Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Feedback, causality & G-d

I am working on the issue of feedback. I can not find any Jewish sources regarding feedback - to pick a reference and modify behavior or processes or efforts to maximize the referent. This is a fundamental Western idea - but not Jewish. It seems that the official Jewish view is that human effort does not cause success but only provides merit which justifies G-d making you successful. This issue  cuts across a wide range of issues from child abuse, education, parnossa etc etc.

I also can't find where and when this idea developed in the Western World.

Any and all help in this area would be appreciated. I also don't see that there is any difference between chareidi, Modern Orthodox and Hirschian theology regarding this issue.

Chovas HaLevavos (4:4) Even when you are fully aware that effort is worthless without G‑d’s decree, nevertheless you must act like the farmer who plows, removes the thorns, seeds and waters his field if there is no rain. At the same time he trusts that G‑d will make it fertile, guard it from calamity, make a bountiful crop and bless it. In other words he knows that it is wrong to leave the field unworked and unsown even though he has full faith that G‑d could decree that the land produce a crop even without planting beforehand. Similarly workers, merchants and laborers are commanded to earn a living in their occupation even though they have full trust in G‑d to provide them with sustenance. They make this effort despite the fact they accept that everything is totally in His hands and according to His wishes and that in fact He has promised them a livelihood. They understand that He will provide this sustenance anyway He wants. Since everything is in G‑d’s hands you shouldn’t think that one profession is more likely to provide a livelihood than another. Similarly you shouldn’t take pride in what seems to be professional success or even to make special efforts to achieve success. Total involvement in a job serves merely to weaken trust in G‑d because the effort is in fact not the cause of success. Instead of depending totally on your efforts you should be grateful to G‑d for providing sustenance for you after your efforts and that your efforts were not in vain


  1. Can you define your question a bit more clearly?

    "Feedback" In its purest form is something we see throughout the Neviim.

    The question is what kind of feedback you want to see. Psychological? Practical? Sports? Military?

    Please be more clear.

    The entire process of nevuah, teshuva, wars, oppression and liberation (eg a liberating shofet comes to judge Israel) are feedback mechanisms.

  2. The issue is purely the mechanics of effort and information. When we exert ourselves does it require that the exertion is viewed as the direct cause of the goal and therefore if we don't earn enough money or have enough safety for our children - we need to act differently? Or is there a disconnect between effort and results and our job is purely to put in effort and G-d rewards us with success?

  3. I believe a recent Haredi approach to this issue is given in Michtav M'Eliyahu of R' Dessler. I don't recall the chapter, but he deals with different levels of bitachon vs. hishtadlus.

    There is a classic secular work called Psychocybernetics by Maxwell Maltz (which is actually quite religious, but not specifically Jewish).

    What I understand from your term "feedback" is precisely the cybernetics system,which is a feedback loop to aim to the "target. "

    The question must also look at the Torah model - 2nd paragraph of Shema. Question is how to interpret it.
    Then does the same model apply to today?
    IN exile, do the same rules apply as to when we lived in Israel as a Torah observant nation.
    Another halachic approach is Rambam's Hilchot teshuva - where I believe he writes about how negative feedback (yissorim) is to spurn us into judging our ways, and making changes (cybernetics).
    And this is the same model as that in Sefer Shoftim.

    finally, psychoanalysis deals with many subconscious and hidden issues with have. Perhaps there are subconscious reasons why we have problems in relationships, family etc. PsyA teaches that we re-live patterns of parents for example, but this is akin to gilgul neshama - but since I am not mekubal, I cannot speak of Gilgul.

  4. Eddie I am aware of the standard sources - many of the are collected and translated in my sefer Daas Torah.

    Rav Yaakov Kaminetsky commented on an aspect of this issue when he contrasted the Ramban with Chovas HaLevavos

