Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Hidden and revealed

Everything hidden eventually becomes revealed
— A Russian proverb (warning against lying)

I was thinking this morning about how counter-intuitive the idea of a gene, the basic concept of modern genetics, may seem to someone who encounters it first (or, for instance, to those who encountered this concept when the results of Gregor Mendel's experiments were publicized).

It is intuitive, just from observation, that many aspects of our appearance and behavior are passed to us from our parents (in fact, it's less intuitive that many factors are not genetically determined, or are not solely genetically determined; for instance, how tall or smart one is might be determined as much by the environment as by genes). I look a bit like my mom and a bit like my dad. Both my mom and my dad have nose and eyebrows and chins and eyes, and it makes sense that I should received the information about how to build those parts of me from either of the parents or both.

But my mother, for instance, does not have facial hair. My father does not have certain aspects of female anatomy. Therefore, it seems more intuitive that I should inherit my facial hair (and other primary and secondary male dimorphisms) from my father, and my sister should inherit the female aspects of her anatomy from my mother. How can I inherit anything pertaining to my facial hair from my mom if she doesn't have facial hair herself?

(a particularly striking example of sexual dimorphism — a difference between male and female anatomy; I assume the male is called "parasitic" as a zoological, not socio-political, statement; [source])

In reality, of course, we learn that our appearance is not directly inherited from our parents. My father's beard did not somehow split of and become my beard. There is a hidden layer of reality called genetics (the fact that genes are transmitted through DNA is not relevant; the point is that there is some level of human body's reality that is not immediately visible) that determines the body's appearance and function. It is that level that is passed on.

So, in reality, it is not my father's beard that "causes" my beard. But my father's genes cause his beard; my father's genes cause my genes (by being copied into the egg from which I came), and my genes cause my beard (the influence of the environment notwithstanding).

From this point of view, it makes sense that I can inherit my beard from my mom, so to speak. Because she can have genes for facial hair; just that due to the influence of other genes, these genes are not expressed, remaining "hidden".

* * *

We can apply this idea to Chassidus and to our everyday life with an extremely profound effect on our appreciation of reality.

Sometimes we see connections between events in our life. But in reality, the connection may not be between the physical events themselves, but between their spiritual "causes" — and sometimes, the relationship between the spiritual causes may be very complex, with some of its aspects completely hidden from our appreciation.

Thus, just like people before Gregor Mendel may have thought that I inherit my beard solely from my father, we may think that event A may have been solely caused by event B. Or, for instance, success in business only depends on how much one invests himself in it, not (also) on how hard one davvens.

Furthermore, sometimes the spiritual events may be completely hidden. Something in our life can be to our benefit or detriment, chv"sh, with no immediate effect on our revealed reality. Sometimes the effects may "skip a generation" (or a number of them), which could mean in terms of parents — children — (great-) grandchildren, or even in terms of different gilgulim of the same neshamo, or a pair of neshamos (i.e., perhaps a relationship between two people in their current life is just another chapter in a story that spans a few generations of their gilgulim). I am not just talking about husband and wife; the same may be true for, lehavdil, a murderer and a victim (r"l).

Thinking about the above will not directly answer any questions, of course. But it may have ramifications on our hypothesizing about possible answers to difficult questions. Why do bad things happen to good (or completely innocent) people? Why do infants die? Why are we sometimes lucky, and sometimes unlucky? Why do some Halachic rulings (even in the areas of mishpotim) make little sense? Will eating or not eating "cholov-stam" ice cream really have an effect on anything? And so on...

On a more intellectual level, appreciation of (sometimes hidden) relationship between the spiritual and the physical may instill some humility into those who study the physical (for a living or in passing).

No comments: