I just watched a rather generalist American documentary on the history of the Jewish spiritual, mystical tradition of Kabbalah the other evening and was struck by one of its central tenets: that God made the world by using the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet (according to the Sefer Yetzirah). It’s easy to dismiss this as flowery, grandiose religious prose, but I started to imagine how that concept might be taken literally.
Literally, the human genome is made up of DNA sequences encoded within the 23 chromosome pairs in cell nuclei and in a DNA molecule found in individual mitochondria. Literally, combinations of the letters A, C, G and T create different characteristics in humans. The ACGT is of course not completely analogous to the Hebrew alphabet but it’s interesting that at the base root of humans is this code; and at the base root of creation according to Kabbalah, is this encoded alphabet.
The fact that, as humans have further evolved, we have become more aware of coding and it’s become more enmeshed in our lives in the form of html, CSS, Java and so on, is interesting. I don’t maintain that human beings have necessarily spiritually progressed alongside this human technical progress but perhaps we’re onto something without being fully conscious of it. It’s possible that we are getting closer to understanding not just our biological makeup but also to connecting this to some ancient spiritual truths.
We may well be unconsciously drawn to this language because it speaks to ‘who we are.’ And it’s perhaps no coincidence that at this time — when the Human Genome Project has been completed and round one of the Large Hadron Collider’s (LHC) particle smashing experiment has successfully culminated — we are also at the frontier of developing artificial intelligence.
This latter fact makes me — and folks like Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking — extremely nervous, for good reason (as does the LHC for yours truly). However, now I’m wondering if even this potentially childlike play at AI is not part of the greater ‘plan.’
I say ‘childlike’ because my position is that as humans we barely understand ourselves or one another so maybe we should work on that before ushering in an age of AI with murky morals and flimsy regulatory hurdles. Interestingly, some Kabbalah teachings indicate that the proverbial Adam was not banished from the Garden of Eden — rather he banished himself by turning his back on the spiritual component of his life (poetically coincidentally when he bit into the apple — the very same symbol of tech titan Apple computers).
But it could be that AI, along with the coding culture we’re so embroiled in, are the keys to understanding this — at least on a rational level. I still however believe that experience (meditation, awakening, epiphany, psychedelic messages, synchronicities, etc.) is more vital to this understanding than intellectual identification and reasoning.
I had not long ago — erroneously — moved away from my study of Kabbalah, viewing it as a spirituality based too much on tech, which for me was so definite and substantial as to miss the boat when it came to the nebulous, messy moments of reckoning that happen frequently in other spiritual practices. Something about its definitiveness and obsession with letters made me uncomfortable. However, after having viewed the aforementioned documentary, I understand that my perception of Kabbalah was based on the pop-spiritual Western-friendly interpretation put forth by Rabbi Berg and his Kabbalah Centre empire. I had never sought this out specifically but when I lived in LA, a Berber friend of mine introduced me to it (the Berg way).
In tandem with our own intricate and deeply rooted origins, Kabbalah is obviously replete with layer upon layer of code and requires time and patience to understand. It’s not an instant flash of obsessive mania like it was for the 1666 false prophet Sabbatai Zevi. He sold his soul in exchange for not being beheaded by a Muslim sultan; Zevi, basically under duress, converted to Islam disillusioning his followers at the time. History shows that Zevi was manic depressive — not a good mix with Kabbalah, which can conceivably cause extreme and unwanted results for those who are spiritually imbalanced (imagine the results for a bi-polar person such as Zevi).
In any case, after watching this doc, I am even more curious about Kabbalah and will attempt to unearth and devour its reputable tomes — not the modern pop psychology I’ve been spoon-fed — in hopes of connecting our coded present with humanity’s coded past.