Thursday, November 7, 2013

The Marvellous Mandrake and the Mashgiach of Mir

The mandrake is an odd plant that, in the ancient world, was thought to have all kinds of marvelous properties, from being a fertility aid to having magical powers. The mandrake, which appears in this week's parashah, also had a wondrous effect on me: it had a pivotal role in transforming me into a rationalist.

My formative yeshivah years were spent in a decidedly anti-rationalist environment. I was taught that the system of natural law is an unfortunate entity that exists solely in order to enable free will - we have to have the possibility of blinding ourselves to God's stewardship of the universe. To the extent that a person rises in their spiritual level, they will be above the natural order.

Then I came across a discussion in Daas Chochmah U'Mussar 1:14 by Rabbi Yerucham Levovitz (1874-1936), mashgiach of the Mirrer Yeshivah. He focuses upon the episode of Rachel and the mandrakes that appears in this week's parashah:
In the days of the wheat-harvest, Reuben went and found mandrakes in the field. He brought them to Leah, his mother. Rachel said to Leah, “Please give me some of your son’s mandrakes!” (Genesis 30:14)
Why was Rachel so eager for these flowers? The fifteenth-century Italian commentator Rabbi Ovadiah Seforno states that "these are a type of sweet-smelling herb which enable fertility." Rachel had not yet been able to bear children to Jacob, and hoped that the mandrakes would help.

But, for an anti-rationalist yeshivah bochur, far from explaining matters, this only served to complicate them further. After all, this isn’t just an ordinary person that we are talking about, but Rachel, wife of Jacob, one of the matriarchs and a righteous person of the highest stature. Surely she was fully aware that it was God Who was withholding children from her rather than any physical problem! And it was surely just as clear that her salvation would be through prayer, not through fertility drugs!

But Rav Yerucham Levovitz explained the Seforno in a way that transformed my attitude. He explains that natural law is not to be seen as conflicting with God’s authority. Just the opposite — it is a manifestation of His wisdom. God doesn't just make things happen arbitrarily; there is a system of cause-and-effect. It is important to recognize, says Rav Yerucham, that this is also true of spirituality - one's deeds, words and even thoughts have an effect. If a person does not see the system of cause-and-effect in nature, he will not see it in his spiritual life. If there is no derech eretz, no acknowledgment of a system to the world, then there is no Torah.

It took a while for me to fully absorb this message. Initially, when I recorded it in my youthful and primitive book Second Focus, I still wrote that Rachel's usage of a fertility drugs was in no way a cause of her having children, just a merit. But Rav Yerucham had set me on the path to Maimonidean rationalism. I had begun to see that natural law is not a negative phenomenon that just exists to give us free will, but rather it is the proper way for God to run the world. And when I eventually applied that line of thinking to the development of the universe and of life, I realized that it would be appropriate for God to have done this via an orderly system of natural law, rather than zapping things into existence.

So, that's how I came to a rationalist view of nature - from a marvelous mandrake and a mashgiach of Mir!

49 comments:

  1. Too bad you have completely misunderstood that piece from Reb Yerucham. Actually, he says precisely the opposite: "..and as was made clear in our earlier talks..TEVA U'LMAALAH MIN HaTEVA "ECHAD" - nature and above nature are one and the same.

    Perhaps if you had a rebbe teaching you this then, none of this sorry situation would have happened.

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  2. I never said that Rav Yerucham was a rationalist - just that he started me on the path towards it.

    See http://www.rationalistjudaism.com/2012/03/rav-dessler-in-or-out.html

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  3. In that post and the comments, it transpires that Rav Carmell and Rabbi Gordon were in dispute as to whether Rav Dessler was in sync with Maimonidean rationalism re. the order of the nature or entirely at odds with it. I suspect that they would have had a similar dispute with regard to Rav Yerucham. (But it's been many years since I've studied Rav Yerucham, and my memory of his writings is hazy.)

    (This comment was for the benefit of others - "observer" shouldn't be here, unless he wants to further confirm people's impressions of people on the far religious right.)

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  4. And Sarah gave birth at her age purely because of natural laws too? With your approach you must be believing she was taking fertility drugs?

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  5. > "I realized that it would be appropriate for God to have done this via an orderly system of natural law, rather than zapping things into existence."

