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EdenI and Thou

Lorin Friesen, April 2016

Martin Buber was a Jewish philosopher and Zionist who lived from 1878 to 1965. He wrote I and Thou in German in 1923, and this essay will be quoting from the 1937 English translation by Ronald Gregor Smith. The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Martin Buber says that “the language is overly obscure and romantic, so that there is a risk that the reader will be aesthetically swept along into thinking the text is more profound than it actually is.” And the introduction to Smith’s translation agrees that “I and Thou is indeed a poem” (p.xii). I do not know how romantic the original German text is (German writing often combines technical description and romantic poetry in a way that one seldom encounters in English). However, I found the English translation to be not a poem, but rather an accurate (though florid) description of mystical thought as well as a careful attempt to repackage mysticism in a form that is compatible with scientific thought and which does not require turning one’s back upon physical reality. The book is only 120 pages long, but almost every sentence contains meaningful content.

I and Thou could be summarized as follows:

1) The meaningless and futility of modern secular existence is described.

2) A modified form of mysticism is presented that is capable of coexisting with physical reality and scientific thought.

3) This modified version of mysticism is shown to be superior to the mysticism of Buddhism.

4) This modified mysticism is used to bring a sense of meaning and purpose to secular existence.

Buber makes a number of insightful statements when describing the inadequacy of current Western civilization and also when examining what it means to apply a theory to personal existence.

Buber also tries to present the combination of modified mysticism and rational existence as an integrated package. However, because two incompatible ways of thought are being juxtaposed, the integration is not seamless and one can see where these two are being ‘bolted together’.

Buber’s model can be summarized by the following diagram:

Existence can be subdivided into the two realms of I-Thou and I-It. Scientific thought, modern Western society, and the physical world with its objects, all belong to the rational world of I-It. But there is also a realm of I-Thou which is characterized by relation. Both art and interaction with people can temporarily transcend the objective realm of I-It and enter the relational realm of I-Thou. In normal human existence, one continually moves between these two realms of I-It and I-Thou, indicated by the two-headed arrow bridging these two realms. God, in contrast, is the ‘Eternal Thou’, a God of mysticism who inhabits only the realm of I-Thou. Whenever one has an I-Thou relation with some person or expression of art, then this provides a glimpse of the Eternal Thou of God, which is indicated by the arrow pointing from I-Thou to Eternal Thou.

I should point out that I am violating the spirit of Buber’s model by presenting it as a diagram with lines and arrows, because this kind of visual representation belongs to the realm of I-It, which according to Buber, is not the highest form of thought. However, this diagram is an accurate depiction of the relationships that Buber describes in I and Thou. This illustrates the inherent contradiction of I and Thou, because it is an accurate description of something that is not supposed to be described accurately.


One of the basic premises of mysticism is that one must go ‘beyond’ rational thought to have a mystical experience and that analyzing a mystical experience makes it more difficult to repeat that experience. (Buber does not like to call the mystical encounter an ‘experience’ because the label ‘experience’ implies the factual realm of I-It.) This tension between mystical experience and rational analysis lies at the heart of Buber’s philosophy. As was mentioned, he uses the phrase I-Thou to describe the mystical encounter and I-It to refer to rational thought. Buber describes the free man as one who “knows that his mortal life swings by nature between Thou and It, and he is aware of the significance of this. It suffices him to be able to cross again and again the threshold of the holy place wherein he was not able to remain; the very fact that he must leave it again and again is inwardly bound up for him with the meaning and character of his life” (p.52).

Buber’s book is divided into three parts. The first part describes the specific kind of mysticism that Buber follows. This is an unusual form of mysticism that I have not encountered before, but it still achieves the mystical experience by following the same cognitive steps that are taken by all forms of mysticism. (The general thinking behind mysticism is described in another essay as well as in chapter 6 of Natural Cognitive Theology.)

Summarizing briefly, the mind generates emotions in one of two different ways. Mercy thought attaches emotional labels to memories of experiences. Mercy thought acquires its initial content from physical experiences of pain and pleasure produced by the physical body. Teacher thought, which also generates emotions, functions in a totally different manner. The raw material for Teacher thought is not experiences but rather words. Teacher emotion is not a label that is attached to an experience but rather the result of order-within-complexity. When many items fit together in a simple manner, then Teacher thought feels good. When there is an exception to the general rule, then Teacher thought feels bad.

People are represented within the mind as collections of Mercy experiences. In contrast, the concept of a universal being emerges when a general Teacher theory is viewed in personal terms, which will happen when a sufficiently general theory applies to personal identity. This is described in more detail in the introduction to mental networks. What matters for this essay is the way in which a general theory is formed. Teacher thought does not function rationally. Instead, a general theory is formed by taking some specific statement, treating it as if it is general, and then seeing how long it survives. This is like taking some person off the street, making him king, and then seeing how good a job he does as monarch. Such an individual will retain his position as head of state either if he succeeds in bringing order to the realm or if he is prevented from hearing any bad news about his misrule.

Restating this in cognitive language, Teacher thought is emotionally driven to overgeneralize. Overgeneralization is a term from linguistics that describes the tendency of a child to apply rules of grammar universally before learning exceptions to the rule. For instance, the past tense is normally formed by adding -ed to the present tense. The child who overgeneralizes will say ‘I goed’ to school, and then learn that there is an exception to the general rule and that one must say instead that ‘I went’ to school. Notice that facts are the enemy of overgeneralization, because they provide exceptions to the general rule that limit the universality of this rule. For instance, if I say that ‘you always leave your bed unmade’, and if you made your bed yesterday, then this counterexample will limit the generality of my sweeping statement. (In contrast, facts are the friend of generalization when they extend a theory by providing connections to similar situations where this theory also applies.)

Thus, a successful scientific theory (like any general theory) is simply a monarch that has not yet been dethroned—a sweeping statement that has not yet been contradicted. I am not saying that science is irrational, but rather that science is a combination of rational technical thought and emotional generalization. A scientific theory or paradigm is a sweeping statement that has not yet been contradicted, supported by the emotions of Teacher thought. Rational technical thought is then used within a scientific paradigm to explore and test specific aspects of this theory. Thomas Kuhn describes these two aspects of scientific thought. Saying this more simply, a scientist is locally rational but not necessarily globally rational.

Putting these various pieces together, a general theory makes Teacher thought feel good; a universal theory makes Teacher thought feel very good. The easiest way to come up with a universal theory is to make a sweeping statement and then ignore any facts from Perceiver thought or sequences from Server thought that would limit the universality of this sweeping statement. This will naturally happen when one’s knowledge of facts and sequences is limited, which explains why a child naturally overgeneralizes rules of grammar.

I have suggested that a concept of God emerges when a general Teacher theory applies to personal identity. This will occur naturally when personal identity in Mercy thought identifies with overgeneralization in Teacher thought. This leads us to the two primary characteristics of mysticism: The first is total overgeneralization in Teacher thought in which one asserts in some manner that ‘all is one’ or ‘everything fits together’. The second is personal identification with this overgeneralization. Instead of merely stating that ‘all is one’, one has a personal encounter with universality. The end result is the feeling that one has personally encountered the universal.

Saying this another way, I am a specific person with personal feelings represented by a set of mental networks within Mercy thought (MMNs). A general theory leads to strong emotions in Teacher thought, and when a general theory continues to be used, it will be represented by a mental network within Teacher thought (a TMN). (If this is confusing, then please read the explanation on mental networks.) If one can create a universal theory in Teacher thought and connect this universal theory with personal identity in Mercy thought, then this will generate a very powerful emotional experience, which will feel as if one is having a personal encounter with universality. The goal of mysticism is not to prove that I am the same as the universe, but rather to juxtapose the emotion of feeling universality in Teacher thought with personal identity in Mercy thought so that I can feel as if I am one with the cosmos.

Three points need to be emphasized. First, this is not a trivial effect because entire religions have been built upon this cognitive foundation. Second, mysticism cannot survive a cognitive explanation, because it reduces the mystical experience from an encounter with universality to merely a quirk of mental programming. Third, what we have just discussed is not how I say mysticism works but rather how the mystic says mysticism works. I am simply using the theory of mental symmetry to interpret what mystics say about mysticism.

These same general principles can be found in Buber’s description of mysticism, which we will now examine.

Buber and Mysticism

Teacher thought works with words. Teacher thought forms a universal Teacher theory by taking a set of words and treating these words as a mental ‘emperor’ that rules over everything. The two general theories of Buber are the words I-It and I-Thou, which he refers to as primary words: “As experience, the world belongs the primary word I-It. The primary word I-Thou establishes the world of relation” (p.6).

Buber regards the primary word ‘Thou’ as the universal word—the ultimate emperor—that rules over everything else, including other general words: “In every sphere in its own way, through each process of becoming that is present to us we look out toward the fringe of the eternal Thou; in each we are aware of the breath from the eternal Thou; in each Thou we address the eternal Thou” (p.6). Notice the universal adjectives in this quote: every, each, and eternal. When such sweeping statements are made without explanation, then this is a sign of Teacher overgeneralization.

This universal word ‘Thou’ is then applied to personal identity: “The primary word I-Thou can only be spoken with the whole being. The primary word I-It can never be spoken with the whole being” (p.3). Notice how Buber is contrasting two sets of primary words or general theories. One is always spoken by ‘the whole being’ while the other is never. If a word is always spoken by the whole being then this word applies to all of personal existence.

Thus, one sees three fundamental elements of mysticism: First, ‘Thou’ is a universal statement that applies to all of existence, Second, this statement applies to personal identity because ‘I’ and ‘Thou’ are both personal pronouns. Third, personal identity is identifying with this statement because I-Thou is spoken with the whole being.

Buber emphasizes that I-Thou and I-It always occur as pairs: “There is no I taken in itself, but only the I of the primary word I-Thou and the I of the primary word I-It” (p.4). This combination of two terms describes one of Buber’s modifications of mysticism. Buber adds that saying these two primary words always includes personal identification: “The existence of I and the speaking of I are one and the same thing. When a primary word is spoken the speaker enters the word and takes his stand in it” (p.4).

Objective versus Subjective Thought

Perceiver thought by its very nature organizes Mercy experiences into objects and facts. Buber describes various kinds of mental organizing using the example of a tree: “I consider a tree... I can classify it in a species and study it as a type in its structure and mode of life... in all this the tree remains my object, occupies space and time, and has its nature and constitution” (p.7). According to Buber, this type of classification and object recognition lies at the core of I-It thinking.

Teacher overgeneralization is only possible if Perceiver facts do not get in the way. This means that I-Thou does not think in terms of objects: “If I face a human being as my Thou, and say the primary word I-Thou to him, he is not a thing among things, and does not consist of things. This human being is not he or she, bounded from every other he and she, a specific point in space and time within the net of the world... he is Thou and fills the heavens. This does not mean that nothing exists except himself. But all else lives in his light” (p.8).

Notice exactly what Buber is saying. Teacher thought likes to overgeneralize and make sweeping statements such as “You never make your bed!”, but Perceiver facts limit Teacher generalization by pointing out exceptions to the rule such as “But I made my bed yesterday.” We have seen that Buber regards I-Thou as a universal statement. Buber then prevents Perceiver thought from limiting Teacher overgeneralization by stating that I-Thou has nothing to do with any ‘specific point in space and time’. If I-Thou is independent of Perceiver facts about space and Server sequences about time, then Teacher thought is free to overgeneralize and say that ‘he is Thou and fills the heavens’. Buber adds that he is not trying to say that other people and objects do not exist. Instead, ‘all else lives in his light’. This describes how a general theory functions. Teacher thought takes some set of words and then regards everything else in the light of these words. These words then act as an ‘emperor’ that rules over other words. For instance, when one says of some person that ‘you never make your bed’, then one will regard that person’s bedroom and possibly that person’s character in the light of these words.

At this point a clarification needs to be made, because Buber is equating two concepts that are actually quite different. The first is an important cognitive principle while the second is a Teacher overgeneralization.

The first principle describes two different ways of viewing the same facts. We have looked at Buber’s tree illustration of thinking in terms of facts and objects. Buber adds that it is also possible “that in considering the tree I become bound up in relation to it. The tree is now no longer It. I have been seized by the power of exclusiveness. To effect this it is not necessary for me to give up any of the ways in which I consider the tree. There is nothing from which I would have to turn my eyes away in order to see, and no knowledge that I would have to forget. Rather is everything, picture and movement, species and type, law and number, indivisibly united in this event” (p.7). In other words, one can view the same tree from either a detailed object-oriented perspective, or from a holistic emotional perspective. A 2008 neurological paper by Rolls and Grabenhorst says that these two perspectives will activate different brain regions: “For an identical taste stimulus, paying attention to pleasantness activated some brain systems, and paying attention to intensity, which reflected the physical and not the affective properties of the stimulus, activated other brain systems” (p.229). Similarly, the Dreyfus model of skill acquisition contrasts the ‘competent’ individual who plans deliberately and formulates routines with the ‘expert’ who “transcends reliance on rules, guidelines, and maxims” and “has an intuitive grasp of situations based upon deep, tacit understanding.” Using the language of mental symmetry, the detailed approach uses technical thought, whereas the intuitive expert is being guided by mental networks. Therefore, the first principle is neurologically and psychologically significant.

The second principle involves jumping from rational thought to overgeneralization, which is totally different. With intuitive expertise, Perceiver facts and Server sequences are the friend of Teacher thought, while with overgeneralization, Perceiver facts and Server sequences are the enemy of Teacher thought. Equating these two is like saying that the expert is the same as the beginner. The expert knows a field so thoroughly that he is capable of evaluating an entire situation at a glance and behaving in a manner that appears effortless, while the beginner knows the field so poorly that he is incapable of looking beyond a glance or behaving in any planned manner.

