ON THE NATURE OF INTELLIGENCE
Can We Become Smarter?
Part 24 --
There are twelve days
to go in our 49-day journey between Passover and Shavuot, when we recreate
the journey of the Jewish people 3319 year ago, as they
on their way to Sinai. At Sinai we were empowered with the ability
to expand our limited channels of human consciousness and access higher states
of consciousness, reaching into the collective unconscious and into the Divine
Source of all reality.
As we get closer to recreating the Sinai experience
during the upcoming holiday of Shavuot, we will now explore,
in this second of a two-part article, the two ways that
allow us to enter into the collective unconsciousness, as
discussed in Samach-Vav.
here for part I.
week we discussed the nature of human intellect:
Like water dripping from a faucet, the unconscious mind
releases, drop by drop, ideas into the conscious mind.
The question is whether
we are simply passive recipients of the output of the dripping valve of insight?
Can we facilitate the inspirational process? Can we expand the channels and
open the valve wider to access more of the collective unconscious?
Based on the statement
in the Ethics of the Fathers, “turn it and turn it for everything is in it,”
Samach-Vav explains that there are two primary ways to twist and extract deeper
levels of the unconscious and expand the channels of consciousness: The first
“turn it” is through exertion. The second and even deeper “turn it” is through
Let us now explore these
Every mind has a certain
defined capacity to understand ideas, comprehend concepts and to process and
assimilate information. Each mind has its own unique “personality” – shaped
by many factors, including genes, education, social and cultural influences.
In psycho-spiritual terms:
Every individual mind receives its own particular flow (unique both in quantity
and quality) from the “source of wisdom,” the collective unconscious. For
some, ideas flow easily; others are not innovators, but excel at developing
pre-existing ideas. Some minds are analytical, others instinctive, some have
quick minds, others may be slower by more thorough. We have minds that are,
deep, broad, creative, visionary, abstract, theoretical and practical. The
list goes on.
But all these distinctions
are based on the mind’s natural (and nurtured) capacity. Animals, for instance,
don’t have the ability to go beyond their natural, inherent instincts. How
We have the power to transcend
our natural boundaries; to stretch our minds and intellectual horizons, not
just quantitatively but qualitatively. We do so through two ways.
The first is exertion.
Exertion is the difficult process of straining and pushing the mind beyond
its natural limits. As Edison said, “invention is 1%
inspiration and 99% perspiration.”
By exercising your muscles
you not only loosen them up, you develop and expand their possibilities. The
same with exercising the mind: Through deep concentration and mental strain,
you force open and widen the channels that allow more of the unconscious to
flow into your consciousness.
Think of the unconscious
as a state of being encased inside an impenetrable, rock-like container. The
only way in is to apply strong pressure, to break open the “box” and access
what is within. Like pressing an olive or a grape, exertion is necessary to
force out the juices locked within.
A good mind, with its own natural ability and no extra effort, can only access
the stream of knowledge and inspiration which naturally
flows from the unconscious source of wisdom, moderated by
the “valve” that controls the flow. The best
mind will not reach its ultimate potential without exertion.
By pushing your mind, in the vigorous effort of struggling
with a concept beyond you, studying it from different angles,
challenging the idea with questions and counter questions,
weighing all the arguments and counter-arguments –
by experiencing the deep frustration and chaos in the process
of researching a complex problem – all this hard effort
stretches the boundaries and expands the channels, opening
the valve wider to access the unconscious source of wisdom,
allowing in new depths of understanding into your consciousness.
The crystallization of a concept is in direct proportion
to the amount of exertion
applied to comprehend the thought.
We thus have two forms
of comprehension: Wisdom that comes naturally without exertion, and wisdom
that comes through exertion. Even though both types of understanding are rooted
in the unconscious mind, nevertheless they express two different dimensions
of the concealed unconscious. An example of the two is the difference between
a white-hot coal and a flint stone. The fire in the coal is hidden, but it
exists in the coal. All you need to do is fan the coal and the flame will
emerge. In a flint stone no physical fire exists. However by striking it with
force, you can release its spark. Because the fire in the coal has substance,
it also is limited and finite: At some point the coal will burn out. By contrast
the flint stone, not having a flame of substance, can be struck again and
again and continuously release sparks.
