The Ethic of Human Repair: in the spirit of Monotheism

APPA 2019 Annual Meeting & Dinner

Richard Messing

July 13, 2019

Introduction

Nothing delights me more than to be in the company of people devoted to serving others who are seeking to live a more meaningful life.  Thank you, Professor Marinoff and the APPA, for the privilege to speak here today.  

Today I will be using monotheistic language and monotheistic ideas for the purpose of communicating with you philosophically.  My agenda is to impact you philosophically, not theologically.  I am not a member of the clergy.  I am here as a member of the community of philosophical counselors, to talk about issues that pertain to the human condition. 

I am deeply religious and a rationalist. I practice traditional Judaism, so my perspective on the human condition in general and Monotheism in particular, is informed by traditional Jewish thought as well as secular philosophy and science.  My intent does not include, implicitly or explicitly, to influence you to become religious or more devoutly religious than you already are.  

But I do know from experience that the language and philosophy of Monotheism has enormous explanatory power. I use it in my business consulting practice and in my philosophical counseling practice.  The beliefs, language and philosophy of Monotheism have enabled me to better serve and empower my clients, in ways and to an extent I never thought possible.

For example, it is my observation that the most common chronic irrational behavior problem people suffer from in their personal and business life, is fear.  People spend a lot of time worrying and being anxious about outcomes they cannot fully control.  Worry and anxiety are forms of fear which serve no rational purpose - these emotions serve only to disable or disempower a person.  As a result, we often operate out of fear and make decisions as a function of our fears, instead a function of what is most ethical.


Monotheism has a remedy for fear known as “Fear of G-d.”  For my consulting practice, I developed a method for teaching why and how “Fear of G-d” enables a person to become less fearful in their personal and business affairs, which when properly understood and believed, clients become less fearful.  The method breaks down “Fear of G-d” into three basic principles of belief:

When I’m consulting a religious person, and I see they are operating out of fear, I explain these three biblical principles of belief to them until they can explain them back to me accurately.  Once I’m confident they understand the reasoning behind these principles, I instruct the client to incorporate these principles into their belief system by recalling the principles whenever they feel afraid, anxious or worried about something they can’t control. I then emphasize that unless they commit to recalling the principles and the reasoning behind them at the time they feel anxious or worried, they will fail to sufficiently incorporate these principles into their belief system.  But if they commit to recalling the principles when they feel these forms of fear, they will eventually become fearless, free of fear known as courage.

Courage enables rational decision making in the face of great risk because the irrational emotion that fear imposes on the decision maker is removed. Fear retreats when the decision maker believes that a good G-d determines all final outcomes except the human acts of free will that precede them.  This is the faith such that no matter what happens, all outcomes are ultimately for the Good, which is the same faith that breeds the courage to face the vicissitudes of life.  Faith obliterates Fear for good reason if and only if the correct principles are deeply believed - it is that simple.

There are two practical outcomes from this monotheistic based consulting method:


1. the most important one is courage, freedom from fear, which is necessary for rational decision making.  

2. As a person becomes more courageous by fearing G-d only, they also become more ethical, because since they now believe G-d controls everything including their own suffering, they become inclined to do what G-d commands of them, i.e. to not sin and to do good deeds, so as to avoid the suffering G-d will otherwise cause them and to enjoy the reward G-d may grant them.  For this reason, such a person will make it their personal business to study the Bible in order to learn how G-d requires them to behave, causing the human to become more ethical.  

We can now see how the belief in three basic monotheistic principles correlates ethics with courage - ethics and courage are interconnected - they travel together - they reinforce each other because if a person Fears G-d properly, then their main concern in life becomes doing what is most ethical in G-d's eyes.  This is one of the reasons religious Jews are constantly studying the Talmud, which they believe is the Gold standard for how to live a purely ethical life.   It also explains why the Forefathers, and the other heroic biblical role models, were so courageous.  In other words, Fear of G-d causes a person to worry about one thing only, which is to understand what G-d commands them to do and not to do, i.e. how to conduct oneself in the most righteous manner.  Nothing could be more meaningful than to do what G-d says is right.  This is the reason the most meaningful life requires the mastering of ethics.  

It is remarkable how simple and how effectively these three biblical principles help people stop operating out of fear.  When I observe a client acting out of fear, I tell them, “you can’t run a business based on fear.”  If I don’t know if they are religious, I’ll ask them.  If they are religious, then I will explain how these principles help people deal with their fears.  But if I’m too afraid to ask them if they are religious or if they believe in G-d, then I’m nothing more than a hypocrite because then I’m operating out of fear.  

Helping clients make tough business decisions free of fear, not only improves their performance, it also helps them improve the performance of the people they once feared - it has a ripple effect.  

My objective thus far was to demonstrate how the language and philosophical principles of monotheism, as derived from the Torah, the bible of Moses, can be effectively used to develop methodologies designed to serve clients make more rational decisions in their personal or business affairs.

Now I will begin explaining what I mean by “the ethic of human repair,” broadly construed.  I will follow that up with some of the fundamental philosophical principles one needs to understand in order to repair chronic human conditions or problems. Then if time permits, I would like to answer some questions.

Epicurus said,  “Empty is the argument of the philosopher that does not relieve any human suffering.” It is my belief and observation that suffering is caused by the lack of “freedom” and “meaning” in life.  In more technical terms, suffering occurs when a person finds themselves unable to exercise their will freely or when they do not base their decisions on a valid system of ethics.

Freedom and Meaning

It is safe to say that the two sides of the human spirit are Freedom and Meaning.  People want their freedom and want a meaningful life.  We all agree that freedom is extremely meaningful to us, therefore, we can’t have true freedom without it being meaningful.  Isn’t it also true life can’t be meaningful in the absence of true freedom?  Apparently yes, because you can’t impose meaning on a person, therefore a person must be free to choose for themselves what they consider meaningful in order for it to be truly meaningful.  Therefore, both Freedom and Meaning require, by necessity, an act of a Free Will.  The point is, Meaning must be freely chosen, and we need to be truly Free to have a truly meaningful life.  

