From a scientific and philosophical point of view, there is arguably no phenomenon as enigmatic as the origin and nature of consciousness. Consciousness and associated notions of top-down causation, qualia and free will have been largely neglected by the (reductionist) scientific community for many decades as illusions or epi-phenomena—‘side effects’ of neurochemistry and brain physiology bearing no impact on the material world. Encouraged in large measure by recent interpretations of quantum physics, such as the assumed role of the ‘observer’ in the unfolding of reality, consciousness is now at the forefront of philosophical and neuroscientific inquiry.

In the first two parts of this series,1 I demonstrated robust conceptual parallels between specific Kabbalistic constructs and both Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle—a pillar of quantum mechanics—and the science of 20th-century physicist David Bohm. In those papers, it was argued that modern science and ancient Jewish mysticism display unprecedented degrees of confluence because both paradigms—one grounded in empirical research, the other revelation-based—may provide legitimate and complementary insights into the nature of reality, notwithstanding the very different lexicons invoked. In this third and final installment, I provide a conceptualization of consciousness based on mainstream (mainly Lurianic) Kabbalistic principles in the context of contemporary psychology, quantum mechanics and neuroscience. This article is a synopsis of a comprehensive theory of consciousness fleshed out in a book I published in 2021, Kabbalistic Panpsychism–The Enigma of Consciousness in Jewish Mystical Thought,2 in which evidence was adduced from the writings of leading Kabbalistic and Chassidic authorities, buttressed by Scripture, the Talmud and other key Jewish sources, supporting a formulation of consciousness that is panpsychist in nature and informed by the tenets of panentheism (defined below). Implications of Kabbalistic panpsychism for free will, prophecy, ethics, extrasensory perception and cosmology were explored therein, and the epistemological value of such exercises considered.

Panpsychism and Panentheism

Panpsychism is a monist position asserting that consciousness or mind is a primordial and ubiquitous feature of all things regardless of size, scale or complexity.3 According to this theory, all entities manifest an ‘exterior’ objective dimension as well as an ‘interior’ experiential phase.4 The latter is not to imply that electrons manifest human-like sentience—a crude anthropomorphism—but that they contain a modicum of proto-consciousness allowing them to ‘feel’ their existence at some rudimentary level. Panpsychism resolves philosopher David Chalmers’ famous ‘Hard Problem’ (how physical matter—brains—gives rise to non-material mental states5 ) and the existence of qualia (subjective perceptual experiences such as the blueness of the sky, the taste of a strawberry, and the pain of childbirth) by affirming consciousness as fundamental to all things extant in the universe alongside matter, energy and space-time.

Panentheism (not to be confused with pantheism) posits that G‑d both transcends and is immanent in nature,6 a metaphysic that informs virtually all aspects of Jewish mystical doctrine including its apprehension of consciousness. Either assertion alone—that G‑d is solely immanent in the Universe (pantheism) or transcendent of the Creation (deism)—is anathema to Orthodox Judaism. In so far as Judaism acknowledges that human beings were formed in G‑d’s image (hence, “from my flesh I will know G‑d”7 ), human consciousness may manifest both immanent (neural-based) and transcendent (extracorporeal) dimensions. While few doubt the role of the central nervous system in the mediation of consciousness, recognition of transcendent aspects of awareness, albeit more controversial and difficult to objectify experimentally, would have profound implications. The majority of neuroscientists today construe consciousness as a ‘secretion’ and prisoner of the brain. The Kabbalah disagrees and raises the possibility that trans-corporeal (non-local) properties of human consciousness, facilitated by specific constructs within the Kabbalistic hierarchy and mirroring or ‘entangled’ with transcendent aspects of Divinity, may account for female intuition, prophecy, the near-death experience, extrasensory perception and other ‘paranormal’ phenomena documented in virtually every culture.8

