Conscious decisions and man's freedom of choice

Chapter 9 of the essay 'The Kabbalah of Information on Freedom of Choice, Tzimtzum, and the Physics of Spacetime'

Gottfried Leibniz (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Gottfried Leibniz
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
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In the previous chapter, we discovered that the evolution of Creation proceeds within a limited region of the informational space.  We also established that not all theoretically possible combinations are realizable.  In the author's opinion, this suggests that our free will may be restricted or revoked in some information dimensions.  For example, according to the prophecy cited at the beginning of this article, there was no possibility for the Jews to not be in Egypt at the right time, which means they were not at liberty to exercise their free will in this matter.  At the same time, they retained their free will in a multitude of other information dimensions: good and evil, interpersonal relations etc.
Full understanding of the mechanisms at work and the reasons why HaShem restricts our free will is unavailable to man, but we have the right and the duty to analyze the cases of limited freedom of choice given in the Torah and the Prophecies and to draw the respective conclusions.
But before we proceed with our analysis, a few words must be said on the nature of Choice per se.
Choice and Symmetry
In the previous chapter, the author noted that we make our choices as a result of our informational interaction with the surrounding world, based on the information available to us, the goals we set and the anticipated consequences.  That said, the consequences we anticipate may be symmetric or asymmetric.  Philosophic literature discusses certain 'extreme' cases of a perfectly symmetrical choice:
1. Asinus Buridani. An ass stands between two haystacks positioned symmetrically, to the left and to the right of its head.  The ass finds no reason to choose one haystack over the other and starves to death.
2. The Archimedes case. When two equal weights, equidistant from the center, balance the scales, the system will remain in equilibrium indefinitely, there being no reason to tip one way or the other in relation to the fulcrum.
3. Anaximander's case, as cited by Aristotle. Anaximander postulated that the earth is static in the middle of a spherical cosmos. Thus, there exists no reason for it to move in one direction or another.
Much later, the philosopher and scientist Gottfried Leibniz articulated his famous Principle of Sufficient Reason: 'Unless a sufficient reason exists for any event to occur, no event will occur' – that is, the status quo will remain unchanged.
In the late 19th century, further elaborating Leibniz's ideas, the French scientist Pierre Curie formulated what is known as the Curie Symmetry/Dissymmetry Principle: 'For an event to occur, the level of symmetry must be lowered in a system.' The second part of the principle stipulates that there can be more symmetry in the effects than in the causes.
Choices with Asymmetric Effects
One of the manifest ways in which HaShem influenced the free will of humans was to inform an individual making a choice of the asymmetric effects of his choice.
Let us review a few cases:
1. Adam. Adam was offered a choice: not to partake of the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and live forever, tending his garden, or partake of the fruit and become mortal.
Of particular note is the fact that the choice given to Adam was unparalleled in human history.  We may call it a 'first-level choice' for the following reasons.
Adam's soul knew no distinction between good and evil before the Fall – it emerged thereafter. Thus, the essence of the choice offered to Adam was this: not to partake of the fruit from the Tree and so never to be able to make the choice between good and evil or to partake and thenceforward to be able to make that choice. In effect, the choice offered to Adam was the choice to have or not to have freedom of choice.  The choice left to Adam's descendants would be a 'second-level choice' between good and evil.  In the author's opinion, there is a difference in meaning between death as the consequence of Adam's choice and death as the consequence of the choice of his descendants. For Adam, above all, death meant demotion to a level of greater concealment of the information of the HaShem and only then what we call physical death, the disintegration of the 'Man' system into its components, the body and the soul.  For Adam's descendants, death only meant physical death.
2. The Diluvian Generation. The dire sins of the antediluvian generation pushed the universal information path of Creation dangerously toward the area of evil, which was manifestly at variance with HaShem’s Plan.  As a result, HaShem eradicated the antediluvian generation.  It is not expressly written in the Torah that G-d had offered the antediluvian generation a choice with asymmetric effects – to repent or die.  However, given that Noah spent 120 years building his Ark, we may assume that ample opportunity was given, albeit indirectly, to the antediluvian generation to mend their ways.

3. Pharaoh, Sarai and Abram. Nothing in the Torah suggests that G-d had spoken to Pharaoh, offering him a choice.  Remember, G-d never spoke directly with the Pharaoh of the Exodus period.  The fact that Pharaoh and his house were punished with plagues immediately leads us to the conclusion that he was made to realize the asymmetric effects of his choice: either he would let Sarai go, or his house would perish from the plagues and diseases.
