Resolving Barry Schwartz’s paradox of choice

We ended off our last article with speaking about Howard Moskowitz, and a food industry now filled with thirty-six types of spaghetti sauce. But in addition to more choices related to pasta dressing, it seems there’s has been an explosion in recent years of choices for just about anything. In addition to the millions of books available on, there are tens of thousands of electronics, and gadgets you never thought you needed until you read some glowing reviews about how it “revolutionized” the way they grated cheese, or brushed their teeth.

What this has led to, as Barry Schwartz writes in his book The Paradox of Choice, is an increased inability among consumers to make a decision. Even after they make a decision, as he writes, because of the variety of choices, there is more of a likelihood that consumers will second guess the option that they did choose.

As there are many theories and studies out there, both in favor and against The Paradox of Choice, what we’d like to do in this article is focus on the resolution. In order assist consumers in their decision making, instead of decreasing the amount of options, companies should begin organizing their product offerings.

The Core of Consciousness

As mentioned in the previous article, “consciousness” (דַעַת) is what bridges the gap between inner and outer reality. Consciousness is the only tool we have with which our soul can probe the territory, or product selection, of experience. Therefore, when the attachments or buying decisions we make prove unsatisfactory, it is our conscious attachment to the outside world that helps train us how to bridge both worlds. Ultimately, the hope of each consumer is that over time, a greater harmony will be reached between the sentiments and aspirations felt on the inside, and the reality on the outside.

So consumer decisions are both verification and contact points between each individual consumer and the world of consumerism. But the purchasing patterns are a sign of something more. As mentioned last time, the fact that the end result of the spaghetti sauce story was six kinds of sauces in 36 varieties was significant. These numbers served as a clear reminder that consumers buy products because of a desire to actualize their potential in life. Even of food, which is a basic necessity and not a luxury like some purchases, it is said that “a tzadik (righteous person) eats to satisfy his soul.” As we will soon see, even the most basic purchases then can be seen as an expression of one’s faith. Faith in both the consumer’s ability to attain the goals they have set out for themselves, and faith that through properly directed prayer, God will help to make the decisions we make in life turn out for the good.

Choice, Desire, and Drive

If you work in the consumer-driven world, or are intrigued by this topic, you should commit these three words to memory and think about them often. These three words are the basis for all decision making. But before we explain each, let’s first present them visually in a grid:













The Hebrew words for our three terms can be read either horizontally or vertically. We can derive from this that there is no difference whether we relate these three concepts to horizontal or vertical product growth. However you read the chart, or in whichever direction you expand your product line, the outcome is the same!

Before we explain these three levels of conscious decision-making, we first need to explain that they derive from the superconscious realm of the sefirah of “crown” (כֶּתֶר). It is called “superconscious” because the person himself doesn’t realize at first why he makes one decision over another. But through the effort expended from a willingness to clarify his faith to better understand the reasoning behind his decisions and desires, the more the superconscious realm descends to become revealed on the conscious level.

Faith and Choice

The highest level of the sefirah of crown—”faith” (אֱמוּנָה)—resides at the hidden juncture where the soul clings to its source in Divine essence (עַצְמוּת). It is this rooting within God’s essence that endows the soul with eternal life, as suggested by the verse: “You who cling to God, your God, are alive all of you this day.”

The state of pleasure associated with faith is completely simple. It refers to a state which is not as much pleasure as the anticipation of pleasure—that ultimate pleasure that will derive in days to come from the revelation within creation of the Divine essence, demonstrating the absolute origin of all things within Divinity.

Having its root in the inscrutable realm of the Divine essence, the essential state of faith is one that cannot be apprehended through logic or reason.

As seen here in a recent Samsung graphic, the idea that all products are somehow connected is gaining momentum. Whether the means of connection is WiFi, infrared, some cloud based computing system, it is a sign that the superconscious concept of universal connectivity is beginning to descend into the conscious realm (this was discussed at length in: “The best product coming out of CES is CES”).

It is important to remember, however, that the connectivity we seek is not more technology gadgets, social media platforms, or cloud based storage systems. Instead, consumers are looking for an experience that engages their psyche in a fundamental way. The conscious awareness at the level of choice is that the consumer is choosing those things that they think will connect them to universal or connected concepts. As we said above, ultimately in order to demonstrate the absolute origin of all things (digital or otherwise) within Divinity.

