Thursday, February 19, 2009

Sherlock Holmes and Tanya — part I

From Study in Scarlet:

He was not studying medicine. He had himself, in reply to a question, confirmed Stamford’s opinion upon that point. Neither did he appear to have pursued any course of reading which might fit him for a degree in science or any other recognized portal which would give him an entrance into the learned world. Yet his zeal for certain studies was remarkable, and within eccentric limits his knowledge was so extraordinarily ample and minute that his observations have fairly astounded me. Surely no man would work so hard or attain such precise information unless he had some definite end in view. Desultory readers are seldom remarkable for the exactness of their learning. No man burdens his mind with small matters unless he has some very good reason for doing so.

His ignorance was as remarkable as his knowledge. Of contemporary literature, philosophy and politics he appeared to know next to nothing. Upon my quoting Thomas Carlyle, he inquired in the naivest way who he might be and what he had done. My surprise reached a climax, however, when I found incidentally that he was ignorant of the Copernican Theory and of the composition of the Solar System. That any civilized human being in this nineteenth century should not be aware that the earth travelled round the sun appeared to me to be such an extraordinary fact that I could hardly realize it.

“You appear to be astonished,” he said, smiling at my expression of surprise. “Now that I do know it I shall do my best to forget it.”

“To forget it!”

“You see,” he explained, “I consider that a man’s brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose. A fool takes in all the lumber of every sort that he comes across, so that the knowledge which might be useful to him gets crowded out, or at best is jumbled up with a lot of other things, so that he has a difficulty in laying his hands upon it. Now the skilful workman is very careful indeed as to what he takes into his brain-attic. He will have nothing but the tools which may help him in doing his work, but of these he has a large assortment, and all in the most perfect order. It is a mistake to think that that little room has elastic walls and can distend to any extent. Depend upon it there comes a time when for every addition of knowledge you forget something that you knew before. It is of the highest importance, therefore, not to have useless facts elbowing out the useful ones.”

“But the Solar System!” I protested.

“What the deuce is it to me?” he interrupted impatiently: “you say that we go round the sun. If we went round the moon it would not make a pennyworth of difference to me or to my work.”

The approach of Sherlock Holmes, although certainly repugnant to a member of modern intelligentsia, is interesting. It seemed, however, to be unfounded from scientific point of view. It would be as if someone said: “If I lift too many things in my gym, I won’t have any strength left for my job as a construction worker”. Well, you certainly shouldn’t tire yourself out, but lifting weights would actually help you in you job as a construction worker by increasing your strength.

Furthermore, as Marie Curie said, “By increasing light in one area of science, one makes other areas brighter”.

Nevertheless, an interesting approach.

Now, lehavdil, Chapter 8 of Tanya:

וכן העוסק בחכמות אומות העולם בכלל דברים בטלים יחשב לענין עון ביטול תורה, כמו שכתוב בהלכות תלמוד תורה

Occupying oneself with the sciences of the nations of the world is likewise included in the category of engaging in inconsequential matters insofar as the sin of neglecting the Torah is concerned, [for in studying the sciences of the nations, too, one is guilty of neglecting Torah study,] as is explained in the Laws of Torah Study.

ועוד זאת, יתירה טומאתה של חכמת האומות על טומאת דברים בטלים

Moreover, the impurity of the science of the nations is greater than the impurity of idle speech;

שאינו מלביש ומטמא רק המדות מיסוד הרוח הקדוש שבנפשו האלקית

for the latter clothe and defile only the emotions [which emanate] from the holy element of ruach [Air] within his divine soul,

בטומאת קליפת נוגה שבדברים בטלים הבאים מיסוד הרוח הרע שבקליפה זו בנפשו הבהמית, כדלעיל

[by tainting them] with the impurity of kelipat nogah contained in idle speech (which is derived from the evil element of ruach of this kelipah in his animal soul), as mentioned above.

ולא בחינות חב״ד שבנפשו, מאחר שהם דברי שטות ובורות

[Idle speech does] not, however, [defile] the levels of ChaBaD (the intellectual faculties) in his soul, for it is but words of foolishness and ignorance,

שגם השוטים ועמי הארץ יכולים לדבר כן

since even fools and ignoramuses can speak that way.

[Since these are not intellectual matters, the intellect remains uninvolved and untainted.]

מה שאין כן בחכמת האומות הוא מלביש ומטמא בחינות חב״ד שבנפשו האלקית, בטומאת קליפת נוגה שבחכמות אלו

Not so in the case of the science of the nations; thereby one clothes and defiles his divine soul’s faculties of ChaBaD (intellect) with the impurity of the kelipat nogah contained in those sciences,

שנפלו שמה בשבירת הכלים מבחינת אחוריים של חכמה דקדושה, כידוע ליודעי ח״ן

whither they (the sciences) have fallen, through the “shattering of the vessels,” out of the “hinder-part” of Chochmah of holiness, as is known to those familiar with the Esoteric Wisdom.

[Thus the study of these sciences contaminates the intellectual faculties of the G‑dly soul, and it is therefore much worse than idle speech, which contaminates only the emotional faculties,]

אלא אם כן עושה אותן קרדום לחתוך בה, דהיינו כדי להתפרנס מהן בריוח לעבוד ה׳

unless one employs them [these sciences] as a useful instrument, viz., as a means of earning a more affluent livelihood with which to be able to serve G‑d,

או שיודע להשתמש בהן לעבודת ה׳ או לתורתו

or unless he knows how to apply them in the service of G‑d or to [his better understanding of] His Torah; [e.g., he utilizes mathematics to better understand the laws of the Sanctification of the New Moon.]

וזהו טעמו של הרמב״ם ורמב״ן ז״ל וסיעתן שעסקו בהן

This is the reason why Maimonides and Nachmanides, of blessed memory, and their peers, engaged in them [in the sciences — since they were able to utilize this knowledge in the service of G‑d and Torah].

[To be continued…]


Anonymous said...

I dont understand the connection

Crawling Axe said...

I am sorry.