Quantum Physics and Reality

Quantum Physics and Reality

While the domains of quantum physics and Jewish mysticism seem to have little in common, what they share is the idea that many entities exist that cannot be directly perceived by humans. Within this commonality, there are a surprising myriad of parallels, with the traditions of Kabbalah encouraging and inspiring inquiry into phenomena that may not be readily tangible to us.

Morris Levine, an aerospace and national security engineer, spoke with Rabbi Linda Joseph at Bet Aviv in Columbia, MD about the richness of this comparison.

(This post is part of Sinai and Synapses’ project Scientists in Synagogues, a grass-roots program to offer Jews opportunities to explore the most interesting and pressing questions surrounding Judaism and science. Bet Aviv, in Columbia, MD, held their first Scientists in Synagogues seminar on November 4, 2023, with Morris Levine and Rabbi Joseph, speaking on the topic of Quantum Physics and Reality, as part of their series Knowledge Unbound – Connecting Science and Judaism.)

Darla Strouse:  Today you’re going to learn about quantum physics and reality. I want to introduce our speakers, and I’m going to start with Morris Levine. Morris holds a graduate degree in aerospace engineering from the University of Southern California. He is an Air Force veteran who specialized in airborne reconnaissance operations and also worked in the intelligence community, retiring as the Associate Director of the National Security Agency responsible for electronic warfare and electronic intelligence and more. He’s also the founder of MBL Associates, LLC – national security consultants. He’s done that for years, and is still serving on the board of directors of Airbus. So he has quite a lovely background and a wonderful background.

And now, a little bit about Rabbi Joseph. Most of us know Rabbi Joseph and appreciate her. There are some other people who don’t know her. My sister-in-law knows that I talk about her all the time, and I think she’s great. Rabbi Joseph is entering her fifth year as rabbi at Bet Aviv. She was born in Australia, and is the second Australian woman to be ordained, which is something that not everybody knows. She talks about her Australian accent, which I totally love. I’ve tried a few words and she just shook her head and said, stop it. It doesn’t sound anything like Crocodile Dundee if that’s what you’re thinking about. Rabbi Joseph has worked for 28 years in congregations in Australia and the United States, and with the Union for Reform Judaism. As our rabbi, she demonstrates spiritual creativity and a passion for rabbinic and other teaching, Jewish traditions, community connections, writing and storytelling. So with that, enjoy this seminar.

What’s tiny and what’s real

Morris Levine: Good morning. First thing, truth in advertising. I am not a physicist. I am an engineer. And engineers view the world differently than physicists. Richard Madonna, raise your hand – thank you very much. (Laughter) Richard’s my backup, just in case.

I call this Quantum 101, because as I’m not a quantum physicist, that’s the best I can do. When I talk about the very basics of things, there’s lots of math and lots of theories subject to dispute and study in physics. I’ll talk about two aspects to start. One is the smallness of the submicroscopic world. 

You see the cartoon, I think, up here – you see the atom, the molecule, and a particle? The picture of the particle, which looks like a small solar system, is the typical rendition of what a particle looks like. In reality, if you scale it, if the nucleus of a particle is the size of a golf ball, the electron is two-and-a-half kilometers away. Think about that. It means that since this is a quantum universe, for the most part, the universe is empty. You look up in the night sky and it doesn’t seem that way, but most of it is emptiness.

Let’s talk a little bit about the math – the only math I’m going to go into. I was working on space programs for about ten years – payloads and rockets. And in those areas, the size, weight, and power of the devices are very important. And in technology, we were working with new- generation chips, and the contractor had been developing quarter-micron-sized chips, which were absolutely remarkable at that point in time. 

A micron is one-millionth of a meter. So we’re already getting very small. To phrase it a little bit differently, at 40 to 50 microns, you can actually see it; 70 microns is about the size of human hair. One micron is a nanometer, and a nanometer is a billionth of a meter. So a quarter of a micron is 250 nanometers. Anybody got an iPhone 15? Not yet. One of your chips [was made] at the three-nanometer level. And just to give you another comparison for how big a nanometer is, the thickness of this piece of paper is 100,000 nanometers. We’re definitely dealing with a small God, I guess, is dealing with the large, along with Newton.

