Friday, August 17, 2007

The relationship of the rational, imaginative and emotional faculties in man.

I had an interesting discussion last Shabbat while at my son and daughter in law, Aryeh and Orly, about the different components of a human being’s mind – the rational and the imaginative – and their relationship with emotions. The impression that most people have is that a rational approach to religion suppresses emotional expression while the more “spiritual” approach triggers the emotions and is therefore a “deeper” experience. Rambam who is seen as the rationalist par excellence however comes across as a very emotional human being when it comes to his religion. Here are a few quotes from MT:

Yesodei Hatorah 4:12

[יב] בזמן שאדם מתבונן בדברים אלו, ומכיר כל הברואים ממלאך וגלגל ואדם וכיוצא בו, ויראה חכמתו של הקדוש ברוך הוא בכל היצורים וכל הברואים--מוסיף אהבה למקום, ותצמא נפשו ויכמה בשרו לאהוב המקום ברוך הוא; ויירא ויפחד משפלותו ודלותו וקלותו, כשיערוך עצמו לאחד מהגופות הקדושים הגדולים, וכל שכן לאחד מהצורות הטהורות הנפרדות מן הגלמים, שלא נתחברו בגולם כלל. וימצא עצמו, שהוא ככלי מלא בושה וכלימה, ריק וחסר.


Yesodei Hatorah 2:1-2
והיאך היא הדרך לאהבתו, ויראתו: בשעה שיתבונן האדם במעשיו וברואיו הנפלאים הגדולים, ויראה מהם חכמתו שאין לה ערך ולא קץ--מיד הוא אוהב ומשבח ומפאר ומתאווה תאווה גדולה לידע השם הגדול, כמו שאמר דויד "צמאה נפשי, לאלוהים--לאל חי" (תהילים מב,ג).
ב וכשמחשב בדברים האלו עצמן, מיד הוא נרתע לאחוריו, ויירא ויפחד ויידע שהוא בריה קטנה שפלה אפלה, עומד בדעת קלה מעוטה לפני תמים דעות, כמו שאמר דויד "כי אראה שמיך . . . מה אנוש, כי תזכרנו" (תהילים ח,ד-ה).

These are just two examples of how emotionally charged Rambam’s religion was. When I cool off (which is quite often) and feel emotionally lacking, I turn to Rambam in many of his writings and immediately become recharged. So how does one explain this?

Although I am married to a professional in psychology I am no expert in the field and, other than a passing interest and where it affects religion, I do not read much about it. I will however attempt to explain myself and if I come across simplistic please forgive me.

In Rambam’s understanding of how a human mind functions, it has five separate components among which are the rational, the imaginative and the emotional faculties. (Although there are five, I will focus on only three here). When he refers to the imaginative, the Koach Hamedameh, he is talking about the sum total of past experiences. From childhood, we have constant experiences and we store them away in our mind, whether as memories of sensations, images and how we felt when we experienced them. All experiences trigger emotional reactions of like, dislike, happiness, sadness and so on. When we recall these experiences, we usually revive the emotion we felt when we had the experience. Our mind can also take these past experiences and reprocess them mixing one with the other, changing the outcomes and creating new emotions in the process. This is what is called the imaginative faculty. It is repackaging and transforming past experiences. It is used by all of us in our daily life, in our decision making process, where these past experiences and the feelings they generated help us in making decisions about how to act.

שמונה פרקים לרמב"ם פרק א

והחלק המדמה - הוא הכח אשר יזכור רישומי המוחשים אחר העלמם מקרבת החושים אשר השיגום, וירכיב קצתם עם קצתם, ויפריד קצתם מקצתם. ולפיכך ירכיב זה הכח מן הדברים אשר השיגם - דברים שלא השיגם כלל, ואי אפשר להשיגם, כמו שידמה האדם ספינת ברזל רצה באויר, ואדם שראשו בשמים ורגליו בארץ, וחיה בעלת אלף עינים, על דרך משל, והרבה מאלו הנמנעות, ירכיבם הכח המדמה וימציאם בדמיון.[1]

The imaginative faculty cannot create completely new concepts. Its creativity is limited to past experiences though the limitless combination of those may result in a very high creative productivity. As the last two examples of Rambam show this faculty is the source of myths which are a precursor of idolatry.

