From Chaos to Harmony
Rav Michael Laitman, PhD
Chapter 9: A Reality of Wholeness and Infinity
Where one thinks, there one is. -- The Baal Shem Tov
PERCEPTION OF REALITY
One who begins to realize everything described thus far, who contemplates being a part of a single system that incorporates all people, who transfers this knowledge to others and builds a supportive environment, gradually develops a powerful, genuine desire to acquire Nature’s quality of altruism. The road to acquiring a complete desire for altruism is an adventurous one, and fills the lives of those who choose this path with deep meaning and unparalleled satisfaction. When the complete desire for altruism is built in a person, one discovers a whole new reality. Before we describe this reality and what a person who experiences it feels, we must understand what “reality” is, and how we perceive it.
These questions might sound redundant because it seems everyone knows what reality is. Reality is what I see, the walls around me, houses, people, the universe; reality is what we can touch and feel, what we hear, taste, and smell. This is reality—or is it?
Actually, there is more to reality than meets the eye, ears, and nose. Throughout history, the greatest human minds dedicated all their energy to this topic. Over time, science’s approach to how we perceive reality has gone through several transformations.
The classic approach, whose chief proponent was Sir Isaac Newton, stated that the world exists independently, regardless of man. It makes no difference whether one perceives the world or not, or if there is a person living in the world or not. The world exists and its shape is fixed.
In time, the evolution of life sciences permitted the examination of the world-picture through the senses of other creatures besides man. Scientists learned that other creatures perceive the world in different ways. For example, a bee’s world-picture is a sum of all the sights perceived in each of the myriad units that comprise its eyes. A dog perceives the world primarily as “odor patches.”
Additionally, Albert Einstein discovered that changing the velocity of the observer (or the observed object), yielded a completely different vision of reality on the time/space axes. For instance, let’s assume there is a pole moving in space. According to Newton, regardless of the speed, the pole will appear to have the same length in the eyes of an observer. According to Einstein, however, the pole will seem to be shrinking as its speed increases.
As a result of these two discoveries, a more progressive approach was formed, arguing that the world-picture depends on the observer. Observers with different properties and senses perceived a different world. Similarly, observers in different states of motion perceived a different picture.
In the 1930s, quantum physics revolutionized the world of science. It determined that the observer affects the event being observed. Accordingly, the only question the researcher can ask is, “What do the meters actually show?” It is pointless to try to research the objective process that occurred, or to try to find what the objective reality is like.
Discoveries in quantum physics, together with discoveries in other fields of research, combined to form the contemporary scientific approach to how we perceive reality: the observer affects the world, and thus affects the picture he or she perceives. Put differently, the picture of the world is a combination of the attributes of the observer and the attributes of the observed object.
LIFE IS WITHIN
The current emergence of the wisdom of Kabbalah takes us one step forward. Thousands of years ago, Kabbalists discovered that, in truth, there is no such thing as a world-picture. The “world” is a phenomenon experienced within a person, and reflects the similarity between the individual’s qualities and the qualities of the abstract force on the outside, i.e. Nature’s force.
As we have said, Nature’s force is totally altruistic. The measure of similarity or dissimilarity between one’s attributes and the attribute of Nature’s force on the outside, manifests itself as “the world-picture.” It follows that the picture of our surrounding reality depends entirely on our internal qualities, which we can change completely.
To better understand how we perceive reality, we can compare a person to a closed box with five sensors: eyes, ears, nose, mouth, and hands, representing the five senses: sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch. The picture of our surrounding reality is formed within this box.
Let us look at the hearing mechanism as an example of how our senses work. Sound waves that reach the ear-drum create vibrations on its surface, which then move the hearing bones. As a result, electric signals are sent to the brain, which “translates” them into sounds and voices. All of our measurements take place from the eardrum inward, and all of our senses operate similarly.
Thus, we are not really measuring what is outside of us, but the response created within us. The range of sounds that we will receive, the sights we will see, the smells, all those depend on the sensitivity of our senses. We are “closed” within our box, and thus never know what really happens outside of us.