Pleasure and Desire

The second level of the sefirah of crown—”pleasure” (תַּעֲנוּג)—is the base of an entirely different kind of superconscious pleasure; the anticipation that conscious interaction with the world will uncover Divinity within creation. Whereas faith seeks to experience the Divine essence and connectivity among all things in creation, pleasure seeks to savor and select specific things deriving from the nature of that person’s soul root.

It is here where the intrinsic values that the soul employs in measuring experience have their ultimate origin. It is also from here that the innate aesthetic sense that informs one’s ongoing probe of external reality derives pleasure is our present level.

The sensation of “desire” (חָפַץ) at this level is where consumer choice begins as a differentiated choice based on some intrinsic, soul-root, desire. For instance, the fact that one person prefers chocolate and another vanilla can be meditated upon according to Kabbalah. The challenge at this level is to step away from the object of our desire, and begin to think more about why we seek this particular physical object over another.

It is important to remember that this level of desire still has its origins in the superconscious realm; a realm which precedes both the intellectual and emotive realms. Instead of being intellectually or emotively founded–he remembers eating chocolate as a kid, or he just loves chocolate–there is some superconscious idea or concept that this chocolate eater is seeking to actualize in his soul.

Once we are able to conceptualize not only chocolate, but vanilla, caramel, and even rocky road, then we can begin to map out all the possible varieties of ice cream according to the full array of ten sefirot called a partzuf. (For an example of a mental exercise in concept mapping, please read: The Question Behind the Quora Brand Concept).

Why is this important? We began to say this in the beginning but now let’s explain it a little more. If a person realizes that he has a need in his soul to express more of the sefirah of “loving-kindness” (חֶסֶד), then he should be able to know which products remind him more to exhibit loving-kindness. Say there is a new type of milkshake container that comes built with two straws. Instead of buying the variety with one, he should buy the one with two and share his treat with a friend.

Also there are some chocolate bars that especially break off into pieces, and others which come from the store as a solid hunk of chocolate. Even though the ingredients may be exactly the same, conceptually they are a world apart. While the first makes it easy to break off a piece of chocolate and share, the second is just a mass of sweet waiting to be devoured.

Will and Drive

The third and final level of the sefirah of crown is ”will” (רָצוֹן). Initially inspired by the level of pleasure, will is the force that propels a person from the superconscious to the conscious. In order to be an innovator takes more than the idea coming down into the conscious realm. It takes both a clarification of one’s beliefs, and then subsequently, a willingness or conviction to see their dream through down to reality.

Although will’s immediate direction comes from the superconscious realm of pleasure, the executive force of will is actually more intimately allied in the sefirah of crown with the highest level of faith. When directed by faith, will has inherited a capacity from faith to suspend gratification in the pursuit of more purposeful goals.

As opposed to pleasure, which, when void of its own inner sense of faith, may mobilize will in the pursuit of transient pleasure, faith harnesses one’s will in the service of more lasting objectives. The decision making expression at will is drive (both the same Hebrew word, רָצוֹן). Since it is still rooted in the superconscious, it is neither intellectual or emotional, but rather an instinctive and often inflexible force of raw self-assertion.

To give an example of how things trickle down from the superconscious to the conscious by means of will, let’s bring a story from two weeks ago.

Many of you know that Biz Stone, co-inventor and co-founder of Twitter, launched a mobile app Tuesday, January 7th, called Jelly. In his artful blog post, Stone encourages the public to share their knowledge and help others. In another interview, he further encouraged the public to “make the world a more empathetic place…”

What does this have to do with this discussion? Because close to the time that Biz Stone published his Jelly announcement, a class was given in Kfar Chabad by Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh about the decentralized nature of Torah innovations; about the importance of group innovation; and at length about the sefirah of beauty (whose inner experience is empathy or compassion, רַחֲמִים).

Why do I mention this? Not because I think that one was thinking about the other. Remember, the source of the sefirah of crown places every detail of creation as fully submerged in Divine essence. If everyone is then “swimming in the same pool” of superconscious, then its readily understandable why these things happen, and happen often.

But there is another lesson from the Jelly example. The clearest way to see connectedness is to start from the Torah, then look at the current events through this lens. While reading the Jelly blog post alone may seem like an isolated event, when viewed within the sea of Torah, then even the jellyfish is included as part of the sea.

About the Author
Yonatan Gordon is a student of Harav Yitzchak Ginsburgh, and co-founder of
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