by William Johnson,
Professor Emeritus of Philosophy
â€œWhy is Birnbaumâ€™s paradigm uniquely different from
all pre-existing paradigms?â€
Compare three-and-a-half-thousand-year-old Jewish philosophy to a majestic oak tree: roots, trunk, large branches, smaller branches and then leaves. Then figuratively, many of the daring medieval (Golden Age) Jewish philosophers often dealt with the trunk and the major branches, while many modern Jewish philosophers often deal with some of the branches, some larger, some smaller, and some of the interesting leaves. The Kabbalists often dealt with the roots, but generally from an acutely mystical, esoteric, and generally, obscure fashion.
Birnbaum maintains that the structural weaknesses in existing philosophical constructs, leave one no choice but to go after the major root. That if one gets a handle on the major root, one gets-a-handle not only on the major root system, and not only on the entire tree, but, indeed, on the entire forest. That is, one will have in-hand the hitherto elusive key to the gate of the mythical metaphysical forest.
Birnbaum, whose works are rooted partially in Lurianic Kabbalah, goes for the root of the roots â€“ the tap root â€“ and in a nonâ€“mystical fashion. As a Master Diamond Cleaver might attempt to cleave an extraordinary and large rough diamond with one deft tap, so too Birnbaum proposes to crack-the-cosmic-code with one deft dynamic.
Birnbaum the conceptual theorist searched for a unique, transcendent dynamic which might, on-the-one-hand, almost by definition, be Eternal, and which, on-the-other-hand, could possibly be infinitely dynamic. He conceptualizes a candidate: Potential/Possibility. Then Birnbaum asks himself if that dynamic â€“ multiplied infinite-fold â€“ could possibly achieve the necessary â€˜tractionâ€™ to ignite and then propel a cosmos? He emerges with Quest for Potentialâˆž (recursive to the infinite power).
Birnbaumâ€™s approach and solution lies on the fault-line between Western and Eastern philosophy. Birnbaum avoids both classic Western linearity, as well as classic Eastern circularity in his formulation. However he will employ demanding Western Aristotelian deductive reasoning â€“ as well as a plethora of Eastern concepts of complementarity.
Dealing in the realms of the infinite, Birnbaum in Book #1 brings-to-bear his original concepts of INFINITY-POTENTIAL, RECURSIVENESS-POTENTIAL and leveragedâ€“ RETROACTIVITY-POTENTIAL, all in fashions certainly not employed previously in metaphysics or philosophy. He crafts his metaphysics methodically and very carefully anchored, while keeping a careful eye on the outer boundaries of Jewish theological tradition and doctrine.
Moving to fill-out his overarching metaphysics, Birnbaum in Book #2 will daringly conceptualize and propose a series of sophisticated â€˜cosmic metaphysical toolsâ€™. The approach â€“ as well as the arsenal of â€˜toolsâ€™ â€“ is original and powerful. In combination with Quest for Potentialâˆž, these â€˜toolsâ€™ drive the cosmic engine of Quest for Potentialâˆž.
In Book #2, one of the key tools Birnbaum introduces is â€˜Extraordinariationâ€™. Coupled with â€˜Quest for Potentialâˆžâ€™, this original concept will be employed by the author along with his core proposition, as a daring philosophical 1-2 punch.
The series of â€˜cosmic toolsâ€™ â€“ employed in combination with the above-noted three particular â€˜realm-of-the-infinite conceptsâ€™ â€“ merged with yeshiva scholar Birnbaumâ€™s re-engineering of historical Lurianic and Hasidic concepts â€“ net him his unified, overarching metaphysics. Deftly employing his key components, he sculpts his metaphysical diamond key â€“ which he will use to â€œunlock-the-cosmic-lockâ€ to the metaphysical â€œGates of the Forestâ€.
Bringing to bear a repertoire of scholarship and a wide gamut of skills, conceptual theorist Birnbaum â€“ whose Book #1 I have assigned to Masters Degree candidates at Brandeis in Advanced Religious Philosophy in the â€˜90s â€“ methodically builds his carefully constructed case. Resolutely stalking-his-quarry, the author surrounds and entraps it in one conceptual net after another.
In Book #1, God and Evil, Birnbaum does so from a Theological-Academic-Philosophical-Metaphysical perspective (encapsulated in his section 99.00 Unified Formulation in that book).