Kabbalistic Panpsychism

Familiarity with the general Kabbalistic architecture and its main teachings is essential for grasping the Jewish mystical approach to consciousness. Readers are encouraged to review the first two parts of this series9 which explicate the basics of Kabbalah in sufficient detail to permit proper assimilation of the current material. At the heart of Kabbalistic doctrine is the notion that all created things and events ultimately comprise 10 Sefirot which may be defined as spiritual ‘forces,’ ‘attributes’ or ‘information packets’ emanating from the Ohr Ein-Sof, the Infinite Light of G‑d. A critical consideration vis-à-vis consciousness is that throughout the vast fractal or holographic substructure of the Creation,10 the seven lower Sefirot (Chesed to Malchut) of every deca-Sefirotic assembly represent the latter’s ‘body,’ whereas the three top Sefirot (KeterChochmahBinah or ChochmahBinah–Da’at) constitute the assembly’s ‘brain,’ ‘mind’ or ‘consciousness’ (Mochin). This holds true for all objects whether they belong to the inanimate, plant, animal or human domains (i.e. panpsychism), although the nature of the inhering consciousness is understood to differ radically among these categories. Thus, in inanimate objects (Domem) consciousness informs form and substance (existence); in plant life (Tzomeach) it enables growth and reproduction; in animals (Chai), sentience; and in humankind (Medaber), self-awareness, rationality and morality (Fig. 1). As a panpsychist discipline promulgating the ubiquity of proto-conscious Sefirot in every facet and at all scales of Creation, the Kabbalah effectively neutralizes Chalmers’ ‘Hard Problem’ of consciousness—how subjective experience (qualia) emerges from brain neurochemistry and electrophysiology.11 A major criticism leveled against constitutional panpsychism is the so-called ‘Combination Problem’—how mediators of simple consciousness characteristic of ‘lesser’ creatures synergize within ‘higher’ organisms to yield more complex psychic phenomena. In common with aspects of idealism and other forms of cosmopsychism, the Kabbalah renders this challenge moot by emphasizing the existence of a Universal Mind—the Mind of G‑d—which in a top-down, panentheistic manner progressively reveals itself within the Creation hierarchy.12

Figure 1. Progressive transduction (revelation) of transcendent consciousness (Ohr Makif) into immanent consciousness (Ohr Pnimi) by the G”R’s of the various domains of Creation. White denotes consciousness space. G”R = Gimel Rishonot (three top Sefirot or ‘brains’/Mochin); Z”T = Zayin Tachtonot (seven bottom or ‘bodily’ Sefirot).
Figure 1. Progressive transduction (revelation) of transcendent consciousness (Ohr Makif) into immanent consciousness (Ohr Pnimi) by the G”R’s of the various domains of Creation. White denotes consciousness space. G”R = Gimel Rishonot (three top Sefirot or ‘brains’/Mochin); Z”T = Zayin Tachtonot (seven bottom or ‘bodily’ Sefirot).

According to the Kabbalah, the mental pole of reality transcends and pervades the entirety of Creation while remaining absolutely unified at its source. During the Shattering of the Vessels (Shevirat Ha’Kelim), a pivotal theme of Lurianic Kabbalah, only the Vessels of the ‘bodily’ Sefirot ‘broke’ and ‘descended’ to the ‘lower’ Worlds of Briah, Yetzirah and Asiyah; the Vessels of the Mochin (three top Sefirot) were blemished or descended into lower recesses of the World of Atzilut but did not shatter (Fig. 2). For this reason, although the ‘body’ of every deca-Sefirotic system may consist of innumerable parts (homologous to the seven shattered Sefirot), consciousness in all its myriad forms and regardless of its level of complexity (representing the top three Sefirot) manifests exclusively as a unified whole.13 This concept is consistent with empirical impressions regarding the state of the healthy human mind, and figures centrally in the Kabbalah’s understanding of consciousness.