    What can help us avoid going too far, thinking that miracles never happened?

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  6. Funny, my "rationalist" understanding of the message was the opposite. Rachel Immeinu somewhat "irrationally" valued the "magical" root more than the opportunity for marital relations, which "rationally" is the more important factor. Since Leah Immeinu ignored the magic and went for what was important, she merited conceiving immediately.

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  7. Too bad observer completely misunderstood the meaning of "completely misunderstood." Stating that natural and supernatural are one and the same is little more than an acknowledgement that the intelligence that arranges the laws of our world arranges the miraculous as well. It in no way detracts from the stability of what we call natural law.

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  8. Then again, rationally, mandrakes are no fertility pills after all.

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  9. I'm not much of a blog reader, but my history with R. Meiselman in the distant past has drawn me to your recent posts. As a blog neophyte, I haven't been clear on what the term "troll" means. But I think I'm starting to get it. It's like Observer, right? R. Meiselman particularly appealed to the likes of him (her?) as far back as the '70s.

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  10. "R. Meiselman particularly appealed to the likes of him (her?) as far back as the '70s." --
    Guilt by association? You can do better than that, Peeping Tom.

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  11. Just for the record, the mefareshim are by no means unanimous in holding that the duda'im were mandrake roots, or that Rachel wanted them as a fertility drug. Whatever they were, she may have sought them as a love charm (to provide her an extra advantage in her long-term rivalry with Leah), or simply to enjoy their flowery aroma. But if mandrakes could get a person started on the road to rationalism, they have worked yet another wonder. More power to them!

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  12. "Derech Eretz includes everything that results from the fact that man's existence, mission and social life is conducted on Earth, using earthly means and conditions. Therefore this term especially describes ways of earning a livelihood and maintaining the social order. It also includes the customs and considerations of etiquette that the social order generates as well as everything concerning humanistic and civil education"

    R' Hirsch on Pirkei Avot

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  13. It's all part of the crumbling of the world. You are used to a Jewish influenced non-pagan Western mindset. However, we are reverting rapidly back to pagan lunacy, the destruction of the intellect, the rise of superstition, irrationality - the kind of mindset that could produce Zoroastrianism with it's split view of reality, the kind of mindset that could produce Bible stories quite frankly, the disregard for life and justice that dominated that world. That this is happening to leaders in the frum world shouldn't be surprising. The whole planets is getting sucked in. It's much bigger than a few extremists in the Jewish world. This is widespread. The Jewish world is crumbling along with the whole world. Moshiach is coming.

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  14. "Then again, rationally, mandrakes are no fertility pills after all."

    Well, are we really sure that they are mandrakes? There is a three way machlokes in Sanhedrin as to what dudaim were. And then there is a machlokes in identifying which species were meant by the gemara. (See my post from today about this.)

    However, you can always try out mandrakes. Here is a web site that sells it.

    They have a great (and relevant!) disclaimer on the bottom:
    IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER:
    There is no scientific evidence that Dudaim Oil or Mandragora will give you sons who are talmidei chachomim. There are no scientific studies (yet) that have researched what it says in the Bible.

    If the Chumash and Mephorshim aren’t good enough for you, we kindly ask you NOT to purchase our product.

    There are no medical claims made for Dudaim Oil or Mandragora.


    kol tuv,
    josh

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  15. > Funny, my "rationalist" understanding of the message was the opposite. Rachel Immeinu somewhat "irrationally" valued the "magical" root more than the opportunity for marital relations, which "rationally" is the more important factor. Since Leah Immeinu ignored the magic and went for what was important, she merited conceiving immediately.

    That only holds if you think of the mandrakes as “magic.” Rachel wouldn’t have known that mandrakes aren’t an effective fertility aid. If a couple has been trying to have kids for a while and has been unsuccessful, which is more important, trying some more right now, or getting fertility drugs so that when they do try again, it has a better chance of working?

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  16. Can we use the term "laws of nature" or "physical law"? "Natural Law" is a technical philosophical term that is being misused in this context.

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  17. >Pliny said... What can help us avoid going too far, thinking that miracles never happened?

