Viktor Frankel

David Cowles

Jan 27, 2022

“Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” ——

These words are attributed to Viktor Frankel, holocaust survivor, philosopher, and author.

“Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” ——


These words are attributed to Viktor Frankel, holocaust survivor, philosopher, and author.

It appears that Frankel is limiting this idea of a ‘space’ between cause and effect to human decisions; but there is no reason to be so restrictive. From Hasidic rabbis to modern philosophers (e.g., Alfred North Whitehead), there is an alternative view that inserts Frankel’s ‘space’ between every cause and every effect, whether ‘animal, vegetable or mineral’.


Of course, this is a radical rejection of deterministic philosophies that assume effects follow directly, and inexorably, from their causes. Not so! Between every cause and its effect(s) there is always a ‘space’. In some cases that space is infinitesimal (e.g., when two billiard balls collide); in other cases, it can be considerable (e.g., when a human being consciously chooses one behavior out of a range of optional behaviors).


In the case of the billiard balls, we can predict the momentum of the struck ball with enormous accuracy. The space between cause and effect is exceedingly small, so the ‘freedom factor’ can for all practical purposes be ignored. Not so, of course, with human behavior, and perhaps to a lesser extent, with the behavior of other living organisms.


How do we experience this ‘space’? As physical space? As a period of time? Certainly not. There is no physical space between two colliding billiard balls; there is no period of time over which the balls exchange momentum. The very idea of a spatiotemporal separation between cause and effect seems absurd. Yet when we are agonizing over whether to order the steak or the lobster, the decision making process can seem interminable. But this confuses deliberation (the agony) with decision (the ecstasy). When we finally decide to order the sea bass, that decision may be instantaneous, no matter how long the deliberation lasted.


In my view, Frankel’s ‘space’ is not to be found on the spatiotemporal continuum. It takes place outside of spacetime, in a dimension perpendicular to spacetime; we sometimes call this dimension ‘eternity’. Eternity is what’s left when you take space and time out of the equation.

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