Buber makes it clear that when he is talking about I-Thou, he is referring to overgeneralization without content: “What, then, do we experience of Thou? Just nothing. For we do not experience it. What, then, do we know of Thou? Just everything. For we know nothing isolated about it any more” (p.11). If one experiences nothing, then there is no content. But if one knows everything, then there is overgeneralization. And Buber emphasizes that Thou has nothing to do with Perceiver facts of space or Server sequences of time: “The world of It is set in the context of space and time. The world of Thou is not set in the context of either of these. Its context is in the Centre, where the extended lines of relations meet – in the eternal Thou” (p.100).

And Buber jumps in his book from an illustration of intuitive expertise to overgeneralization. On page 7 he gives the illustration of the tree and says that one can view a tree in a global intuitive manner. This describes the mindset of intuitive expertise. This is then directly followed by the statement that one can view a human being as a Thou “with no neighbor, and whole in himself, he is Thou and fills the heavens” (p.8).

Again, there is some truth to Buber’s statement, because mental networks impose their entire structure upon thought when they are triggered. Therefore, when one is guided intuitively by mental networks, then one can become so immersed in a situation that one is no longer aware of other situations or the passage of time. But this is purely a cognitive effect that has nothing to do with reality or with the nature of God. Jumping directly from a cognitive effect to the nature of God is an example of overgeneralization, and this kind of overgeneralization is an essential quality of mysticism because mysticism is based in Teacher overgeneralization.


Let us turn our attention now to relation, another key aspect of Buber’s mysticism. Buber points out that modern man lives in a society that separates between objective rational thought and subjective feeling: “Taking a stand in the shelter of the primary word of separation, which holds off the I and the It from one another, he has divided his life with his fellow-men into two tidily circled-off provinces, one of institutions and the other feelings – the province of It and the province of I” (p.43). This is an accurate description of what may be the most fundamental split of Western civilization. My previous project was analyzing the book of Revelation and it appears that the core theme of that book is integrating the split between objective and subjective that Buber describes.

Buber adds that “the separated It of institutions is an animated clod without soul, and the separated I of feelings is an uneasily fluttering soul-bird. Neither of them knows man” (p.44). In other words, one lacks heart while the other lack stability. Again I suggest that this is an accurate description of the problem.

Buber says that the solution to this problem lies in the I-Thou relation. Notice in the following quote how this relation is described as untouched by either Perceiver facts of space or Server sequences of time. Buber describes what happens “with the man to whom I say Thou. I do not meet with him at some time and place or other. I can set him in a particular time and place; I must continually do it: but I set only a He or a She, that is an It, no longer my Thou. So long as the heaven of Thou is spread out over me the winds of causality cower at my heels, and the whirlpool of fate stays its course. I do not experience the man to whom I say Thou. But I take my stand in relation to him, in the sanctity of the primary word. Only when I step out of it do I experience him once more. In the act of experience Thou is far away” (p.9). Summarizing, Buber recognizes that people exist in time and space within the objective domain of It. However, when one encounters another person, than it is possible temporarily to have a relation that transcends It and enters the realm of the Thou.

Notice the similarity between the I-Thou of the mystical encounter and an I-Thou personal relation. The mystical encounter identifies personally in Mercy thought with overgeneralization in Teacher thought, while an I-Thou encounter with another finite human fills one’s whole being and ignores space and time. In such an encounter, nothing intrudes between I and Thou: “The relation to the Thou is direct. No system of ideas, no foreknowledge, and no fancy intervene between I and Thou... In face of the directness of the relation everything indirect becomes irrelevant” (p.12).

Buber emphasizes that the I-Thou encounter with another person does not occur within any structure or ‘system of ideas’. Instead, it occupies one’s full attention in the present to the extent that one is not even aware that the present is the present: “The present, and by that is meant not the point which indicates from time to time in our thought merely the conclusion of ‘finished’ time, the mere appearance of a termination which is fixed and held, but the real, filled present, exists only insofar as actual presentness, meeting, and relation exist. The present arises only in virtue of the fact that the Thou becomes present” (p.12).

As far as mysticism is concerned, Buber has done something rather amazing. Normally the mystic has to turn his back upon physical reality in order to experience the feeling of encountering universality, because the Perceiver facts and Server sequences of space and time prevent Teacher thought from overgeneralizing. But Buber has defined relation between one finite person and another as a cognitive doorway to a mystical encounter. If one interacts with another person in an emotionally direct manner that ignores facts and time and fills one’s complete attention, then this can feel like a mystical encounter. In other words, Buber is reversing the order of the combination of Teacher overgeneralization and personal identification. Mysticism normally starts with Teacher overgeneralization and then adds personal identification. Buber is starting by interacting directly with another person and then using Teacher overgeneralization to extend this personal interaction into a mystical encounter with the cosmos. Cognitively speaking, this is brilliant. The end result is to emotionally transform interpersonal interaction, causing Buber to conclude that “all real living is meeting” (p.11).

Buber describes this overgeneralizing from specific relation with another finite being to universal relation with the universal being of God: “The extended lines of relations meet in the eternal Thou. Every particular Thou is a glimpse through to the eternal Thou; by means of every particular Thou the primary word addresses the eternal Thou... the inborn Thou is realized in each relation and consummated in none. It is consummated only in the direct relation with the Thou that by its nature cannot become It. Men have addressed their eternal Thou with many names... but all God’s names are hallowed, for in them He is not merely spoken about, but also spoken to” (p.75). Summarizing, one can have a temporary I-Thou relationship with fellow humans, but it always turns back into an I-It relation. However, these human interactions point toward the I-Thou relation that one can have with God who is only I-Thou and not I-It.

Relation and Content

I suggest that Buber is saying the right thing for the wrong reason. Buber is using overgeneralization to jump from the rational realm of human relation to the mystical realm of divine encounter. My research led along the same progression, but it was guided by generalization rather than overgeneralization. One of the first things I realized when studying cognitive styles is that we are continually trying to turn others into copies of ourselves, because we assume that everyone thinks the same. We are deeply convinced that our way of thinking defines sanity and that the world’s problems would be solved if everyone thought more like we did.

When one realizes that people fall into different cognitive styles, then one can allow other people to be themselves and help others to be more complete versions of themselves. In the words of the biblical passage on cognitive styles: “I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith. For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another” (Rom. 12:3-5). Notice that this biblical passage, like Buber, says that interpersonal relationships find their unity in the universal person of God.

Similarly, what began as a study of how different cognitive styles think and interact eventually turned into a cognitive meta-theory that expressed itself as a powerful concept of God consistent with the God described by Christianity. But there was no leap of overgeneralization from vague human relation to contentless divine being. Instead, cognitive research gradually constructed a mental concept of God based upon observed character traits.

The key was making the transition from cognitive styles to cognitive modules. For instance, cognitive style says that there are Perceiver persons who naturally think in a certain manner. Cognitive module says that everyone has a Perceiver part in their mind and that the Perceiver person is conscious—or lives—in this Perceiver part. What led me to this conclusion was the empirical research of neurology, because one can see that Perceiver thought is being carried out by a specific system in the brain (right parietal cortex, right hippocampus, and right dorsolateral frontal cortex), and people have different cognitive styles but the same brain. This shift from cognitive style to cognitive module transformed my concept of relation, because my primary goal turned from pursuing a healthy relation with other persons to pursuing a healthy relation with other parts of my mind. This does not mean ignoring social relations, but rather recognizing that the way I treat a Perceiver person, for instance, will be largely determined by the way that I treat Perceiver thought within my mind.

Buber’s methodology is completely different. Buber says that relation leaves the object-oriented realm of I-It. In contrast, I learned about relation by using the object-oriented thinking of I-It. Buber says that real human relation abandons I-It and temporarily enters I-Thou. I have come to the conclusion that real human relation never abandons I-it but rather adds personal emotion to I-It. Buber says that God is only I-Thou and never I-It. In contrast, my stubborn clinging to the realm of I-It created a concept of God that is far more potent, meaningful—and Christian—than any vague feeling of deity that one gets through mysticism. And I am not saying this in some vague hand-waving manner. The concept of God that has formed within my mind has had sufficient emotional power to drive me to think and behave in a way that is independent of the stream of Western society, and this concept of God matches in detail the God described in the Bible. In contrast, Buber says that relation with God is so hand-waving that one cannot even speak of hands or of waving.

But Buber describes this beyond-hand-waving relation with God using precise words that are neurologically accurate. First, it leads to a vague feeling of relation: “there is the whole fullness of real mutual action, of the being raised and bound up in relation: the man can give no account at all of how the binding in relation is brought about, nor does it in any way lighten his life” (p.110). Notice that ‘man can give no account at all’. Second, it leads to a vague feeling of meaning: “meaning is assured. Nothing can any longer be meaningless... You do not know how to exhibit and define the meaning of life, you have no formula or picture for it, and yet it has more certitude for you than the perceptions of your senses” (p.110). Third, instead of motivating a person to walk in a direction that is different than current society, it motivates a person in a vague manner to continue with the status quo: “this meaning is not that of another life, but that of this life of ours, not one of the world yonder but that of this world of ours, and it desires its confirmation in this life and in relation with this world... It wishes to be borne by me into the world. But just as the meeting itself does not permit itself to be transmitted and made into knowledge generally current and admissible, so confirmation of it cannot be transmitted as a valid ought; it is not prescribed, it is not specified on any tablet, to be raised above all men’s heads” (p.111). These three elements of social interaction, self-image, and reflecting about goals all involve the same region of the brain: medial frontal cortex. Cognitively speaking, medial frontal cortex integrates mental networks, which reside within orbitofrontal cortex.

Notice the inherent contradiction in what Buber is saying. He is using technical thought to describe accurately and precisely the vague benefits that result from pursuing a God of mysticism. The philosopher reading this book sees the vague benefits and concludes that Buber is writing poetry. But this is not poetry. Instead, Buber is carefully describing what happens when one attempts to extend the Teacher overgeneralization of mysticism.

Because of this inherent contradiction, Buber says that one cannot search for God or study about God, because searching and studying use technical thought, which by its very nature threatens mysticism: “It is a finding without seeking, a discovering of the primal, of origin... God cannot be inferred in anything – in nature, say, as its author, or in history as its master, or in the subject as the self that is thought in it. Something else is not ‘given’ and God then elicited from it; but God is the Being that is directly, most nearly, and lastingly, over against us” (p.80).

Mental symmetry reads Buber’s book and sees precise description. However, viewing Buber’s mysticism as precise description destroys this mysticism because it moves it from the vague realm of I-Thou to the precise realm of I-It. But mental symmetry goes beyond ruining mysticism to providing a more lasting alternative based in cognitive modules and mental wholeness. That is because both Buber and mental symmetry agree that relation is key, and both agree that entering into relation provides glimpses of the nature of God.

Mental symmetry also agrees with Buber that relation with God goes beyond searching for or studying about God. But one goes beyond searching and studying not by abandoning content but rather by choosing to live emotionally and personally within the content that one has discovered. For instance, when I realized that my mind was composed of seven interacting cognitive modules, and that I as a Perceiver person was only conscious in one of them, I did not just regard this as an intellectual fact. Instead, I distinctly remember making a personal covenant with the other cognitive modules of my mind in which I promised that I would do my best to encourage them to develop and would try not to shut them down. In contrast, Buber assumes that one can only form a relation with God by shutting down Perceiver and Server thought—the very cognitive modules that think in terms of relations.

Helping God

Whenever a general theory that applies to personal identity is expanded, then there are two emotional benefits. The first benefit is for personal identity in Mercy thought, because it can feel the emotional glow of Teacher understanding in more circumstances. For instance, Buber’s modification of mysticism makes it possible to experience the emotional glow of mysticism in interpersonal relationships. The second benefit involves Teacher thought. I have mentioned that Teacher emotion comes from order-within-complexity. When more specific items fit within the same general package, then this leads to greater Teacher feelings of order-within-complexity.

Buber describes personal identity helping a concept of God: “You know always in your heart that you need God more than everything; but do you not know that God needs you – in the fullness of His eternity needs you?... You need God, in order to be – and God needs you, for the very meaning of your life... We know unshakably in our hearts that there is a becoming of the God that is. The world is not divine sport, it is divine destiny. There is divine meaning in the life of the world, of man, of human persons, of you and me” (p.82).

The idea that ‘God needs us’ is a profound statement that needs to be analyzed carefully. Christian theology teaches that God is an eternal being who is unchanging. Saying this cognitively, the general Teacher theory that represents God remains the same. Using theological language, God’s essential characteristics do not change. But Teacher emotion comes not from order but rather from order-within-complexity. Therefore, it is possible to increase the Teacher emotions associated with a universal theory by adding details to this theory. Finite existence can add Teacher pleasure to the universal theory of God’s character by increasing the number of details that express this theory—by fleshing it out. Theologically speaking, I suggest that this is how finite beings bring glory to an eternal God. Summarizing, God does not ‘need us’ in the sense that God is incomplete without finite beings. But God does need independent—yet cooperative—finite beings to add pleasure and depth to divine existence. Using a musical analogy, God wants finite beings who can add harmony to the divine symphony. Not the unison of blind obedience or the discord of rebellion, but the harmony of intelligent cooperation.

Buber, in contrast, bases his statement that ‘God needs us’ in emotional knowing: ‘you know always in your heart’, ‘we know unshakably in our hearts’. In emotional knowing, the potent emotions of some experience overwhelm Perceiver thought into believing something to be true. For instance, according to the words of one popular old Christian hymn, “You ask me how I know he lives? He lives within my heart.” In other words, feeling that is strong enough goes beyond feeling to knowing. I suggest that this is the mental mechanism behind blind faith. The person with blind faith believes because of some defining emotional experience, or because of great emotional respect for some source of truth. Buber does not rationally discuss the idea that God needs us but rather presents this as something that is emotionally obvious. That is because Buber is faced with a cognitive contradiction. How can one increase the generality of an overgeneralized theory that is already universal? One cannot add content to the theory because the very use of content limits overgeneralization by changing the domain from I-Thou to I-It. Using an analogy, if someone is being called emperor of the entire universe, then suggesting how this potentate can become more of an emperor implies that there are limitations to the extent of this potentate’s rule.

