I took this picture from my office window at Syracuse.

When I first looked at it, I thought those were toy cars that had been left somewhere inside my office. I then realized that they were cars in the parking lot outside and down from my office on the 5th floor of the Hall of Languages.

During daylight hours, one simply looks through a window to gaze at the world outside. Optically, the distinction between inside and outside is pretty clear. In this image, however, the view is more complex. The dark outside is dimly lit by a street lamp. Inside a reading lamp illuminates the inside of the room. This setup allows one to look outside through the window even as the window reflects back the view from inside the room.  Conceptually, the image suggests a model for what it might mean to look inside and outside simultaneously in a single intuition.

Do religious perspectives work in an analogous way? A single intuition lends itself to a look that is simultaneously metaphysical (external to the world or to self) and physical (internal to the world or to self).

It’s like the cave by the sea mentioned in a rabbinic source (Midrash Tanhuma). Water from outside the cave flows inside and out, mixing with water inside the cave. I like how water sloshes back and forth between zones. I find this image much more satisfying than Plato’s cave with its more distinct demarcation between inside and outside.

About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics.
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