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Meru Foundation eTORUS(tm) Newsletter
Number 25 – 1 November 2004
Copyright 2004 Meru Foundation
Edited by Levanah (Cynthia) Tenen

On September 1-2, Stan was the featured guest on the national overnight radio program, "Coast to Coast AM with George Noory". The response we received -- both during and after the program -- was extraordinarily positive. The producers of "Coast to Coast AM" listen to feedback from their audience -- so if you would like Stan to be invited back, please let them know. (If you didn't hear the interview live, it's still available on the "Coast to Coast AM" website via a subscription to their "Streamlink" service -- see http://www.coasttocoastam.com/shows/2004/09/01.html for details.)

I want to welcome all of you receiving this Meru Foundation eTORUS newsletter for the first time because you listened to Stan's interview, and contacted us. Thank you all for your feedback -- and for your support of our work. eTORUS is published four to six times per year. It's the best way to stay informed about Stan's guest appearances (such as the "Coast to Coast AM" interview), about articles published on the Meru research, and our US travel schedule. We occasionally review books of interest; and often, we offer eTORUS readers a "first look" at some of Stan's articles and essays in progress.

Previous issues of eTORUS are archived on Meru Foundation's website, at http://www.meru.org/Newsletter/journalindex.html .

Recently, I have heard reports from people who can't always access our website, http://www.meru.org -- while others, at the same time, can access it readily. In order to trace this problem, I need to know your ISP (Internet Service Provider), and where you're located. Please email this information to me at meru@meru.org -- thanks.

The "Coast to Coast AM" 4-video special that we offered during September -- four lecture videos plus our First Sound(tm): The Music of Genesis CD, for $100 plus shipping -- was so popular that we are now offering it again -- with a difference. This time, you can order either First Sound or Three Orchestral Works by Daniel S. Gil as your bonus music CD. For more information on Three Orchestral Works, go to http://www.meetingtent.com/ThreeOrchWorks.html , and for information on this Holiday Special, go to http://www.meetingtent.com/HolidayOffer.html .

For those who already ordered our "Coast to Coast AM" special, we have a new package offer to complement it: our three supplemental videos, plus Gil's "Three Orchestral Works," for $75 plus shipping. See http://www.meetingtent.com/HolidayOffer.html#3x3 for more information.

TO DO OR NOT TO DO: Some Thoughts on the Golden Rule
©2004 Stan Tenen

A few weeks ago, I was watching a round-table discussion that included a number of theologians and a number of skeptics, including Michael Shermer, who writes the monthly column "Skeptic" for Scientific American. In defense of the theological position, it was suggested that one of the benefits of religion is its advocacy of the Golden Rule. This is undoubtedly so, and we are planning to discuss this issue at greater length in the future. What was initially surprising -- but on consideration, not surprising at all -- was Michael Shermer's response. He pointed out that any thinking creature sufficiently advanced to have a theory of mind* would naturally also appreciate the Golden Rule. In other words, the Golden Rule is not dependent on pre-existing belief or faith; it is also desirable from the objective perspective of a person who recognizes the humanity and feelings of other people. The Golden Rule forms a bridge that connects theology and the world of faith, with the life-sciences and the world of reason. One might even say, "As above" (in the world of faith), "So below" (in the world of science).

There are many different versions of the Golden Rule. These range from the terse "alchemical" Golden Rule, "As Above/So Below" at one extreme, to the vernacular "What goes around, comes around," at the other extreme, and to the two different formal versions that are most well-known -- one stated in the positive and most identified with Christian tradition, and the other in the negative, the earlier form that is most identified with Jewish tradition.

1) Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

2) Do not do to others what is hateful to you. (R. Hillel's traditional version, otherwise known as "Torah on one foot"**)

What's the difference?

As an example of the difference, here is a moral test that scholars and philosophers use to illustrate problems one encounters when attempting to apply the Golden Rule.

You're standing on a high point, overlooking railroad tracks. In front of you is a switch that can divert an oncoming train from one track, where ten people are standing, to another track, where one person is standing. Neither the one person, nor the group of ten, know about each other, nor are they aware of the approaching train. The train will inevitably kill either the ten people if you do nothing, or the single person if you throw the switch.

