November 4, 2013
focus: Potentialism Theory by David Birnbaum
Is there a Purpose to Life and the Cosmic Order?
David Birnbaum’s Audacious Summa Metaphysica Theory
November 4, 2013
David Birnbaum’s audacious Summa Metaphysica theory
Plato (427-347 BCE) and his student Aristotle (384-322 BCE) believed that there was an ultimate purpose to the universe. But that was a long time ago when the discipline of metaphysics was in vogue, and elite thought leaders attempted to uncover the fundamental building blocks of the cosmic order. Plato and Aristotle believed that there was, indeed, a purpose to the universe, but admitted that they were unable to discern precisely what it was. Over the next two and a half thousand years the consensus shifted back-and-forth as to whether or not Purpose existed (see www.PotentialismTheory,com).
Then, along came the European Renaissance (c. 14th – 17th century) and everyone assumed that science would solve the key problems relating to the cosmos – which had remained unsolved and unresolved over the millennia. However, five centuries after the beginning of the European Renaissance, the best that science has come up with is that the universe is aimless and has no purpose. Randomness. According to the current entrenched orthodoxy which connects establishment philosophy with establishment science, Randomness reigns supreme. All is random. The Big Bang was random; the emergence of life was random; Consciousness is random. Your sophisticated complexity...is Random. (With a little ‘survival of the species’ thrown in).
Enter David Birnbaum. Born in 1950, his mother an artist and his father a businessman; Birnbaum grew up in Forest Hills, Queens, NY in the 1950s. He went to Modern Orthodox Jewish Day School. [It turned out that Simon and Garfunkel grew up contemporaneously in the same ‘hood and went to public school there]. An aficionado of the iconic Frank Lloyd Wright (d. 1959), Birnbaum leaned towards eventually becoming an architect professionally, but had two interesting side interests as a youngster – Metaphysics and Astrophysics. With the help of teachers, he tracked both fields.
In class, Birnbaum swam in the waters of Modern Orthodox Judaism, and was deeply versed in its dogma. He would emerge as valedictorian of his elementary school class. But Birnbaum was clear from the get-go as regards Maimonidean-based Jewish philosophy. “I’m far from convinced.”
Youngster Birnbaum was tracking all three fields – Metaphysics, Astrophysics and Religion. He was acutely aware that many parallel issues vexed all three disciplines. He was aware that all three filled-in lots of theory and dogma in the middle of their propositions, but that all three seemed to fall particularly short at the two ends of their propositions: “Origins” at the ‘beginning’ and ‘’Purpose’ at the end. Metaphysics, Astrophysics and Religion: Three seemingly very different fields – but all with the parallel issues. How did it all start? Where is it headed?
So, the question regarding “beginning” is often referred-to as the Eternal Origins question.
At the future-end, the formal name for the issue is Teleology – Is there a purpose/goal to the cosmos? And if so, what is it?
As of November 2013, 2,360 years after the death of Plato, the scientific/philosophical community still has no working hypothesis as regards either of these key issues. But Birnbaum proposes a “simultaneous” solution. Indeed, that is why he crafted his philosophy work. Andrei Alyokhin for one, Associate Professor of Biology and Ecology at The University of Maine, believes that Birnbaum’s theory should be employed as the global academic working hypothesis.
From childhood, Birnbaum tracked all three fields carefully – through elementary school (Yeshiva of Forest Hills), high school (Yeshiva University High School – Manhattan), college (CCNY: City College of NY School of Engineering (with a major in Computer Science) and then through academic life in Cambridge, Mass. In graduate school (Harvard Business School). Birnbaum got his masters in finance, but lived near Harvard Hillel, a Mecca for Boston’s academic elite of all faiths to present their ideas of matters both cosmic and trivial. A Sabbath Observer, Birnbaum was not into Friday night Boston partying or Saturday morning Harvard lacrosse; He had both the time and focus to attend the vibrant nearby Harvard Hillel Friday night and Saturday symposiums and forums. He listened carefully.
The questions, however, remained unanswered. When he graduating Harvard, and exited Boston in June 1974, back to Manhattan, Birnbaum was clear that all three fields were essentially stuck. And going nowhere. He was fascinated that even the so-to-speak “best and the brightest” did not have the answers. He put ‘cracking the cosmic’ on his informal 5-20 year to-do list.