4. Abimelech, Sarah and Abraham. On the one hand, the case of Abimelech is similar to the case of Pharaoh.  All women in the house of Abimelech were made barren as punishment. But in this case, HaShem Himself had appeared to Abimelech in a dream to warn him of the asymmetric effects of his choice: leave Sarah alone or die.
5. Laban and Jacob. The Torah tells us that Laban had caught up with Jacob, and, as his detachment was more numerous, he would have killed Jacob's entire family.  But this did not happen. G-d came to Laban in a dream to warn him of the asymmetric effects of his choice, 'Take heed to thyself that thou speak not to Jacob either good or bad.'
6. Balaam. In the case of Balaam, G-d revoked his freedom of choice in the dimension of verbal expression or, more specifically, in the 'blessing-curse' dimension.
In all these cases, G-d had warned every individual of the asymmetric effects of their choices.
It also stands to mention the story of the Prophet Jonah who was deprived of freedom of choice in the dimension of 'fulfilling or not fulfilling G-d's will'.
Collating the cases above, we may conclude that all manifest interventions of G-d to warn of the asymmetric effects of a choice occurred exclusively to prevent evil deeds.
In his discourse on the ways of Divine Providence in the book The Way of G-d, Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto ventures the thought that for G-d there exists a 'limit of evil,’ which He will not permit to be exceeded.  The author agrees with that thought, corroborated by ample evidence from the Torah, such as the eradication of the antediluvian generation and the punishment of Sodom and Gomorrah once their 'limit of evil' had been exceeded.
We ought to heed an important phrase in the Prophecy that we discussed at the beginning of this article.  Informing Abraham of the Exile, G-d concludes His pronouncement with the phrase: “And in the fourth generation they shall come back hither; for the iniquity of the Amorite is not yet full” (15:13-16). Here we are also dealing with the 'limit of evil.’ We may, therefore, conclude that all acts of G-d taking place since the Fall of Adam have been aimed at guiding the evolution of Creation within the informational space toward a domain in which the dimensions of evil are minimal or absent. G-d destroyed Cain's generation and the diluvian generation, and He has greatly reduced the number of dimensions of evil in the informational space.
The laws given to Noah also delimited a region for the evolution of Creation in the informational space with a reduced number of dimensions of evil.  The punishment of the generation of the builders of the Tower of Babel prevented the shift of the universal information path toward the domain of collective evil.  And last but not least, the commandments given in the Torah delineated a domain within the informational space completely devoid of evil dimensions. While the dimensions of evil continued to be present in the common informational space, an individual observing all the commandments of the Torah would abide in a domain where such dimensions were absent.
Unmanifested Influence on Freedom of Choice
In the previous chapter we discussed some cases of G-d's manifest interference with human freedom of choice, of which the objects of interference were aware, as are we, scholars of the Torah.
In this chapter we will discuss those instances of G-d's interference with man's freedom of choice that remain unbeknownst to the objects of interference yet are clear to us.
Two examples from the Torah will serve to describe such interference to us.  Sending Moshe to speak to Pharaoh, G-d informed him of His intention to 'harden Pharaoh's heart' so that Pharaoh would not let the Jews go without first incurring grave punishment.  It is obvious that Pharaoh was not aware of this interference of G-d, but we, readers of the Torah, are informed.  Pharaoh was actually deprived (or almost entirely deprived) of freedom of choice in the dimension of 'repentance or unrepentance,’ but he was not aware of it.
The Torah further informs us that G-d instilled in the Egyptians a liking for the Jews so that they would surrender their jewelry to them voluntarily.  Neither Pharaoh nor his servants had any inkling of this inducement.  These examples provide critically important evidence of G-d's unmanifested interference with man's freedom of choice.
In 2 Samuel we read the following, “The Lord’s anger again raged against Israel, and he incited David against them, saying, "Go count Israel and Judah"' (24:1). David orders a population census, but he subsequently realizes it was a wrong thing to do.  Further, David regrets his decision: “David felt guilty after he had counted the people. David said to the Lord, "I have sinned greatly by doing this! Now, O Lord, please remove the guilt of your servant, for I have acted very foolishly."'
In this case, David did not have to perform the census, but his decision was made much harder by G-d in view of the sins of the Israelis and, possibly, of David himself.
Given the importance of this mechanism of influence on man's free will, the author believes it is necessary to elaborate on the matter further.
Science and the Subconscious
Modern psychology considered the functioning of the human mind in two modes – conscious and unconscious. The idea of dividing the life of the human mind into conscious and unconscious processes arose in the 19th century and was developed and popularized by Sigmund Freud.  Freud developed a model of mental topography in the form of an iceberg with consciousness at the peak, representing the mental processes of which we are aware.  Directly underneath lies the region of the preconscious, containing the thoughts and feelings of which we may not be aware at any given moment, but which can fairly easily shift to the conscious realm. Even lower lies the domain of the subconscious which Freud believed to be inaccessible to the waking mind, although it does have a strong influence upon the conscious process.
One of the great psychiatrists of the 20th century, Carl Jung coined the idea of a 'collective unconscious,’ shared by society as a whole.  Jung held that the collective unconscious is populated by archetypes – universal spiritual values shared by all humanity.  In Jung's point of view, the historical process is defined by the evolution of the collective soul of humankind at large.  Despite its high relevance, it is impossible to explore Jung's theory in-depth within this article.
Experiments with the Subconscious Mind
Some of the better-known experiments testing the mechanisms of human decision-making were administered by Professor Benjamin Libet.  In one of his experiments, Libet would ask the participants to flex their wrists and note the exact amount of time that it took to reach the decision to perform that movement.  The experiment tested activity in different areas of the brain.  In the course of these experiments, Professor Libet found that the brain area responsible for motor activity was activated 350 milliseconds prior to the participant's conscious decision to move their wrist.  Suggesting that we are only informed of our 'conscious' decision after it had been made in our subconscious, the findings of his experiments led Libet to question the existence of human free will.
Building on the findings of Libet's experiments, scientists continued to study the subconscious mechanisms of human volition.  Some experiments involved offering the participants to make a choice either right after or several hours after certain images were shown to them on a computer screen. When the data were processed, it transpired that the percentage of participants making the correct choice after several hours had elapsed was double the percentage of correct choices in the population that chose right away. The findings suggested that the human subconscious has a greater capacity for information processing than the conscious mind.  This meant that the conscious mind could only handle one task at a time, while the subconscious was capable of processing several tasks simultaneously.  Scientists also determined that the subconscious is better at analyzing the relative importance of different attributes than the conscious mind.
It should be noted that both the results gleaned, and the conclusions drawn from them were riddled with controversy.  The respective roles of the conscious and unconscious mind in human decision-making remain inconclusive. It is also noteworthy that Libet's experiments and other similar procedures studied situations when action followed volition almost immediately; they were not concerned with actions performed upon the lapse of a considerable time period following the decision (i.e., planning). An upsurge of brain activity prior to conscious volition is not in itself sufficient evidence of the fact that the decision was made for us before we become aware of it.
In the author's opinion, science's take on this matter is incomplete and inconclusive for the following reason: the famous 'hard problem of consciousness' – 'How do physical neural processes initiate thought and emotion?' – is articulated fallaciously on the foundational level.
Kabbalah of Information and Human Consciousness
Contemporary science considers three models describing the interaction of the mind and the body:
1. Physicalism, which holds that mind is secondary to matter.
2. Dualism, advocated by the ancient Greeks and the great French philosopher Rene Descartes. However, the dualistic approach cannot explain the interactions between completely different substances.
3. The model wherein it is posited that the mind and the body are essentially one substance, interacting through the medium of that very substance.
The Kabbalah of Information Perspective
A theory that explains the extant facts is considered a good theory in science.  But a theory that makes accurate predictions and explains the facts is considered to be a better theory.  Critics of those research efforts that collate science with religion often accuse the researchers of wielding their scientific knowledge to find vindication in religious texts and, thus, elicit connectivity between science and religion, instead of trying to predict scientific findings on the basis of religious texts.
The author proposes a different approach to resolving the 'hard problem of consciousness':
1. The soul (and its intellectual part – reason) is fundamentally an information medium (cf: the author's article 'What Everything Is Made Of') This statement is underpinned by the central precept of the Kabbalah of Information: 'In the beginning He created information, and He created nothing else but only organized and categorized it.'
