God vs The Multiverse

Click here for God vs The Multiverse: a rational argument for the Existence of One God who intelligently designed one universe.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Mysticism (Part 3: Solution)

We suggest that a unification between placebo effect and mysticism can help us resolve the contradicting facts between the two camps, thereby uncovering a deeper understanding of the Torah's prohibition against all forms of mysticism.

It is true that the world model of mysticism can be observed to correspond to statistically significant improvement in the welfare of an individual who believes in them, especially if they are administered by an expert in science.  Yet it is likewise true, that the speculated forces of mysticism, as separate from the placebo effect, are totally false.  No intelligent person believes in their existence.  (See the wiki article on the one million dollar paranormal challenge by James Randi for the best modern day proof.)

The Torah states in Devarim (18:15) that the art of mysticism is something the other nations of the do.  The practice of mysticism persists to this day only because it is rooted in some truth.  Mysticism works because the placebo effect is real.

There are situations where we have no other method of curing other that the power of placebo.  This situation raises an ethical dilemma   Should the person seek out a mystic, someone trained in the art of inducing the placebo effect?  Why didn't the Torah promote a society of mysticism   What is wrong with a society availing itself of the placebo effect?

We believe that the reasons of the Rambam and the Ramban apply to this question.  The path of mysticism might start out from the placebo effect, but the path quickly branches out to include a life spent pursuing fantasy and imagination.  This is necessarily so as the art of belief is most powerful when it grabs hold of deep, primitive fantasies in the unconscious mind.  This path ultimately leads to total destruction of both the individual and society as a whole.

The Torah states in Bamidbar 23:23 that the Jewish nation is different.  We do not have mysticism  but we do not lack the benefits if the placebo effect.  We have available to us a different method.  We turn towards Hashem in prayer.  We know from the words of the Torah and our prophets that prayer works.

A person can never be sure Hashem will answer their prayers.  There is no absolutely guaranteed method for bring about every cure.  But you can have perfect confidence that the best method for success is to follow God's ways in all your deeds, and to turn to God in your time of need.  The true belief of a Jew is much deeper, and greater than other nation's belief in mysticism.

The Jew does not lack the benefits of the placebo effects.  On the contrary, we benefit from the true efficacy of Divine Providence, as well as a greater, enhanced placebo effect through the natural law.

How full of wisdom is our Torah's solution for troubles in our lives.  It steers us away from the paths of desolation, and guides us towards the Name of Hashem.  The prescription of the Torah is encapsulated in one verse in Devarim 18:13תמים תהיה עם ה' אלהיך.  You shall be perfect with Hashem your God


Mysticism: (Part 2: Approach)

We believe the approach to some these problem (especially ones concerning healing) can be resolved through an understanding of the placebo effect.  The belief that something may work, can have a surprisingly powerful, positive effect.  There is tremendous variation in how the placebo effect works, but there is convincing empirical evidence it is real.

The first recorded mention of the placebo effect was in 1784, where Lavoisier used a new method of blind experimentation to expose the mesmerists.  The recognition of the placebo force was a major breakthrough in modern medicine, allow experimenters to filter out the noise created by the power of the placebo in order to identify other forces that heal.  Because of its near ubiquity, the placebo effect was drowning out or distorting most experiments.

The description of the placebo force closely matches the description of the mysterious forces of mysticism.   There are similar, specific methods for inducing both. One example is that red pills have greater efficacy in inducing the placebo effect of a stimulant than blue bills.  The reverse is true of a depressant.  (See the wiki article for more details.)

The very art of practical mysticism can be described as the art of inducing the placebo effect. The mystic is a master of this art.  It is not that easy to learn.  It requires a tremendous amount of research to understand all the various factors that influence it.  This knowledge in amassed and passed down to future generations.  (Back then it was an through oral tradition and books, nowadays its through Wikipedia.)

Friday, October 20, 2017

Mysticism: (Part 1: Facts)

There is a divide between two camps of the Rishonim regarding how we understand the Torah's prohibitions against using mysticism (horoscopes, Ouija boards, red bendels, baking keys in bread, etc.)

One group, headed by the Rambam, maintained these things were all lies and deceptions.  The Rambam states in the Laws of Idol Worship 11:16 that are clear proofs that mysticism was not scientific system of thought, but was rather nonsensical speculations and utterly false.  The Torah prohibits them because they lead a person into a life of destructive fantasy.
ודברים האלו כולן דברי שקר וכזב הן והם שהטעו בהן עובדי כוכבים הקדמונים לגויי הארצות כדי שינהגו אחריהן. ואין ראוי לישראל שהם חכמים מחוכמים להמשך בהבלים אלו ולא להעלות על לב שיש תועלת בהן. שנאמר כי לא נחש ביעקב ולא קסם בישראל. ונאמר כי הגוים האלה אשר אתה יורש אותם אל מעוננים ואל קוסמים ישמעו ואתה לא כן וגו'. כל המאמין בדברים האלו וכיוצא בהן ומחשב בלבו שהן אמת ודבר חכמה אבל התורה אסרתן אינן אלא מן הסכלים ומחסרי הדעת ובכלל הנשים והקטנים שאין דעתן שלימה. אבל בעלי החכמה ותמימי הדעת ידעו בראיות ברורות שכל אלו הדברים שאסרה תורה אינם דברי חכמה אלא תהו והבל שנמשכו בהן חסרי הדעת ונטשו כל דרכי האמת בגללן. ומפני זה אמרה תורה כשהזהירה על כל אלו ההבלים תמים תהיה עם ה' אלהיך
The second group, headed by the Ramban in Devarim 18:9 (and also including many of Chazal), believed that these things do in fact work .  This was based upon numerous empirical observations of the efficacy of these methods by the Ramban and others he trusted.  An entire quasi-physical system of forces was posited to account for these effects.  Despite the fact that mysticism was truly observed to work, the Torah nonetheless prohibited it, instructing us to turn to Hashem instead.
ורבים יתחסדו בנחשים לומר שאין בהם אמת כלל, כי מי יגיד לעורב ולעגור מה יהיה. ואנחנו לא נוכל להכחיש דברים יתפרסמו לעיני רואים. ורבותינו גם כן יודו בהם
One difficulty with the Ramban's approach  is why, if these thing do work, did the Torah prohibit them?  Why can't we use them like we use aspirin?   (The Ramban explains that the Torah gave us express permission to use conventional medicine.)

A difficulty with the Rambam is how does he explain the empirical evidence mentioned by of the other camp?  Likewise, how do we reconcile the observations of the Ramban against the "clear proofs" of the Rambam that all these things are false?