Birnbaum went into the international rare gem business, but on-the-side continued his intellectual odyssey. He had tracked the three fields since age 10. He had examined the various academic and theological perspectives from multiple angles. Could he unravel the knots which damped-down the vibrancy of each of the three fields? Could possibly one subtle theme unravel all the knots simultaneously? He was now convinced that such was the case: A subtle theme ‘hiding-in-plain-site. His hunt for the Holy Grail of the cosmos was now an official “David Birnbaum project” he often came back to.
Birnbaum had one confidante in his to-be 50 year quest – his high school buddy – and a Physics and Biology teacher – Steven Gross. Steven, a graduate of Columbia University School of Engineering – was the “sounding board,” the “reality-check.” Gross (living in Jerusalem for the last 25 years) would stick by Birnbaum (in NY) for five decades through this day. Steven Gross is a polymath – a person with very significant expertise across a dozen scientific disciplines. Birnbaum considers himself to be a “Conceptual Theorist”. The two would prove-to-be a perfect complementary fit. Birnbaum would propose or write a chapter; Gross would hold-it-to-the-fire. Birnbaum describes the ascetic Gross as a “19th century Jesuit cleric disguised as a 20th century Orthodox Jewish scientist.”
In 1982, roughly 22 years after commencing his informal investigation odyssey into the three inter-related fields (Metaphysics, Astrophysics & Religion), Birnbaum felt that he had at last isolated onto the key core dynamic. And, indeed it was subtle. It seemed to elegantly resolve the key issues of the three fields via one subtle theme – Potential. Moreover, the same theme of Potential would unravel, as well, a cluster of other knotty issues plaguing all three fields. It would prove-to-be what is now considered by many to be “the simultaneous solution”. One concept unlocks all three treasure chests. After Birnbaum sold his idea to the hyper-demanding Gross, Birnbaum knew he was ‘on his way.’
Now, Monotheistic Religion had at least one extra major philosophical problem; the “problem of evil”. This problem is classically called Theodicy: If there is an all-powerful and all-merciful God, why is there gross evil? The Theodicy issue hovers over the now globally far-flung Birnbaum clan. David Birnbaum’s namesake, his paternal grandfather Rave David Birnbaum, was murdered in his 80s by the invading Nazis in his hometown in Czechoslovakia in 1944.
About 22 years after commencing his intellectual quest at age 10 in 1960, David Birnbaum vectored in to his signature theme’ and discerned a line-of-attack. One subtle theme – Quest for Infinite Potential – would seem to simultaneously ’solve’ all the key and interrelated classic issues. He triple-checked for six months that the theme was original. It, indeed, withstood the originality-vetting. Mid-1982. David Birnbaum commenced writing what was ultimately to be a philosophical game-changer.
Six years later In May 1988 KTAV Publishing, a respected publisher of primarily Jewish-related scholarly books, gambled and published Birnbaum’s work God and Evil: A unified Theodicy/Theology/Philosophy [ see www.GodAndEvil.com 164 pages of text, plus 59 pages of footnotes – all 664 of them]. This work would later be designated as Volume I of Birnbaum’s 2-volume Summa Metaphysica series the work proposes as its signature theme that ‘Potential’ drives the cosmic order. The theory was original, and over the next decade the work received a plethora of fine reviews globally. Eventually, over a dozen colleges globally would assign the work as a Course Text. To date, no flaw has been found in the elegant theory. The work has been through multiple printings, with over 50,000 sets now in circulation globally. Rabbi Benjamin Blech, Professor of Talmud and Jewish Thought at Yeshiva University, describes the God and Evil work as “a philosophical masterpiece for all time…. Birnbaum’s ‘God of Potential’ impacted clergy and academics globally… It remains a truly iconic work.”
According to the hypothesis, Potential/Possibility is eternal. Indeed, it is the only dynamic, according to the author which can be stated with certainty to be eternal, by definition. Indeed, after examination, it is, according to the author, self-evident as being eternal.
Birnbaum took a slight break after God and Evil – a 12 year break – to see if he could find-a-way to so-to-speak better get-his-arms-around his own core theme of infinite Potential. The theme was big – and Birnbaum understood that tackling-it on a grander scale would not be easy. He re-commenced writing in 2000. Five years later in 2005 he posted God and Good (Summa Metaphysica II) online (www.Philosophy1000.com – with the 2-book series now readily available en toto in flip-book at no charge to his key market – students – globally. By 2005 Birnbaum was simultaneously building a multi-media publishing platform, which now goes by the name New Paradigm Matrix. This entity formally published Summa II God and Good in 2008. KTAV was, in principle, willing to publish it, but Birnbaum wanted to be able to offer it gratis online from the get-go – aside from the Amazon for-pay option. He also wanted better control of the publishing process – as the work might need add-ons as his thinking evolved.