Currently, the track is set so that the ten people will be killed, and you -- standing on the high point -- control the switch. If you do nothing, ten are killed. If you throw the switch, one is killed.

The Golden Rule, stated in the positive, leaves you in a quandary. You would _like_ to treat others as you would want to be treated. But how can you choose?

If you are one of the ten, you certainly would want a person standing on a high point (controlling the switch) to divert the train to the track that will kill the single person -- and not you.

If you are the single person, you would want the person controlling the switch to leave it where it is -- pointing _away_ from you. You would find it very hateful for someone to throw a switch that diverts a train from a track that was not bearing down on you, to the track where you are standing, and thus take your life. This would be all the more true if you never knew about, nor ever heard of the fate, of the ten people grouped on the other track. All you would know was that someone had thrown the switch, and caused the train to bear down on you. Clearly you would find this hateful.

The Golden Rule, stated in the positive, does not offer moral guidance here. By telling you that you are to do something, when both choices are what you would not want for yourself, you are left with no good choice at all.

In this situation, the Golden Rule, stated in the negative, does offer moral guidance. It tells you not to act when your action would be hateful to you, if you were subject to it.

Since you could as easily be the single person as one of the ten, in this instance taking any action would be as likely to be hateful to you as not, regardless of what action it was -- while taking no action leaves the outcome in the hands of God. While from your (and our) finite perspective, the train must surely and inevitably kill someone, from a higher perspective, "miracles are possible", and the train, even while barreling down on either the one or the many, could derail and hurt neither the one nor the many. And if you interfered and switched the track, you might prevent this "save" from ever happening.

In the abstract, in this situation, the positively stated Golden Rule does not offer unambiguous moral guidance, while the negatively stated Golden Rule does.

Of course, we don't live in the abstract. In the real world, even a morally unambiguous Golden Rule isn't necessarily going to allow us to feel any better, and certainly not more virtuous, when anyone dies. But the point is that every individual is a world, even a universe, and we can't possibly choose between one and another. Perhaps the Golden Rule, both positive and negative, is not here just for moral guidance, nor only as a result of a theory of mind* that enables us to empathize with the predicament of others. The Golden Rule, whether stated in the positive or in the negative, enhances our humility by reminding us of the limitations of our finite view.


*A person who has a theory of mind is a person who realizes that other people have feelings, strengths, and weaknesses just as they do, and thus they are aware of the effects on another person when they cause that person joy or injury. And since they identify with the other person -- "There but for the grace of God (or the luck of the draw) go I" -- a person with a theory of mind treats others as they would like to be treated themselves, and refrains from treating others as they would not like to be treated themselves. For more on the concept of a theory of mind, here is a link that may be helpful: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theory_of_mind .

**From the Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Shabbat 31a: "On another occasion it happened that a certain questioner came before Shammai and said to him, "Make me a convert [to your beliefs], on condition that you teach me the whole Torah while I stand on one foot." Thereupon, [Shammai] responded to him with the builder's cubit which was in his hand. When he [the questioner] went before Hillel, [Rabbi Hillel] said to him, "What is hateful to you, do not to your neighbor: that is the whole Torah. The rest is the commentary; go and study."


I hope you enjoy this Meru Foundation eTORUS(tm) Newsletter.

We welcome your comments and suggestions, and would like the opportunity to speak with you personally.

If you have comments or questions, please send an email to Cynthia Tenen at meru@meru.org with your phone number and a good time to call -- or, please call us at 781-784-8902 (Boston area). I would like to brainstorm with you.

Thank you for your interest in the work of the Meru Foundation.

The Meru Foundation eTORUS(tm) Newsletter is copyright 2004 Meru Foundation. All rights reserved.
Past issues of eTORUS(tm) are archived online on the Meru Foundation website at

You may duplicate and pass along this newsletter, in its entirety, as long as you include this copyright notice and the contact information below. Please send comments and questions to <meru@meru.org>.

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