The signals from all our senses are summarized and transferred to the control center in the brain, where the received information is compared with the existing data in our memory, where previous impressions were collected. The information is then “projected” onto a “screen” within the brain, displaying the picture of the world we appear to occupy. This is how we feel where we are and what we need to do (see below drawing).
In this process, the unknown that surrounds us becomes something ostensibly known, creating an internal picture of what seems to be the outside reality. In truth, however, this is not the picture of the outside reality. It is only an internal picture.
All this has been known to science for a long time, and in his “Preface to The Book of Zohar,” Baal HaSulam describes them in these words: “Take our sense of sight for example: we see a great world before us, and all its wondrous filling. But in fact, we do not see all that except in our own interior. In other words, there is a sort of a photographic machine in our hindbrain that portrays everything that appears to us, and nothing outside of us!”
He says that there is a kind of mirror in our brain, which inverts everything we see there to appear as if it is happening outside of us. Thus, the picture of reality is the upshot of the structure of our senses and the previously existing information in our brains. If we had other senses, they would create an entirely different picture. It is quite possible that what now seems like light would appear as dark, or even as something we cannot presently imagine.
In that regard, we should note that science has long known that it is possible to stimulate the human brain with electric impulses. These, combined with information collected in the memory, induce a sensation of being in a certain place and in a certain situation. Moreover, today we can replace our senses with artificial devices such as electronic instruments. There are numerous hearing aids, for example, ranging from amplifiers that assist those who are hard of hearing, to electrode transplants in completely deaf people.
An artificial eye is also being developed, using electrodes planted in the patient’s brain. This “eye” inverts auditory data into visual data, meaning it changes sounds into pictures. Another development in vision healing involves planting a tiny camera in the eye that replaces the light waves that penetrate the pupil with electric signals. These signals are then transmitted to the brain, where they are “translated” into a picture.
It is clearly only a matter of time before we have full control over these health challenges, and can extend the range of our senses, create artificial organs, and even build an entire body. However, even then the picture of the world will remain an internal image.
As it turns out, all that we feel is only within us. It has no connection with the reality outside of us. Moreover, we cannot even say whether there is a reality outside of us, or not, since our picture of the “outside” world is within us.
Our observations of Nature have shown that in order for life to form and continue, each cell in the organism and each part of the system must dedicate itself entirely to benefiting the body or the system it is in. At present, human society is not like that, which brings up the question, “How can we exist at all?” An egoistic cell in an organism becomes cancerous and its host body dies. We are egoistic parts in a single system, and yet we are alive!
The answer is that our lives are not actually defined as “living.”
Man’s existence is unlike any other degree in Nature in the sense that it is divided into two levels. The first level is the one we presently exist in. We feel separated from others; hence, we are inconsiderate of them and try to exploit them for our own benefit. The second level is the level of the corrected existence, where people function as parts in a single system, where they are in a state of mutual love, sharing, wholeness, and eternity.
Existence on the second level is defined as “life.” Our current existence is a transition period designed to bring us to the point of attaining the corrected and eternal state by ourselves. Thus, Kabbalists, who have already climbed to the second level, define our current existence as “imaginary life” or “imaginary reality.” When they look back to our level, they say, “We were like those who dream” (Psalms 126:1).
At first, the actual reality is hidden from us, we cannot naturally sense it. The reason is that we perceive our world according to our desires, our internal qualities. Thus, we presently do not feel that all people are connected as one because such a picture of relationships is repulsive to us. Our inborn egoistic desire to enjoy is not interested in this kind of relationship; hence, it does not allow us to perceive the actual picture of reality.
There are immeasurable elements we do not presently perceive. Our minds serve our egoistic desires, and operate our senses accordingly. This is why we cannot sense the existence of something that is not considered beneficial, or something to be wary of (in the context of an egoistic desire). If we can sense something, we sense it only if it is good for us or bad for us. Our senses are “programmed” in this manner and accordingly perceive the picture of our reality.
If we want to depict this picture correctly, we must now invert it to try to understand how reality is perceived through the eyes of an altruistic desire. Assume that we are beginning to be “calibrated” so we can sense what is good for others. In such a state, we will identify completely different things around us, from the things we previously noticed. Everything we saw before will seem completely different now. Kabbalists describe that state in the words, “an inverted world I saw” (Talmud Bavli, Pesachim, 50:71).