Linda Joseph: I’m not sure that God is dealing with the large. God is dealing with the large and the small. (Laughs)

Morris Levine: I wanted to get you going.

First we’ll talk for a couple of seconds about quantum reality and the question of what’s real. And the rabbi is right. Subatomic particles are real. Newtonian physics is real. I know that this is a table – it’s not an automobile, it’s not a bed. But in quantum physics, it could be both.

So, quantum mechanics is the physics of the small, the subatomic world. Quantum reality is the concept that the physical world, at the quantum level, is fundamentally different from the physical world. There are aspects we call “weird science” in quantum, one of which is superposition, which is the ability of a quantum particle to exist in multiple states. There are four states in a quantum particle – principal, azimuthal, magnetic, and spin. In Newtonian, that’s the world that we perceive as real. 

Quantum-reality theory refers to the branch of physics that examines the nature of reality at the quantum level, the behavior of particles, and the energy at the smallest scales. According to quantum reality theory, particles do not have definite properties until they are measured or observed. This is another weird aspect. You can observe a particle, and it will change from a particle to a wave, from a wave to a particle. The aspects change as well, just by the very fact of observation. Can’t figure that one quite out.

Overall, quantum theory relies on a framework for understanding the strange and counterintuitive nature of the quantum world. It has wide-ranging implications for various fields, including physics, chemistry, and computer science, and continues to be an active area of research and exploitation.

The four worlds in Kabbalah

Linda Joseph: So let me talk a little bit about this. I love the fact that there are four aspects, because we in Judaism, in the mystical part of Judaism, and the mystical part of Judaism dates, some say, back to the second century, but probably became more involved in the medieval period, and more filled-out in terms of trying to understand what the world around us looks like, which is something that quantum physics does as well. The Kabbalists believe that our reality is also divided into four sections. But rather than talking about it as four different ways the universe operates – well, it is different ways the universe operates, but they talk about it in terms of “worlds.”

And so in the Kabbalist reality, there is the world we can see, which is known as Asiyah. This is the practical, building – what we can see when you put together your Lego set. That is in the world of actuality; that is the world you can see. 

The next world up is the world of Yetzirah. This is the emotional part of our being. This is where we also draw up plans for our world. So I have my Lego set that I can build, but I have to have a plan, right? “This is what I’m going to build; this is how I’m going to build it.” That is in the world of Yetzirah. That is in the world of creativity.  It comes into fruition in the world of Asiyah

Beyond the world of Asiyah, we have a third world, which is creation – the world of creation. It’s developing the concept in detail. So let’s go back to our Lego set that we’re building something from. We have this idea that we are going to build a house in the world of Briah. In Yetzirah, we draw up the plans for building that house with our Lego set, and then we make our Lego set in the world of Asiyah.

Atziluth is the world beyond that. This is the world of emanation. This is the idea that a house can even be built. This is the inspiration. So going back again, we have the inspiration that there is such a thing as a house, right; we have the idea in Briah that we are going to build a house; we have the development of the plans of how we’re going to go about that in Yetzirah; and then we get our Lego set out in Asiyah, and we build that house.

Beyond all of that, beyond these worlds of existence is Ein Sof, the One without end. Some people call that God. The mystics like to use the word Ein Sof, “One without end.” And that is where all inspiration comes from. 

So these four worlds are happening concurrently at all times. You don’t think about such a thing as a house – “I need plans to build a house. I’m building that.” You don’t think about that; it all just happens. And there’s a back and forth, as you’re building the house – you might go back and you might re-plan. Or you might go back to, “Well, what is it that I’m visioning?” So those worlds are happening all the time together. And Ein Sof, the inspiration, is emanating all the time through those four worlds. And you can’t see any of the elements of this – they’re so small and they’re so tiny. But the big picture exists as well.

The weirdness and incomprehensibility of quantum and Kabbalah

Morris Levine: We’re going to take a look later at the quantum version of the four worlds. It’s actually more than four worlds (laughter), but it’s pretty close. 