In Book #2 Birnbaum constructs his case first within a Metaphysical â€“ Philosophical construct (â€œThe Cosmic Womb of Potentialâ€). Moving into Section 2 of the second book, he builds his case within a Poetic-Mythical perspective (â€œGodâ€™s 120 Guardian Angelsâ€) and then, finally, moving into the final section of the second book, (â€œThe Lost Manualâ€) Section 3 of God and Good, he builds his case within a Holistic-Self-Actualization-Wisdom book construct.
Yeshiva Dov Revelâ€™s inquiring-mind student in the late â€˜50s, Birnbaum in 2006 believes that the elusive quarry is now finally trapped and cornered. â€˜Forged-in-intellectual-fireâ€™ under the multi-year tutelage of his rebbe and mentor â€“ Yeshiva Universityâ€™s legendary Rav Shmuel Scheinberg â€“ yeshiva-educated Birnbaum believes he has not only firmly anchored his work meticulously in the Torah itself, but has erected fairly impregnable theological shields via the works of Rashi, Ibn Daud, Luria and Abraham Isaac Kook, in particular, to protect his Right flanks. Simultaneously, Harvard grad Birnbaum believes he has the Aristotelian camp and St. Thomas Aquinas intellectually at-bay on his Left flanks. He anticipates, probably correctly, that the Eastern philosophical camps will grant him â€˜safe passageâ€™. 18 years after the publication of God and Evil (1988) he is â€œgood-to-goâ€ for his long-awaited final assault on the â€˜throne roomâ€™ of the Cosmic Code.
Birnbaumâ€™s works are dressed in establishment Aristotelian-style garb; but their soul is Lurianic. This unusual duality compounds the power of his works.
Modern-day Kabbalists are highly likely to be simpatico to his treatise: After 450 years on the very periphery of mainstream philosophy, Kabbalist Luriaâ€™s ostensibly mystical 16th century En Sof is re-engineered by the author, and is now enshrined as a metaphysical centerpiece-anchor of Birnbaumâ€™s formidable 21st century major opus, Summa Metaphysica.
According to the Author, only â€˜possibilityâ€™â€“ or its first-cousin â€˜potentialityâ€™ â€“ could have existed eternally.
â€œBY DEFINITIONâ€, according to the Author.
This is key â€“ because, aside from the elegance and power of the SUMMA formulation, â€œBY DEFINITIONâ€ is what may very well render this construct quite uniquely â€œbullet-proofâ€, and further secure its position in the pantheon of philosophy. By definition, according to the Author, only â€œEheyehâ€ â€“ â€˜possibility/potentialityâ€™ (Eheyeh Asher Eheyeh â€“ I WILL BE THAT WHICH I WILL BE) â€“ Luriaâ€™s â€œEn Sofâ€ â€“ can be eternal.
According to Birnbaum, METAPHYSICAL POTENTIALSâ€“in parallel to Luriaâ€™s sefirot, Rashiâ€™s angelsâ€“are the offspring. Our cosmos, in turn, is a latter-level reality-morphing of the same transcendent metaphysical dynamic. Philosophically and theologically elegant. As these esoteric matters go, Birnbaumâ€™s formulation â€œkeeps it simpleâ€ â€“ and straightforward enough.
Birnbaumâ€™s Quest for Potentialâˆž (recursive to the infinite power), after Luriaâ€™s En Sof, is the turbo-charged version of â€˜potential/possibilityâ€™. And everything, absolutely everything according to the Authorâ€™s hypothesis, is both part of â€“ and driven by â€“ this one overarching sui generis transcendent dynamic. (The Baal Shem Tov, founder of Hassidism, would certainly smile.)
Simply put, Birnbaumâ€™s Summa Metaphysica proposition attempts to totally overhaul the way the world â€“ East and West â€“ looks at â€“ absolutely everything. Everything.
His proposed paradigm endeavors to totally change the contours and boundaries of, among other fields, Philosophy, Metaphysics, Cosmology, Cosmogony, Physics and Biology, for starters.
As of this November, 2006, Birnbaumâ€™s key proposition of â€œEheyehâ€ â€“ Holy Quest for Potentialâˆž (recursive to the Infinite power) â€“ and the Unified Formulation meticulously articulated therein â€“ will have withstood 18 years of international scrutiny since the publication of God and Evil by KTAV in November 1988.
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