By definition, a chronic unwanted human condition or problem is something a person is not freely choosing.  Free Will is a matter of self-control, the ability to control one’s thoughts, feelings, decisions, mental states and behavior.  To the extent we can’t control ourselves, then something else must be controlling us.  There is no way around this - there is no other option. Mastering Free Will requires understanding the forces that undermine our Will.  Free Will is not the central theme of my talk today, but since Free Will, or the lack thereof, factors into everything human, I will give a brief introduction now.

 

Freedom and Meaning require the human ability to make choices or create choices free from any antecedent, free from any other Will, or power, that imposes itself.  That’s why people hate the experience of being dominated and so often try to avoid the domination of others. But a person who has mastered Free Will, has no need to dominate anyone and has no issue with others trying to dominate them.  When a person feels dominated by life in any way, something outside their will is undermining them, and the only way to get out from under a condition of domination is to understand what Free Will actually is and where it comes from.

A good example is prison recidivism.  You can release someone from prison, but that does not mean the former prisoner is truly Free, especially given that criminals often return to prison. They may become physically free from the confines of prison, but true Freedom has nothing to do with being physically confined.  True Freedom comes from one’s ability to exercise one’s own Will freely.  From this perspective, a criminal who is confined to prison for life, who has a life sentence, can achieve true Freedom while in prison, once he learns how to choose, as an act of Free Will, his feelings, thoughts, actions and most importantly, how to make life Meaningful irrespective of the circumstances.

Being an ethical person requires Free Will, the freedom to choose between right and wrong conduct.  “Consider the following experiment: random people were promised $1 for every correct answer they gave on an exam and were allowed to compile their own scores. Those who were first exposed to a statement by a famous scientist claiming that we lack Free Will, were far more likely to cheat.”[1] This experiment demonstrates that ethical behavior depends on whether or not a person believes they are truly free, if they can freely choose between right and wrong.  Apparently, ethics is a function of freedom.

Why is it required to understand Ethics in order to have a meaningful life?  Ethics is about right conduct, the right way to behave. In contrast, imagine a person who does nothing and has no obligations, he or she only wants to meditate or watch TV all day. If a person is satisfied just sitting on a couch all day watching television and is free from all obligation, ethics does not come into play.   Once a person decides to do something involving other people, or G-d, the first question that arises is, “how should I conduct myself,” which is a question of Ethics.  Whether the person is aware or unaware of this question, they will naturally have their attention on how they and others are conducting themselves.  Ethics comes into play when a person wants to or decides to do something that in some way will serve or not serve the will of another. Ethics is about right conduct and its impact on civilization - can anything be more meaningful than this?

Terrorists are no different.  A terrorist conducts their life based on a system of ethics, a very flawed system; nevertheless, the Terrorist is conducting him or herself ethically in their own mind and for this reason, a terrorist experiences meaning in their life and the lure of having a meaningful life is how they recruit other terrorists. 

The bottom line is, a meaningful life requires understanding Ethics, which is the essence of Monotheism as derived from the Torah, the Bible. 

I can’t speak for Catholicism, Christianity or Islam, all of which are monotheistic, but without question, Judaism is fundamentally about Free Will and Ethics, about Freedom and Meaning.  In Genesis, when G-d said, “Let’s make Man in our image”, it is widely believed among the sages, that Free Will is what G-d meant by ‘our image.’

When it became clear to me that Freedom and Meaning are interdependent, and that what they have in common is the necessity to exercise one’s will freely, The Logic of Free Will became the original foundation for my philosophical practice.  I deliver Freedom and Meaning to my clients by teaching them how to achieve it on their own using principles of Free Will and Ethics.

The Human Condition of Ignorance

If you spend time just observing what people talk about, I’m confident you would agree that most of the content falls into 5 categories, which I call the 5 Ps : problems, plans, preferences, principles, and people - we love to talk about people, especially what’s wrong with people, and even what’s wrong with ourselves from time to time. 

It’s no surprise that people like to talk about what’s wrong with other people because the evidence is overwhelming that the human condition is in disrepair, at every level. The suicide and divorce rates should be evidence enough that there is something fundamentally wrong with or missing from our understanding of who and what we are.

Do you think anyone yet fully understands the human condition? I don’t. If we don’t fully understand the human condition, then we don’t fully understand ourselves nor each other.  This simple logic dictates we are all ignorant of our own nature, yet most people think they know themselves very well.  If you put two people together in a relationship, and they both don’t fully understand themselves nor each other, but they think they do, something is bound to go wrong, especially, who’s to blame.

In the United States during the 1st four years of this decade, there was one divorce approximately every 36 seconds. That's 876,000 divorces a year, according to USA.gov.  It is mind boggling that so many people can’t figure out how to live together successfully, especially with those they most love and to whom they are most loyal. 

Even worse, Health Research Funding.org reports that every 40 seconds, worldwide, another person takes their own life.  It’s mind boggling that so many people can’t live with themselves. Given this hard evidence, it is safe to say that the human condition is in disrepair, and if true, then human repair is what’s called for. 

However, the prevailing belief is that the human condition is irreparable.  Most people believe human nature is so complex that it is beyond our ability to understand it.  The vast majority of people consider the human condition normal.  And when something is considered normal, there is no compelling reason to repair or fix it, so instead, we try to learn how to cope with it or how to manage it, but not repair or cure it.  Major industries have emerged to do just that - there is a lot of money in minimizing, coping with and managing chronic human problems.

Psychotherapy is the best example. Psychotherapists admit they are not in the curing business - they will tell you they help their clients to understand their problems and how to mitigate them, not how to repair or cure them - therapists help people learn how to live with their problems, not how to eradicate them.  The science of psychology is the most fragmented field of knowledge within the university.  Every therapist has their own theory about how human beings function, and there is no evidence that psychotherapists are any happier or suffer less than their clients.  Psychology’s approach to understanding the human condition is woefully inadequate.  

The Ethic of Human Repair rejects the notion that the human condition is irreparable. The Ethic of Human Repair assumes the ancient monotheistic biblical belief that the world can be repaired and that it is everyone’s duty to fix the chronic human problems life confronts us with - to fix them, to repair them, and not to become resigned.  In Judaism, the Hebrew term for repairing the world is ‘Tikkun Olam’.