The rational faculty on the other hand focuses on the abstract. It tries to define in abstract terms what we experience. It breaks down what our senses perceive into its components and thus tries to understand how these things function.

שמונה פרקים לרמב"ם פרק א

והחלק השכלי - הוא הכח הנמצא לאדם, אשר בו ישכיל, ובו תהיה ההתבוננות, ובו יקנה החוכמות, ובו יבחין בין המגונה והנאה מן הפעולות. ואלו הפעולות, חלק מהן מעשי, וחלק עיוני. והמעשי, ממנו מלאכתי, וממנו מחשבתי. והעיוני, הוא אשר בו ידע האדם הנמצאות שאינן משתנות כפי מה שהן, ואלו הן אשר יקראו 'חכמות' סתם. והמלאכתי, הוא הכח אשר בו נלמד המלאכות, כמו הנגרות, ועבודת האדמה, והרפואה והספנות. והמחשבתי, הוא אשר בו יתבונן בדבר אשר ירצה לעשותו בעת אשר ירצה לעשותו, האם אפשר לעשותו אם לא, ואם אפשר - איך צריך שיעשה.

I will paraphrase/translate this segment, as it is important. (If any feel, I should translate the other segments I will do so. Just let me know in the comments. I am a little lazy today.)

The rational is the part [of the mind] man uses to think. He uses it to contemplate and to acquire knowledge. With it he differentiates between the proper and improper actions, [to be precise, the ugly and the beautiful]. These actions are either practical or abstract. The practical may consist of acts [results in action] or in planning [remains in the planning stage]. The abstract man uses to get to know the unchanging existents as they really are. That is called “knowledge”. [The practical] that results in actions is the ability of man to learn how to do things such as carpentry, farm work, medicine and sailing. The planning [ability] allows man to think about what he wants to do, at the time he wants to, whether it is doable or not, and if it is doable how to do it.

In other words, the rational faculty, the abstract part thereof, as defined by Rambam is not involved in doing but rather understanding. It observes and tries to interpret that observation in the context of existence - to know the unchanging existents as they really are. Material existence is not unchanging. It is the concepts, the system of cause and effect, the underlying science and physics and the search for that is defined as the objective of the rational faculty. Einstein, Bohr, Heisenberg and the scientists who tried to understand the concepts and systems that are behind our existence used the abstract part of their rational faculty in their search for understanding. On the other hand, the same scientist when he takes the concept he developed and applies it to practical matters uses the practical side of his rational faculty.

שמונה פרקים לרמב"ם פרק א

ודע, שזאת הנפש האחת, אשר קדם סיפור כוחותיה, או חלקיה, היא כחומר, והשכל לה צורה. ואם לא תיקנה לה הצורה - תהיה מציאות ההכנה שבה לקיבול הצורה ההיא לבטלה, וכאילו היא מציאות הבל.

Know that this one [or unified] soul that I described its abilities or parts, is like matter and the rational faculty [Sechel] is its Form. If it does not acquire its Form, the existence of the capability to accept it, is wasted. It is as if it exists for naught.

The two components of man’s rational faculty, the abstract and the practical, together make man into what he is. Using the ability to abstract, he develops an understanding of his existence, the whys and how things function. He shares that information with his practical side that then plans and acts accordingly.

To summarize the imaginative faculty brings experience to the table while the rational explores new areas. Combining these two faculties productively allows man to dominate his environment.

How all this comes together will follow in next post.

(I am a believer that there is a limit to the length of a post beyond which it is difficult to follow.)

[1] The example Rambam uses here, a metal ship flying in the air, which he sees as impossible and pure imagination, really illustrates how inventions are made. I will come back to that later.

1 comment:

  1. Nice summary of Rambam's model of the soul. Ever noticed the much more extensive one in Ralbag's intro to Shir Hashirim?