In contrast, mental symmetry suggests that finite beings can add depth to the concept of a universal God by thinking and behaving in a manner that is consistent with the universal character of God. Whenever a person behaves in a manner that is consistent with the nature of God, then this is known in theological language as a righteous act, and a person who acquires the character of naturally acting in a manner that is consistent with the nature of God is a person who is righteous. The process of becoming righteous is known in theological language as sanctification (Justification, in contrast, means being declared righteous by God. This is discussed further in another essay.) On the one hand, God does not need finite beings because the inherent qualities of the universal Teacher nature of God are already complete. But on the other hand, finite beings are capable of bringing extensive glory, honor, and pleasure to God because a universal theory becomes much richer when details are added to this theory. (This brings up the topic of divine sovereignty versus personal freedom, which is explored further in another essay.) I know a little bit what this feels like, because I have been following the same theory of mental symmetry since the mid-1980s. However, even though the basic structure of the theory has remained unchanged, it has developed in major ways over the decades as I continually discover new facets to the same general theory.

Notice the contrast between Buber’s methodology and the methodology used in this paragraph. Buber is basing his statement upon personal feelings and cannot make this statement directly for fear of triggering a mental contradiction. In contrast, I am basing this suggestion in the cognitive interaction between a concept of God and a concept of personal identity, I am pointing out that this leads to conclusions that are consistent in detail with the theology of the world’s largest religion, and I am then making the rational hypothesis that a real God exists who functions in a similar manner.

Relation and Rational Content

I have suggested that Buber makes a number of insightful comments—for inadequate reasons. This is not just a theoretical problem because the inadequate reasons end up having major repercussions. Let us examine some of these repercussions.

By placing relation under the umbrella of mysticism, Buber must regard interpersonal relations as ultimately free of logic and reason, because Teacher overgeneralization cannot survive mental content. Buber recognizes that “causality has an unlimited range in the world of It. Every ‘physical’ event that can be perceived by the senses, but also every ‘psychical’ event existing or discovered in self-experience is necessarily valid as being caused and as causing” (p.51). In other words, both the physical and the psychological realm are ruled inescapably by principles of cause-and-effect. However, Buber insists that this limitation does not apply to an I-Thou relation: “The unlimited reign of causality in the world of It, of fundamental importance for scientific ordering of nature, does not weigh heavily on man, who is not limited to the world of It, but can continually leave it for the world of relation. Here I and Thou freely confront one another in mutual effect that is neither connected with nor coloured by any causality” (p.51). Summarizing, Buber recognizes that the physical world is ruled by rational laws of natural cause-and-effect. But he insists that interpersonal relationship can escape laws of causality by entering the realm of I and Thou.

What I have discovered is precisely the opposite. No matter where I look, every form of interpersonal relationship seems to be guided inescapably by the same general principles of cognitive cause-and-effect. These principles apply to normal interaction between people, they explain compatibilities and conflicts that arise in marriages, they apply to theories of psychology, they throw light on social and cultural interaction, they can be used to analyze religious doctrines and concepts of God, they apply to the realms of the spiritual and the supernatural, and they can also be used to analyze the words of a mystic such as Buber.

As before, I suggest that Buber is equating two qualities that are in fact quite different. Buber wrote in 1923, before concepts such as theory of mind were developed. Theory of mind is one person trying to guess what another person is thinking, and it lies at the core of social interaction. Recent neurological research has discovered that theory of mind can be subdivided into a cognitive aspect, in which one tries to guess the content of what another person is thinking, and an affective aspect, in which one attempts to guess what another person is feeling. Therefore, when Buber talks about interacting with a person either as I-It or as I-Thou, he is discussing a legitimate psychological distinction. But one does not interact with an individual emotionally by abandoning factual content.

One can understand this better by looking at mental networks. When one encounters some person, then the mental network that represents that person will be triggered, and it will emotionally impose its structure upon the mind, predicting how that person will think and feel. This prediction is most accurate for family members and close friends. For instance, it is possible to accurately predict how one’s spouse will respond in a given situation because of the extensive interaction that occurs between husband and wife. This interaction provides the content that is required to make accurate predictions. When this content is missing, then the result is not a close relationship but rather a succession of cultural faux pas, because each person will be driven by internal mental networks to behave in a way that ignores or violates the mental networks of others.

When mental networks receive input that is compatible with their structure, then they function silently under the surface. A person becomes consciously aware of mental networks when they receive incompatible input. When two individuals know each other very well, then each will naturally behave in a manner that satisfies the likes and avoids the dislikes of the other. This will be experienced as a form of interaction that is effortless, emotionally satisfying, and living in the moment. In Buber’s language, it will feel like an I-Thou relationship.

But this kind of effortless, flowing interaction between individuals requires an underlying foundation of extensive knowledge about the other partner, while the mystical encounter requires a total absence of knowledge. These two may feel the same, but extensive knowledge is not the same as total ignorance. Buber is correct in stating that this kind of social interaction is not guided by the cause-and-effect thinking of technical thought. Instead, it is guided emotionally by mental networks. But mental networks imply the presence of content and not the absence of content.

Saying this more simply, Buber is right in saying that modern existence is fundamentally fragmented, both intellectually and personally. One needs to pursue relationship. But how can one pursue interpersonal relationship if one suppresses cognitive relationship? How can one build relationship upon a foundation of no relationship?


Placing social interaction under the umbrella of mysticism also has implications with regard to morality. One can learn and test rules of morality by looking for repeatable principles of cause-and-effect. For instance, one paper studied a number of adult individuals whose parents had divorced and concluded that “females from divorced compared to non-divorced families reported more psychological problems and more problems in their interpersonal relationships.” One discovers such principles by using Perceiver thought and Server thought to compare the experiences of one person with another in order to find common facts and sequences. This type of learning is not possible with Buber’s I-Thou relationships because every such relationship is regarded as exclusive: “Every real relation with a being or life in the world is exclusive. Its Thou is freed, steps forth, is single, and confronts you. It fills the heavens. This does not mean that nothing else exists; but all else lives in its light. As long as the presence of the relation continues, this its cosmic range is inviolable” (p.78). Notice what Buber is doing. As long as a personal encounter is regarded as an isolated interaction occurring within the present, it is possible to place personal relationships within the context of Teacher overgeneralization. But this also prevents the mind from learning moral lessons.

Instead, Buber defines morality in terms of total commitment. This is described vaguely in a passage on page 52 that is clarified in a later book: “Evil cannot be done with the whole soul; good can only be done with the whole soul. It is done when the soul’s rapture, proceeding from its highest forces, seizes upon all the forces and plunges them into the purging... fire, as into the mightiness of decision. Evil is lack of direction and what is done in it... The good is direction and what is done in it; that which is done and it is done with the whole soul, so that in fact all the vigor and passion with which evil might have been done is included in it” (Good and Evil, p.130).

Notice how good and evil are defined in terms of the Teacher overgeneralization of mysticism. If one can overgeneralize the moment, then one is pursuing good. But if some mental contradiction gets in the way of overgeneralization, then this defines evil. Let us look further at the relationship between morality and internal unity.

I suggest that it is possible to define morality in terms of mental wholeness. Stated simply, when all seven cognitive modules are functioning in an integrated manner, then this defines moral goodness. In contrast, whatever suppresses a cognitive module or brings conflict between cognitive modules can be defined as evil. For instance, mysticism is evil because it pursues Teacher emotion at the cost of shutting down Perceiver thought and Server thought. However, getting all seven cognitive modules to function together is not a straight-forward process. Instead, the path to mental wholeness leads through many stages of partial mental functioning. Thus, for instance, mysticism can temporarily play a positive role if life is fragmented into technical specializations—as it is today—and mysticism is used to search for an integrated Universal Being behind these various technical fragments.

However, defining morality in terms of mental wholeness presupposes mental content and structure. For instance, if I want Teacher thought to function properly in my mind, then I must know what Teacher thought requires to function properly. Stated simply, I can only aim at a target if I know what that target is. However, when one equates morality with the Teacher overgeneralization of mysticism, then one can only talk about wholeness in a hand-waving manner, and one can never define what it actually means to behave in a whole manner because precise definitions limit overgeneralization.

Buber defines moral goodness as the mind heading in a consistent direction. Quoting from the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, “Arguing that evil can never be done with the whole being, but only out of inner contradiction, Buber states that the lie or divided spirit is the specific evil that man has introduced into nature. Here ‘lie’ denotes a self that evades itself, as manifested not just in a gap between will and action, but more fundamentally, between will and will. Similarly, ‘truth’ is not possessed but is rather lived in the person who affirms his or her particular self by choosing direction.”

But Buber also says that no one can head in a consistent direction. Instead, every person is inherently internally divided: “No man is pure person and no man pure individuality. None is wholly real, and none wholly unreal. Every man lives in the twofold I” (p.65). However, instead of recognizing that this inherent internal divide indicates a lack of mental wholeness, Buber defines self-contradiction as the opposite of dialogue in the passage on page 69 that I found difficult to understand, which is explained by Shapira in a book on Buber: “Self-contradiction is the opposite of a life of dialogical relationship. Buber views dialogue as the essence of human existence. He defines it as man’s ‘destiny’ and the personal ‘way’ worthy of him. Buber’s dialogical thought is one of the main axes of his life work. It is even commonly presented as the center and essence of his views. His systematic work I and Thou, which is representative of his dialogical thought, contains a passage – just 13 lines long – that is devoted to self-contradiction” (Hope for Our Time, p.55).

As we have seen, dialogue is good. But what is Buber dialoguing between? Buber answers this in the beginning of this thirteen line passage: “What is self-contradiction? If a man does not represent the a priori of relation in his living with the world, if he does not work out and realise the inborn Thou on what meets it...” (p.70). The dialogue is occurring between ‘living with the world’ and ‘the inborn Thou’. But living with the world presupposes content, while the inborn Thou is based upon overgeneralization that rejects content. How can there be dialogue between two viewpoints that are fundamentally irreconcilable? Shapira asks the same question: “An existential split, with its roots in inner rifts, is embodied structurally and conceptually in Buber’s language through more than fifty years of creative activity... That inner duality is also implicit in remarks on the way ‘genuine poetry’ is born; he characterizes the ‘poet’ by saying that within his heart ‘a dialogue takes place between eternity and the moment,’ making possible ‘the coming into being of those very rare impulses which we see fit to call poems’... However, is this truly a dialogue, as Buber calls it? For, as he himself adds, only one of the two (necessary for weaving together a dialogue) is open and ready, the human side, whereas the other side, the divine one, is described as ‘impenetrable darkness.’”

Internalizing this sort of ‘relation’ leads not to dialogue but rather to self-contradiction, because self is attempting to embrace simultaneously two irreconcilable mindsets—two incompatible mental networks that are incapable of being made compatible because each is threatened by the very existence of the other.

Stepping back one level, when Buber defines self-contradiction as refusing to embrace this fundamental self-contradiction, then one is dealing with an even deeper form of self-contradiction at the meta-level, because Buber’s definition of self-contradiction is itself a form of self-contradiction.

We saw earlier when looking at cognitive modules that relation and dialogue are significant. But the dialogue that occurs with mental symmetry is fundamentally different than Buber’s dialogue between the world and Thou. While each cognitive module approaches existence in a different manner, it is still possible to function in a manner that simultaneously satisfies the requirements of all seven cognitive modules. When one is functioning in mental wholeness, then all seven cognitive modules are ‘happy’ at the same time. They may not all be always equally happy, but there is no need to satisfy one cognitive module at the expense of shutting down another. Going further, mental wholeness is symbiotic: each cognitive module naturally functions in a manner that helps other cognitive modules. This is totally different than Buber’s ‘dialogue’ between the world and Thou, which occurs between two ways of thinking that cannot be satisfied simultaneously, because one is built upon content while the other is threatened by content. When this is the case, then the only way to make one way of thinking happy is by shutting down the other.

Because these two ways of thinking cannot be satisfied simultaneously, the only form of ‘dialogue’ that can exist is moving between one way of thinking and the other: “This double movement, of estrangement from the primal Source... and of turning towards the primal Source... may be perceived as the metacosmical primal form that dwells in the world as a whole in its relation to that which is not the world-form whose twofold nature is represented among men by the twofold nature of their attitudes, their primary words, and their aspects of the world. Both parts of this movement develop, fraught with destiny, in time, and are compressed by grace in the timeless creation that is, incomprehensibly, at once emancipation and preservation, release and binding. Our knowledge of twofold nature is silent before the paradox of the primal mystery” (p.101). Summarizing, Buber says that one continually becomes estranged from the primal source of Thou by living within the rational world of I-It, and then one turns back to the primal source by embracing I-Thou. This split is ‘the meta-cosmical primal form’ which is reflected in a similar split in people’s attitudes, general theories, and relations. According to Buber, this split cannot be integrated unless one embraces paradox.

When one embraces a ‘twofold nature’, then, by definition, one is not heading in a single direction with one’s whole mind. This, according to Buber’s definition of morality, is immoral. Thus, it appears that according to Buber’s standard of morality, Buber’s version of Buddhism is fundamentally immoral—which is yet another form of self-contradiction. Buber would probably respond by saying that ‘our knowledge of twofold nature is silent before the paradox of a primal mystery’. But Buber is not silent. Instead, he wrote a book about ‘our knowledge of twofold nature’—composed of words with rational definitions, and he titled this book I-Thou, even though the primary message of the book is that one cannot make rational statements about I-Thou. This too is a form of self-contradiction. And when one embraces paradox, is this not just another form of self-contradiction?

