Thursday, April 17, 2008

Who's the smartest?

The question is: if the Four Children mentioned in the Passover Haggadah are placed hierarchically then which one is at the top? Of course one can answer and say that they are all archetypal inner voices and therefore the question is invalid. But I think that most of us were brought up to view them and judge them on a bad-better-good scale. If we look at the four children as phases in the psychological development of the individual (i.e. Piaget) then when we were small we were not able to ask, and then we could only ask the simple questions, and then we went through the rebellious teens/ 20's phase of our lives until we became smarter, wiser and more grounded, qualified members of society (BSc, PhDs etc). But is that the end of it? The answer of the parent/mentor to this child is clear – times have changed, a shift is required, you need to grow further. But for many the road is blocked on any one of these stages, particularly the last one.
At the turn of the last century scientists thought that they had almost all the pieces in place to fully understand the workings of the deterministic universe. Within a very short period of time the entire edifice of Newtonian physics crumbled as the realization dawned that we actually know very little and in fact that there are limits to what we can know for sure. This was the paradigm shift to quantum physics. So it is for the individual as they shift from being the wise aleck, the smart ass to the realization that in fact they don't know much at all and that the system was lacking. This cracking of the edifice is the start of the spiritual journey and the accompanying years of rebellion against the conventional until finally one comes to understand that silence is the highest wisdom (Pirkai Avot). In our times this realization of ignorance is hitting home stronger and stronger as we face climate change due to global warming. The assumptions that we have made up until now of the necessity of persistent economic growth, of endless resources, of nature somehow getting rid of our waste, of a stable tomorrow for our children and grandchildren, have suddenly been brought into doubt. And we thought we were so smart…
Michael Kagan

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