Figure 2. Shattering of the Vessels (Shevirat Ha’kelim). The top three ‘conscious’ Sefirot (Keter-Chochmah-Binah or Chochmah-Binah-Da’at) remain intact and persist in the ‘high’ World of Atzilut. The bottom seven ‘unconscious’ Sefirot (Chesed to Malchut) shatter and descend to the ‘lower’ Worlds of Briah, Yetzirah and Asiyah.
Figure 2. Shattering of the Vessels (Shevirat Ha’kelim). The top three ‘conscious’ Sefirot (Keter-Chochmah-Binah or Chochmah-Binah-Da’at) remain intact and persist in the ‘high’ World of Atzilut. The bottom seven ‘unconscious’ Sefirot (Chesed to Malchut) shatter and descend to the ‘lower’ Worlds of Briah, Yetzirah and Asiyah.

As described below, the Kabbalah comprehends consciousness to be hierarchically and holographically organized, relativistic (in an Einsteinian sense), and capable of downward causation. Metaphysical constructs unique to humankind (in the spirit of imago Dei) augment intrinsic neural consciousness and manifest as self-awareness, enhanced intuition and subjective moral autonomy.14

Relativistic Consciousness

With publication of his Special Theory of Relativity in 1905,15 Albert Einstein shook the foundations of physics and our understanding of reality by proposing the inviolate nature of the speed of light in a vacuum, and the variability of spatial magnitude and the flow of time relative to the velocity of the observer. The Lurianic Kabbalah intimates that the consciousness hierarchy pervading the Creation (Fig. 1) is, like space–time, relativistic. The metaphysical basis of this assertion stems from the fact that the ‘bottom’ Sefirot, NetzachHodYesod and Malchut of a given World or Partzuf are enclothed within (Hitlabshut16 ) their ‘subjacent’ counterparts where they respectively serve as the latter’s Chochmah–Binah–Da’at and Keter. In other words, the ‘lower,’ ‘non-conscious’ aspects of a superior construct are the ‘brains’ (Mochin) of, and impart consciousness to, the immediately inferior entity—relativity.17 Thus, when a mineral is incorporated within plant matter, the three top ‘conscious’ Sefirot of the mineral are compactified within the insensate seven lower (‘bodily’) Sefirot of, say, a tree. The tree, in turn, completes its own deca-Sefirotic structure by expression (revelation) of three consciousness-conferring Sefirot (Mochin) endowing novel properties of growth and reproduction, which lay latent within the mineral. In 1990, Bohm enunciated a strikingly parallel conviction that “each mental side (of every physical-mental dipole) becomes a physical side as we move in the direction of greater subtlety.”18 This dynamic repeats itself when ascending from vegetable to animal life: The entire 10-Sefirah (three conscious-seven bodily) span of the plant is compressed as the unconscious seven bottom Sefirot of the animal, while the latter exhibits (reveals) a new set of three top-Sefirot mediating unprecedented animal sentience. The capacities for growth and reproduction empowered by the conscious Sefirot of the plant persist within the animal kingdom (which also manifests growth and reproduction) but are subsumed within the animal’s ‘unconscious’ seven bodily Sefirot. The three newly-revealed ‘mindful’ Sefirot confer awareness, emotion and other neurological/behavioral features to the animal not observed in plants. Upgrading from animals to humans, the 10 Sefirot of the former are compressed as unconscious bodily Sefirot endowing humankind with a broad array of physiological and psychological functions indispensable to our survival. Completing the deca-Sefirotic system in Homo sapiens is a triad of newly-revealed top-Sefirot conferring attributes of self-consciousness, language, reason, creativity, free will and morality unique to our species. Interested readers are referred to Kabbalistic Panpsychism19 for a discussion of the diverse implications of the schema presented here for female intuition, prophecy, human neuroanatomy, ‘theory of mind,’ neuropsychiatric disorders and artificial intelligence.