However, paradoxes are easy to embrace when one pursues Teacher overgeneralization, because they ‘prove’ that Perceiver thought—which points out paradoxes—is fundamentally flawed. In fact, the more paradoxes, the better. This describes the method of Zen Buddhism, which discovers mysticism by embracing the paradox of the Zen koan. But embracing paradox destroys relation with Perceiver thought—the part of the mind that builds relationships, as well as relation with Perceiver persons, such as myself, who are conscious in Perceiver thought. And this is not just a theoretical problem, because I continually find people breaking off meaningful relationship with me as a person because I refuse to embrace paradox and mystery.


Judaism bases its morality in the law of Torah, which it says was revealed by God to Moses on Mount Sinai. Buber, in contrast, insists that there is no such thing as divine revelation because God is a mystery who remains a mystery: “As we reach the meeting with a simple Thou on our lips, so with the Thou on our lips we leave it and return to the world. That before which, in which, out of which, and into which we live, even the mystery, has remained what it was. It has become present to us and in its presentness has proclaimed itself to us as salvation; we have ‘known’ it, but we acquire no knowledge from it which might lessen or moderate its mysteriousness. We have come near to God, but not nearer to unveiling being or solving its riddle. We have felt release, but not discovered a ‘solution’... This is the eternal revelation that is present here and now. I know of no revelation and believe in none whose primal phenomena is not precisely this. I do not believe in a self-naming of God, a self-definition of God before men. The Word of revelation is I am that I am” (p.112).

Please take notice of what Buber is saying: God is unknowable. God will always remain unknowable. There is no such thing as a revelation of God to humanity. All that exists is a feeling of revelation and a sense of ‘knowing’. And this sense of knowing is strong enough for Buber to stand up to his ancestral religion and state categorically that ‘I do not believe’.

This describes what happens when a concept of God is based in Teacher overgeneralization. Overgeneralization cannot handle content. But identifying personally with Teacher overgeneralization will lead to the feeling that one has encountered God and this feeling will mesmerize Perceiver thought into ‘knowing’ that this experience defines ‘truth’. Stated simply, the mystic will not just say, “I had a transcendental experience.” Instead, he will say “I know that God is mystery”, and this sense of knowing will be emotionally supported by the TMN of the universal theory of oneness. But believing that the Moon is made of green cheese does not mean that the moon actually is made of green cheese. Neither does believing that God is a mystery mean that God actually is a mystery. Instead, one must use theory of mind to make an educated guess about the nature of God, just as one must use theory of mind to make an educated guess about the nature of every human individual.

Strong emotion leads to Exhorter drive. Therefore, the strong Teacher emotion of the mystical encounter will motivate the mystic to use abstract thought to analyze the mystical encounter, resulting in many educated words being written about nothingness. But writing many educated words about ignorance does not transform this ignorance into knowledge. Instead, it is like the person who responds by saying “I am speechless!” and then proceeds to verbally describe his speechlessness in great detail.

Compare this with what Paul says in Ephesians 3 about revelation and mystery: “by revelation there was made known to me the mystery, as I wrote before in brief. By referring to this, when you read you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit” (Eph. 3:3-5). In other words, there was a mystery but it has now been revealed. What was not known in the past is now known. This is not Teacher overgeneralization that abhors content but rather growing Teacher understanding based upon gradually revealed content.

Mysticism and Ignorance

Stated bluntly, I suggest that one should not associate mysticism with educated learning but rather with primitive and childish ignorance.

Buber agrees. First, he praises the speech and thinking of the ‘primitive’ person: “In the beginning is relation. Consider the speech of ‘primitive’ peoples, that is, of those that have a meager stock of objects, and whose life is built up within a narrow circle of acts highly charged with presentness. The nuclei of this speech, words in the form of sentences and original pre-grammatical structures... mostly indicate the wholeness of a relation. We say ‘far away’; the Zulu has for that a word which means, in our sentence form, ‘There where someone cries out: “O mother, I am lost”’” (p.18).

Buber praises primitive ignorance even though he knows that this was a time of extensive personal suffering: “But you believe then in the existence of paradise in the earliest days of mankind? Even if it was a hell – and certainly that time to which I can go back in historical thought was full of fury and anguish and torment and cruelty – at any rate it was not unreal. The relational experiences of man in earliest days were certainly not tame and pleasant. But rather force exercised on being that is really lived than shadowy solicitude for faceless numbers! From the former a way leads to God, from the latter only one to nothingness” (p.24). This bears repeating. Primitive existence was ‘a hell’ that was ‘full of fury and anguish and torment and cruelty’. But this hell-on-earth is better than scientific thought with its ‘shadowy solicitude for faceless numbers’ because it ‘leads to God’.

There is some truth to Buber’s statement, because Western society is technical and impersonal. It is characterized by a ‘shadowy solicitude for faceless numbers’. Primitive society, in contrast, did include the realm of the subjective. But the solution is not to glorify the Noble Savage. Instead, mental symmetry suggests that the childish MMNs of the primitive mind need to be torn apart and rebuilt upon a foundation of rational thought. Instead of taking away rational thought from faceless modern man, one needs to add transformed personal identity.

Second, Buber praises the ignorance of the human fetus in the womb: “The ante-natal life of the child is one of purely natural combination, bodily interaction and flowing from the one to the other... this connection has such a cosmic quality that the mythical saying of the Jews, ‘In the mother’s body man knows the universe, in birth he forgets it,’ reads like the imperfect decipherment of an inscription from earliest times... The yearning is for the cosmic connexion, with its true Thou, of this life that has burst forth into spirit” (p.25).

And yet Buber recognizes that both the human child and the primitive man are only partially awake: “Like primitive man the child lives between sleep and sleep (a great part of his waking hours is also sleep) in the flash and counter-flash of meeting” (p.26).

Notice again the inherent contradiction. Buber accurately points out that the mystical mindset emerges naturally within the primitive and childish mind. But Buber also insists that this primitive and childish thinking is more advanced than all of the rational theories of science, because he says that the mystical realm of the Eternal Thou is above the rational world of I-It. Buber must say this, because Teacher overgeneralization can only survive rational thought if it is regarded as more general than rational thought. This inherent contradiction is especially striking in the case of Buber, because he was an internationally respected educator who believed that the intuitive thinking of the child is wiser than the knowledge of the adult.

When education focuses only upon objective knowledge and scientific theories while ignoring, or even suppressing, the realm of the subjective, then the primitive child does possess a sense of relation that the typical adult has lost. Given this environment, mysticism can temporarily provide a positive benefit. But the ultimate solution is not to abandon knowledge for childish intuition but rather to express knowledge as adult wisdom.

Buber explains why he praises the ignorance of the primitive man. First, such a person does not think consciously in terms of cause-and-effect but instead views physical existence as a succession of unrelated experiences: “The ‘world-image’ of primitive man is magical not because human magical power is set in the midst of it but because this human power is only a particular variety of the general magic power from which all effective action is derived. Causality in his world-image is no unbroken sequence but an ever new flashing forth of power and moving out towards its production; it is a volcanic movement without continuity” (p.21). Second, the primitive mind has no concept of self but instead experiences existence intuitively, jumping from one disconnected experience to another led by physical impulses from the body: “Consciousness of the ‘I’ is not connected with the primitive sway of the instinct for self-preservation any more than with that of the other instincts. It is not the ‘I’ that wishes to propagate itself, but the body, that knows yet of no ‘I’. It is not the ‘I’ but the body that wishes to make things, a tool or a toy, that wishes to be a ‘creator’” (p.21). This type of primitive intuitive existence is regarded by Buber as an example of I-Thou: “The fundamental difference between the two primary words comes to light in the spiritual history of primitive man. Already in the original relational event he speaks the primary word I–Thou in a natural way that precedes what may be termed visualization of forms—that is, before he has recognized himself as I” (p.22).

Restating this in cognitive language, the primitive mind is not consciously aware of Server sequences of natural cause-and-effect and is also not consciously aware of Perceiver facts of self-image. This absence of Perceiver and Server thought makes it possible for Teacher thought to follow the mindset of mysticism and jump directly from specific personal Mercy experience to overgeneralized Teacher theory. But why can the primitive mind ignore natural cause-and-effect? Because the physical world is inescapably ruled by natural cause-and-effect—whether the primitive human mind recognizes this or not. And why can the primitive mind ignore self-image? Because the human mind is placed inescapably within the physical object of a physical body that exists within a specific location in physical reality—whether the primitive human mind recognizes this or not.

Saying this more simply, the primitive mind depends upon natural law and the physical body for its continued existence. Using the language of Buber, I-Thou can only exist within the primitive mind because this primitive mind is housed within a body and a world that are ruled by I-It. Because I-It is inescapably and inexorably in charge, the ignorant primitive mind can pretend that I-Thou is in charge.

This needs to be restated. Mysticism only works if Teacher overgeneralization is regarded as more general than rational thought. Therefore, Buber says that the I-Thou encounter is an expression of the Eternal Thou of mysticism. However, I suggest that the opposite is true. The I-Thou encounter is actually based upon the I-It of rational thought and not the eternal Thou of mysticism. Buber modified mysticism to include the rational realm of science and technology. We will now examine how science and technology is used to create I-Thou encounters.

Alternate Reality

The modern mind also uses an assumed environment ruled by I-It to pretend that I-Thou is in charge. This is illustrated by the virtual worlds of massively multiplayer online gaming. These games run on computers that belong utterly to the coldly rational realm of I-It. But a computer can run a program that simulates an alternate reality of make-believe, making it possible to become emotionally immersed in this virtual environment. For instance, as of November 2015, the online game World of Warcraft had over 5 million subscribers. And a virtual reality such as World of Warcraft can lead to precisely the kind of intense emotional immersion in the present that characterizes Buber’s I-Thou relation.

Buber distinguishes between the Eternal Thou that is based in mysticism and specific I-Thou encounters that provide a glimpse of the Eternal Thou. These I-Thou encounters have certain common traits: 1) One lives in the present and is not aware of the passage of time. 2) One is fully engrossed in the current situation with one’s whole being. 3) All of the various details of the current situation are grasped intuitively as a whole. 4) One interacts emotionally at a personal level. 5) One leaves the realm of objects and enters the realm of relation. 6) The current situation expands to become the universe. 7) One cannot live within I-Thou all of the time. Therefore, normal existence consists of living within I-It interspersed with occasional episodes of I-Thou.

These traits are all strongly present in online gaming. Anyone who has played these games knows that the hours slip by without notice. And the person who is engrossed in a game becomes oblivious to his surroundings. One no longer sees merely dots of light on a computer screen but rather an entire virtual world. Within this virtual world, one acquires an alternate personality, which is filled with other human beings who have also acquired alternate personalities, as well as by computer generated characters (NPCs) with whom one interacts at a relational level. This virtual world expands to become an entire miniature universe, with its own natural laws, history, religions, and culture. The extent of this influence can be seen in what is known as cosplay. Finally, life for the gamer consists of physical existence interspersed by episodes of exciting, alternate reality. Occasionally, online gamers attempt to live full-time within this alternate reality and end up literally dying.

Online gaming epitomizes the current level of immersive experience created through technology. The movie used to be the ultimate in immersive experience. For instance, urban legend has it that when a 50 second silent film clip of a train arriving at a station was first shown to an audience in 1896, “the audience was so overwhelmed by the moving image of a life-sized train coming directly at them that people screamed and ran to the back of the room.” And companies continue to create movie experiences that are more immersive than anything experienced before. The video game goes beyond the movie because in a game one can actively move through a world and interact within this world, while one can only watch a movie passively. The upcoming technology of virtual reality will take the immersive experience to the next level, filling the senses with an alternate reality that is controlled through natural physical movement. There are other forms of popular immersive experiences. For instance, the rock concert creates an immersive experience by overwhelming the concertgoer with sound and light, as opposed to the movie which creates an overwhelming experience of light and sound. These various forms of alternate reality all contain the characteristics of Buber’s I-Thou encounter, because they strive to immerse the individual within an alternate world that is larger than life. And if the reader wishes to see what it means to be immersed in an alternate world while ignoring reality, then please search YouTube for ‘texting while walking’.

Notice that all these versions of I-Thou encounter are enabled by the I-It realm of technology. Virtual reality is impossible without the relentless impersonal logic of computers. A rock concert would be impossible without the technology of sound amplification. And the experience becomes more immersive not by leaving the I-It of technology but rather by adding more technology. And yet Buber states that the I-Thou encounter provides a glimpse of the Teacher overgeneralization of mysticism.

This needs to be restated. Buber connects the I-Thou encounter with the Eternal Thou of a God who is incapable of having any connection with I-It: “Every particular Thou is a glimpse through to the eternal Thou... The inborn Thou is realized in each relation and consummated in none. It is consummated only in the direct relation with the Thou that by its nature cannot become It” (p.75).

Buber adds that one cannot seek the God of the eternal Thou and one cannot build an encounter with God upon any sort of content: “It is a finding without seeking, a discovery of the primal, of origin... God cannot be inferred in anything – in nature, say, as its author, or in history as its master, or in the subject as the self that is thought in it. Something else is not ‘given’ and God then elicited from it” (p.80). But that is precisely what happens with the modern I-Thou encounter. Technology is given and an I-Thou encounter that points to God is then elicited from this technology. And far from ‘finding without seeking’, modern man is continually seeking a more immersive I-Thou encounter through the finding of new technology.

