"There is always a philosophy for lack of courage."—Albert Camus

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Intuition In Tuition

It occurred to me that the following excerpt might be of interest. The writing is mine (as I have permission to reveal) but the book's author is Guillermo Sostchin, a prominent Cuban-Jewish attorney here in Miami. The larger opus comprises his analyses of Biblical passages and themes. This particular selection is an essay dealing with an aspect of the story of Noah's Ark.

And Noah entered, along with his sons and his wife and their wives, into the Ark, away from the (advancing) waters of the Flood.
From the pure animals and from the animals that are not pure and from the birds and all that crawls upon the ground, two at a time they came to Noah to the Ark, male and female, as the Lord commanded to Noah. (Genesis 7:7-9)

Away from the (advancing) waters of the flood. Noah, too, was of little faith, alternating between believing and not believing that the Flood was coming, so he did not enter the Ark until the waters were pressuring him. They came to Noah. On their own. (Rashi)

The Bible is drawing our attention to a fascinating contrast between the human response to the impending Flood and the animal reaction. The animals came of their own accord, indicating that they had some instinctive sense of the impending doom and knew to seek out some form of refuge. (Of course, many more than two would have shared the instinct to find a way out, but only two were given the extra sense that the Ark being built on a particular man’s property held the key to survival.)
Human beings, on the other hand, do not seem to have sensed that anything was amiss. Noah had a prophecy, which he in turn relayed to others. All of his neighbors dismissed his warnings as sheerest fantasy.
Even he, as Rashi deduces from the text, had difficulty achieving a full acceptance of this idea which ran so radically counter to the human perception that the world was very solid and durable. Only the actual beginnings of a powerful storm convinced him thoroughly of the literal accuracy of the prophecy.
This, despite his accepting the message from G-d, communicating it to others and even putting into action the instruction to build an ark to specifications.
Indeed we saw this phenomenon confirmed in our own day, when a great tsunami struck Indonesia and Thailand. Many people were killed while lounging casually on the beaches. When the authorities arrived, looking for survivors to evacuate and bodies to bury, they were amazed to find that although almost two hundred thousand people had perished, not a single denizen of the animal kingdom had lost its life.
Zero: not one animal had died as a result of the tsunami. Clearly, they had been aware in advance that it was on its way and they had been able to find their way to the safety of the higher elevations.
Why is it that animals are more responsive to portents of danger than humans; why would mankind find this message so difficult to process?

It seems to me that the Bible (and Nature, in its recent rumblings) is trying to show us the proof against the notion that human beings might have evolved from animals in some manner that was not guided by a Divine intelligence.
Had there been a process that was random and achieved simply by nature taking its own course, there would have been a bridge that links the consciousness of animals and humans. There could not be a total shift from one system of processing environmental data to another without the slightest vestige remaining from the first system.
Instead, we see that animals respond to a network of instinctual stimuli alerting them to ripples in the tranquility of Nature. Humans, however, have no access to this data bank. They can only process information by importation through the five senses followed by an intellectual examination and deliberation.
Therefore, an animal senses a Flood by instinct; he immediately heads toward safety. A person, even a good person, even one who has been informed by prophetic means, finds it difficult to perceive danger through the intellect when the planet sits peaceful and solid beneath his feet.


James Elliott said...

Ever had a premonition, one that said to you, "I shouldn't be here," and heeding it, you left somewhere where something bad happened a little while later? Ever had a feeling of deja vu? Perhaps that's the bridge you're talking about. Perhaps, as Paul Bloom has argued, our inherent, biologically encoded mind/body barrier - a physiological Cartesian duality - prevents us from acting in tune with our sense, which are not as keen as animals. There are lots of possibilities, Jay. I think you're indulging in the proven human flaw of finding agency where none exists.

Hunter Baker said...

I think it's wicked cool. Thanks for this interesting take on the flood and its sequelae.

JC said...

I hate to do this, but I think the Biblical quote was taken out of context. Had the author read verse 10, he would have observed that the passage suggests Noah & co. entered the ark a full week before the flood started, right when God ordered him to.

1 The LORD then said to Noah, " [...]
4 Seven days from now I will send rain on the earth for forty days and forty nights, and I will wipe from the face of the earth every living creature I have made."
7 And Noah and his sons and his wife and his sons' wives entered the ark to escape the waters of the flood. 8 Pairs of clean and unclean animals, of birds and of all creatures that move along the ground, 9 male and female, came to Noah and entered the ark, as God had commanded Noah. 10 And after the seven days the floodwaters came on the earth.


Of course, this has nothing to do with the tsunami example.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Jay, I was musing over Genesis, and that when man chose knowledge and will over happiness, he turned his back on instinct.

It seems he's been trying to get back to the Garden ever since, but there is no going back once he's seen Gay Paree.

Jay D. Homnick said...

If you note, it says that they entered the ark to "escape the waters of the flood". This is interpreted by the Jewish tradition, as explicated by Rashi (1035-1105) in the above citation, to mean that he did not enter until it started really raining powerfully and he had to escape.

When it says later that after seven days the floodwaters were "upon the earth", this is understood to mean that the rain finished and the earth was entirely flooded.

I notice that your translation says that after seven days the floodwaters "came" on the earth. This translation can hardly be defended linguistically; the Hebrew word there is "ha'yu", which means "were upon".

Jay D. Homnick said...

Incidentally, James, to corroborate your point, the Talmud says in two places that if you have a premonition of danger, you should walk away from that spot.

The expression it uses to explain how you are receiving the warning: "Even though you can't see, your guardian angel can see..."

JC said...

Translations and traditions aside, I think one could interpret the passage either way. However, let's not forget that Noah already spent years and years building the ark in a civilization that had never heard of rain, much less flooding. How can we say his faith was weak (for [possibly] waiting an extra 7 days to get in the ark) when he has devoted a good chunk of his life to the project? He didn't take the prophecy "literally" but he went to all the trouble of building a literal, gigantic floating ark?

Personally I find it hard to buy that interpretation of the passage.

Jay D. Homnick said...

Yes, we were always taught this as young children as a lesson to how much resistance there is in human psychology to the idea of really deserving punishment. Even this man who was willing to put in all this work based on a prophecy was still engaging in some wishful thinking and dragging his feet.

But where did you get this idea that there was no rain before the Flood? Of course there was. How else did things grow?

Matt Huisman said...

But where did you get this idea that there was no rain before the Flood? Of course there was. How else did things grow?

This is an interesting one - I've heard about this before, but have never heard anything definitive. I think that Genesis 2 talks about God not yet sending rain, and later on the idea that springs watered the earth is mentioned. The kicker is that the rainbow had not been revealed until that point.