In March 2012, Bard College, upstate NY, hosted an international academic conference with a prime focus on Summa Metaphysica (see www.Conference1000.com). Birnbaum’s quite formalized metaphysics of Potential was juxtaposed against the academic establishment’s more informal metaphysics of Randomness. Dynamic debate – primarily at the collegial meals at the conference, pitted Birnbaum against academic establishment pillar, world renowned chemist and former Oxford don Peter Atkins. Birnbaum championed Potential; Atkins championed Randomness/Decay.
As regards the classic Theodicy (problem of Evil), Birnbaum places Potential at the core of the Divine. Potential is axiomatic. The Divine cannot contravene its own essence – of Potential. And since Freedom – Man’s freedom – is inextricably tied to Potential – the Divine cannot intrude on Man’s freedom – for to do so would be akin to cosmic suicide. There have been philosophers over the centuries who have ‘solved’ Theodicy by postulating that all-powerful God elects not to intervene in Man’s Freedom in order to yield man fullest possible Potential. Birnbaum’s crucial pivot here – as a consequence of his Potential theme – is that the Divine – whose very core is Infinite Divine Potential – is not truly able to intervene in Man’s Freedom.
Concerned about potentially being excommunicated – a la’ Spinoza – by the Jewish religious “right wing” for divergence from the Jewish philosophical Orthodoxy, Birnbaum braced his family. But the Jewish “right wing” felt his intentions were noble, his approach respectful, his scholarship impeccable – and his propositions elegant enough – and held-their-fire. As Birnbaum held-his-breath. Twenty-five years later he has emerged as editor-in-chief of the now-underway landmark 10-volume Mesorah Matrix series on Jewish spirituality, which has 140+ global Jewish thought leaders signed-up as essayists. (See www.MesorahMatrix.com) from across the Jewish spectrum. The first two volumes are expected-out in 2014.
As noted, at the future-end of the inter-related series of classic philosophical/scientific questions lies the ‘purpose of the universe’ question – known as the question of Teleology. Birnbaum layers his key theme of Potential right through it: The universe seeks to optimize its potential. The universe is, indeed, a Cosmic Womb of Potential. It ultimately seeks what Birnbaum calls extraordinariation. Birnbaum’s hypothesis dovetails with the work of contemporary NYU Professor of Law and Philosophy Thomas Nagel. In his controversial 2012 work Man and Cosmos, Nagel argues that the current “entrenched orthodoxy” in the scientific/philosophical community does not and cannot account for the evolvement of life, consciousness, and altruism, among other matters, and that consequently a teleology is needed.
Birnbaum elegantly lances all the key philosophical issues with one simple, yet sophisticated, theme: Quest for Potential. With regards the heavily-reviewed Summa I, the iconic paradigm arbiter Louis Dupré, retired Sterling Professor of Philosophy at Yale, has called the theory “original, promising… and a unified metaphysics”. Paul Mendes-Flour, Professor of Philosophy at Hebrew University – and editor of a multi-volume encyclopedia on philosophy – has called it “a remarkable effort to offer a fresh approach”. John J. Collins, Professor of Theology at Notre Dame called it a “new synthesis... a fascinating approach to the philosophy of religion which merits the attention of Christians and Jews alike.”
Deploying just one center-piece theme – Potential – Birnbaum enshrines his childhood quest in his 2-volume masterwork Summa Metaphysica. It stands alone – potentially elegantly unifying three great fields.
But by writing and launching his paradigm-challenge (see ParadigmChallenge) Birnbaum has also challenged a powerful status quo, a deeply-entrenched academic hierarchy – with has deep vested interests in de-legitimizing any challenge to its intellectual monopoly. This is an establishment which is aggressively protective of its turf. The entrenched academic establishment has a deep stake in the old paradigm – The credibility of their books and lecture series are all at-stake. Quest for ultimate truth does not necessarily top all of their agendas. Birnbaum has launched a major intellectual challenge to this ‘entrenched orthodoxy.’ A global intellectual and political war has begun. It promises to be fascinating – and brutal. It may span the 21st Century.
focus: David Birnbaum's Potentialism Theory
Cosmology, Metaphysics & Philosophy: See sample testimonial on Summa Metaphysica, David Birnbaum's philosophy treatise:
"Birnbaum wrestles with the problem of evil from a Jewish perspective, but provides fresh insights for Christians as well. This is a good book, written in a faith, and with honesty and passion."
- THEOLOGICAL STUDIES, Georgetown University