Buber vs. Alternate Reality

One might respond that a glimpse of Buber’s God of the Eternal Thou provides far better benefits than the technologically enabled immersive experience. I suggest that this is not the case. We saw earlier the three benefits that Buber says a person receives from encountering God: First, there is relation. But “man can give no account at all of how the binding and relation is brought about, nor does it in any way lighten his life” (p.110). The person who immerses himself in some online game also receives a relation with some imaginary character in some virtual realm. Being a ‘high elf’ in the World of Warcraft does not ‘in any way lighten the life’ of the gamer, but at least the gamer can talk about what it means to be a high elf, whereas Buber is forced to talk around his encounter with the Eternal Thou. (The World of Warcraft wiki site currently has 104,059 pages, which is a lot of ‘talking about’.) Second, Buber says that there is meaning: “Meaning is assured. Nothing can any longer be meaningless” (p.110). But “the meaning itself does not permit itself to be transmitted and made into knowledge generally current and admissible” (p.111). Similarly, a player who is a level 103 high elf in the World of Warcraft has personal meaning, but this game meaning also ‘does not permit itself to be transmitted and made into knowledge generally current and admissible’ in the real world. However, at least the gamer can start a blog and talk about the personal meaning that he has in the World of Warcraft, while again Buber is forced to say nothing. Third, “this meaning is not that of ‘another life’, but that of this life of ours, not one of a world ‘yonder’ but that of this world of ours.” In contrast, the meaning that a player acquires in a game such as World of Warcraft is very definitely that of another life in a world yonder. But even though Buber’s meaning is all about this world, it does not provide any help for this world, Instead, “Just as the meaning itself does not permit itself to be transmitted and made into knowledge generally current admissible, so confirmation of it cannot be transmitted as a valid ought... the meeting that has been received can be proved true by each man only in the singleness of his being in the singleness of his life... that before which, in which, out of which, and into which we live, even the mystery, has remained what it was.” (p.111). What is the practical use—in this world—of an encounter with God if it provides no motivation to change one’s behavior, if it only touches a person privately and personally, and if it leads to no increase in knowledge?

It is true that online gaming immerses the player in an alternate reality that has nothing to do with real life. That is a very valid concern, but what is worse? Becoming addicted to an alternate reality with content or becoming addicted to a mindset of Teacher overgeneralization that abhors content? It is also true that online gaming often exalts primitive savage behavior. For instance, in the World of Warcraft one can currently choose to be one of the following classes of being: death Knight, Demon Hunter, Druid, Hunter, mage, monk, Paladin, Priest, rogue, Shaman, warlock, or warrior. This is also a valid concern. (I also played online gaming for a while, but I played Runescape, precisely because it is not as dark and savage as the alternatives.) But we have just seen that Buber also exalts the mindset of the primitive savage. Thus, if one compares the Buber’s mysticism with online gaming, gaming seems to come out the winner. I am not trying to promote online gaming. Rather, I am trying to show that it delivers the same emotional impact as Buber’s mysticism with less cognitive damage.

The solution, I suggest, is to replace alternate reality with simulation of possible reality. For instance, a person who is learning to fly an airplane will spend many hours in the virtual reality of an airplane cockpit simulator. Unlike alternate reality, living in computer-generated possible reality teaches lessons that can be applied to reality. (This aviation article examines some of the strengths and weaknesses of simulation training.)

Praise and Worship

One might complain that a discussion about online gaming has nothing to do with Buber’s realm of God and the Eternal Thou. However, I chose this ‘secular’ example to demonstrate that Buber is cheating. He says explicitly that God has nothing to do with the I-It world of content. But by using words such as God and spirit, Buber is implicitly taking advantage of the content that is associated with these religious terms. Using the word God triggers religious mental networks, allowing Buber to assume all the content that is associated with this word without explicitly acknowledging this content.

An implicit mental network becomes apparent when it experiences content that is inconsistent with its structure. When the I-Thou experience is described within the context of computer gaming, then this triggers a different set of implicit mental networks than the mental networks that are triggered when one uses the word God. But if God really is contentless, as Buber asserts, then it should be possible to talk about God equally within any context. Buber agrees: “But when he, too, who abhors the name, and believes himself to be godless, gives his whole being to addressing the Thou of his life, as a Thou that cannot be limited by another, he addresses God” (p.76). Therefore, it should be valid to talk about the eternal Thou within a ‘godless’ context such as computer gaming, and if this feels invalid, then this demonstrates that the mystic is cheating by explicitly saying that God is contentless while implicitly taking advantage of the extensive religious content that is associated with the word God.

Having said this, there is also a common explicit relationship between using the I-It realm of technology to create powerful immersive experiences and talking about God, because this describes the method that is used by Christian ‘praise and worship’. Buber says that the I-Thou encounter provides a glimpse of the eternal Thou of God, and so does the typical charismatic Christian worship service. In 1950, there were about 50 million Pentecostal Christians. Today, about 500 million Christians (about one quarter of all Christians) are Pentecostal, charismatic, or third wave. One of the primary outgrowths of the charismatic movement is contemporary worship, in which a congregation is guided by a praise band—that uses technology to create an immersive experience. Typically speaking, a church service will begin with praise and worship, in which Christian songs are turned into an immersive experience of sound and light through the use of technology. Using the language of Buber, praise and worship uses the I-It of technology to create an I-Thou encounter. The Christian worshiper who enters into praise and worship feels that he has had a personal encounter with the eternal God. This feeling of encountering God is both implicitly and explicitly encouraged. Implicitly, a Christian song places Teacher words about God within the non-verbal package of a musical melody, which is interpreted by Mercy thought. Explicitly, the words of the song often talk about encountering God personally, and the worshiper will be verbally encouraged to ‘worship God with his whole being’.

In other words, our discussion about movies and online games using technology to create I-Thou encounters is actually relevant to the topic of God and worship—because that is how a significant portion of the Christian church currently functions. The I-It world of technology is used to create an immersive I-Thou encounter, which is then viewed as a glimpse of the God of Thou who is viewed as totally separate from the I-It world of science and technology. The average Christian may state verbally that God created science and technology, but the same Christian usually acts as if God is far from the realm of science and technology.

Summarizing, I suggest that one can distinguish between at least four different views of God. These are not the only views but they are ones that have come up in this essay. First, there is Buddhism with its pure Teacher overgeneralization. Second, there is Buber’s modified form of Buddhism with its juxtaposition of I-It and I-Thou. Third, there is the mysticism that one typically finds in current Christianity. Finally, there is the rational concept of Christianity as described by mental symmetry. I am not suggesting that this is a definitive list. However, these four approaches have fundamental differences with respect to God, Teacher overgeneralization, and rational thought, which can be put in table form.




Mental Symmetry

Concept of God










Mental split





Nature of God

God is mystery

God is mystery above knowledge

God is mystery revealed partially in Bible and Jesus

God is rational; humans are ignorant

Mystery about God

nothing to know

only vague relation

study Bible, know Jesus

understanding grows as person transformed

Buddhism vs. Modified Buddhism

Buber compares his modification of Buddhism with pure Buddhism. We will examine what Buber says and then add some comments about Christianity and mental symmetry. I have suggested that online gaming delivers the cognitive benefits of Buber’s mysticism in a manner that is less damaging cognitively. Similarly, Buber takes several pages to show that his version of mysticism is less cognitively damaging than the mysticism of Buddhism.

Buber points out that Buddhist mysticism leads to disregard: “his way, too, then, involves a disregard; thus when he speaks of our becoming aware of the events in our body he means almost the opposite of our physical insight with its certainty about the senses... His innermost decision seems to rest on the extinction of the ability to say Thou” (p.92). More than that, Buddhist mysticism leads ultimately to personal annihilation. Buber describes this by referring to a story in the Upanishads, from which we will quote the relevant sentences: “If a man, sunk in deep sleep, rests dreamlessly, this is the Self, the Immortal, the Assured, the Universal Being... In such a condition, O Exalted One, a man does not know of his Self that ‘This is I’ and that ‘these are beings’. He is gone to annihilation. I see nothing propitious here’. —‘That... is indeed so’ ... In so far as the doctrine contains guidance for absorption in true being, it leads not to lived reality but to annihilation, where no consciousness reigns and whence no memory leads” (p.88).

Looking at this cognitively, I have mentioned several times that whenever a general theory continues to be used, then it will turn into a Teacher mental network, which will attempt to impose its structure upon the mind when it is triggered. This effect is especially potent when one comes up with a universal theory that applies to personal identity, because a universal theory is always triggered, and a theory that applies to personal identity will be triggered by personal identity and attempt to impose its structure upon the mental networks of personal identity. Saying this simply, when one forms a general Teacher theory that applies to personal identity, then one is creating a prison for self. However, this does not happen immediately, because one has to use a theory for a while before it turns into a TMN, and it takes time and reflection for a TMN to impose its structure effectively upon the rest of thought.

Using religious language, one will eventually be ruled by the image of God that one creates, because a general theory that applies to personal identity will naturally turn into a concept of God. Thus, there is no need for a real God to step in from the outside in some arbitrary manner and impose judgment upon individuals, because divine judgment is already being imposed upon every individual by the very structure of the mind.

Now suppose that one uses Teacher overgeneralization to come up with the concept of a God of mysticism. Because Teacher overgeneralization abhors content, the end result will be a God of annihilation, a God who abhors all content—including the content of personal existence. Thus, when Buber points out that Buddhist mysticism leads to personal annihilation, I suggest that he is pointing out a fatal—and I do mean fatal—flaw in mysticism.

Another major flaw of Buddhist mysticism is that a universal theory which abhors content is incapable of affecting content. In the words of Buber, “he who merely ‘experiences’ his attitude, merely consummates it in the soul, however thoughtfully, is without the world – and all the tricks, arts, ecstasies, enthusiasms, and mysteries that are in him do not even ripple the skin of the world... Only he who believes in the world is given power to enter into dealings with it” (p.94).

In contrast, Buber says that “I know nothing of a ‘world’ and ‘a life in the world’ that might separate a man from God. What is thus described is actually life with an alienated world of It, which experiences and uses. He who truly goes out to meet the world goes out also to God” (p.95). This is a major cognitive benefit of placing the rational thought of I-It under the umbrella of the Thou of a mystical God. But Buber is forced to walk around this conclusion, because his ultimate theory is still based in Teacher overgeneralization—which abhors content: “God comprises, but is not, the universe. So, too, God comprises, but is not, my Self. In view of the inadequacy of any language about this fact, I can say Thou in my language as each man can in his” (p.95). That is doublespeak, and Buber admits that he cannot use language to describe what he wants to say. This is what happens when one attempts simultaneously to hold on to a universal theory that rejects content, and assert the existence of a universe and self that is composed of content.

Instead, Buber states the contradiction of content/no-content as a fundamental paradox. Notice the exceedingly strong language of the paragraph that follows the one just quoted: “Man’s religious situation, his being there in the Presence, is characterized by its essential and indissoluble antinomy. The nature of its being determines that this antinomy is indissoluble. He who accepts the thesis and rejects the antithesis does injury to the significance of the situation. He who tries to think out a synthesis destroys the significance of the situation. He who strives to make the antinomy into a relative matter abolishes the significance of the situation. He who wishes to carry through the conflict of the antinomy other than with his life transgresses the significance of the situation. The significance of the situation is that it is lived, and nothing but lived, continually, ever anew, without foresight, without forethought, without prescription, in the totality of its antinomy” (p.95). In other words, the contradiction between content and no-content is ‘essential and indissoluble’. It cannot be avoided and it cannot be integrated. Instead one must live with it. Do not try to think it through, just live with it.

Thus, Buber replaces a God of annihilation with a God of irreconcilable contradiction. But whenever a general Teacher theory encounters a contradiction, then this leads to Teacher pain. Imagine the pain that Teacher thought would feel if one constructed a universal theory upon an irreconcilable contradiction. Stated bluntly, Buber saves self from annihilation by facing his concept of God with annihilation. Teacher thought can only handle such a fundamental contradiction by not thinking. Therefore, Buber concludes that “I cannot try to escape the paradox that has to be lived by assigning the irreconcilable propositions to two separate realms of validity; nor can it be helped to an ideal reconciliation by any theological device: but I am compelled to take both to myself, to be lived together, and in being lived they are one” (p.96). In other words, Teacher thought can do nothing to integrate this contradiction. All that remains is to try to use Mercy thought to bridge the unbridgeable.

The alternative is to use rational thought to construct the concept of a God of content. But that would question Buber’s underlying assumption of mysticism, and Buber knows that this is obviously wrong, because he is certain that the answer involves a combination of divine mystery and identification: “Of course God is the ‘wholly other’; but he is also the wholly Same, the wholly Present. Of course he is the Mysterium Tremendum that appears and overthrows; but he is also the mystery of the self-evident, nearer to me than my I. If you explore the life of things and of conditioned being you come to the unfathomable, if you deny the life of things and of conditioned being you stand before nothingness, if you hallow this life you meet the living God” (p.79).

Summarizing, Buber’s version of mysticism is better than Buddhism, but it still involves embracing a fundamental contradiction.

Christian Mystery

Buber says that God lives only within the realm of Thou while humans move between I-Thou and I-It. The typical Christian view, in contrast, is that God resides both within I-Thou and I-It. The essential characteristics of God and Christian doctrine are typically believed to reside within the incomprehensible realm of divine existence. However, Christian doctrine teaches that it is possible to know real facts about God through his revelation to mankind. The Bible provides a verbal revelation of God while Jesus provides a personal revelation of God. Some Christians place a greater emphasis upon biblical doctrine while others focus upon the example of Jesus. The physical universe is also usually viewed as a source of revelation about God. However, the typical Christian view shares with Buddhism the common assumption that the core of God’s essence resides within a mystical realm of Thou which cannot be penetrated by rational human thought. Therefore, if one wishes to encounter the ‘real’ God, the typical approach is to start with the known revelation about God and then use overgeneralization to exaggerate these known traits into universal traits. This type of juxtaposition naturally gravitates to using technology to create an immersive experience that supposedly leads to God, because both start with known content within the realm of I-It and then leap from there to an I-Thou encounter with God.

Describing this juxtaposition in practical terms, a church will recognize the technical abilities of the ‘praise team’ and ‘sound technicians’ as legitimate expressions of Christianity, and may even pray to God for blessing and help in these areas. However, when it comes to the actual worship service in which one has the immersive experience, then everyone will try to focus upon having an I-Thou encounter by pretending that technology does not exist.