    How is saying that miracles operate according to natural laws connected with a denial of those occurrences? Whether you believe them to have happened or not is a completely separate question and beyond the purview of the suggestion. The Rambam discusses the idea and puts forth that almost all miracles in Tanakh can be explained in a natural fashion, e.g. he points out that the splitting of the red sea occurs by a strong wind.

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  18. I own both Focus and Second Focus! I think I'm in the running for largest Slifkin collection outside the Slifkin family. :-)

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  19. I recall seeing a commentary in the Artscroll anthology on Bereshis that notes that Rachel didn't conceive Yosef as a result of the dudaim (Leah had Yissachar, Zevulun and Dinah in the interim--even if she conceived and had children at seven months, there would still be at least two years between the dudaim incident and Yosef's birth.). This was to emphasize that it was totally Hashem's doing in helping Rachel conceive.

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  20. 1) Why did using medicine bother you more than any other usage of natural law, such as walking or talking?

    2) I'm not sure what's rationalist about G-d unconditionally sticking to laws of nature. With modern physics we know laws of nature are bizarre, contingent and and counterintuitive. Why for a rationalist-theist is an etiological-causative effect prefered over a merit-based one?
    All you are advocating is that G-d runs his world through laws of a contingent system - just like lurianic kabbalah.

    3) You have 20 Pesukim later the מקלות of Yaakov in which the effect seams to have happened through the merit of Histadlous and not straightforward scientific causation.
    בא וראה כמה גדול כחו שליעקב אבינו, שניתן לו מין גבורה שלמעלה, שהיה מיחם את הצאן כמו שירצה, מה שאין כל בריה יכולה לעשות כן

    מדרש הגדול

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  21. G*3 "Since Leah Immeinu ignored the magic and went for what was important, she merited conceiving immediately"
    Don't overestimate Leah's rationalism.
    Leah did not conceive because Yaakov did not share a tent with her.

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  22. SF2K01 asks: "How is saying that miracles operate according to natural laws connected with a denial of those occurrences?"
    I'm glad you asked your question; I was anticipating it. It seems that you're helping me answer when you quote Rambam saying that "almost all miracles in Tanakh can be explained in a natural fashion." I'm referring to the few cases that even Rambam would say were beyond nature.

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  23. Funny, my "rationalist" understanding of the message was the opposite. Rachel Immeinu somewhat "irrationally" valued the "magical" root more than the opportunity for marital relations, which "rationally" is the more important factor. Since Leah Immeinu ignored the magic and went for what was important, she merited conceiving immediately.

    That only holds if you think of the mandrakes as “magic.” Rachel wouldn’t have known that mandrakes aren’t an effective fertility aid. If a couple has been trying to have kids for a while and has been unsuccessful, which is more important, trying some more right now, or getting fertility drugs so that when they do try again, it has a better chance of working?

    First off, I have very little evidence for my "p'shat", so I don't want to defend it too strongly. I was mostly thinking of the "rationalist" way of looking at.

    That said, I think that one can ask more generally: why are "mystical" phenomena like astrology and palm-reading considered "non-rational"? After all, a person inquires into these things because he thinks that they work or may work. So he is acting "rationally" by his own lights. So he may be mistaken, but not irrational.

    The approach of the Ramban towards the Torah's prohibition on witchcraft gets around this question because he says that, in fact, witchcraft does work, but the Torah enjoins it for other reasons (e.g. it is damaging). See Devarim 18:9 and Vayikra 19:19. So the violator is "rational", but is still something wrong.

    So, yes, I agree that if someone falsely to believe some odd unhelpful thing to be helpful, the aren't necessarily "irrational". However, I think we can recognize that as we get desperate for some goal, we start to succumb to wishful thinking. I have been told that when people are diagnosed with a disease with a bad prognosis, they are often told by their medical caregivers to be on guard for charlatans looking to take advantage of them. People are taken in by those who claim to speak to the dead, because they desperately want to speak to their dead loved ones.

    Now, in the case of mandrakes, we have few things to make us skeptical about their usefulness even in the ancient context:

    1) We know that they don't actually work. So whatever evidence they had was probably not particularly good.

    2) They were probably considered fertility charms because they can take on human looking shapes: (from wikipedia "[their] roots sometimes contain bifurcations causing them to resemble human figures".) This is the kind of reasoning we don't use in everyday life unless we have a strong reason to do so because this is wishful thinking.

