – Greek, Roman, Egyptian, but we, the despised and the dispersed, are still here. To begin, I have to say that the definition of B’ney Isroel (children of Israel) is Ethnoreligious. This means that we are, probably, the only people who contain ethnicity (DNA), religion and nationality within ourselves. We are the Jews, whether we practice our Laws or not, whether we live in America or in China, whether we like it or not. A child born to a Jewish mother is born a Jew, with the Jewish soul, with congenital Jewish connection to the God of his fathers. It has nothing to do with choice – it is, simply, what is, like being born a girl or a boy, getting blue eyes or brown. Later in life, we all make choices, but those choices are on a completely different level than those of mystery of our birth. One can get a sex change operation, wear colored contact lenses, convert to Born again Cylons. It doesn’t matter. A Jewish soul remains Jewish, even when completely ignorant of its origin. Here I must add, being a Jew is EXTREMELY INCONVINIENT, DANGEROUS AND OCCASSIONLY LIFE THREATENING.

    Now I want to bring out some statistics. Just before WWII Jewish population peaked to 16.7 million. This fact in itself is a miracle. I am talking about over 2000 years of Diaspora, two destroyed Temples, unending massacres, pogroms (Russian for destruction of Jewish property, murder and rape of its occupants), crusades and inquisition.

    Entire Jewish populations were expulsed from Spain, Portugal, England, France and Germany. The few who remained were forced to convert to Christianity or Islam. They were prohibited from practicing Judaism and were considered a second class citizens, mandated to wear distinctive clothing that separated them from the rest of the population. However my personal differences are with Hassidic communities, I feel a sense of great pride at their willingness to do the same nowadays, making public display of their identity and fearless confirmation of their faith.

    Much was written about the Holocaust. It was a planned and organized genocide. Over six million Jews murdered systematically. At the same time during Stalin’s rule twenty million of Russian intelligentsia perished. At least a fifth of them were Jews… and still we are here, with our different customs and the identical scrolls of Torah. The following fact I took straight from Wikipedia – ” Jews have made contributions in a broad range of human endeavors, including the sciences, arts, politics, and business.[181][182] Although Jews comprise only 0.2% of the world’s population, over 20%[182][183][184][185][186][187][188] of Nobel Prize laureates have been Jewish, with multiple winners in each field.”

    To continue; after the WWII even more Jews were lost – this time due to assimilation. Many, who have gone through the horror, lost faith. Some moved to America and fell for the dream of pseudoequality. I do not use those words lightly. Racism and anti-Semitism are very real, but unlike our brothers with darker skin, we are the true minority. The moment anything terrible happens, it will be the fault of the Jews, the Jewish conspiracy, etc.. etc… I know I am not being politically correct and hold the unpopular point of view. I don’t care. All it takes is a good look at history. God forbid, we run out of food, see whose fault it will be made out to be.

    Back to the assimilation and the miracle of Jewish survival. How is it possible that we are still here? Are we “The Chosen”? I, certainly believe that. To me it in no way means “better”. It means being responsible.. for ourselves, for our world, for the future of human existence. Why? Here are MY answers. I mean my personal thoughts and ideas, not the pre-digested dogma. 1. We are the first monotheists 2. We believe that the purpose of Creation is the life here, on this Earth, and not In-The-World-To-Come, that this common, mundane life can and is being made holy by Godly actions. 3. Our Talmud was given to us not as a book enumerating our laws, but in a form of questions and debates, teaching us not “what” to think, but “how” to think 4. Judaism is the only religion that has an actual commandment to study, to learn and to understand, not just to believe. 5. Proselytizing is firmly discouraged. We believe that every person has place of his own, a right to his belief system, Jewish or not.

    We were chosen to change the world. This innate need brought both the evil and the good – Einstein, Freud, Jesus, atomic bomb and the Russian revolution. The list is long…

    I mentioned “My God and God of my Fathers”. Lets go to the last part of the verse – ” God of Abraham, Yitzhak and Yaakov”. Why are our forefathers mentioned separately? The answer is simple, they were different people and they worshipped God each in their own way. Torah shows us again and again the importance of an individual, and how the absence of this one being in our midst can be detrimental to our very existence. In this respect there are no “better or worse”, “lesser or higher”, great rabbis or the “am haoretz” (the illiterate ones). The few of the many examples of this are: the four different species of plants tied together during Sukkot (harvest holiday in the fall) – the fruit with taste and smell, the sweet date that has no smell, the myrtle that smells gently fresh, but has no fruit or flavor, and the willow that has neither smell nor fruit. Another example – four sons that sit at the Passover table – the learned one, the angry, the indifferent and the one who doesn’t know how to ask a question. The Lubavitcher Rebe, also, named the fifth son – the one who doesn’t even know that he belongs at the Peisach table.

    It says in the Torah “When a child is born, the world is born with him. When a human being dies, the world dies with him”. This is how important one individual child is, and how significant is one single voice resonating under the dome of the Universe.

    By the way, I am still on the subject of assimilation and the miracle of the Jewish survival.

    What does all that has to do with circumcision? In my eyes – everything. U think that u want your child to have the freedom to choose his religion. I am saying that the soul has already chosen to be born to the Jewish mother, to be born a Jew. That Bris Milah has little to do with religion, and everything to do with affirmation of our tribe’s survival and belonging to its greatness. . Especially if this act in itself is essential to the tribe’s existence. After that this child can choose any way he or she wants to serve his God, Goddess, Higher Power or any other name he wants to call it.. like Abraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov.. or as Kevin Jr.

    I don’t know why we (the Jews) still exist. Is it because of all the men who I criticize all time, the men who sit in Kolels (Yeshivas for the married men) and have their pregnant wives work, while they study Torah “day and night”? Is it because of Lamed Vov – the 36 holy people, who don’t know that they are holy. Or is it because of Bris Mila – the Covenant between My People and My God?!”

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