We have seen that Teacher overgeneralization rejects content. Buddhism rejects all content about religion. Current Christianity accepts content as long as the core of Christian doctrine is regarded as ultimately incomprehensible. For instance, Don and Katie Fortune began giving seminars on Romans 12 spiritual gifts back in the late 1970s, just before my brother started doing research on this topic, and the traits that they describe in their books are about 90% consistent with the traits that my brother and I independently discovered. Their book has sold about 300,000 copies and continues to be a steady seller, while our books have only sold a few copies. The primary difference is that the Fortunes explain spiritual gifts within the context of Christian fundamentalism, and they do not attempt to use spiritual gifts to come up with a rational explanation for core Christian doctrines. What I usually experience, in contrast, is initial interest followed by a total lack of curiosity. (This even happens when I interact with individuals who have taught Fortune’s version of spiritual gifts.) The initial interest is caused by the positive Teacher emotion of understanding, while the lack of curiosity occurs when the Teacher overgeneralization regarding God begins to be threatened by content.

Because current Christianity rejects core content, there is also a natural tendency for Christians to try to weasel out of moral demands. A sense of religious morality naturally emerges when a mental concept of God in Teacher thought imposes its structure upon the mental networks of personal identity. Similarly, a concept of God that lacks content will attempt to impose this lack of content upon thought and behavior. This leads to a schizophrenic attitude regarding morality. On the one hand, the content of the Bible, as well as the example of Jesus, teaches moral rules, such as the Ten Commandments or the sermon on the Mount. However this moral content often collides with the content-less conclusion that ‘God loves and accepts everyone unconditionally’. As far as I can tell, ‘unconditional acceptance’ is not a teaching of the Bible, but it is a natural outcome of using Teacher overgeneralization to represent a concept of God, because unconditional acceptance implies that God wants everything and everyone to fit together in harmony by ignoring content.

My previous essay looked at the book of Revelation, and it appears that the two beasts mentioned in Revelation 13 correspond to the split that we have just examined. The first beast is rational thought that is limited to the objective, while the second beast is overgeneralization applied to the subjective. My guess is that these two beasts describe two sets of core mental networks that implicitly rule current society, and that Revelation 13 describes a future period when these implicit mental networks are challenged and defend themselves by becoming explicit.

Mental Symmetry and God

The basic assumption of mental symmetry is that God is rational. The three views that we have examined so far all assume that if mankind does not understand the nature of God, then this means that the nature of God is incomprehensible. In contrast, mental symmetry assumes that if mankind does not understand the nature of God, then this means that the nature of man is fallen and needs to be redeemed so that it can become capable of comprehending the rational nature of God. Stated simply, God is not irrational. Rather, humans are ignorant and rebellious. God is not unknowable. Instead, humanity is running away from a God of content. Using theological language, humans are born in sin and sins separate humans from God.

Looking at this cognitively, I have mentioned that all social interaction is based upon theory of mind, in which one person attempts to guess what another person is thinking and feeling. This applies both to interaction between people and to interaction between a person and God. It is possible to guess more accurately what another person is thinking or feeling by interacting with that person, listening to words about that person, and observing that person. Similarly, it is possible to guess more accurately what God is thinking or feeling by interacting with God, reading words about God, and observing the universe, which reflects the character of God. Buber, in contrast, does not believe that any words exist about God, he does not believe that the universe reflects the character of God, and he thinks that meaningful inter-personal interaction happens when this lack of content colors human relations.

The concept of God being rational can be given a more precise definition. It does not mean that one can use rigorous logic to prove that God exists, or that one can use technical thought to know all traits about God with total certainty. However, I suggest that it is possible to be reasonably confident that God exists and to know the nature of God with sufficient certainty. Of course, this statement itself cannot be made with total certainty. Instead, it is based upon the substantial evidence that others have presented over the centuries regarding the existence and nature of God, as well as the fact that mental symmetry has been used successfully to develop an integrated understanding of human behavior, a systematic Christian theology, and a philosophy of science (which can be found in Natural Cognitive Theology). This provides a sufficient rational basis for human existence.

Looking at the idea of rational relationship from a pragmatic viewpoint, I have come to the conclusion that each cognitive style really does view the world through a completely different set of cognitive lenses. Similarly, the essence of God may also be fundamentally different than the essence of finite beings. However, it also appears that each cognitive style (and each finite being) lives within a world of content that is filled with structure which functions in a manner that is similar to the character of God. In simple terms, while it may not be possible for anyone to state with total confidence what God is, it appears that everyone, regardless of the realm in which they live, can learn with reasonable confidence what God is like, based upon structure that affects them personally in the realm in which they live.

Mental Symmetry and Spirit

We have looked at the structure of Buber’s modified mysticism, and how Buber attempts to place rational thought within mysticism. We will now look at what the Bible says about spirit, fit this into the theory of mental symmetry, and then compare this with how Buber relates spirit to his version of mysticism.

The Bible uses the word spirit in three primary ways. First, spirit is used as an adjective to refer to internally motivated personal existence. For instance, Paul compares living according to the flesh with living according to the spirit. Similarly, when Jesus talks with the Samaritan woman, she asks at which physical temple God should be worshiped, and Jesus responds by saying that God is spirit and does not have to be worshiped at any specific physical location (John 4:19-24).

Second, the term spirit is used to describe intelligent non-physical beings, who presumably live within a spiritual realm. These spiritual beings are capable of interacting with human minds over an extended period of time, and even of possessing human minds. Spirits can be good or evil. The Gospels contain many accounts of Jesus ‘casting out’ evil spirits. But the Bible also talks about good spirits helping people.

Third, the term Holy Spirit is used to refer to the third person of the Trinity. Here one is dealing with spirit as God. The Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity in terms of sequence: The Old Testament focuses upon God the Father, the Gospels talk about God the Son, while the church age began with the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. And in John 16, Jesus explicitly says that the Holy Spirit will come when he leaves (v.5-7). John 16 also makes it clear that the Holy Spirit is the third person in terms of content: “when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you. All things that the Father has are Mine; therefore I said that He takes of Mine and will disclose it to you” (v.13-15).

If one uses mental symmetry to analyze these three different aspects to spirit, one ends up with some interesting conclusions. Mental symmetry suggests that spirits relate to mental networks. A mental network is an internal emotional structure that drives a person to think and behave in a certain manner. As I have mentioned several times, a mental network combines emotion and content; it uses emotional pressure to impose its content. This relates to the first two ways of describing spirit. First, a person who is being guided by mental networks is being internally motivated rather than being driven by external input from the environment. Second, it appears that spiritual beings interact with human minds via mental networks. In other words, a spirit can ‘live’ within a mental network and give additional power to that mental network.

In order to understand the third meaning of spirit, one needs to distinguish between personal spirit and divine spirit. The most fundamental difference between humans and God is that humans are finite while God is infinite. Using cognitive language, personal spirit refers to mental networks that represent specific individuals and specific situations. Divine spirit, in contrast, refers to a collection of mental networks that apply to the environment in general.

Humans live in a world filled with specific experiences, which leads to the formation of specific mental networks within Mercy thought. In order to form a concept of divine spirit, these specific MMNs have to be combined to form a network of mental networks. When mental networks form a network, then they will obviously interact. Love can be defined as personal mental networks interacting in a mutually beneficial manner.

Specific MMNs can be combined to form the general MMN of divine spirit in one of three ways: The first method is that of natural divine spirit. The primitive person living in a jungle is immersed within an environment of interacting living beings. Such a person may not have a Teacher understanding of how these living beings interact, but Mercy thought will be filled with a plethora of interacting MMNs based upon the interplay occuring within the natural physical environment. This leads to the spirituality of pantheism, in which nature is viewed as alive and inhabited by divine spirit.

The second method is that of Platonic Forms. A Platonic form emerges within Mercy thought as an indirect result of Teacher understanding. We have seen that Teacher thought looks for order-within-complexity—a simple explanation that summarizes many specific items. When Teacher thought comes up with a general theory, then this leads within Mercy thought to an imaginary image that is based upon real experiences but is more perfect, simple, and ideal than any real experience. Going further, when Teacher thought comes up with a general theory that ties together other more specific theories, then this leads to the formation of more general Platonic forms within Mercy thought. Ultimately, a universal Teacher theory leads to what Plato called the Form of the Good, an invisible concept of universal perfection within Mercy thought.

A mental concept of Plato’s Form of the Good is similar to the description of the Holy Spirit in the Bible. John 14:17 describes the Holy Spirit as “the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him.”

According to the Wikipedia article, the Form of the Good is a divine spirit of truth: “Plato writes that the Form (or Idea) of the Good is the ultimate object of knowledge, although it is not knowledge itself, and from the Good, things that are just, gain their usefulness and value. Humans are compelled to pursue the good, but no one can hope to do this successfully without philosophical reasoning. According to Plato, true knowledge is conversant, not about those material objects and imperfect intelligences which we meet within our daily interactions with all mankind, but rather it investigates the nature of those purer and more perfect patterns which are the models after which all created beings are formed. Plato supposes these perfect types to exist from all eternity and calls them the Forms or Ideas.”

The Wikipedia article also gives the impression that the world is not capable of receiving the Form of the Good. “Plato’s Form of the Good is often criticized as too general. Plato’s Form of the Good does not define things in the physical world that are good, and therefore lacks connectedness to reality. Because Plato’s Form of the Good lacks instruction, or ways for the individual to be good, Plato’s Form of the Good is not applicable to human ethics since there is no defined method for which goodness can be pursued.” Aristotle, Plato’s successor, concluded that “Because Plato’s Form of the Good does not explain events in the physical world, humans have no reason to believe that the Form of the Good exists and the Form of the Good is thereby irrelevant to human ethics.” And even “Plato did not have a systematic definition of the Form itself.” (I suggest that the primary reason why Plato’s Form of the Good had no moral connection with reality is because Greek philosophers defined the perfection of God as a static object, called the unmoved mover.)

The third method of forming a concept of divine spirit is a combination of the first two. This third method will be naturally dominant in a society such as ours, in which rational theory is limited to the realm of the objective. Teacher understanding of natural law leads to the Platonic forms of a better and more ideal physical world. This leads to the development of technology, which is then used to create an immersive experience that leads to a feeling of divine spirit. The second method of Platonic forms is being used in the objective to create the immersive experience, while the first method of natural divine spirit is being used in the subjective to enjoy the immersive experience.

Now let us tie these various threads together. We talked before about humans helping God. Stated briefly, I suggest that humans help God in the most general way by adding specific content to the Holy Spirit. The first two verses of the Bible connect the Holy Spirit to a complete absence of physical structure: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters” (Gen. 1:1-2). In contrast, what one finds at the end of the biblical story is spirit connected intimately with human physical structure.

Paul describes the resurrection from the dead in 1 Corinthians 15: “So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown a perishable body, it is raised an imperishable body; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. So also it is written, ‘The first MAN, Adam, BECAME A LIVING SOUL.’ The last Adam became a life-giving spirit. However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural; then the spiritual. The first man is from the earth, earthy; the second man is from heaven. As is the earthy, so also are those who are earthy; and as is the heavenly, so also are those who are heavenly. Just as we have borne the image of the earthy, we will also bear the image of the heavenly” (v.42-49). This passage describes the same progression that we saw when analyzing Platonic forms. Initially, there are natural physical bodies. However, these are perishable, weak, and lack honor. These are eventually replaced by spiritual bodies that are imperishable and glorious, which descend from the Teacher realm of heaven. (Glory is an external expression of internal content.) Similarly, Revelation 21 talks about a new heaven and Earth accompanied by a new Jerusalem that, like a spiritual body, also descends from heaven to the physical realm of Earth.

While Revelation 21 and 22 refer several times to God the Father and God the Son (as the lamb), God the Spirit is not directly mentioned. Instead, the author John sees “the holy city, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God” when he is ‘carried away in the spirit’ (21:10-11). And the next verse (v.3) talks about God dwelling among people within the content of the holy city.

A spiritual body combines two opposites: spirit and physical matter. According to Buber, these two could never be placed within an integrated package because one belongs to the realm of I-Thou and the other to the realm of I-It. I suggest that Swedenborg’s concept of heaven is a good portrayal of what it would mean to live within a combination of spirit and reality. (Swedenborg’s general concepts are interesting, but his content is rather strange.) According to Swedenborg, people after death are inescapably drawn to an external environment that resonates with their core mental networks, and this external environment is an expression of the core mental networks of the people living within this environment. I suggested earlier that the TMN of a general theory will eventually turn into a mental prison. Swedenborg’s concept of heaven implies that a mental network that acts as a mental prison when a person is alive turns into a real prison after a person dies.

Placing this within the larger historical context, we are now living after the death and resurrection of Jesus described in the Gospels but before the return of Jesus mentioned in Revelation 19. The resurrection of Jesus made possible a spiritual heaven, in which people can live as disembodied spirits within a spiritual realm after they die. Jesus describes preparing this place in John 14:1-6. The new heaven and earth of Revelation 20 will then extend the spiritual realm to the physical, because disembodied spirits will receive resurrected spiritual bodies and the holy city will descend from spiritual heaven to physical earth.

Summarizing, if one examines the physical universe, one observes that divine spirit starts off as raw power without structure. In contrast, God the Father is currentlback aty associated with inescapable physical structure, because a concept of God the Father emerges when a general Teacher understanding applies to personal identity, and all humans are trapped within a physical universe that is ruled inescapably by natural laws that one can understand by using Teacher thought to come up with general theories. The childish human mind is driven by inadequate Mercy mental networks that the physical environment and physical body impose upon the mind. The path of mental transformation uses Teacher understanding to rebuild childish MMNs, as well as create Platonic forms that can guide the rebuilt mental networks of personal identity.