    3) In general, ancient medicine was a mix of some actual knowledge and lots of "mumbo-jumbo" and didn't work particularly well. So just saying that "x" was believed to help with "y" could still reasonable generate skepticism.

    4) The general message of Torah (at least from a rationalist PoV) is to do your best by Derech Eretz and pray directly to God for the rest.

    So, in one of those ways, it is possible that a "rational" ancient would have been skeptical of the mandrake. I'd like to think that if I was alive back then, I would have been skeptical of such things, but perhaps that is silly and presumptuous. I certainly would not say that I would have done anything "better" than Rachel in the same situation.

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  24. As rationalist apotheoses go, Temujin's was fairly simplistic in origin. Lacking the vast knowledge of his host and his peers here, he found the story of humankind's eviction from gan eden to be most instructive. "Transitioned" from a universe of miracles and easy access to the Almighty, to a universe of firm, if not immutable, physical laws and limitations requires mankind to get by with its wits and efforts. "Rationalism" is then a function of this reality; it is anything which is the most successful cognitive strategy for effectively and properly dealing with the World we are given and the circumstances of our changed relationship with our Creator. How's that, hmm?

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  25. What about the element if Hishtadlus? That even though Hashem provides, it is still up to mankind to try for themselves. Maybe the mandrake was Rachel's Hishtadlus?

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  26. I note that there appears to be confusion here about what constitutes irrationality. I don't believe that many here will restrict the definition of irrational thinking or behavior to something which entails contradictory beliefs or actions. A more general definition of rationality involves accepting things based on evidence, and not accepting things based on unsupported claims. Anyone, after all, can make whatever claim they wish. Not everything, however, can be checked by people without appropriate training. Therefore, it is considered rational to act on the basis of generally accepted ideas. Belief that individual destiny was foreordained or 'written in the stars' was widespread once, and such belief could not then be considered irrational. It is today.

    Some would believe that modern Physics has totally reversed course and now claims that the universe is governed by 'bizarre and counterintuitive' laws. Such sentiments are restricted, however, to some aspects of the submicroscopic world. 'Ordinary' phenomena are never treated that way.

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  27. Y. Aharon, it was not part of the discussion that warrant for beliefs should be of rational nature. Rationalism is the assumption that the world runs in a rational way (this has not "rationality").

    The conviction that G-d would not change natural law based on theological circumstance, can only be described as "rationalist" if those laws have necessity from an a priori standpoint and aren't contingent.

    In chemistry, for example, it's the counterintuitive quantum laws that (luckily) give rise to different elements, chemicals and their properties.

    You write, "Such sentiments are restricted, however, to some aspects of the submicroscopic world. 'Ordinary' phenomena are never treated that way."

    However, the quantum mechanics of the submicroscopic world are ordinary phenomena - you cannot separate water from H2O.

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  28. Did Harav Meiselman actually comment here, or is it some impostor/troll?

    If it is, it would be reminiscent of a popular tale about the Rav who wrote a sefer [תפארת ירושלים] answering all R Akiva Eger's question on the Mishna.

    When he finished, the story goes, he had a dream in which R Akiva Eger refuted 3 of his answers. The Rav woke up overjoyed. He inferred that R Akiva Eger accepted all his other answers.

    We might have had some nagging doubts, maybe RM has some answers to R Slifkin but he won't come to this blog. Now that he has a comment on mandrakes but said nothing about the posts devoted to him, we can infer that he accepts R Slifkin's refutations.

    However the Satmar Rebbe had a spin on that story that would make it irrelevant here, depending on how this thread proceeds.

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  29. gh500, this is not the forum for a discussion of quantum phenomena and models. I would just state that what may be a model used to describe some atomic or subatomic phenomena does not carry over into the realm of ordinary macroscopic objects. The wave behavior apparently exhibited by some submicroscopic collections at temperatures close to absolute zero are negated by the phase incoherence of the large collections at higher temperatures. These macroscopic objects conform to the normal considerations of causality, i.e., the behave in a conventionally rational manner. Even the cases of 'strange' quantum behavior are still rational in the sense of being predictable and amenable to quantitative mathematical modeling.