When we build within a new desire to be a healthy part in humanity, to be similar to Nature’s altruistic force, this will mean the start of a new system of sensation, disconnected from our present system. This system will be called “a soul.” Through the soul, one perceives a whole new world-picture, the picture of the real world, where we are all connected as parts of a single body, filled with eternal pleasure and bliss.
Thus, let us now refine and complete our definition of life’s purpose, which we earlier defined as “bonding among people.” Now, we see that the purpose of life is to consciously and willingly rise from the level of imaginary existence to the real level of existence. We must come to a state where we regard ourselves and reality not as we see them now, but as they really are.
In other words, the state we feel at present is an imaginary state in our egoistic tools of sensation. If we exert our efforts to progress with the correction process, and build within us a complete desire for altruism, our tools of sensation will become altruistic tools. And in them we will experience our state very differently.
Our actual state is an eternal state. We are all connected in a single system, and the flow of energy and delight within it is perpetual. In that state, there is reciprocal giving; hence, the pleasure in it is infinite, perfect. In contrast, our present state is ephemeral and limited.
Our present sense of life stems from a tiny drop of vitality that trickles from the eternal state to our souls. This drop is a part of Nature’s comprehensive altruistic force, which penetrates our egoistic desires, exists in them, and sustains them despite their dissimilarity with it.
The task of this drop is to sustain us in the first level of existence, the corporeal level, until we begin to sense the actual reality, the spiritual one. It follows that the present, transient lives we have are like a gift that has been handed us for a certain time, to be used as a means to reach the real life. In the real life, our sense of life will not be only that tiny drop, but the full force of Nature, the force of giving and love, which will then be our life force.
The spiritual reality is not above us in the physical sense of the words. It is rather a qualitative discernment. To ascend from the corporeal reality to the spiritual reality is to elevate one’s desire toward the quality of altruism, toward Nature’s quality of love and giving. To sense spirituality means to sense how we are interconnected as parts of a single system, and to sense a higher degree of Nature. Life’s purpose is to climb to the spiritual reality and experience it, in addition to our sensing of the corporeal reality, while we are living in a physical body, in the physical world.
By Nature’s plan, humanity was created with the ability to perceive only the first, imaginary level, and thus it evolved over the millennia. During that time, humanity accumulated observations and experiences that brought it to the awareness that an egoistic existence did not bring it happiness, and that it needed to switch to the second level, the “corrected altruistic existence.” The overall crisis in the egoistic evolution places us at the transition point between the two levels of reality.
Hence, we must regard our days as a special point in time. We are at a turning point, moving toward a complete, eternal existence, which Nature had predetermined as the apex of human evolution.
Perhaps this is the time to explain that the pleasures we want today are very different from the pleasure that fills those who acquire Nature’s quality of altruism. Today, we want pleasures from the sensation of ourselves as unique, special, superior. An egoistic desire can be filled only in comparison with a certain lack, either compared to a shortage that it previously had, or compared to others. Such pleasures require constant and rapid renewal, since the minute a pleasure satisfies a desire, it immediately cancels it, as we saw in Chapter Two. This process causes pleasures to be short-lived. When the ego intensifies, it produces a state where one can only feel satiation from the ruin of others.
An altruistic pleasure is quite the opposite. The altruistic pleasure does not compare with others, but is rather within others.
In a sense, we can compare this to a mother-and-child relationship. Because mothers love their children, they enjoy seeing them enjoying what they give them. The more a child enjoys, the more the mother enjoys, too. A mother feels joy precisely from those efforts she makes for her child, more than in anything else she does.
Naturally, such satisfaction is possible only on condition that we love the others, and its power depends on our measure of love for them. Love, in fact, is the willingness to care for the well-being of others, to serve them. A person who feels that we are all individual parts of the same system, sees service as one’s role, one’s sustenance, and one’s reward. Thus, there is a world of difference between these two kinds of pleasure.
A person who has acquired the quality of altruism has a “different heart” and a “different mind.” Such a person’s desires and thoughts are so different from ours that even his or her perception of reality is different from that of others.