Mental transformation is followed by physical transformation. Paul, in Romans 8, describes the tension of living with transformed minds within untransformed physical bodies in an untransformed physical world: “For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body. For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it” (v.19-25). Placing this passage within the context, Romans 5-8 describe the process of personal transformation. Finally, in 8:16, Paul says that “the Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God.” In other words, the core mental networks of personal identity are now an expression of the Platonic forms of divine spirit which themselves reflect a Teacher understanding of God. The next step is for ‘creation itself’ to ‘be set free from slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God’. Similarly, individuals have ‘the first fruits of the spirit’ but have not yet experienced ‘the redemption of the body’.

Summarizing, one of the primary tasks of humanity is to add content to the realm of the spirit guided by rational Teacher understanding, in order to use a spiritual-realm-with-content to transform physical reality.

Paul describes this process in a passage at the end of Galatians 6: “The one who is taught the word is to share all good things with the one who teaches him. Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary. So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who are of the household of the faith” (Gal.6:6-10). The first sentence talks about acquiring Teacher understanding. This is followed by a discussion about sowing and reaping. Sowing assumes content, because one always reaps the same kind of seed that one plants. Paul compares two general ways of sowing: Sowing to the flesh focuses upon physical content that already exists, while sowing to the spirit adds content to the spiritual realm. Sowing to the flesh is a dead end, because it focuses upon the existing physical structure which provides the starting point but does not last. Sowing to the spirit leads to eternal life because the spiritual realm will eventually renew the physical realm. Paul concludes by saying that one should sow good content to the spirit, especially with those who are being guided by Teacher understanding. This passage also contains two warnings: First, sowing to the spirit is not immediately followed by reaping from the spirit. Therefore, it is easy to give up in the middle of the process. Paul says that one should not ‘lose heart’, implying that one must hold on to the mental networks that interact with the spiritual realm, and Paul says that one will reap eternal life, indicating that the spirit impacts the realm of personal existence with its mental networks. Second, Paul warns against approaching sowing to the spirit in a manner that deceives self and mocks God, which is precisely what mysticism does. It focuses upon the spirit, but it is guided by the self-deception of Teacher overgeneralization and it asserts that God has no content. Paul counters this error by saying that sowing implies content; one reaps the same kind of content that one sows.

One major additional point needs to be added before we return to Buber. I suggest that we have only looked at half the picture. That is why I have deliberately referred to ‘humans’ rather than to ‘finite beings’.

We have talked about a spiritual realm in which external structure in some way reflects mental networks. Both Scripture and anecdotal evidence suggests that in addition to a spiritual realm there is also an angelic realm, and descriptions of this angelic realm (as well as descriptions of UFO encounters) make sense if this angelic realm is the mirror-image of physical reality. This brings us to the duality in physics between wave and particle, and I have attempted to pursue this further in other essays. My hypothesis is that angels and aliens are mentally the same as humans (with the same seven cognitive modules and cognitive styles), but they think and behave in radically different ways because the same kind of mind has been placed within a mirror-image body that inhabits a mirror-image universe. What matters for our current discussion is that angels and aliens would also view the Trinitarian God from a mirror-image perspective in which God the Father and God the Holy Spirit exchanged roles.

That leads us to the following general hypothesis. There has always been a Trinitarian God with content. The unchanging character of God the Father is revealed in Teacher thought to humans by the inescapable universal laws of the physical universe. Similarly, the unchanging character of God the Spirit is revealed in Mercy thought to angels and aliens in the inescapable universal ‘laws’ of the angelic realm. God the Son has always performed the role of bridging God the Father with God the Spirit.

However, God wants finite individuals to be guided by an internal concept of God because this makes it possible for finite creatures to cooperate with God in an intelligent manner. Therefore, humans have been given the opportunity and responsibility of using this external content to form a concept of God the Father in order to construct (and be guided by) an internal concept of God the Spirit. Similarly, angels and aliens have been given the chance to use external content that reflects the character of God the Spirit to construct (and be guided by) an internal concept of God the Father. Going further, God the Son has acquired the additional role of bridging universal God with finite beings. atAcquiring internal content makes it possible for finite creatures to impose content upon the spiritual realm. When humans and angels/aliens have added sufficient content to the internal realm of spirit, then the existing physical universe and existing angelic realm will be replaced by a new combination heaven-and-earth-and-spirit in which external reality reflects the content that has been added by finite beings to the realm of the spirit.

Saying this another way, both the physical universe and the angelic realm start off with inescapable content. In contrast, the spiritual realm starts off with no content, and acquires its content indirectly from finiteat beings living within the physical universe and the angelic realm. Eventually, the spiritual realm will have sufficient content to be able to transform the existing physical universe as well as the existing angelic realm, leading to an integrated combi-verse composed of physical universe + angelic realm + spiritual realm. There may be other realms that also exist, but the integration of these three realms appears to summarize the content of the Bible and provide a sufficient basis for a transformed existence.

Buber and Spirit

With this in mind, let us now turn to Buber’s description of spirit. We will begin by looking at the similarities between what mental symmetry suggests and Buber states.

Buber describes the natural divine spirit of primitive man: “This initial and long-continuing relational character of every essential phenomenon makes it also easier to understand a certain spiritual element of primitive life that is much discussed and observed, but not yet properly grasped, in present-day study. I mean that mysterious power the idea of which has been traced, through many variations, in the form of the beliefs or in the knowledge (both being still one) of many nature peoples. Known as Mana or Orenda, it opens a way to the Brahman in its primal meaning, and further to the Dynamis and Charis of the Magical Papyri and of the Apostolic Epistles... The appearances to which he describes the ‘mystical power’ are all elementary incidents that are relational in character, that is, all incidents that disturb him by stirring his body and leaving behind in him a stirring image” p.20. Summarizing, physical experiences that ‘stir the body’ form MMNs within Mercy thought that are remembered as ‘stirring images’. These MMNs interact in a manner that is ‘relational in character’, leading to a network of MMNs within Mercy thought that is experienced as natural divine spirit or Mana. Modern man can ‘discuss and observe’ this Mercy-based mindset but does not ‘properly grasp’ what it feels like for the MMNs of personal identity to be immersed within an internal ocean of interrelating MMNs. (This quote mentions the ‘Apostolic Epistles’. However, this summary of Two Types of Faith, written in 1950, makes it clear that Buber is reading the apostle Paul through the lens of his modified Buddhism. And Buber accurately concludes that his modified Buddhism is not consistent with the writings of Paul.)

Buber also describes the concept of divine spirit that emerges indirectly from the TMN of a universal understanding: “Spirit in its human manifestation is a response of man to his Thou. Man speaks with many tongues, tongues of language, of art, of action; but the spirit is one, the response to the Thou which appears and addresses him out of the mystery. Spirit is the word... Spirit is not in the I, but between I and Thou. It is not like the that blood circulates in you, but like the air in which you breathe. Man lives in the spirit, if he is able to respond to his Thou. He is able to, if he enters into relation with his whole being. Only in virtue of his power to enter into relation is he able to live in the spirit” (p. 39).

Analyzing this quote, the Teacher overgeneralization of Thou is a universal theory that transcends many words and actions. Divine spirit emerges indirectly from this Teacher theory as ‘a response of man to his Thou’. Because Thou is a universal Teacher theory, the Mercy reflection of this is also a ‘spirit that is one’. And because divine spirit ties together many individual MMNs of personal identity, ‘spirit is not in the I’ but rather ‘between I and Thou’. MMNs of personal identity become transformed when they are guided by the Platonic forms that are the indirect result of a general Teacher understanding. Similarly, ‘man lives in the spirit, if he is able to respond to his Thou’. One of the results is mental integration, because all personal MMNs are ultimately held together by a universal Teacher understanding. Thus, a person ‘enters into relation with his whole being’.

Summarizing, when Buber describes the indirect impact that a universal Teacher understanding has upon Mercy thought, what he says is reasonably consistent with the concept of a Holy Spirit that is based in Platonic forms. Both agree that divine spirit is an indirect expression of a universal Teacher theory and both suggest that MMNs of personal identity need to be guided by divine spirit.

The primary difference is in the nature of the universal Teacher theory that lies behind the concept of Holy Spirit. Buber is attempting to build divine spirit upon the contentlessness of Teacher overgeneralization. This places major limitations upon his concept of divine spirit: “Only silence before the Thou – silence of all tongues, silent patience in the undivided word that precedes the formed and vocal response – leaves the Thou free, and permits man to take his stand with it in the reserve where the spirit is not manifest, but is. Every response binds up the Thou in the world of It. That is the melancholy of man, and his greatness” (p.40). In order to grasp divine spirit, Buber has to to let go of all verbal content within Teacher thought. He also cannot view divine spirit as the manifestation of anything, because that also implies content within Teacher thought. And he cannot respond to divine spirit in any contentful manner, because this content moves him from the realm of Thou to the realm of It.

In contrast, mental symmetry starts with a general Teacher theory of human cognition. This leads to a concept of divine spirit that adds meaning and depth to words. This kind of divine spirit is a manifestation of verbal Teacher understanding, and responding within the object-oriented realm of It transforms reality and makes it an expression of Teacher understanding, adding yet further meaning and depth to words. The end result is not melancholy but rather multi-faceted Teacher emotions, as the order-within-complexity of a universal Teacher theory is expanded both by Platonic forms and by reality.

Values and Goals

I have suggested that MMNs of personal identity need to be guided by the Platonic forms of divine spirit. In practical terms, this leads to a distinction between values and goals. Values reflect the ideals of Platonic forms, which are more perfect than anything that can be experienced in real life. Goals, in contrast, involve real experiences, real people, and real objects. This leads to a hierarchy of influence. Externally, concrete thought is motivated by Mercy goals to create worthwhile experiences, construct valuable objects, and have meaningful relationships. Internally, Mercy thought is continually driven to make goals more like the values of Platonic forms, while Teacher thought builds the understanding that makes Platonic forms simpler, more perfect, and more ideal than real life. Thus, Teacher understanding has a continual uplifting effect upon reality: Understanding indirectly creates Platonic forms, Platonic forms en-noble goals, and goals drive people to transform reality.

Buber, in contrast, is limited to moving between the content of It and the content-less inspiration of Thou: “Every response binds up the Thou in the world of It... for that is how knowledge comes about, a work is achieved, and image and symbol made, in the midst of living beings. But that which has been so changed into it, hardened into a thing among things, has had the nature and disposition put into it to change back again and again. This was the meaning in that hour of the spirit when spirit was joined to man and bred the response in him – again and again that which has the status of object must blaze up into presentness and enter the elemental state from which it came, to be looked on and lived in the present by men” (p.40).

And if the realm of It adds too much content, then it is no longer possible to re-enter the emptiness of Thou: “the fulfillment of this nature and disposition is thwarted by the man who has come to terms with the world of It that it is to be experienced and used. For now instead of freeing that which is bound up in that world he suppresses it, instead of looking at it he observes it, instead of accepting it as it is, he turns it to his own account” (p.40).

As usual, there is some truth to what Buber is saying. One must not spend all of one’s time using concrete thought to pursue specific goals. Instead, one needs to alternate between using abstract thought to gain understanding and develop values, and using concrete thought to pursue goals that express these values. One sees this alternation in the biblical day of Sabbath. Once a week one stops using concrete thought to pursue Mercy goals and focuses instead upon the Teacher understanding of the nature of God. Similarly, one should not continually use concrete technical thought to pursue specific goals. Instead, one also needs to take time to enjoy the fruit of one’s labor by living intuitively and relationally within mental networks. But these various ways of functioning are not divorced from one another. Instead, each is a different way of interacting with the same content.

However, Buber does not view these various ways of functioning as symbiotic, but rather as either/or, in which one limits the other: “The primary relation of man to the world of It is comprised in experiencing, which continually reconstitutes the world, and using, which leads the world to its manifold aim, the sustaining, relieving, and equipping of human life... The individual can, to be sure, more and more replace direct with indirect experience, he can ‘acquire items of knowledge,’ and he can more and more reduce his using of the world to specialized ‘utilisation’... This is the usual meaning of the talk about a progressive development of the spiritual life. By this talk, guilt of the real sin of speech against spirit is undoubtedly incurred; for that ‘spiritual life’ is for the most part the obstacle to a life lived in the spirit, and at best the material which, after being mastered and fashioned, is to go to make that life” (p.38). In other words, people interact with the physical ‘world of It’ through concrete thought, which uses Server actions to reach Mercy goals, or using Buber’s language, is comprised in experiencing and using. Buber recognizes that abstract thought can be used to ‘acquire items of knowledge’ and leads to ‘specialized utilisation’, but he suggests that this results in a false spiritual life that is an obstacle to the real life of the spirit.

Concrete thought uses Server actions to reach Mercy goals. Using the language of Buber, it combines ‘experiencing’ and ‘using’ within the ‘world of It’. Mental symmetry suggests that concrete thought should be the final indirect expression of Teacher understanding, and that Teacher understanding can grow by ‘acquiring items of knowledge’ from concrete thought and ‘using the world’ in a more ‘specialized’ manner. Buber, in contrast, views this type of thinking as a ‘sin of speech against spirit’ and ‘an obstacle to a life lived in the spirit’. However, if one applies Buber’s moral standard of ‘living with one’s whole being’ to the thinking of Buber, one concludes that it is Buber who is ‘sinning against spirit’ because he is continually viewing the world of It as the enemy of spirit rather than as an expression of spirit.

Again, there is some truth to what Buber is saying when rational understanding is limited to the realm of the objective, as is the case in modern Western civilization. When this is the situation, then “the development of the ability to experience and use comes about mostly through the decrease of man’s power to enter into relation – the power in virtue of which alone man can live the life of the spirit” (p.39). In other words, there is a fundamental split within Western society between the TMNs of objective rational scientific understanding and the MMNs of subjective personal experience.

But the solution to this split is not to turn this split into a religion, as Buber does. Instead, the solution is to extend rational understanding to include the subjective. Physical reality is full of relation; natural laws describe how objects and particles relate. Similarly, the subjective realm of personal relation is full of the content of rational thought; relation depends upon content. One cannot divorce the one from the other.