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  30. QM is what brings about the periodic table, electron configurations in valence shells etc.. Whatever the effects of mandrakes on the human body, for example, would be consequential of the above.

    These macroscopic objects conform to the normal considerations of causality, i.e., the behave in a conventionally rational manner. Even the cases of 'strange' quantum behavior are still rational in the sense of being predictable and amenable to quantitative mathematical modeling.
    That's a confusion rhyme with reason.

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  31. Ah, yes, gh500, one cannot escape quantum mechanics (QM)nowadays, a legitimate scientific area which unfortunately lends itself too well to a bit of abuse by the usual suspects like previous up-and-coming fields. Not much can be done about that, so with all the usual fanfare, bright spotlights and the compulsory drum roll, Temujin gives you a neologism: Quantum Quackery (QQ).

    As Mr Y.Aharon made the effort to explain the nature of QM, Temujin just wants to issue a caveat: For all daily tasks and practical purposes, do attempt to operate under Newtonian Laws....unless you find yourself approaching the speed of light, in which case seek an authority on the subject. But in the here and now, avoid crank medicines based on invisible quanta, do not believe in promises of riches harvested from a two dimensional holographic universe grid, nor attempt to fly out of your office window, counting to be transported to a far-away alternate bubble universe where laws of gravity are amenable to wishful thinking.

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  32. >>>> But in the here and now, avoid crank medicines based on invisible quanta, do not believe in promises of riches, etc……

    Oh mighty Temujin, while thy lowly peon, Elemir, cowers in thy presence, I respectfully and must humbly beg to differ. Seeing that the Great intellect, Reb Natan, is addressing a world wherein such notable yet simple deeds as insertion of shaped tiny bits of metal into a breaded chunk of dough or financial donations to chosen personages at auspicious calendar moments or even two otherwise able-bodied individuals sitting and intensely arguing over the legal ramifications of two oxen goring each other, all such acts bring untold merit to the universe, what do such silly notions as rational sciences related compare to these manifestations of profound and mystical secrets.

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  33. Dear Lowly Peon Elimir, your honeyed tongue and observance of the proper forms have warmed the cockles of Temujin's heart and he will forgive your run-on sentence and raise you high in the eyes of the Tribes. Therefore, you may pull out thy visage from the dust and sit by Temujin's feet.

    One would observe though that conflating superstition with traditional manners of study is somewhat unfair, irrational superstitions being costly and harmful to the People, whereas self-supported and measured study is rational, as it maintains traditions and customs, educates the People whilst improving their cognitive abilities and saves young men from lurking about at street corners, and older men from turning into bar flies. Let it be so proclaimed.


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  34. Temujin made 2 points:

    1)QM is new
    - Is this implying that QM would eventually stand on a priory reasoning as does some of classical mechanics? If not, then the conviction that G-d would not change natural law based on theological circumstance, cannot be termed rationalist.

    2) Common sense dictates that for daily tasks one should operate under Newtonian laws.
    - The issue at hand is not the everyday uses of the laws of nature. (Just one correction, the effects of medicines medicines are based on invisible quanta, and possibly more than on Newtonian laws.)


    In my previous comment I wrote "That's a confusion rhyme with reason", I meant to write "That's a confusion of rhyme with reason." I meant that phenomena should unnecessarily rhyme, is not rationalism.

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  35. >>>> though that conflating superstition with traditional manners of study is somewhat unfair,

    Again, my most exalted and revered master, may His Countenance shine upon thee, and at the risk of incurring thy wrath, it must be declared that Elemir's intent in this matter was precisely that to which you protest.

    Since, to my most humble and simple intellect, inculcating young minds, that beyond fundamental and life-skills education, there exists earth-saving merit, merit beyond the understanding of mortal man, to sit, study and contemplate tombs, however hallowed and hoary they be, all the while that their (hopefully) most beloved spouse slaves and stresses to earn the assets necessitated to sustain this (to my simple mind) foolhardy enterprise, and all the more must, simultaneously, care for the (usually) multitudinous progeny, all this borders on the immoral, if not outright criminality.

    Thus, to your most subservient admirer, a one-time con job, as say, the infamous kupat ha-ir, pales in comparison to the misery and hardship brought on by such (apparently) foolish beliefs.