The Future of Consciousness

In previous publications,20 , 21 we illustrated the principle of Interpenetration (Hitkashrut)—that intimate bonds exist not merely among the 10 Sefirot comprising any given particular but also among ‘like’ Sefirot, e.g. Chesed, across all of the cosmos’ individual parts. We demonstrated how this principle may play out within and among the organs and tissues of a single organism providing far greater levels of integration and wholeness than would otherwise be possible. The same metaphysic also manifests inter-personally within society at large: The Kabbalah intimates that whenever Alice empathizes with, befriends, or loves another, call him Bob, she is in fact bonding with (Interpenetration) the mini-version of herself embedded as a concealed fractal (Interinclusion; Hitkallelut) within the target of her affection. If Bob reciprocates in kind, then he similarly connects with the mini-Bob within Alice. The outcome of such interaction is a spiritual ‘exchange’ (Chiluf) of Alice’s mini-Bob for Bob’s mini-Alice thereby promoting the unification (‘strengthening’) of both partners; this is akin to the Chiluf between masculine aspects of Partzuf Imma and feminine components of Partzuf Abba that, according to Lurianic Kabbalah, enhances the integrity and mutual affinity of both Partzufim.22 What if Bob and Alice were to reiterate this ‘bonding’ process with their Creation-wide network of fractal counterparts? In line with Kabbalistic reasoning, such bonding may be critical for the revelation of a state of ‘cosmic consciousness’ in and beyond the Seventh (Messianic) Millennium. The emphasis here is on the word ‘revelation’ because from the holistic perch of Oivi (perspective of hidden unity where the Creation’s hierarchical scaffolding evaporates and all things are perceived as spiritually equidistant from the G‑dhead), there never was nor can there be any interruption of Alice’s entanglement (Interpenetration) with the innumerable mini-Alices disseminated as fractals in every nook and cranny of the Cosmos (including the one within Bob). From the vantage point of Oivi, as in Bohm’s Implicate Order,23 Alice is the sum total of all her scattered ‘selves’, period. Only from the mundane perspective of Orech (hierarchical unfolding of the reality necessary for the advent of apparent separateness, evil and free will) or Bohm’s Explicate Order24 , 25 does Alice appear to our senses as a circumscribed individual disengaged from the rest of Creation.26

It is noteworthy that similar ideas have recently surfaced on purely secular grounds. On the basis of quantum mechanical non-locality (entanglement) and telepathy data accruing from rigorously-conducted sensory deprivation experiments, psychologist Adrian Nelson posed the following: “To what extent do our inner mental landscapes interpenetrate during everyday life? To what degree might we be subtly exchanging information with others and our environments? If consciousness reflects an intrinsic aspect of all reality, it invites us to consider ourselves … as part of a single, evolving experiential system.”27

Kabbalistic predictions regarding a future epistemology of consciousness are decidedly optimistic. The Kabbalah specifically alludes to the advent of a Seventh (Messianic) Millennium as a phase transition (i) when revelations will render tractable an appreciation of consciousness as a fundamental force of nature and (ii) inaugurating humankind’s ultimate journey towards a heightened state of cosmic consciousness. To the extent that the Kabbalah’s position on consciousness is panpsychist in essence, disclosure of the seamless interpenetration of ‘minds’ at the end-of-days would implicate both the animate and inanimate domains and culminate in a grand self-awareness of the Creation’s unified underpinning—a hopeful harbinger of eternal peace when the unified Name of G‑d will be revealed and glorified: ביום ההוא יהיה ד׳ אחד ושמו אחד (“On that day G‑d and his Name will be One”28 ).

Concluding Remarks

In this essay, I attempted to show how panpsychism, contemporary physics and the Kabbalah share common ground in their attempt to decipher the fiendishly elusive nature of consciousness. As such, ongoing dialogue among these disciplines could prove mutually reinforcing moving forward. The astonishing advances in cosmology, quantum mechanics and neuroscience we are witnessing today, in fulfillment of the Zohar’s prophecy,29 may supply the Kabbalah with powerful analogies and cogent vocabulary, rendering the wisdom of the esoteric Torah more accessible to modern audiences. As a quid pro quo, exploration of the profound and splendidly imaginative Kabbalistic tradition may demarcate novel avenues of scientific inquiry and enlighten the enterprise of consciousness study.