2. The soul is an informational entity, a veracious replica of the Sefirot realm.  The intellectual part of the soul represents the Sefirot Keter ('Willpower'), Chokhmah ('Wisdom') and Binah ('Understanding'). Sometimes one more Sefirah, Da'at ('Knowledge'), is added. This theory is underpinned by the thoughts of the founder of the Chabad movement, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi (this theory of the soul and its interaction with the body is explained in greater detail by this writer in his book From Eternity to Man).
3. The soul is an open system receiving an inflow of information from our world via the brain structures, the body, with the help of blood circulation, and a further influx of information from HaShem via the Sefirot realm.  The incoming information is processed and returned into our world through the brain.  The likeness of the soul to the realm of the Sefirot is a point of principle. It is this likeness that permits the soul to receive information via the Sefirot realm.  Our soul interacts with the surrounding world by means of information pulsations (Ratzo V'Shov) that are in tune with the Ratzo V'Shov information pulsations permeating the entire Creation and all information worlds.  In this, according to this writer, lies our likeness to G-d.
Here, we shall indulge in a small digression. In the Torah, it is written that G-d created man in His image and likeness.  Commentary abounds, and opinions differ on this matter.  Once I asked the opinion of my daughter Sophie-Rose Shyfrin, a biology student at Imperial College in London.  I asked her to explain the distinction between 'image' and 'likeness.’ Her answer was interesting: she cited an example from geometry.  Her point was that all triangles have a like image as they all belong to the same category – triangles.  However, there exists the subcategory of equilateral triangles within that category.
Using that explanation, we could say that image is the informational essence of the soul and of the entirety of Creation, while likeness is the exact likeness of the structure of the soul to the structure of the Sefirot realm.
Principles of Information Processing in the Human Soul
Let me remind the reader that according to the teaching of the great Kabbalist Rabbi Isaac Luria the information realms incorporate ten Sefirot, each of which contains the same ten Sefirot, and so forth, presenting a fractal structure.   It has been noted above that the writer views the Sefirot realm as the common informational space of Creation, in which every Sefirah represents a specific informational dimension (a region within the informational space).
The Sefirah Chokhmah, in the view of the Kabbalah of Information, is a region out of the reach of human consciousness, which is expressed by the Sefirah Binah.  The Sefirah Binah is capable of processing only one aspect of the available information at a time.  The Sephirah Binah corresponds to the Name of G-d El-m, which corresponds to the quality of Gevurah ('judgment', 'delimitation'). Thus, the Sefirah Chokhmah can be classified as a data processor of a higher order than the Sefirah Binah.
It is important to note that according to Kabbalah the Sefirot Chokhmah and Binah interact by means of information pulsations.
In the Sefer Yetzirah, one of the central books of Kabbalah, it is written, “Understand with Wisdom, be wise with Understanding” (1:4), which is interpreted as a circumscription of the interaction between the Sefirot Chokhmah and Binah by means of information pulsations.  It is pertinent to mention that the meditation techniques of followers of Kabbalah are aimed at reaching the level of consciousness of the Sefirah Chokhmah.  It is also important to note that memory, which is information on past events, is retained in the Sefirah Chokhmah of the human soul.  Aryeh Kaplan asserts this in his comments on the Sefer Yetzirah.
In this writer's opinion, the above idea offers an insight into the mechanism, by dint of which G-d may interfere with our decisions unbeknownst to us.  The interference is administered via the Sefirah Chokhmah, which formally corresponds to the human subconscious.
This is what the flow chart of the soul's interactions may look like.  Information arrives via the Sefirah Malcuth, entering the Sefirah Chokhmah.  The decision is worked out through the interaction between the Sefirot Chokhmah and Binah, and the result is returned via the Sefirah Malcuth.
The nature of the decision the Sefirah Binah makes by interacting with Chokhmah will depend on many factors: the information Chokhmah receives from G-d via the realm of the Sefirot, the information received from our world via Malcuth, our knowledge stored in the memory of Chokhmah and the qualities of the Sefirot Chokhmah and Binah that characterize our soul.  The concept of 'quality' deserves an explanation, which is presented below.
The importance of receiving knowledge of G-d and the surrounding world cannot be stressed enough.  In my view, the presence or absence of such knowledge is the key factor defining our evolution within the informational space according to HaShem’s Plan.
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