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  36. gh500 is asking Temujin to opine about quantum mechanics implications and theological conundrums resulting therefrom. Nice try. This is beyond Temujin's pay grade, well beyond his manufacturer's specifications.

    All this man meant to say is that among us regulars, QM, which is one of those fields no one seems to understand but thinks they should, has become the latest explains-it-all for all sorts of pseudoscientific claims. QM also appears to raise theological questions, just as you say, but rather unnecessarily, because not understanding its laws at this time or ever doesn't mean that laws of nature have been tossed overboard.

    When you say that "the effects of medicines are based on invisible quanta," Temujin furrows his brows and scratches his topknot, trying to understand why chemicals...which just like the entire universe are necessarily made of quanta....are no longer good enough for a mention, or why the visibility of said particles or sub-particles should be of relevance to the price of carrot juice in Israel. Temujin needs reading glasses and can barely read ingredients lists on packages, much less see quanta. Are you perhaps hinting at a "proof" for homeopathy? Go on, don't be shy, for one certainly hopes so, as this would serve as a prime illustration of how the fog around QM can be misused to support quackery for which no empirical evidence has ever been (nor ever can) be found. But perhaps Hahnemann (sp?) had good reading glasses. And as for whether QM would ever "stand on a priori reasoning," or the a posteriori kind for that matter, well, that's for the future eggheads to deal with...once QM settles into the mainstream, acquires a few empirical trophies and sheds some of the cooks and crooks surrounding it.

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  37. typo alert...tombs, should, of course, be tomes
    or is it a freudian slip???

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  38. Peon Elimir, admittedly Temujin's eyes narrowed and his sword arm twitched at your presumption that he tolerates or perhaps even approves of the thousands upon thousands of hale and hearty men...all potential herders of the Tribes' growing flocks or future horsemen in the orda...who lollygag about in the manner you describe. Did one not clarify support for traditional manners of study? Traditional being that which was practiced not too long ago, where every man took every opportunity to learn with his friends and teachers when time allowed and only the brightest, the most promising and capable young scholars remained to warm the benches of much smaller and much more accomplished academies, with the proviso that support would be found from the surplus gleanings of one's community, and with the expectation that they would serve their people with needed clerical services.

    One's quarrelsome subject, the Peon Elimir, protests that the current disasters which over-stuffed academies wreak on communities, family life, prospects for the young and the wellbeing of the Nation is far greater than the cost of occasional and petty hucksters emptying the pockets of the superstitious and unwary. Of course this is so, but surely Elimir cannot suggest that hucksterism be entirely ignored? He does see, one presumes, that what is a creeping monasticism and coalescing of a new clerical hierarchy in everything but name, and what is a fly-by-night fraud, a theft of hopes and dreams, are all fruits of the same tree? It is the ever-present blight, at times waxing, at times waning, of mendicant preachers enticing the people with incredible tales of miracles, divinations, alchymies and magicks many of which, if not even most, have been purloined from the superstitions of the neighbouring Gentiles, cleaned-up, gilded with a few magen David stickers and peddled as the wisdom of ancient Israel. Is the tale of a poor, anxious and hopeful Daughter of Israel desperately seeking a miracle of lesser significance? One has heard it said that the Almighty minds and counts the tears of women.

    But Temujin suspects that he and Elimir sit on the same side of the war council and think alike in many ways, but that they wrestle and play with words because they like to wrestle and play with words.

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  39. "Are you perhaps hinting at a "proof" for homeopathy?"'
    Nothing of the sort. I'm just asking why should the term rationalism be ascribed to the change of opinion described in the above blog-post. That's it.

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  40. Oh mighty Temujin, whose wise words reverberate throughout the land and bring clarity to the blind and foolish, know ye that your clarification has more than maintained, and will assuredly as well sustain, your humble peon’s obsequious and servile loyalty. So, until another time, I bid you adieu.

    P.S. As Elemir bows out, he is pressed to inquire.
    Is it my Lord’s intent and desire to consistently and without fail, mis-spell my proud and meaningful given name. My father, may his memory be forever blessed, who has passed this many decades ago, had informed me that “Elemir”, in Slovak, the land of my birth, reflected his feeling of hope, post the Second Great War and translates to “God of Peace”.

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  41. One must apologize for his hastiness, gh500 but work calls.