Here are a couple of examples from my private practice:


  1. I had a client who believed that her obligation as a wife was to serve her husband.  After many years of marriage, she began feeling like his slave.  Her husband was continually telling her what to do, when to make him something to eat, to do his laundry, to make him coffee, to get him the newspaper, on and on and on.  He didn’t mistreat her, but he started dealing with her as if she was his servant and she didn’t like being reduced to a servant.  I simply taught her that she unwittingly trained her husband to be this way because she believed her obligation as a wife was to serve him - her belief became a self-fulfilling prophecy.  I taught her that the problem was one of Free Will, that she was empowering his Will and disempowered her own Will.  I coached her to, as a simple act of free will, kindly tell him “no dear, I can’t help you right now, I’m busy,” and to keep telling him this whenever she has that feeling he is treating her like his servant.  At first, he protested, but within a short period of time, he got used to the new regime.  A year later she hired me to help her son.

  2. Two clients solicited my help in dealing with their supervisor who bullied them for years.  I taught these clients how to assert their own Will in ways they didn’t know they could, by using philosophical principles that describe and explain the forces that undermine free will.  I explained the human dynamics that underlie bullying and how to disarm upper management’s attempt to change the narrative from bullying to the much less severe narrative of “a misunderstanding.”  With these principles of free will in mind and the courage to face the political forces that opposed them, my clients succeeded in having their supervisor transferred to an individual contributor role.

Understanding Free Will continues to be the core of my philosophical practice, however, my dialogue with professor De Nicolas expanded the scope of my work, which is best captured by the expression, The Ethic of Human Repair.  

Now let’s talk about what I mean by the word “ethic” in the expression, “the ethic of human repair.”

Ethics: the right side of the human spirit

As mentioned earlier, In any domain where ethics is relevant, for example, the domains of Law, Commerce, Education, or Politics - the word ‘ethics’ essentially means ‘right conduct.’ The word ‘conduct’ is a synonym for behavior and the word ‘right’ signifies morally good, justified or acceptable.  

There was a time in history when the ethic of ‘human rights’ did not exist.  Kings had rights, queens had rights, and the clergy had rights, but human beings did not have any rights -  just being human did not come with any rights.[2]  But eventually, over a long span of time, with a lot of effort by a lot of people, the ethic of ‘human rights’ came into existence such that it is now considered unethical to deny someone their human rights.  ‘Human rights’ has become an ethic, such that today it is considered unethical to violate a person’s human rights - in the civilized world, that is.  

The ethics of human rights and human repair are both consistent with Monotheism.  The Torah, which is the original source document of Monotheism, teaches that even slaves must be treated humanely while they are slaves.  And when they are freed, they must be given sufficient resources to start their lives over again - is there anything more ethical than this?

Like the ethic we call human rights, human repair as an ethic will eventually become an everyday, moral, justified and acceptable obligation.  People will share with each other the chronic human problems that confront them, whether personal, organizational or societal, and the listener will naturally consider it their ethical obligation to help to whatever extent they can.

It appears that the precursor to the ethic, here called ‘human repair’, already exists, in that we are already sharing our chronic human problems with those we are close to and trust, however, it is not yet considered an ethic.  What I am doing is calling it out as an ethic by giving it a name and by bringing The Ethic of Human Repair narrative into the public domain. Also in development are the means by which anyone can learn the fundamental abstract principles, beliefs and skills necessary for solving any chronic human condition or problem regardless of the domain in which it is found.  Both the narrative and the know-how are required in order to concretize ‘human repair’ as an ethic.

Now that I’ve explained what I mean by the ethic of human repair, let’s turn to some of the essential abstract principles that one must learn in order to become effective at repairing an unwanted chronic human condition or problem.  We will endeavor to understand four axioms about the human condition.

4 Axioms of the Human Condition

I will be explaining and using the following 4 axioms during the remainder of this paper:

  1. Human knowledge is never absolute (we can’t know anything with 100% certainty.)
  2. The human condition is fundamentally paradoxical (filled with internal contradictions.)
  3. Human behavior depends on what we believe, not on what we know.
  4. Human life is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Axiom #1: human knowledge is never absolute, is never 100% certain.

There are 3 human weaknesses that correlate with this axiom:

human weakness #1: we mistakenly believe and operate under the

                                   assumption that we have absolute knowledge

                                   about many things.

human weakness #2: we mistakenly assume our perceptions are true when

                                   in fact they are often inaccurate or incorrect.

human weakness #3: we mistakenly assume when an explanation is

                                   logical, makes sense or appeals to reason, that it is

                                   true.

                                               

It is a Monotheistic philosophical principle that G-d doesn’t need to believe anything, because, by definition, G-d knows everything absolutely, with 100% certainty. G-d’s knowledge is infinite and absolute by definition, therefore belief is not relevant to G-d.  Belief only becomes relevant and necessary when one does not have absolute certainty, which I submit, is the case for all of us.

Let’s consider the future first.  We all believe intuitively that we are incapable of knowing the future with certainty.  It doesn’t mean we can’t make good predictions.  But our predictions are wrong so often, that we believe it to be a fact we can’t know the future with certainty.  This belief requires no education and no special level of intelligence because we have an abundance of evidence we can’t know the future. For this reason, people say that only G-d or a prophet can know the future.

Now let’s consider the present.  Can we be certain about anything that occurs in the present?  Life occurs only in the present, so our question really is whether we can be 100% certain about anything in life.

Most people would say yes, that we can know many things with certainty, and by simple observation, most people operate as if they do know with certainty what is happening in the present. What is the evidence for this?  The evidence is that people assume their perceptions are correct - they behave as if their perceptions are true - don’t you?  Did you ask yourself whether or not your perception of me or your perception of this room is correct?  You didn’t, because we naturally assume our perceptions are true, we assume Reality is actually the way we are seeing it, even though we have lots of evidence that people perceive the same things differently - this is Human Weakness #2.