The way to tap the unlimited
reservoirs of intellectual energy within the “undefined unconscious” is through
pressure and force (as one strikes the flint stone) – the intellectual exertion
applied to comprehend the ideas. The deeper the questions and contradictions,
all the more refined and clearer is the resulting comprehension. The more
intense the challenge and force applied, the more profound are the ideas that
come flowing out of the “hidden essence” (“helem ha’atzmi”).
However, as deep as mental
exertion may reach, it ultimately has its limits.
A second, more powerful,
method to enter into the unconscious and beyond is called humility.
Humility is the process
of getting your ego-consciousness out of the way, thus allowing in the higher
state of unconsciousness and reaching the ultimate truth.
A fascinating Talmud captures
the power of humility in the intellectual pursuit: Three years the school
of Shammai and the school of Hillel disputed… Finally a heavenly
voice was heard to the effect that both schools expressed the words of the
living G-d, but Halacha (the final ruling) prevails according to the school
of Hillel. Now if it be true that both schools expressed the words of
the living G-d, why should the school of Hillel be thus favored? Because
the members of the school of Hillel
were modest and patient, and would always repeat the words of the school
of Shammai. Moreover, they also always gave the school
of Shammai precedence when citing their teachings…
From this we learn, that everyone who makes himself humble is raised up by
G-d, and one who is arrogant is humbled by G-d. He who pursues greatness,
the greatness eludes him, and he who avoids greatness is sought by greatness
Modesty is a very powerful
virtue. But why is it the factor that determines the law? It would seem that
the final ruling should follow the scholar with the better arguments and sharper
mind, not necessarily the humbler one?
To answer this important
question, we must return to the definition of wisdom. What is ultimate wisdom?
If true wisdom is only mind based – defined by knowledge and understanding,
than of course we would follow the conclusions of the person with the greatest
brain power. The true definition of wisdom, however, is something far greater
than the mind alone; it is the search for truth. And in the search
for truth we need more than a good brain.
How does one find truth?
Truth can only be found through objectivity. The greatest mind, biased and
subjective, will not find truth. “Bias blinds the eyes of the wise and distorts
the tongue of the righteous.” On the contrary: the better the mind, the more
biased it can become, and the better it hides its tracks, creatively finding
every argument to justify its biased position.
Humility is the key ingredient
to reach an objective result. The school of Shammai may have been brighter,
sharper, presenting better arguments. But the school of Hillel was humbler, “modest and patient,” and therefore could be trusted
more to arrive at an objective conclusion.
Both schools taught the
“words of the living G-d,” as in the name Elokim, both expressed Divine truths
and revelations. But only the humbler one was able to reach the Divine Essence.
But didn’t the school
of Shammai also exert themselves in their academic
pursuits, thus reaching beyond their natural intellectual abilities? Indeed
they did. However,
exertion produced by human
effort, driven by the pleasure of the intellectual pursuit for clarity, will
only go as far as the pleasure desires, not more. The revealed wisdom will
be in direct proportion to the exertion applied. As a product, after all,
of human effort, the exertion can only be a strong as the person himself.
But when the exertion
is driven by humility – the profound awe of the Divine that motivates the
student to discover the ultimate truth – it is not limited by human effort
alone; it actually transforms the student into a channel for a higher wisdom,
allowing him to become an extension of higher truth, drawing down a entire
new dimensions of creativity and wisdom.
Mental exertion alone
expands the horizons of wisdom, but it still remains an extension of human
effort: It is you, the person, who understands a truth outside of yourself.
Exertion out of humility essentially sublimates the student into nothing more
than a channel for higher wisdom.