How many of you know or have heard of Richard Feynman? Feynman won the Physics Nobel in 1965, when he was at CalTech, for quantum electrodynamics. And his famous quote is, “If you think you understand quantum, you don’t.” Another famous quote of Feynman’s was, “In the world of the small, and there’s plenty of room for the small.”

Linda Joseph: So it’s interesting because what Kabbalists would say, much like Feynman, is, “If you think you kind of understand Kabbalah, then you don’t.” You don’t understand Jewish mysticism at all. Right? Remember, this comes from a world beyond where we can understand. There is no central understanding. So both quantum physics and Jewish mysticism have that in common. You could take this quote – “If you think you understand Kabbalah, you don’t understand Kabbalah,” [and] it would work equally as well. Maybe Feynman was a bit of a Kabbalist, too.

Morris Levine: I’m at the same place with Kabbalah as I am with quantum. Don’t worry about it.

So here, I’ll just call these – to keep in context. I’ll call these the five rabbis of physics. Some of these names will be familiar to those who have taken physics courses. And we’ll talk about some of the learnings, some of the observations and discoveries.

The father, I think, of quantum, is Max Planck. [His] work begins in the 1890s, by 1914 or thereabouts – Richard, do you remember when that was? 

Richard Madonna: It was 1902, because Einstein [wrote about] quanta in 1905.

Morris Levine: Very good. And, Rabbi, I think there are some Jewish mysticisms that have parallels to –

Linda Joseph: Yeah, so let’s talk. I want to talk a little bit about Kabbalah and [its] history. As I already said, Kabbalists will date back the beginnings of Kabbalah to the second century of the Common Era. There was a sage that some of you may have heard of and some of you may not have heard of, but his name was Shimon bar Yochai – Shimon, son of Yochai. And he’s purported to have written a book of mysticism that is called the Zohar. The Zohar means “splendor” or “enlightenment.” 

It’s actually more likely that Kabbalah, Jewish mysticism, are writings that emerged in medieval Spain and southern France beginning in the 13th century, and they were recognized very early on as being mystical and esoteric. Some of you may have heard about Kabbalah – that you have to be male, fully versed in Torah, and 40 years old before you can understand it, because it’s so up here. If you go to up here without being grounded in life first, right, then your head just goes to crazy places. So you have to be both grounded on the ground in terms of reality, and then you can have a look at things that are beyond reality. And today, we’re looking at things beyond reality.

Morris Levine: Speaking of which, one of the weird aspects of quantum science is the instantaneous measure between particles, called “entanglement.” It’s weird, and it’s defining in its logic. Einstein, along with two of his cohorts, Podolsky and Rosen, discovered that entanglement appears instantaneous. That’s really interesting, because the particles can be separated by light years, galaxies away, the other end of the universe, next door in the laboratory, or whatever. But the characteristics of particle A show up in particle B. So if you measure A, you know what particle B looks like. 

How is that? It defies logic. The state of one particle cannot be described independently of the state of the other. Properties such as position, momentum, or spin become correlated. So this is often looked at by the novice – that would be me – that if I’m instantly communicating with a particle that’s a galaxy away, it must be faster than light. It’s not faster than light, although it appears to be. I can’t explain that, and if anybody can, please raise your hand, and we’ll try and deal with that.

Another aspect of the weirdness is wave-particle duality, and I think Schrodinger had a lot to do with this. Wave-particle duality states that light and matter can behave like both waves and particles, depending on the situation. So if I’m observing a wave motion and I look at it, it becomes a particle. I’ll have a little cartoon for that in a minute. 

This theory was proposed in 1923, based on the idea that light and other electromagnetic radiation has both particle and wave properties. There’s a device called the double-split experiment. And if the protons or the photons go through one slit, they appear in sort of a line on the receiving side. Another example: at the same time it goes through a slit, it comes across as a wave. Think of dropping two drops in a puddle – two rocks in a puddle – and you get conflicting waves. That’s exactly what it looks like with wave-particle duality. I drop the rock or the photon, and it looks like waves. And that, indeed, is the case. It’s part of quantum superposition. 

Superposition has important indications for quantum computing and cryptography. For example, a qubit, which we’ll find in quantum computing when we talk about it, can be in a superposition of both states. Newtonian physics has no quantum. 