Dreams prove we cannot be 100% certain about anything in life, except perhaps that we exist.  Here’s why:

Dreams, by definition, always occur when the dreamer is unconscious, when we are asleep.  So, during the dream, the dreamer can’t know they are dreaming because they aren’t conscious at the time of the dream - you can’t know what is happening when you are unconscious. Again, we are always asleep, we are always unconscious when we are dreaming, therefore, we cannot know we are dreaming while the dream is occurring.  

Since we can’t know when we are dreaming, by the same token, it must also be true that we can’t be sure when we are awake. Like right now, we may be dreaming right now but just don’t know it because we may actually be unconscious, and you can’t know you are unconscious when you are unconscious. Therefore, we can’t know for sure if this is a dream or if we are awake right now.  

I was in the hospital one day for a minor procedure.  I lied down on the gurney, the nurse put in the IV, and after a few minutes I looked up and saw the nurse preparing something.  I asked her when they going to start the procedure.  She said, “we already did the procedure.”  I said, “your kidding, right?”  She said, “no, we’re done. You can leave now if you want.”  I had no recollection of fading into unconsciousness nor any awareness of waking up.  I thought, during the entire time, I was waiting for them to get started.  In other words, I experienced being fully awake even though I was completely unconscious during the procedure.

We may have a very high level of certainty we are awake right now, but logically we can’t be 100% certain because we may actually be dreaming.  And since we could be dreaming at any time, we can’t know anything with Absolute Certainty - this is axiomatic.  This axiom is consistent with the notion that only G-d, by definition, has absolute knowledge.

So far we’ve shown that we can’t have absolute knowledge about the future nor the present. Now let’s examine if we can know with certainty what happened in the past:

Memory proves that we can’t know the past with certainty - here’s why:

By definition, when we forget, we don’t know what it is we forgot until afterwards, therefore, you can’t ever be certain of the past, because at any time you could be forgetting something.

What about the memories we do recall.  Can we be 100% certain those memories are accurate?  The answer must be no, because we may have perceived the situation inaccurately to begin with at the time the memory was recorded, which in turn caused the memory to be inaccurate as well.  

Now that we’ve demonstrated that human knowledge is never absolute, that we can’t know anything with 100% certainty, there are 3 reasons why this is so important to understand:
 

My research indicates that most people, regardless of how intelligent, have a hard time with this, because almost everyone very strongly believes they are absolutely certain about many things, when in fact Absolute Certainty is an illusion.  Axiom #4 will provide more proof that no one can be Absolutely Certain about anything due to the inevitable nature of human bias.

Because we’ve achieved a high degree of mastery perceiving accurately and interacting effectively with objects in our physical environment, we develop the belief that we can know things with absolute certainty.  For example, every time you see a chair and sit down in it, have you ever been wrong that it was a chair or where it was located?  Did you ever try to walk through a doorway only to discover that it wasn’t a doorway? Because our perceptions of and interactions with physical objects are so often right, we believe we know many things absolutely - it is hard to believe that we don’t, but logic dictates otherwise.

For philosophical counselors, the practical application of Axiom #1 is to listen for when the client says anything that indicates they are absolutely certain - because this is human weakness #1.  A philosophical counselor, therapist or executive business advisor must understand this human weakness and know to listen for it, because it is a clue in the critical path for discovering the root cause of the client’s problem.  When you are with a client who speaks with absolute certainty, the counselor needs to start asking probing questions for the purpose of finding paradoxes the client is unaware they possess.  As paradoxes emerge, then the repair work can begin.

Why look for paradoxes?  I suggest you strongly consider that hidden underneath every unwanted chronic human condition or problem is at least one paradox, at least one internal contradiction.  Once you identify the two contradictory elements that constitute the paradox, you are then in a position to validate each element.  When any paradox occurs, at least one element of the paradox is false or an element is missing, unknown.  Axiom #2 will further explain how I arrived at this insight and methodology.

Axiom #2:  the human condition is fundamentally paradoxical.

According to Monotheism, G-d is infinite (limitless) and formless (boundless).  Therefore G-d must be non-physical given that anything physical is finite and has form.  Since by definition G-d is “the” Greatest being that will ever exist, G-d has no equal and must be unique, i.e. only one like Him can exist; G-d must be categorically different than everything else.  For this reason, it is said that G-d is an Absolute Oneness.

Since a paradox, by definition, requires the presence of a contradiction, and a contradiction requires at least two entities, a paradox is not a Oneness.  For this reason, it is said is no paradox in G-d’s realm - paradox is only relevant to G-d’s Creation where more than one entity can exist.

Now let’s learn why G-d’s Creation, Mankind and the human condition in particular, are fundamentally paradoxical and how paradox can be a tool for solving chronic human conditions and problems.

In the early 1980s, I signed up to take a self-development workshop.  During the workshop, the workshop leader said something that I recalled 25 years later, soon after I started practicing traditional Judaism.

The workshop leader said, “If you climb the Tibetan mountains where the ancient Buddhist temples stand, and as you approach the gates and entrances of the Buddhist temples, you will see that they are guarded by two statues.  He said that one statue represents Confusion and the other statue represents Paradox, and the two statues are guarding what is inside the Temple where the Truth can be found?  

25 years later, well after I started practicing traditional Judaism, I learned there are 13 rules of hermeneutics that are used for analyzing the Torah, the Hebrew Bible, and that the 13th rule is the rule for reconciling a Paradox. The rule states, “if you have 2 statements that contradict each other, find a 3rd statement to reconcile the first two.”  This rule reminded me of what that workshop leader said 25 years earlier, that Buddhists believe the Truth lies near, on the other side of Paradox and Confusion.

As my research progressed, I remembered learning in a college psychology course about the scientific method, that scientists also use the 13th rule. When a scientist does an experiment, he often repeats the experiment at least once in order to determine whether the experiment is reliable.  If the experiment is repeated in the exact same way without making any changes to the inputs, to the equipment or to the procedures, then the experiment should produce the exact same output data.  But if the output data differs, this is tantamount to a paradox, because when experimental datasets differ, it is equivalent to having two statements of the truth that contradict. To reconcile the contradiction, the scientist must hypothesize what might be false or missing, and then to test these alternate hypotheses until he finds sufficient output data till he discovers what was false and/or missing.   Scientists use the same basic logic for making discoveries as do religious Jews and Buddhists use when in search of the truth.