Looking at this more generally, mental symmetry suggests that the process of personal transformation can be divided into three stages: The first stage uses rational thought to construct a mental concept of God, the second stage allows this concept of God to guide personal thought and behavior, leading to righteousness and sanctification, while the third stage lives within the mental content that was constructed during the first two stages. This third stage can legitimately be described as ‘living in the spirit’ with one’s whole being, because MMNs of personal identity are literally reborn. But this transformed personal existence adds I-Thou to the realm of I-It, it lives in a spirit of content.

Value also involves a combination of content and emotion. In order to determine the value of an item or experience, one must use facts to compare the emotional desirability of various options. When rational thought is limited to the objective realm of It, then it is only possible to determine the value of objects and things.

Buber accurately describes the inadequate value system of modern economics: “Is not, indeed, the productive greatness of the leading statesmen and the leading economist bound up with the fact that he looks on the men with whom he has to deal not as bearers of the Thou that cannot be experienced but as centres of work and effort, whose particular capabilities it is his concern to estimate and utilise? Would his world not fall in on him if, instead of adding up He and He and He to make an It, he tried to calculate the sum of Thou and Thou and Thou – which never yields anything but Thou again?... Has not the very development in the nature of modern work and possession destroyed almost every trace of living with what is over against them – of significant relation?” (p.48). It is true that most politicians and economists regard people as things to be used to reach some objective goal. This is deeply dehumanizing, and the world of the typical politician or economist would ‘fall in on him’ if he ever realized that he was seeking peripheral value at the expense of ignoring and destroying core value. But Buber’s alternative is not the solution because it too is incapable of determining the value of relations and people. That is because the only ‘number’ that Buber’s overgeneralization recognizes is infinity, and infinity is not a number. Using the language of Buber, the sum of Thou and Thou and Thou never yields anything but Thou again.

When personal relations are guided by value, then I suggest that the result is love. In other words, love is the ‘glue’ that guides interaction between MMNs of personal identity when these MMNs are held together by the TMN of a rational understanding. When the subjective is not guided by value, then people may talk a lot about love, but the actual experience of love will be somewhat lacking. Saying this another way, behind the monetary value of economic thinking lies an even deeper spiritual economy of personal value. Will I choose to think and act in a manner that increases my personal value and the personal value of others? This is relation guided by content—deep content. The connection between objective rational thought and an inadequate sense of value is analyzed further in the discussion of Revelation 17 and the economic system of ‘Babylon’.

Like mental symmetry, Buber also says that true love can only occur within the context of the TMN of a concept of God, but the only content that his concept of God contains is the fundamental split between objective and subjective. Therefore, Buber distinguishes love from common feeling by saying that love embraces opposites: “men wish to regard a feeling... as the real element in the relation with God... What has already been said of love is even more unshakably valid here. Feelings are a mere accompaniment to the metaphysical and meta-psychical fact of the relation, which is fulfilled not in the soul but between I and Thou... Above all, every feeling has its place within a polar tension, obtaining its color and significance not from itself alone, but also from the opposite pole: every feeling is conditioned by its opposite... if the soul is the starting point of our consideration, complete relation can be understood only in a bipolar way, only as the coincedentia oppositorum, as the coincidence of oppositions of feeling” (p.82).

It is often said in love and marriage that ‘opposites attract’. However, when my brother and I examined marriages from the viewpoint of cognitive styles, we came to a somewhat different conclusion. Opposites do not attract. For instance, the Teacher person is the opposite of the Mercy person, and one almost never sees these two get married. Similarly, we have never found a Perceiver person marrying a Server person. (One can see from the diagram of mental symmetry that Teacher is the opposite of Mercy and Perceiver is the opposite of Server.) One also finds that people of the same cognitive style seldom marry. What one finds instead is that marriage couples complete mental circuits, making it possible for couples to accomplish more as an integrated pair than they could as two separate individuals. That is what happens when partners are different—but compatible.

Buber defines love as the bridging of irreconcilable opposites, because this is consistent with his general theory that the human mind is irreconcilably split. Similarly, mental symmetry defines love as mutually beneficial interaction, because this is also consistent with the general theory that the human mind is composed of interacting cognitive modules.

Content and Morality

I suggested earlier that one of the primary tasks of humanity is to add content to divine spirit. Buber redefines adding content as subtracting content. On the one hand, Buber recognizes that spirit needs to be an expression of Teacher understanding, which describes the process by which content is added to divine spirit. On the other hand, the Teacher understanding that Buber uses is a universal theory that abhors content. Thus, Buber is attempting to run the divine clock in reverse by using a concept of God based in Teacher understanding to return spirit and relation back to the ‘formless and void and darkness’ of Genesis 1:1-2. This is not just a theoretical problem, because in the case of Buber, it was associated with horrific personal and societal consequences.

As I have mentioned in other essays, World War I was the first modern war driven by technology. Using the language of this essay, the I-It realm of technology was used to create the hell-on-earth of an immersive experience for the soldiers in the trenches. This inhuman content shaped the spirit of the German people, and this spirit gave birth to Nazism. When faced with the horror of Nazism, Buber the Jewish mystic could say—nothing.

Looking at this in more detail, Buber’s book says in hand-waving terms that morality means doing something with one’s whole being—which is a valid statement, but Buber cannot add any content to this overgeneralization; he cannot turn his infinity into finite numbers. Rubenstein, in an essay presented at the Buber Centenary Conference in 1978, describes “Buber’s consistent evasion of the concrete and the specific, whether he was employing ambiguous personal pronouns totally devoid of identifiable content such as ‘I’ and ‘Thou’ to describe interpersonal encounter, whether he was holding forth on an ineffable divine-human encounter which eluded all of the verifications of ordinary discourse, or whether he was dealing with the historical agonies of his own people.”

Buber was incapable of adding content to his Teacher overgeneralization even when faced with the horror of the Jewish Holocaust. Quoting again from Rubenstein, “Buber’s silence on the Holocaust as a theological issue is altogether consistent with his view of the divine-human encounter. For Buber, that encounter is utterly removed from all of the categories of normal human experience. It is atemporal, non-spatial, non-causal, and, in fact, devoid of the kind of any content that could be shared in normal discourse. As Buber informs us, in the divine-human encounter we receive ‘not a content but a presence, a presence of strength.’ Moreover, for those who enter into the absolute relationship with the Eternal Thou, ‘nothing retains any importance.’ It would thus appear that, because of its wholly ineffable character, Buber’s version of the divine-human encounter must prove indifferent to the vicissitudes of human history. Moreover, since, according to Buber, there is nothing cumulative or structured about the meetings of God and man, each encounter is without identifiable precedent or consequent. The spontaneous and utterly unpredictable character of such meetings are devoid of that indispensable note of confidence and trust that could only develop in a relationship between partners whose behavior toward each other possesses a measure of consistency and predictability. This is as true of the relationship between God and man as it is between man and man. That is why normative Judaism and Christianity, in contrast to Buber, have always insisted that there is both structure and continuity in the relationship between God and his people.”

Rubenstein is saying precisely what I have been attempting to say again and again in this essay. If one starts with a content-less God of mysticism, then there is no basis for any specific rules of morality, because ‘there is nothing cumulative or structured about the meetings of God and man, each encounter is without identifiable precedent or consequent’. I have suggested that it is the human responsibility to add content to spirit. Nazism shows that if one adds the wrong content to spirit, then one will reap hell and holocaust. In fact, I suggest that hell is literally formed, populated, and maintained by angels and disembodied human minds that have added the wrong content to spirit.

Similarly, if one adds no content to spirit, as Buber does, then all one will have to say when faced with hell or Holocaust is vague platitudes. In the words of Rubenstein, “Nor does the counsel he offered his own Jewish community at the time of the Nazi seizure of power ring less hollow despite its characteristically utopian rhetoric. In 1933 he admonished German Jewry: ‘If we would turn to Him, abandon the false freedom with all its deceptive assurances, turn to God’s freedom which is binding to God, then this reeling through the dark mountain pass will reveal itself as a way, our way to the light.’ Again one wonders of what avail was Buber’s counsel when his people were confronting their most dangerous hour.”

Buber may have been largely silent when it came to addressing the Holocaust, but he does talk in I and Thou about Napoleon the dictator. Buber says that Napoleon was so driven by the realm of I-It that he even treated himself as a form of It: “He sees the beings around him, indeed, as machines, capable of various achievements, which must be taken into account and utilized for the Cause. In this way, too, he sees himself – except that he must continually ascertain a new by experiment his power of achievement (whose limits he does not experience): he treats himself, too, as an It” (p.68). It is true that the Contributor person (such as Napoleon) can treat others as impersonal pawns in a plan and it is also true that the Contributor person with a plan may reshape even personal identity to fit within this plan. However, I suggest that Contributor dictators, of which Napoleon and Hitler are two examples, are also adept at manipulating the relational realm of I-Thou. Napoleon famously stated that “A man does not have himself killed for a half-pence a day or for a petty distinction. You must speak to the soul in order to electrify him.” Similarly, the Nuremberg rallies of Hitler used the I-It realm of technology to create massive immersive experiences, specifically designed to manipulate the relational realm of I-Thou. Using the language of spirit, Napoleon and Hitler both added content to spirit, but the content that they added was not good.

Not only does Buber refuse to add content to spirit, but he redefines religion with its spiritual content as an attempt to extend the momentary ecstasies of mysticism. Buber says that God turns into an object of faith because people wish to experience mysticism for a longer time: “Man’s thirst for continuity is unsatisfied by the life rhythm in of pure relation, the interchange of actual being and of the potential being in which only our power to entrant relation, and hence the presentness... decreases. He longs for extension in time, for duration. Thus God becomes an object of faith” (p.113). Similarly, Buber says that religion turns into cult because people wish to experience mysticism in a wider space: “man’s thirst for continuity is unsatisfied by the life-structure of pure relation, the solitude of the I before the Thou, the law that man, though binding up the world in relation in the meeting, can nevertheless only as a person approach and meet God. He longs for extension in space, for the representation in which the community of the faithful is united with its God. Thus God becomes the object of a cult” (p.114).

Thomas Kuhn says that a paradigm turns into a set of glasses through which the scientist literally views the world, because it causes him to focus upon some things while being blind to other things. Buber views religion through the cognitive lens of mysticism. This causes him to focus upon the encounter with the Eternal Thou while completely ignoring matters of moral conduct and personal transformation, because these topics do not fit into his universal theory of a contentless God. Stated metaphorically, Buber sees organized religion as an attempt to fiddle longer while Rome is burning, while I suggest that organized religion makes more sense as an attempt to stop Rome from burning. As a result, when Rome does burn, all Buber can do is encourage people to keep fiddling. But in Buber’s case, it was not the city of Rome that was burning, but rather his fellow Jews that were being turned into ashes.

Rubinstein concludes his essay by asking a probing question: “Perhaps the real question we must ask is why Buber achieved the world-wide eminence he did. Perhaps Buber’s eminence reveals more about us than it does about him. There were other great Jewish teachers in our terrible century. Why did all of us bestow our laurels upon him? When Buber’s life and thought is viewed in the light of the Holocaust, I must confess that I have no answer to that question. Of one thing, however, I am certain. We needed him. Why, I do not know.” I suggest that the answer to this question can be found in the nature of mental networks. As I have stated several times, Western civilization is characterized by a fundamental split between rational objective thought and irrational subjective thought. This split is emotionally supported by core mental networks. Buber ‘achieved world-wide eminence’ because his philosophy epitomizes this split; it resonates with core mental networks of society. Not only that, but Buber defined living with this split between I-Thou and I-It as ‘living with one’s whole being’. Stated bluntly, Buber rationalized Western schizophrenia and called it God.

In other words, I suggest that Buber ‘achieved world-wide eminence’ not because there actually is a content-less God of Eternal Thou, but because Buber’s philosophy resonates with the content of Western civilization. Thus, even Buber’s fame contradicts Buber’s philosophy.


Buber accurately describes the inadequacies of modern objective thought, and he rightly emphasizes the need for relation. He also points out that human existence has a spiritual dimension that needs to be guided by a concept of God. But when it comes to the core issues of God and mysticism, then Buber is like the proverbial dog in the manger who both refuses to eat the food of religious knowledge and prevents others from eating this food.

Buber tells us point blank that ignorance is knowledge, amorality is morality, a split mind is wholeness, and that doing and saying nothing is salvation. Buber would rather cling to a few moments of ecstatic bliss than come to terms with the genocide of his people. And yet Buber is exalted as a shining intellectual light within both Jewish and many Christian circles.

This indicates the power of core mental networks. As Buber accurately describes, Western civilization limits rational scientific thought to the realm of the objective. We may be willing to admit that rational principles of moral cause-and-effect rule some areas of the subjective, but when it comes to the core of religion and the nature of God, then we inevitably turn to some form of mysticism to fill in the blanks.

But mysticism is based in Teacher overgeneralization, the type of thinking that is naturally used by the child who does not yet know all of the facts. Thus, when we use Teacher overgeneralization to determine the nature of God, then we are taking our ignorance and projecting it upon the Creator of the universe. We are asserting that God is an ignorant child, when in fact it is we who are the ignorant children.

The temptation in the garden of Eden makes sense at a detailed level if the snake is seen as mysticism, and the book of Revelation makes sense as a connected sequence—in detail—if it is interpreted as God saving the world from mysticism. More generally, my thesis in Natural Cognitive Theology is that the path of reaching mental wholeness corresponds in detail to the doctrinal content and personal practice taught in the Bible.

And yet I keep finding that most people—including theologians and scholars—are unwilling to discuss a rational analysis of God and Christianity because they ‘know’ in their gut that God is ultimately unknowable. But how can one know that something is unknowable?

That illustrates the power of a core mental network.