So there are two ways to picture a particle or a wave. What’s shown is the particle as part of what looks like a field, as part of quantum-field theory. But by the same [principle], if I just saw the waves, it would look something like this. And if I observe it, it turns into a particle. That is weird. Einstein had problems with this as well, so if I have problems, I’m in good company. On superposition, Einstein is quoted with the saying, “God does not play dice with the universe.” And he was talking about superposition.

Linda Joseph: So Judaism actually agrees with Einstein that God doesn’t play dice with the universe – surprise, surprise. My teacher of Kabbalah, of mysticism, and my congregation knows that I study with a Kabbalist every Friday morning, and I have for about 20 years. And we look at Kabbalah both from the Zohar, but also through Hasidic eyes as well. One of the things that he says in terms of Kabbalah, if there’s any bottom line in Kabbalah, is that, all things being equal – and that’s pretty key – all things being equal, things will happen with the purpose of the creator – that there is intentionality in the universe. All things being equal, things happen with the purpose of the creator.

Kabbalah, much like quantum physics, has this notion of non-reality and the weird. We’ve just heard about all these weird theories that Morris has walked us kindly through. And so, for example, while there is some sort of normality in the universe, which we might call the “laws of nature,” there is a belief in Kabbalah that certain incantations, certain actions, can have an impact on those laws of nature. 

Some of you might have heard of the founder of Hasidism, the Baal Shem Tov. Anybody heard of the Baal Shem Tov? A few people. The Baal Shem Tov, or the Besht. His name literally means – “Baal,” is Master, “Shem Tov,” “of the good name.” The concept behind the founder of Hasidism is that he was the master of these incantations that could change the laws of nature. That’s why there are so many wondrous stories about him. So “Baal Shem Tov” literally means “the one who knew how to use the divine names to change what we would consider to be the basic bottom line.” And there is also an idea that, in terms of reality, that each of us comes and has a destiny to fulfill in that reality, and so our souls might reincarnate to actually have that reality fulfilled. 

Unlike Einstein, though (I’ve already said what’s similar to Einstein), the idea is that God is in charge of everything, that even the things that we can’t understand, it’s the divine name that might change everything – unlike Einstein, who believed it was possible, scientifically, to understand the mechanics of the universe, which is something that Einstein believed – “with enough research, we could get it all” – Judaism believes that ultimately, there’s a mystery, and that mystery is in the divine presence, in the Ein Sof.

Multiple worlds, multiple universes

Morris Levine: Now, for the science fiction fans – (laughter) – I want to talk a little bit about the many-worlds theory of universes, and we’ll also talk about constants in the same talk. Whether or not there are multiple worlds is complicated and contentious. We’re going to go into that a little bit. In a paper by Martin Rees at the University of Cambridge – I think Rees was the royal astronomer and a Nobel Prize winner – he said that it was easy to envision other universes governed by slightly different laws of physics, in which no intelligence, life, or any kind of organized, complex systems could exist. 

Should we be surprised that the universe exists in which we were able to emerge? The probable answer to that is no, I believe. We expect that all of the constants, which we’ll talk about, occurred in the first tiny fraction of a second, [and] that the key features of our universe were imprinted, probably for other universes as well, if there are other universes. 

The conditions of the universe are described through its fundamental constants – fixed quantities in nature, such as gravitational constant or the speed of light. Still talking about Rees, the values of the constants are in the range that allows complex systems such as stars, planets, carbon, and if ultimately, humans, to evolve. Physicists have discovered that if we tweaked some of these parameters by just a few percent, it would render our universe lifeless.

What is the extent of physical reality? Rees says metaphysicists would agree there are galaxies we can’t ever see, and that these outnumber the ones we can observe. If they stretch far enough, then everything we could ever imagine happening may be repeated over and over. This leads to the subject of avatars – that somewhere in another galaxy or another universe, there’s another you. There’s real motivation to explore counterfactual universes, places with different gravity, different physics and so forth, to explore what range of parameters allow complexity to emerge and life to emerge. There is, in fact, recent research on this – some universes being more friendly to life than our own, and some where a little tweaking of the constants would render the universe stillborn. There are some that don’t like the concept of the multiverse, and we won’t get any further deep into it.