When I discovered that Buddhism, Judaism and Science are all in the business of searching for and resolving paradox, I wondered perhaps if paradox was fundamentally important for understanding and repairing any chronic human condition.  I needed to discover if paradox can help explain why people behave the way they do and if so, then paradox may be useful in repairing the chronic human problems from which people suffer. I’m now going to share with you such a paradigm.

According to professor Moses Pava, the head of the business ethics department at Yeshiva University, one of the key principles adopted by science coming out of the Renaissance, is that there are no paradoxes in the physical world.  In other words, paradoxes must only exist in the mind, or if you prefer, only exist in our nervous system. Therefore, a paradox is a cognitive condition that occurs when two things we perceive, both APPEAR true and APPEAR to contradict each other.    

Internal contradictions are innately confusing. Paradox and Confusion are two sides of the same coin. When a paradox occurs, we get ‘confused’, and vice versa, when we get ‘confused’, the confusion is a sign we are being confronted by a paradox, whether or not we know it.   When the condition of paradox occurs, either something must be false or part of the Truth is missing and has yet to be discovered - this is axiomatic - this is basic scientific logic, and the nervous system operates accordingly.

The logical rules for resolving a paradox are simple and are the same in all cases. Paradox comes into existence when two statements, or two situations, or when what a person says contradicts how they act. When the elements no longer contradict, the human perceptual condition called ‘paradox’ disappears.  Resolving a paradox requires the systematic validation of each of the 2 elements that contradict in order to find what is false and/or missing (unknown.)  There are only 3 possibilities, which are:

  1. Both elements of the paradox test out to be false, or 
  2. One of the 2 elements tests false and the other True 
  3. Both elements test to be true, and by discovering a third missing (unknown) element and combining it with the other two, the 3rd element reconciles the contradiction posed by the first two elements.

           

Simply put, a paradox indicates that either something is false or is unknown (missing).  Either way, if we find ourselves in a situation where something appears false or is unknown, our safety may be at risk, which is the reason our nervous system is designed to detect paradoxes and our intellect is designed to reconcile them, for the sake of our safety.

The discomfort of confusion warns us that we are being confronted by something false or missing, the discovery of which will help explain away the apparent paradox - this is a natural and automatic process and is how the mind works constantly.  If you listen to people closely, you will observe that people are constantly trying to explain things, especially to account for their feelings and why others behave the way they do.  I assert that the human condition is one massive explanation-fest, and that the human mind is a paradox reconciliation machine.  We are constantly and automatically trying to resolve the hidden paradoxes that permeate our lives.  We are driven to explain everything away.

Paradoxes are naturally confusing because by definition, the Truth cannot contradict itself, so when such a condition of confusion occurs, we experience it as if something is wrong somewhere - we may be conscious of the paradox or we may just become confused or alarmedParadox and confusion warn us that something is wrong, so the natural automatic reaction is to question what is wrong and where it is located, and then to correct it before it can potentially harm us.  Finding a plausible explanation followed by taking appropriate physical action satisfies our desire for self-preservation and equanimity.

Now we can understand why Paradox and Confusion indicate that the Truth is near, just a few steps away.  The perception of paradox triggers in our nervous system a series of intellectual acts we call explanation (reconciliation), validation (hypothesis testing), exploration (seeking the unknown), all of which are natural rational cognitive acts which precede the acts of free will that determine how we will conduct ourselves given the situation we are in at any point in time, which includes our physical environment and our beliefs about how human beings and the human world around us function. The degree to which these beliefs are correct, our behavior is effective.

Now let’s learn six simple steps for reconciling a paradox, which is a process for discovering the Truth:

Step 1: recognize when confusion occurs

Step 2: identify the two elements that appear to contradict each other

Step 3: validate or invalidate each of the two elements of the contradiction

Step 4: if both elements are true, seek a third element that logically or

            reasonably reconciles the contradiction posed by the first two

            elements.

Step 5: if the explanation appeals to your sense of reason sufficiently, the

            Truth will appear as the Paradox and Confusion disappear.  But

            don’t assume the explanation is true unless it has been validated.

Step 6: if the explanation tests invalid, the paradox and confusion

            will persist, and a new explanation needs to be found.

These rules can be applied to repair any unwanted human conditions that are considered chronically problematic.  When a human problem becomes chronic, and these rules are applied systematically, as the paradoxes that underlie the problem reconcile and the root cause of the problem is discovered in the process, the nervous system automatically reorganizes itself such that the unwanted chronic behavior stops manifesting.  This automatic process of reorganization may necessitate the expression and release of emotional pain such as sadness and crying; and may include insights, realizations, memories, and new acts of free will, such as freely choosing to believe .  

It is critical clients understand paradox in order to observe when to perform the acts of free will needed to defeat the internal forces of resistance that keep their unwanted human condition or problem chronic. Teaching the client this human condition empowers the client to proactively move forward their own transformational repair process.  Psychotherapists don’t teach the human condition to their clients because they themselves don’t believe they understand it.  No wonder why the prevailing psychotherapeutic model does not include teaching clients psychology - modern psychotherapists only ask clients questions hoping their client will respond therapeutically.  As espoused by modern psychology, “recovery” is a life-long process of coping with and managing the client’s problem.  In contrast, “human repair” is a permanent solution for and the elimination of a chronic human problem based on ancient classic principles of philosophy and theology.  

Another way of articulating and illuminating the chronic nature of unwanted human conditions and problems, is that the sufferer possesses an unconscious paradigm[3] about how the human world works.  This paradigm is composed of a constellation of true and false beliefs to which the nervous system has committed its loyalty for the sake of its own survival.  This can be further explicated in terms of idolatry, which is the 2nd of the 10 commandments, but idolatry is not within the scope of this paper.  A chapter on the subject of idolatry as it pertains to all unwanted chronic human conditions, is included in the book, The Ethic of Human Repair, due to be published in 2020.

The following story will illustrate how the condition of paradox and confusion plays out in a simple family scenario.

