Sunday, January 14, 2007

Rambam, Rav Kook and Einstein on intuitive knowledge.

Rambam in MN 2:38 describes certain prophetic experiences as follows:

The true prophets undoubtedly conceive ideas that result from premises which human reason could not comprehend by itself; thus they tell things which men could not tell by reason and ordinary imagination alone; for [the action of the prophets' mental capacities is influenced by] the same agent that causes the perfection of the imaginative faculty, and that enables the prophet thereby to foretell a future event with such clearness as if it was a thing already perceived with the senses, and only through them conveyed to his imagination. This agent perfects the prophet's mind, and influences it in such a manner that he conceives ideas which are confirmed by reality, and are so clear to him as if he deduced them by means of syllogisms.”

The intuition of a developed mind allows arriving at conclusions without going through the systematic process of sequential thought.

Here is Rav Kook in Orot Hakodesh:

The truth does not reveal itself to a person piecemeal. It appears in one all-encompassing concept. All the hard work that one puts into learning and acquiring information is to facilitate the appearance of that all-encompassing concept.

Again we see a description of an intuitive grasp of truth.

A description of how Einstein arrived at his insights:

The young man had asked Einstein how he had arrived at his famous relativity theory. Einstein said that after much work he found he had not advanced very far toward a solution to his problems. One night he retired in utter discouragement and feeling very depressed. He told himself there was nothing more to be done. Then he experienced an intuitive flash illuminating his subject and piecing together the parts as in a puzzle. The next day he began to work out his equations, in appropriate sequence.”

The question of how this mechanism works, the existence of the all-encompassing concept before it has been grasped by the mind is referred to in medieval philosophy as the “active intellect”. Trying to understand it and define it is the basis of all Rational and mystical thought. It is through it that we try to find God.


  1. Cool!

    Happy to see you tackle Orot HaKodesh. Just remember that HaRav HaNazir who edited the first 3 volumes maintained that what Rav Kook was attempting is a "shulchan aruch" of hashkafa. That is, the thought can not be simply be classified as maimonodian or lurianic but rather it draws from ALL sources in hashkafa. Make sure you read the Nazir's hakdama for it has many of the keys to unlocking the treasures of the work, including a list of the sources Rav Kook draws upon from Philo to the modern philosophers to the Zohar to the Rambam.

    Hazak veAmetz. I trully hope that this will give you a window to an approach to mystical thought which never slides into anti-rationalism.

    to me it can only be described as "HaTorah haGoelet".

  2. I am reading the introduction and getting headaches already. I got through the first two yesodot but the third one so far has not come to me.

    the main reason I am reading Rav Kook is exactly this. i am intrigued by a rational mystic. I starting reading about him but as with everything I have worked on so far I have to read the source parallel with the commentary to get it and discover the commentary's limitations.

  3. dg reading Rav Kook??!! Whatever next?

  4. >i am intrigued by a rational mystic.

    Ah. I purposfuly formulated it as a mystic who is not anti-rational. That is not the same as what you said! :)

  5. David, have you ever read "Strategies of Genius Volume II"? It discusses the thought patterns and strategies of Einstein, drawing from his autobiographical descriptions dispersed throughout his writings. It explores the role of imagination, intuition, etc., and is very interesting.

  6. No Rabbi Maroof, I have read though many different discussions about the issue. I am reading (learning) an excellent sefer by rabbi Jonathan Blass Minofet Tzuf on the Moreh nevuchim. I am only into chapter 3 of volume 1 and so far excellent. He deals there with Sechel hapoel a lot and I found some interesting insights so far.

  7. nice to see you're branching out.