In other words, exertion
alone expands our channels of consciousness, and allows us to reach into the
unconscious mind – the essential source of wisdom (the hidden “ayin”
of chochma). It only has the power to actualize the potential hidden
unconscious wisdom, but it cannot create new creative paradigms of revelation.
Exertion out of humility reaches into the unconscious essence itself (the
essential “ayin” of keter), beyond the “reservoir” of
the unconscious mind, allowing you to generate entirely new paradigms of thought.
Humility, and the sensitivity
it brings, gets your ego-consciousness out of the way, and allows you to access
the most profound truths. It allows you to recognize that
Wisdom is not about you;
it’s about the idea. It’s not your truth, but global truth.
True wisdom – the pursuit
of truth – is also universal. If it’s true only under certain conditions and
not others, then it is not true at all. Wisdom alone, without humility, can
be compartmentalized, and thus limiting its ultimate truth. When you get out
of the way and access truth, that truth will permeate you entire being – it
will not just be preached but also practiced.
When asked how he, as
a professor of ethics, could behave unethically, Bertrand Russell once said,
“I am also a teacher of mathematics and I am not a triangle.” Academics often
take pride in their detachment: “I can be completely knowledgeable of a given
topic and it does not affect my behavior.” Contrast this attitude with Maimonides’
words, that a true scholar is recognized in his actions: how he talks, walks,
sleeps and does business. A seamless flow between knowledge and behavior.
To have knowledge affect
you this way requires bittul - total immersion in the pure waters of
knowledge. True knowledge is not about you, it’s not about being smart,
it’s about the Divine truth of the knowledge and your humble recognition that
you are a transparent channel for this knowledge.
Without humility this
level of wisdom – channeling a seamless truth – is impossible to reach. Because
the mind, the best mind, is still only a mind, which does not encompass all
of existence. Every entity can never free itself from its own boundaries,
as Einstein said, “You can never solve a problem on the level on which it
was created.” However, through exertion (pushing yourself beyond your conventional
boundaries), and even more so through humility, you step outside of yourself,
your mind, your ego, your whole being – and once we step out of the problem
we can solve it. Or better put, once we get our own egos out of the way through
humility, the higher truth will emerge through our beings.
As we prepare to recreate
Sinai during the upcoming holiday of Shavuot, we are struck by the fact that
their preparation to receive the Torah was not through diligent study. It
was through personal refinement.
Why would personal behavior
be the ultimate way to prepare to receive the wisdom of Torah? Because ultimate
wisdom is about discovering – and experiencing – ultimate truth, and ultimate
truth is not about being smart; it’s about being refined – about a truth that
encompasses your entire being and transforms your entire person.
can hardly be called truth. Truth in the mind is not a complete truth. Truth
is a full experience.
By humbly refining yourself
you become a container that can experience Sinai. Indeed, the Torah was given
on Mt. Sinai
– the lowest of all the surrounding mountains – to teach us that humility
is the key to wisdom.
These two elements – exertion
and humility – are also hinted to in this week’s Torah portion, always read
right before Shavuot: “If you follow [walk in] My statutes and observe My
commandments, and do them, I will provide you with rain at the right time,
so that the land will bear its crops and the trees of the field will provide
Rashi explains that “follow
My statutes” means to toil in the study of Torah, to exert yourself and vigorously
“walk” into the inner recesses of wisdom.
“Observe My commandments”
refers to the humility in study which brings one to apply the teachings in
action, “and do them.”
As we approach Sinai we
learn the secret of intelligence from Sinai (“Moses received the Torah from
Sinai”): “Turn it and turn it” we are told. We must always “comb” wisdom,
never suffice with our natural faculties, but always go beyond ourselves.
The key to intelligence is: “Turn it” – through mental
exertion, and “turn it” again through humility.
* * *
Question of the Week: Why do you
think many intelligent people don't correlate their pursuit
of wisdom and truth to their own personal behavior?
a question for future weeks.