    Rav Yaakov Kaminetsky (Emes L’Yaakov (Bechukosai): The typical understanding of the Ramban is that in truth it is prohibited for a person to utilize doctors and medical treatment but should rely totally on G d to cure him… In contrast the typical understanding of the Chovas HaLevavos (4:4) is that man needs to act as if he is helping G d provide him with his sustenance. Thus it is understood that the Ramban takes a more stringent position that eschews personal effort while the Chovas HaLevavos requires a person to exert himself and not rely on his spiritual merit. However a closer look at the Chovas HaLevavos reveals that he is in fact more stringent in the matter of personal effort. His actual position (4:3) is that the sole reason for the effort is to be involved in building society [which G d requires to keep him busy and away from sin]. Thus the effort is a mitzva like any other mitzva of the Torah and does not cause him to reach the goal but is only a perquisite for G d to give him what one wants. That is why the Chovas HaLevavos says that one should not change jobs even if he sees he is not being successful in a particular line of work. [It is only a formality and thus the lack of success is not because of the job but because G d doesn’t want to give him what he wants]. The view of the Ramban is just the opposite. If a person is not completely perfect than in fact he exists totally in the framework of nature. As such he of necessity must work in order to achieve his goals. Work and effort therefore is real and not just a formality. [Consequently according to the Ramban it could make a difference as to how he is doing his job or what job he is doing] This can readily be seen in Ramban’s comments concerning medicine. He says that if a person takes a natural approach and utilizes a doctor he will consequently actually need the doctor to be cured. This can also be seen from the gemora (Berachos 60a) that if a person prays after the 40th day of conception that the baby be a boy it is considered to be a meaningless effort - even though the gemora indicates that the matriarchs did in fact succeed in changing the gender of their unborn children miraculously through pray. They had the ability since according to their way of existence miracles were a natural thing for them and they had a different set of rules. [Thus according to the Ramban there are two totally different modes of functioning and one cannot combine them].

  5. Very interesting - there is a source in TeNach where use of medicine is frowned upon (when we had neviim).

    This is a specific case of feedback inmilitary/physical terms:

    1 Samuel:
    29 Then said Jonathan: 'My father hath troubled the land; see, I pray you, how mine eyes are brightened, because I tasted a little of this honey.
    ל אַף, כִּי לוּא אָכֹל אָכַל הַיּוֹם הָעָם, מִשְּׁלַל אֹיְבָיו, אֲשֶׁר מָצָא: כִּי עַתָּה לֹא-רָבְתָה מַכָּה, בַּפְּלִשְׁתִּים. 30 How much more, if haply the people had eaten freely to-day of the spoil of their enemies which they found? had there not been then a much greater slaughter among the Philistines?'

    Jonathan is refuting the fast his father , Saul, declared - and arguing that by eating , a much bigger military success would have been achieved!

    The question is if you want a theoretical postion from the rishonim, or "realistic" view of today.

    In terms of "parnosah" - look at the diametrically opposed views of Rav Shach Zt'l, and R' Soloveitchik zt'l.

    Rav Shach's view was against all secular education, which was all kefirah, especially sciences, psychology etc.

    The YU view is to get degrees, advanced degrees, professions etc, and enter the job market. The rise of the Haredi "universities" to train people in computers is a clear example of feedback - response to the economic distress caused by high unemployment.

    I actually agree that medicine can be overprescribed, and and sometimes it makes things worse. But that is for non life threatening cases. I believe it is asur to NOT go to a doctor if G-d forbid one's life is in danger. (source required).

    Another case is smoking. Feedback was clinical evidence that it is damaging to health. In the last century very few poskim would forbid it - with exception of the Tzitz Eliezer and R' Goren. But the feedback of public education gradually reduced smoking as a behaviour, and it is now more acceptable to forbid it (with certain conditions attached).
    One of the Gedolim in the US , R' JD Bleich, held by RMF for about 50 years, but has recently come out to forbid smoking. So "feedback" even affects psak in halacha.

  6. "I also can't find where and when this idea developed in the Western World."

    It originated in the 17th century as "concomitant variation" (or at least is preserved as such in J. S. Mill's System of Logic) with Francis Bacon in his treatise on scientific method, the New Organon. As both Bacon & Mill were not only standard in their own time & subsequent and both canonical, I doubt any further tracing of this idea is necessary. And Bacon's method (conceived of as a formal "method," at any rate) is as far as I know original with him.

  7. After seeing that vaccinations against smallpox effectively prevented the disease, Rebbe Nachman of Breslov called on everyone to get their children vaccination in the strongest possible terms.

    "Every parent should have his children vaccinated within the first three months of life. Failure to do so is tantamount to murder. Even if they live far from the city and have to travel during the great winter cold,they should have the child vaccinated before three months" (Avaneha Barzel p.31 #34).

  8. "Who is wise? He who foresees the consequences of his actions." Tamid 32a.

    "Don't rely on miracles." Yoma 1:4.

    "The world follows its natural course." Avodah Zara 54b.

    "Who is wise? He who learns from every person." Avot 4:1.

    If we should learn from every person, and foresee the consequences of our actions, and we should not rely on miracles but understand that the world follows its natural course, then surely we should also learn from every past event, and adjust our behavior to better achieve our goals.


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