    Rabbi Slifkin will undoubtedly correct Temujin if he's wrong, but one would guess that his conclusion that, "God doesn't just make things happen arbitrarily; there is a system of cause-and-effect relates in part to the good Rabbi's understanding of the story of Sarah. As Temujin understand things, the honoured Mother Sarah prayed and accessed the advice of the best, nay, the only medical science available to her at the time; folk remedies. Knowing what we know about the role of the mandrake in folk medicine the World over, it's important to recognize that Sarah did not begin and end with prayer alone and did not turn to an array of segulot. A contemporary example would be an observant and rational Jew who prays for good health and who seeks the services of a proper physician and accepts recognized medicines, as opposed to one who at the first hint of trouble checks the mezuzot for the third time that year, ties red strings around everything and runs to the nearest quack for dubious concoctions or "remedies." On that note, Temujin is overjoyed that you are not a fan of homeopathy and presumably other nonsense, and apologizes if his suspicion was insulting. Two apologies in a short post; Temujin must be coming down with a bug and must run now to get the leeches out before having to pay for a full phlebotomy.

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  42. With modern physics we know laws of nature are bizarre, contingent and and counterintuitive. Why for a rationalist-theist is an etiological-causative effect prefered over a merit-based one? All you are advocating is that G-d runs his world through laws of a contingent system - just like lurianic kabbalah.

    Someone once wrote: “Rationalists believe that knowledge is legitimately obtained by man via his reasoning and senses, and should preferably be based upon evidence/reason rather than faith.”

    That's the difference I see between science/medicine and Lurianic Kabbalah. One bases itself on rigorous testing, and the other doesn't.

    As long as a medication does well in clinical trials, it doesn’t make much practical difference to a rationalist whether or not the laws of physics are contingent. He relies on them being consistent.

    And as for whether QM would ever "stand on a priori reasoning," or the a posteriori kind for that matter, well, that's for the future eggheads to deal with...once QM settles into the mainstream, acquires a few empirical trophies and sheds some of the cooks and crooks surrounding it.

    Temujin, it sounds like you are confusing the mechanics of QM – that’s the “M,” after all – with controversial theories that try to explain QM.

    The basic principles of the mechanics were written down in the early 20th century and produced an avalanche of discovery. They are among the most successful tools in physics for explaining the empirical world (including the greenhouse effect, mind you).

    QM is more than “mainstream,” it's universally accepted. It also happens to be spooky, as everyone has noticed.

    The point gh500 intended is that QM enables atoms to bond, giving you your chemicals. Nothing to do with whatever pseudoscience might be floating around.

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  43. gh500, your writing can be a bit confusing. My only concern was your attempted use of quantum mechanics to buttress your argument. This ia a 'new agey' type of strategy practiced by those who have no real familiarity with the subject.

    Rafi, while I don't dispute the thrust of your comment, one word in particular makes me a bit suspicious. QM or any other theory doesn't "enable atoms to bond", it is merely an accounting of said bonding. Two Hs and an O will form H2O spontaneously regardless of how we wish to account for the transformation. By the way, liquid water hardly has any individual H2O molecules. Instead, it consists of ephemeral polymeric clusters attached via weaker hydrogen bonds. My point is that in our normal experience we are much removed from the world in which 'strange' QM behavior is evident. Moreover, the conceptual models for such quantum mechanical behavior is still in dispute among the leading practioners.

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  44. Temujin thanks for clearing me of quackery!

    Someone once wrote: “Rationalists believe that knowledge is legitimately obtained by man via his reasoning and senses, and should preferably be based upon evidence/reason rather than faith.
    That has nothing to do with the change of opinion described in the above blog-post. Why is the conviction (of a theist who is already convinced that natural law is from G-d) that G-d would not change natural law based on theological circumstance, be termed "rationalist." Perhaps the affirmation that certain laws which are considered to be known a priory - such as (if I'm not mistaken) Galilean relativity, that every action causes a reaction etc. - are not subject to change, can be termed "rationalist". Bur the medicinal properties of mandrakes would be highly dependent on chemistry, which is highly dependent on quantum mechanics, which, to my knowledge, is on the other end of the spectrum compared to the a priory type of laws described above.

