The Arrogance of the Mind, and the Nature of Reality

20130311-114700.jpgRabbi Mordecai Twerski of the Talmudic Research Institute, Denver CO

I have been doing a lot of scientology- and cult-related reading over the past two months. Lawrence Wright‘s book, Jenna Miscavige-Hill‘s book. I have also read R.J. Lifton’s book on the Aum cult, and Robert Kaufman’s book — the FIRST Inside Scientology. I am re-reading A Piece Of Blue Sky, and also Kate Bornstein’s memoir. Also in the mix, a book called “Rats“, and Ken Wilber’s Grace and Grit.

Also, of course, Tony Ortega‘s blog and the endlessly informative, entertaining, inspiring, and frustrating comments there. OTVIIIisGrrr8! continues to give me insight into the special brand of crazy in the RTC. Marty Rathbun‘s blog is in a liminal space that I find fascinating and informative. Then there is Jesse Prince (who I simply LOVE and want very much to meet and hug and conversate with) sharing music and humor with his friends on fb as he makes a remarkable journey back from the threshold of hell. My comments on the blogs are easy to find, and if you are my friend on facebook — well, you either know me personally, by my real name, or you are one of my favorite artist/activists.

So, that’s what I’ve been up to. And I will have some posts coming soon about the things I’ve been reading. But for now, I want to share just a little something I learned a very long time ago, from one of my most cherished teachers — a Rabbi who taught a class entitled “Contemplative Judaism” when I was a student at Naropa. Rabbi Mordecai Twersky, long-time head of the Talmudic Reasearch Institute in Denver, Co.

How an orthodox Jewish Rabbi wound up teaching a class at Naropa is an interesting story in itself. Reb Twersky explained it to us in the first or second session of class. Basically, it was a part of his process of growing into a true wisdom teacher and leader, as prescribed by his mentor and teacher. His challenge was to learn how to effectively convey his own understanding of truth as a Rabbi, to those who do not share the same basic assumptions and language that are common to all orthodox Jews.

In other words; it is easy to make your ideas clear to others who are already inclined to see things the same way as you. But true wisdom and intelligence transcend cultural programming. If you cannot express your wisdom in a way that is comprehensible to those who are truly outside your group and do not share your language and assumptions, then it is NOT a universal truth. Getting to the essential, universal core of a philosophy means understanding how it can be relevant to anyone, well enough that you can translate it into the language of those you are speaking to. In teaching us, The good Rabbi was coming to a new depth of understanding himself. I admired that.

The most important lesson that I learned from Reb Twersky was about “the arrogance of the mind”, and the importance of religious practice as a way of surrendering to a higher authority of understanding. As someone who was identified at a very young age as having a high IQ and took great pride in my academic accomplishments, and also a seeker hungry for durable truths, this was strong medicine for me. The idea that the mind has limits, profound limits, but also an arrogance that will refuse to acknowledge those limits, was galvanizing to me. Still, in my view, this did not logically correlate to the necessity of religion and submission to a higher authority. So, I had a question for the Rabbi.

Obviously, there was a time in human history when there was no lineage of Rabbis or gurus or any other teachers, and no body of critiques, commentaries and concordances to any scriptures. What came before religion? What are the roots from which these traditions spring? What is the original, archetypal authority from which all religions must draw reference, if this philosophy holds true? What is the ultimate, basic authority, to which the mind MUST surrender its arrogance in order to remain healthy?

The Rabbi seemed a little taken aback by my question. He sputtered, and chuckled, and then he got very quiet and still and I knew I would get a real, considered response to my question. He said, “Um, well … Nature.” That was all he said, and all the answer I needed. I said “Ahhhhh! Yesssss… thank you!” I got it, and he knew I got it. My final paper for that class was all about this exchange and what I took from it, and he let me know that he appreciated my asking the question, and was glad I got so much from his answer.

Do YOU get it? It is all you need to know about the true value of direct experience versus perceptions and concepts of that experience. Language versus sensation. Ideals versus intention and impact. For a Rabbi, the obvious answer of what is the original authority would be “G-d”. But in order to convey his meaning to someone with whom he cannot assume a shared belief in the divine, he had to dig deeper and speak in terms of what can be directly experienced, in common, by us both.

For further clarification, let’s hear from Nick Herbert, quantum physicist and tantrist. In this post, Nick points out that quantum theory is the most reliably accurate in terms of predicting phenomena, yet it requires that we give up “reality”. Meaning, that comforting sense that science “proves what is real”. Read the post, and follow his link to a report on a most remarkable meeting of our leading scientific minds and their inability to agree on the nature of reality, based on their theories.

“All of the participants were leading thinkers in this field so it would be easy to imagine that they would generally agree on how to interpret quantum mechanics and the foundations of physics.

Not a bit of it. Zeilinger and co put 16 multiple choice questions to 33 participants at the Quantum Physics and the Nature of Reality conference in Austria in 2011 and found that opinions diverged wildly.

For example, in answer to the question “Do you believe that physical objects have their properties well defined prior to and independent of measurement?”, 48 per cent replied “no”, while 52 per cent replied “yes, in some cases”. A further 3 per cent said “yes in all cases” and 9 per cent were undecided (respondents were able to select more than one answer).”

–Source here

Just to clarify: only 3% of these globally recognized leading physicists were willing to say that “real” things are what they are, whether or not we see them as such, or see them at all — all the time. The rest are suggesting that at least some of the time, things are what they are because, and only when, we observe them as such. In philosophy, this might be regarded as a logical error bordering on solipsism. But the science of particle physics, which has also brought us Dark Matter and Dark Energy, and the Higgs boson, regards this as the “cautious” position.


So, my point is that this is the arrogance of the human mind: that we habitually dismiss possibilities and make dogmatic statements based on our certainty that we know what is real. The hard truth is, our thinking must always submit to our direct experience, and experience shows us that we have NO right to claim to know what is “real” and what is “impossible”. What we do have, are enormous opportunities to learn and expand our awareness and intelligence, by meeting our experience with an open and humble mind.

Keep watching, keep seeking, and keep learning.



[ Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments. First-time commenters, you are not being censored, I have to moderate your first post — I’ll get to them as quickly as I can.] 🙂


1 thought on “The Arrogance of the Mind, and the Nature of Reality

  1. Like always, you expose the truth of life and existence intelligently and eloquently. Your thoughts are as insightful as I remember, thank you for having the courage to use your talents to truly help people find a deeper understanding of who and what we truly are.

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