Leaps of faith

Aaron M. Schreiber draws parallels between science and faith.

By GERALD SCHROEDER
August 20, 2009 14:26
Leaps of faith

quantum physics book 248.88. (photo credit: )

Quantum Physics, Jewish Law, & Kabbalah; Astonishing Parallels By Aaron M. Schreiber 200 pp., NIS 128 Available from M. Pomeranz Bookseller Rehov Be'eri 5, Jerusalem pomeranz@netmedia.net.il "For three years the school of Shammai and the school of Hillel disagreed [on issues of Jewish law]... A voice [from heaven] called out and said, '[Both opinions] are the words of the living God'" (Eruvim 13b). But can both be true even though they disagree? Nobel Laureate physicist Richard Feynman might have concurred had he applied his vast knowledge of quantum physics to his own Judaic heritage of talmudic literature. "I will summarize then [the findings of quantum physics] by saying electrons arrive in lumps, like [groups of individual] particles, but sometimes like a wave." The electron appears in two totally different forms, simultaneously, a wave and a particle. And both descriptions are true, simultaneously, even though each description differs totally from the other. A wave has no edges. It spreads out. The space of a particle is defined by its edges. Waves and particles are as different from each other as were the legal opinions of the schools of Shammai and Hillel and, in both cases, one via observations within the quantum nature of the world, and one via talmudic logic, both are discovered to be true, as true as the words of the living God. This is but one of the many examples that Aaron Schreiber brings in Quantum Physics, Jewish Law, & Kabbalah. Appropriately, the subtitle of the book is "Astonishing Parallels." How two diametrically differing legal opinions or physical properties can both be valid eludes human logic. But that is exactly the mind-boggling illogical nature of the quantum world, the study of the tiny, smaller-than-an-atom particles that somehow combine to make everything we observe within the physical universe, you and me included. Feynman, as quoted in Schreiber's book, warned, "Do not keep saying, how can it be like that? Because you will get 'down the drain,' into a blind alley from which nobody has yet escaped. Nobody knows how it can be like that." SCHREIBER HAS divided his book into four self-contained sections. The first provides the reader, in layperson terms, a brief overview of the principles of quantum physics. Here and in the section that follows Schreiber brings a series of concepts from Kabbala and the Talmud that, though applied to biblical law, are similar in quality to phenomena observed in the subatomic world of the quanta. A major scientific concession, elucidated in Part 2 of the book, was the abandonment by the scientific community of the formerly firmly held view of a deterministic universe, a universe in which everything is predetermined by the laws of nature. Approximately 200 years ago, Marquis Pierre Simon de Laplace formulated the theory of determinism. In essence it taught that since the world is governed by the laws of nature, and since nature obeys these laws, clearly free will is a fantasy. Every act and every thought is controlled and directed by the physical, chemical, biological condition of the preceding moment. Plug that information as it relates to your brain and mind into a giant computing machine, put in the laws of nature, and predict what your next thought or act will be. We are under the firm control of the laws of nature. As Schreiber so accurately points out, determinism stood directly in opposition "to the religious tenet of ultimate reward and punishment by God." Yet determinism was so obviously true. And then came the early 20th century, ushering in the discoveries of the quantum world with all its illogical wonder. Within that wonder lay the concept of uncertainty, that in the laws of nature there is a slack, a leeway in how exactly those laws control the behavior of the subatomic particles. Suddenly we discovered that the physical, chemical, biological condition of a person's brain does not determine what that person's next thought or act will be. Uncertainty opened the door for the possibility of a human's free will. The Torah never doubted it. As quoted in the words of Sir Arthur Eddington, "religion first became possible for a reasonable scientific man about 1927... [with] the final overthrow of strict causality." THE THIRD section of this book continues to study the theological implications of quantum physics. Schreiber draws a meaningful parallel between the illogical basis of quantum physics, that the world is composed of particles that are also simultaneously waves (the puzzling wave/particle duality) and the aspects of biblical law that too evade human logic. An entire array of Torah directives known as the hukim exist as mandatory commands and yet the underlying logic for these biblically based obligations eluded even the wisdom of Solomon. Quantum physics is not rejected because its basis evades human logic. In fact, as Schreiber points out, illogical though it may be, "a very significant part of the world's commerce is based on the principles of quantum physics." How myopic it is for persons to "reject religious belief because one or another of its religious beliefs seem illogical to them... [especially] when they rely on the contra-logical quantum physics in their everyday functioning." The final section of this book provides an expanded description of quantum theory. We learn of one of its more intriguing aspects as it relates to the entire universe. Just as Kabbala envisions the entire universe embedded within the spiritual nature of God, and so the universe is spiritually totally interconnected, quantum physics implies, and experiments in the late 20th century tend to confirm, that the entire physical universe is entangled, a web in which an every act has its own universal impact. This concept, known as nonlocality, does, both spiritually and materially, indeed make us our brothers' keepers. IN THE preface to his book, Schreiber asks the pertinent question: Should we expect a parallel between quantum physics and the biblical description of the world? Jewish tradition tells us "God looked into the Torah and created the world." As a result, the physical world logically reflects spiritual concepts included in the Torah. "For that reason the opening sentence of the Bible reads "'B'raisheet [With raisheet] God created the heavens and the earth.' And there is no raisheet other than Torah" (Midrash Rabba). Torah is the blueprint of creation. This well-researched book provides a plethora of sources in the realms of biblical commentary as well as in the theory and application of quantum physics. A person seeking an introductory crash course in either of these fields can find it here. What this book desperately needs is an editor with the skill to streamline the format by which the information is presented. The writer's most recent book is God According to God, published by HarperOne.


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