Thanks to the altruistic attitude to others, a person abandons the sensation of being a single cell, connects to the common body, and receives sustenance from it. For such a person, the single system that we partake of comes alive, and one begins to feel the eternal life of the comprehensive Nature, the energy flow, and the endless pleasure that fills the collective system.
Our sensation of life consists of two elements: reason and emotion. When a person feels and understands the feelings and the reasons of the eternal Nature, one then enters that world and lives within it. Such a person stops regarding his or her life as something that is about to end. Unity with the eternal Nature makes one’s sensation of life continue even when one no longer has a life in a biological body.
The death of the physical body means that the body’s perception of reality has stopped. The five senses cease to transfer information to the brain, and the brain stops projecting the corporeal world-picture on the brain’s “screen.”
However, the system of the spiritual perception of reality does not belong to the level of the corporeal world. Hence, as soon as one acquires it, it continues to exist even after the demise of the body. Those who have sensed their existence in the spiritual system prior to death find that this sensation remains after the body has died, as well. This is the meaning of “living in one’s soul.”
The difference between how we now sense life, and the sensing of life that we can feel, is enormous. To try to describe it, The Book of Zohar compares it to the difference between the glow of a tiny candle and the radiance of infinite light, or between a grain of sand and a whole world. Obtaining the spiritual life is the realization of our potential as people, and this is what we should all reach while we are living in this world.
OPENING OUR EYES
Before we end this chapter, let’s try a little exercise. Picture yourself in a completely dark room. It is so dark that you cannot see a thing. It is completely silent; there’s not a sound, not a smell, not even something to touch. It’s an empty, dark space. And you remain in that space for so long that you forget you ever had any senses at all; you even forget that such sensations exist.
All of a sudden, an odor arises. It grows stronger and surrounds you, but you cannot quite pinpoint it. Gradually, new scents join the first, some strong, some weak, some sweat, some sour. Now that you smell many scents, you realize that they come from different places, and you are in a space that contains directions such as right, left, above, and below.
Then, without warning, sounds appear from all around you, all kinds of sounds. Some are like music, some like words, and some like plain noise. Using the sounds, you can find your way in the world more easily. Now you can estimate distances, and guess the source of the smells and the sounds you are receiving. Now you have a whole world of smells and sounds.
After some time, you discover a new sensation as something touches your skin. Shortly after, you feel the touch of more things. Some are cold, some warm, some dry, and some moist; some are hard, some are soft, and some you can’t decide. When some of these objects touch your mouth, you feel an odd sensation: they have a distinct flavor.
Now you are living in a world filled with sounds, scents, sensations, and flavors. You can touch other objects, and can learn about your surroundings. When you didn’t have these senses, you couldn’t even imagine that such a rich world was there the whole time.
This is the world of the blind-at-birth. Had you been in their shoes, would you feel that you needed the sense of sight, as well? Would you even know that you don’t have it? Not at all.
In a sense, you may say that we don’t feel the spiritual world for a similar reason, because we do not have a soul. We are living our lives without even knowing that there is a spiritual dimension that we are not sensing. We don’t miss it. Our present world is quite sufficient. Day-by-day, year-by-year, and generation-by-generation we are born, live, enjoy, suffer, and eventually die. And through it all, we are not aware that a whole new dimension of life exists out there, a dimension of spiritual life.
And we would continue being unaware of it had it not been for the emptiness, the lack of meaning, and the apathy that have begun to surface within us. We no longer settle for realizing our desires because something else is still missing. Life as we know it and everything it offers is gradually becoming unsatisfactory. It is actually quite depressing, and so we choose to suppress these feelings. After all, what can we do? Everyone lives this way.
Actually, these sensations stem from the awakening of a new desire—a desire to enjoy something higher, sublime, above all that is around us, from a source unknown to us. If we really want to realize the desire that is now awakening in us, we will discover that this is a desire for something beyond this world.
The awakening of such a desire among many of us, as well as the growing sense of emptiness that accompanies it, are in fact natural steps, preordained in Nature’s plan. This desire creates in us a sense that there is something beyond the familiar, and we are curious to find it. If we let this desire lead us and listen to the voice in our hearts, we will wake up to the real reality.19
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