A family of 4 sit down for dinner.  The father asks his 18 year old twins where his new Porsche is parked.  Simultaneously, one sibling says the car is parked in the driveway, but his brother said the car is parked on the street.  Since both children are honest kids and wouldn’t lie about this, the father is now confronted by a paradox, two truths that contradict.  When the father hears this, he pauses, stops chewing and puts down his fork, because where his car is parked is still unknown.

As the father gets up and looks out the window to see where his car is parked, the mother overhears this as she brings more food to the table.  The father says, “the Porsche is not in the driveway, and I don’t see it on the street.”  The wife then says with a smile, knowing how much he prizes his new car, “honey, right before dinner I parked your Porsche in the garage.”  Relieved, the father says, “now you tell me”, then he sits back down at the table.

This story illustrates principles of paradox in the following way:  

  1.  A car can’t be in two places at the same time, so when the children contradicted each other about the car’s location, the father’s nervous system detected a paradox.
  2. The father became alarmed because the Truth cannot contradict itself, so the father still does not know where his car is located.
  3. Then what does the father do?  He does what anyone would naturally do when confronted by a paradox; the father begins a process of validation by looking out the window to see if the car is in the driveway or on the street.
  4. When the father doesn’t see the car in either location, his wife makes a third statement, that she parked the car in the garage right before dinner, which explains and reconciled the paradox posed by the two children’s contradictory statements, at which point, the paradox and confusion ended and the father calmed down thinking his car is safe.

But there is a huge pitfall when trying to resolve a paradox.  The pitfall is that even though an explanation is logical and appeals to reason, the explanation may itself be false.  Logic and reason do not guarantee the Truth. But because we are not well schooled about the human condition, we accept explanations simply because they appeal to our sense of reason, without validation.  This is human weakness #3.

To continue our story, after dinner the father decided to drive to the cigar store, but when he opened the garage door, his car was gone - his car was still missing and so was the truth - the car was stolen from the garage during dinner.  The father frantically runs into the house and calls the police as if something catastrophic happened.

So here we see that when the wife gave the reasonable explanation that the car was in the garage, she satisfied the father’s concern about the location of his car, but her explanation proved to be false.  During dinner, the father looked out the window to validate the children’s statements, but he did not check the garage to valid his wife’s statement, until an hour later to discover his car was stolen and the location of his car was still unknown.

The point to remember is that even though an explanation is logical, reasonable and plausible, it may be completely untrue - and to remember that most people don’t understand this, so they end up believing an explanation in the absence of validation.  We will soon see that this human weakness perpetuates our beliefs, true or false,  causing problems to become chronic and a human life to be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

My philosophical practice is to teach the client, who suffers from a chronic unwanted condition or problem, The Logic of Free Will, which are the underlying abstract principles that describe and explain how unconscious flawed paradigms form, persist and operate in the mind.  As the client learns these principles, they benefit in three ways:

  1. The client is better able to observe and mitigate how their own flawed unconscious paradigm of the world influences their feelings, thoughts and behavior.
  2. To dispel and correct the false beliefs that constitute their flawed unconscious paradigm, transforming the paradigm that more accurately mirrors how human beings and the human world function.  
  3. As the client experiences relief from or gains control of their chronic human problem, they realize they have acquired access to their own free will in a way they never knew possible, which encourages and empowers the client to accept new and bigger challenges in the future.

Axiom #3:  human behavior depends on what we believe, not on what we know.

I’m sure you agree that we don’t need to know that something is true in order to act on it, we only need to believe it sufficiently in order to act accordingly.

For example, no normal person practices religion if they have no belief in G-d.  Therefore, at least some belief is necessary to practice religion.  If they don’t believe in G-d but they perform religious rituals, they are not practicing, they are posing, or they are simply abnormal.  Since no one can know with absolute certainty that G-d exists, certainty is not necessary for religion.  So, we see that belief is necessary and sufficient for us to act, and that knowledge is unnecessary.  This pertains to all human behavior of normal people; notwithstanding, normal people, who are devoid of mental or genetic defects, may have defective or abnormal beliefs.  The point is, our knowledge does not determine our behavior - it’s what we believe that determines our behavior.

Therefore, to help someone change their mental, emotional or physical habits, their beliefs must first be understood, both their conscious beliefs and their unconscious beliefs, then they must freely choose, as an act of Free Will, to change their beliefs in order for their behavior to change.

My research has lead me to conclude that at the root of all chronic unwanted human problems is a false belief.  False beliefs have at least 3 key defining attributes, as follows:

  1. Attribute #1 (false beliefs are secretive): Why? Since a false belief by definition is taken as true by the believer, the truth is disguised, keeping the false belief secret from the believer and safely hidden inside the believer’s nervous system, making it very difficult to discover and repair.
  2. Attribute #2 (false beliefs are persistent): Why? Since it is so difficult to discover a false belief, false beliefs persist and perpetuate the human problems they cause. This is the reason human problems and unwanted human conditions become chronic.
  3. Attribute #3 (beliefs in general are self-fulfilling): beliefs, whether true or false, recursively sustain themselves and become stronger over time unless the believer becomes introspective and starts to question themselves.

The first two attributes explain why false beliefs remain hidden for a long period of time and are difficult to discover.  But the third attribute, that beliefs are naturally self-fulfilling, requires additional explanation by Axiom #4.

Axiom #4: A human life is a self-fulfilling prophecy

  1. Our nervous system is designed to maximize our ability to survive in the world. How does the nervous system logically do this?  At every moment, our nervous system is capturing images of the world around us through our 5 senses.  After the images are processed by the brain, the brain instantly renders a perception which is what we actually see. We never see the world directly - we only have direct access to our perceptions of the world, we never have direct access to the  world itself - we deduce what is actual from our perceptions.  The word “perception” assumes the existence of two worlds, the one we see verses the one that actually exists. To the extent these two worlds match up, our perceptions are either accurate or inaccurate.

  2. Our perception is at best an approximation - our perception is the best representation of the world that our nervous system is capable of formulating at any given time.  Since our behavior depends on how we perceive things, to the extent our perceptions are accurate, our behavior will be appropriate and effective.  If our perceptions are inaccurate, then our behavior will be inconsistent with the way the world actually is, causing us to behave ineffectively which in turn will elicit a response from the world that is likely to be undesirable or unexpected.