    Is there anything "new agey" about this seemingly straight-forward question?

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  45. My point is that in our normal experience we are much removed from the world in which 'strange' QM behavior is evident. Moreover, the conceptual models for such quantum mechanical behavior is still in dispute among the leading practioners.

    I would emphasize that even in the quantum regime, where human intuition fails, our mathematics still works. That's a big success for rationalism!

    That has nothing to do with the change of opinion described in the above blog-post. Why is the conviction (of a theist who is already convinced that natural law is from G-d) that G-d would not change natural law based on theological circumstance, be termed "rationalist."

    It's not a conviction about what God would or wouldn't do. We observe, after the fact, that consistent physical laws describe the world, and they happen to be very impressive. God might have done it a different way, but our observations don't give us a reason to think He did.

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  46. gh500, what is your background in science that makes you confident about your statements on the subject? Distinguishing between physics and chemistry based on their supposed a-priori vs contingent aspects betrays an ignorance of both subjects. Let me assure you that the properties of mandrakes, whatever they are, are not subject to 'strange' quantum rules. I hope that I am not attempting to debate with or enlighten a troll.

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  47. "gh500, what is your background in science that makes you confident about your statements on the subject? Distinguishing between physics and chemistry based on their supposed a-priori vs contingent aspects betrays an ignorance of both subjects. "

    I read almost nothing more than on a popular level science. But what's the difference! I'm just repeating science I read, I'm not concocting anything - just give me a chance!

    Here's a quote from Kant himself (Prolegomena to any Future Metaphysic, JF Bennett's transl. p. 11):
    "Natural science also contains synthetic judgments that can be known a priori, for example: •In all changes in the physical world the quantity of matter remains unchanged. •When one body collides with another, action and reaction must always be equal."

    Let me assure you that the properties of mandrakes, whatever they are, are not subject to 'strange' quantum rules.

    Any chemical property has has to do with the laws governing electronic configurations of atoms which are highly contingent (this I know from a book I read on QM by Michio Kaku).

    Now, I found support from leading modern philosopher:
    He writes that QM offers "even less of a problem for divine special action than classical science, even though the latter doesn't offer much of a problem."
    Alvin Platinga, Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism, p. 91 (from an Amazon review.

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  48. "gh500, what is your background in science that makes you confident about your statements on the subject? Distinguishing between physics and chemistry based on their supposed a-priori vs contingent aspects betrays an ignorance of both subjects. "

    I read almost nothing more than on a popular level science. But what's the difference! I'm just repeating science I read, I'm not concocting anything - just give me a chance!

    Here's a quote from Kant himself (Prolegomena to any Future Metaphysic, JF Bennett's transl. p. 11):
    "Natural science also contains synthetic judgments that can be known a priori, for example: •In all changes in the physical world the quantity of matter remains unchanged. •When one body collides with another, action and reaction must always be equal."


    We now know that Kant was wrong about the synthetic a priori. His best example was geometry (we seem to know it is true, even though we can't prove the postulates). It turns out that there are many alternative non-Euclidean geometries with different versions of the parallel postulate, and which geometry applies in any real world given situation is a matter of empirical inquiry.

    Similarly, conservation of energy is an empirical result and it differs from your intuition. There is no such thing as "conservation of matter" as intuitively conceived. The stuff of the universe is not a bunch of small indestructible billiard balls.

    Instead of reading all kinds of books that dance around the edges of science, buy some books that describe actual science. Or take a first year physics or astronomy course for non-science majors. You can find them online as well. If you must do philosophy, get a modern book that will tell you where Kant really fits in (or ignore that part of Kant altogether).

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  49. David Ohsie, thanks.

    Even after I stand corrected, it still seems that those laws would in some sense be able to be called "rationalist."

    It's not a conviction about what God would or wouldn't do. We observe, after the fact, that consistent physical laws describe the world, and they happen to be very impressive. God might have done it a different way, but our observations don't give us a reason to think He did.
    1-Again, the change of opinion described in the above post, was about an intrinsic respect to science nothing to do with what you are describing.
    2-When talking about a theist, and there is a theological reason that G-d acted in a non-scientific way, plus a theological explanation as to why daily-life observed science is irrelevant in that scenario, why is one possibility called "rationalist" over the other?

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