Monday, April 15, 2013

Pathologies of Obviousness, Quickened

Exploring the question of mental productivity, the rabbis asked their disciples "which is better, a fast horse or a slow horse?" The answer? "It all depends on whether you're headed in the right direction or not." At first it seems obvious that a fast horse is better, since the notion of "horse" leads us to think in terms of getting somewhere, and this leads us to think of efficiency, or speed.

The rabbis were trying to provoke just such a conditioned response in order to make their disciples realize that any question contains ignorances and that identifying these ignorances is essential to answering the question. Shadows help define contours. On a wrong road, a slow horse is better, since less backtracking will be needed once the mistake has been discovered. A proposition can point us toward an answer, but on our way to it we must work hard to uncover all possible and relevant unknowns.

Even though these unknowns may initially be perceived as obstacles to knowledge, they serve to shed light on more effective forms of answers. If we don't know the right way, being aware of the risks involved in taking a fast horse allows us to concentrate on our search to find the right path as quickly as possible.

This facet of the Apparent Realm of What Is Apparent can greatly enhance our understanding of the Hidden Realm. It is no wonder that the Hidden Realm of What Is Hidden adjoins the Apparent Realm of What Is Apparent precisely where the latter's ignorance lies. Anyone who wants to learn from the obvious must consider what the obvious can teach us about what is not obvious. Unfortunately, we are most often seduced by the aesthetic appeal of the obvious, and we absorb it with an illusory sense of superiority. We love clarity because we feel powerful and secure in it; but true wisdom lies in the  intimidating perception of darknesses.

Nothing arouses perception of darkness as effectively as the light of the obvious. Take this to heart.

-Rabbi Nilton Bonder, Yiddishe Kop