  3. Now we must ask, what determines the accuracy of our perceptions?  Again, the brain formulates a perception of our immediate situation after the brain receives images from our senses and analyses them so as to render the best approximate representation of what is occurring around us at every moment.  Logic dictates that the brain’s analysis of what is occurring in the present can only be based on the beliefs, knowledge and memories from our past. Therefore, the extent our beliefs, knowledge and memories about how the world works are flawed, to the same extent our perceptions will be inaccurate and consequently, our behavior will be ineffective, potentially dysfunctional and problematic.

  4. The only way to know if our perceptions are accurate is from how the world reacts to us. Whenever the world responds to our behavior in a way we did not expect, at that moment we are being confronted by a paradox, we are being confronted by two apparent contradictory truths.  Why are there two contradictory Truths?
     

    We have already shown the human weakness that we naturally assume our subjective perceptions are True, and by definition, objective Reality is the Truth - these are the two elements of the paradox that occur when we experience the world reacting to us in an unexpected manner. The first element of the paradox is our perception that initiated our behavior to begin with and the second element of the paradox is our perception of the world’s reaction to our behavior. When these two perceptions contradict, a condition of paradox occurs, indicating to our nervous system that something must be false or unknown.  In the moment of recognition, the intellect is triggered to explain away the paradox.
     

    The origin or location of the false or missing element is either inside the perceiver or somewhere outside of the perceiver?  Since by nature we trust our beliefs, we invariably assume the cause of the paradox is located outside of us, directing our intellect to look for something wrong in our environment, which includes the other people who are involved. This is the reason so many people believe their happiness is a function of their circumstances, such that people try to improve their life by changing their environment instead of correcting their beliefs.

  5. Whether our beliefs are false or unknown or something in our environment is false or unknown, the pending paradox is a signal there may be some risk of potential harm. Since our body is soft and vulnerable in a hard and dangerous world, our nervous system is designed to keep us as safe as possible.  If we are perceiving the world inaccurately, our own behavior may bring us into harm’s way.  This is the reason a paradox triggers the intellect to explain paradoxical contradictions, so we can take corrective or protective action when they occur to us.

  6. So what does the intellect do to resolve paradox?  As the rules for resolving paradox dictate, each element of the contradiction needs to be validated.  The problem is, since by default we assume our perceptions are true, people, generally speaking, don’t experience the need to validate their perceptions or question their beliefs, instead, they assume someone or something else is the cause.  The best example of this is when a marriage ends in divorce - invariably, each spouse ends up foolishly blaming each other, overtly or covertly.

  7. Now we can understand the reason a human life is a self-fulfilling prophecy. When a person’s intellect tries to determine the factors that caused the world to react to them in a manner they did not anticipate, the only database of information the intellect has direct access to, and from which to formulate an explanation, contains the same incumbent beliefs that rendered their perception and behavior in the first place. Then, when they perceive the world’s unexpected reaction to their behavior, their explanation for it will by force reflect and appeal to the same set of incumbent beliefs the person naively possesses.  When the perceiver chooses to believe their own explanations, the perceiver is unwittingly reinforcing their own incumbent beliefs, strengthening them in the process.


    This is how beliefs fulfill themselves, because again, the believer doesn’t realize they are explaining the world’s unexpected reactions by using the same beliefs that caused the unexpected reactions to begin with.  Any belief, whether true or false, naturally reinforces and perpetuates itself.  In scientific terms, this phenomenon is called “bias.”  


    When scientists design controlled experiments, the most important design requirement is to eliminate researcher bias.  A double blind design eliminates researcher bias by ensuring that both the person who executes the experiment and the people who volunteer for the experiment, don’t know what the experiment is all about, which prevents them from biasing the results.  But when we live life in each moment interacting with the world around us, it is impossible to know or control how our beliefs bias our perceptions and consequential behavior as it occurs.


    The only way to stop a false belief from fulfilling itself is to understand the inevitable force of bias.  Once we understand that it is impossible to prevent our biases from influencing our perceptions, then we will realize we must question our beliefs and motivations in order to be honest with ourselves, if we are to have any hope to change the course of our own life or the life of our relationships, teams, organizations and our communities.  Life is a self-fulfilling prophecy either way, but if we understand
    The Logic of Free Will, then we can dictate, as an act of free will, the prophecy of our own life and teach others how to do the same.

  1. What compounds the problem is that Bias and Absolute Certainty are incompatible concepts.  How can we know something with Absolute Certainty if we can’t know for sure to what extent our biases influence us? By definition, it is impossible to know with certainty one’s own biases.  Therefore, how can we be absolutely certain of anything.  The belief in Absolute Certainty inclines people to believe they are unbiased - Absolute Certainty inclines people to believe they are completely objective, because complete objectivity is required in order to be Absolutely Certain.  This explains why people are disinclined to question themselves. The notions of Absolute Certainty and the necessity of Bias are contradictory notions - they can’t both be True, and is one of the great paradoxes that people must reconcile with to become truly free.

  2. The only way to mitigate the influences of our own biases is to assume they exist.  In Psalm 19, King David says to G-d, “Who can discern mistakes? From unperceived faults, cleanse me.”  2500 years ago, King David realized he can’t know when his biases or false beliefs are influencing him.  Because we are blind to our own biases and false beliefs, King David asked G-d, to cleanse him of these faults.  

  3. The point is, it is impossible to control for our own biases.  This is one of the compelling reasons people pray, because intuitively we know we are not in complete control of ourselves.  So our hope is that the G-d who created us understands our weaknesses, and like a parent does for its child, we hope G-d will save us from ourselves.

Now that we can see how our beliefs naturally fulfill themselves, we must dedicate ourselves, as an act of Free Will, to do whatever is necessary to destroy our false beliefs by seeking valid beliefs we do not yet possess. A false belief is destroyed instantly upon its discovery, because the instant it is discovered, it no longer lives inside the nervous system as the Truth, which by definition means the false belief no longer exists inside the person’s mind and body.  False beliefs literally disappear the instant they are discovered by the one who possesses it.  For this reason I suggest, that the source of anything Evil is a false belief which causes its host to perceive the world inaccurately, behave ineffectively, then to suffer as a result. Once the false belief is destroyed upon its discovery, the suffering comes to an end to the extent the falsehood has been fully discovered and disclosed.  This is consistent with Monotheism which teaches that when the Messiah comes and through his/her teachings, Evil will leave humanity because the Messiah will disclose to humanity all the false beliefs humanity possesses, and as people learn about and discover in themselves their own false beliefs, one’s nervous system will automatically reorganize in order to render more accurate perceptions which in turn will elicit more effective human behavior which ultimately will result in less suffering.

Since we have sufficiently proven that we can’t know anything with absolute certainty, then where does one go to find out what to believe, where does one go to acquire wisdom?  Today, people resort to science, some resort to philosophy, and many resort to religion after trying everything else first.

Am I absolutely certain the philosophy I presented to you here is true?  Of course not, but I certainly believe it is wholeheartedly and I live it everyday.  I recommend it.

We have no choice but to live our beliefs, because our beliefs are all we have to go by - human Absolute Knowledge is an illusion - only a god can have Absolute Knowledge. But we do have the freedom to choose which beliefs to adopt and live by, and we do have the free choice to question our beliefs, to work hard at uncovering and correct the false ones and to try on new ones.  

We need to be very careful who and what we listen to.  When Eve ran into the Serpent in the Garden of Eden, she listened to the Serpent speak.  Had she simply avoided the Serpent, she would have avoided the fatal mistake of consuming knowledge from the Forbidden Tree of Good and Evil.  This is the problem with charismatic speakers - just listening to them can affect cause a change in what the listener believes and perceives.

When Adam listened to Eve and then ate from the forbidden tree, he instantly experienced a paradox, because, immediately before taking the fatal bite, being naked was Good, but immediately after taking the fatal bite, Adam perceived that being naked was Bad, causing him to get so confused he thought he could hide from G-d.

I suggest the Garden of Eden story is trying to warn us that the instant we consume ‘knowledge’, i.e. a strong belief that something we learned is true, the belief instantly changes how we perceive the world, whether the belief is true or false. Given the 4 Axioms presented here, I suggest when Adam and Eve ate from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, the belief that Evil exists entered the human nervous system for the first time, and because beliefs are self-fulfilling, Evil eventually became an integral part of the human condition, and I believe will continue as such, until we figure how to correct all the deterministic false beliefs that are at the source of what we consider Evil.

If you wish to review the ideas I shared with you today,  go to richardmessing.com or kotelgroup.com and click on APPA.

A final Note

Steven Pinker is a very famous contemporary scientist, a Harvard professor of Psychology.  

He’s been trying to convince the world that Science is what will save Humanity and that Science brings the greatest Good to the world.  His beliefs have led him to publicly compare Bill Gates to Saint Mother Teresa, and he suggests that the Bill Gates’ of the world will ultimately save Humanity, and that the Mother Teresa’s of the world are much less important for what the world needs.  

Steven Pinker is a scientist whose beliefs have led him to throw Saint Mother Teresa under the bus.  He says that Mother Teresas’ well funded humanitarian efforts of caring for the poor was money not well spent, and would have been better spent on the kind of humanitarian projects Bill Gates’ prefers to fund.  

Of course, Steven Pinker doesn’t talk about the thousands of poor dying children she held in her arms and all the loving kindness Saint Mother Teresa and her flock gave and continue to give to so many children right before they die from unnecessary disease and starvation.  Pinker doesn’t talk about that, because the value of such acts of Free Will does not fall within the domain of science - acts of loving kindness are in the domain of the Holy, and Holiness is not something scientists think about.  I doubt you will find the word ‘holy’ in any of Steven Pinker’s writings.  

So I ask you, imagine if right now you looked up and saw hovering near the ceiling a dark grey cloud, and you heard a soft firm voice say to you that your life as it is now is over, and that after the APPA meeting, while you are traveling back home alone, you will be transported to a deserted island where you will live for the next 20 years, a place where you will have everything you need to live, and nothing to worry about.  

The voice then says, “you have only one choice, to pick the person you would prefer to commune with on the island - you can choose either Steven Pinker or Saint Mother Teresa.”  Who would you pick?  Which role model would you want for your children. Keep in mind, that the sages warn us that we naturally become like the people we hang with. Would you rather become like Mother Teresa, or become like Steven Pinker, whose self-fulfilling beliefs about science inculcates within him the blind arrogance to suggest and promote that the world would be better off had Mother Teresa been a scientist.  Apparently, both science and religion are necessary, paradoxical, aspects of the human condition; they are both natural outgrowths of human nature.  For a scientist, a psychologist no less, to suggest one is more important than the other, is shocking and quite telling.

The Ethic of Human Repair is a humanitarian effort where anyone can learn and learn how to teach others the necessary and sufficient abstract principles, beliefs and practices that we can use to help each other reliably repair the chronic human conditions and problems we collectively share.

 

Thank you.

Postscript

Des Cartes said, “I think, therefore I am,” even though many thoughts simply pop into our minds out of the Blue.

He didn’t say, “I know, therefore I am,”  I presume because he thought he could not know anything with Absolute Certainty.

I considered saying, “I believe, therefore I am,” because I believe I have both unconscious and conscious beliefs which influence how I conduct myself.

I now simply say, “I choose, therefore I am,” because I have the freedom to choose the beliefs that define me and to destroy the false beliefs that confine me.

(end of paper)

Copyright © 2019 Richard Messing                                                                      


[1] N. Wiederblank, Illuminating Jewish Thought: Explorations of Free Will, the Afterlife, and the Messianic Era, Maggid Books, p. 8, First Edition, 2018.

[2] Excerpt from a self-development EST event, circa 1985.

[3] Kuhn, T. (1962. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press.
Thomas Kuhn coined the term ‘paradigm’ to explain how scientists and scientific communities behave and interact. The same paradigmatic framework is applicable to any human domain, not solely to the domain of science, in that  belief systems are paradigms that behave and interact by necessity whenever and wherever people are involved.