But why this world?

Linda Joseph: So let me talk about this concept of worlds and universes – it’s really interesting. And we find it not just in mysticism, but in early Judaism. There are parallel texts, and I’ve put some of them up here on the screen. The first one is from Genesis Rabbah 37. Jewish tradition suggests that many types of worlds were created. However, they no longer exist because God is not happy with them. 

This is from the midrash, the stories that are told in Judaism:

Rabbi Yehuda bar Simon – Rabbi Judas, son of Simon – said, “It will be evening,” which is a quote from Genesis 1: 

“‘It is not written here, but rather, ‘it was evening’ – From here, we learn that there had been an order to time, even beforehand.” Before worlds were created, there was this concept of time. 

And then Rabbi Abahu says, “This teaches that God continuously creates worlds and destroys them. Until God created the current one and said, this one pleases Me. Those did not please Me.” 

And Rabbi Pinhas said, “The source for Rabbi Abahu is: ‘God saw everything that God had made, and behold, it was very good’ – this pleases Me, and that does not please Me.” 

So, this concept of multiple worlds that you get in quantum is also something that we find in Judaism. There is this conception that our universe had multiple worlds with them. But notice it’s a “had,” not currently, “have.” 

Our second text is also from the Midrash – from Genesis Rabbah 75. And first of all, it quotes Genesis, chapter 1, verse 24. “God said, let the earth produce the spirit of living beings by their species, animals and crawling creatures and beasts of the earth by their species, and it was so.” Many of you know the story of creation from Genesis, right?

And then God said, “Let the earth produce…” are the words we’re going to concentrate on. And Rabbi Elazar said, “The spirit of living beings – this is the spirit of Adam and the first man.” So the idea is that final world – why is this final world created? What is the epic place of this final world? That is the creation of life and human beings. And that is one of the reasons why this world was considered good.

Morris Levine: A little bit larger than that is that it’s why the universe is the way it is. (Laughter) One of my favorite cartoons – another crazy theory by some is that the universe exists not just because we exist, but because you exist. So I thought this described it pretty well. Going down the highway of life, the “coulda, woulda, shoulda” turnoffs.

Linda Joseph: Right. And that’s just so similar to what I said, right – that that’s the reason why this world exists, and that there’s purpose, and that we move forward in the world.

Morris Levine: We’re going to dig deep into constants. There’s a great [article] about the number 137 from another website called “Physics to God” we’ll be talking about, which I highly recommend. This site is run by two rabbis, Rabbi Feder, who is a math PhD, and Rabbi Zimmer, who’s a physicist. And their website, again, is “Physics to God.” What they’re talking about here is the Fine Structure constant, which is the force governing the charged elementary particles of electrons in contact with light or photons. This is a critical constant, and if it didn’t exist, or if the number was slightly different than the big number at the top of the screen, there would be no electrons, thus no atoms, no molecules – no us.

So let’s talk about constants. There are about 30 constants in physics. Constants are fixed numerical values that are generally believed to be universal in nature, unless they’re independent of the unit system, which they are measured – helps us to understand the fundamental laws of nature and the behavior of matter and energy. There are some examples; speed of light is the most common. We had a pre-talk conversation before we started about “Is the speed of light always the same?” The answer is no. I’ll let Richard answer that one. Unconstrained, the speed of light is 186,282 miles/second. There’s the Planck constant, used to describe the behavior of particles at the quantum level; the gravitational constant, used to describe the force of gravity between two objects; the Boltzmann constant, which describes the behavior of particles in gas; and most importantly, the elementary charge constant, carried by a single proton or electron, is used to describe the behavior of charged particles and electromagnetic fields. 

So this is a description of Physics to God. It’s actually a podcast. Each of the segments is about 30 to 40 minutes. It’s very, very interesting. If you’re interested, just go ahead and Google “Physics to God” and you’re there.

So we’re going to talk about different universes, different principles, starting with the anthropic principle, which suggests that the universe appears fine-tuned for life, because if it wasn’t, we wouldn’t be here to observe it. So we could say that it was created for Adam and life itself.

Linda Joseph: So this anthropic principle suggests – you said that the universe appears fine-tuned for life, because if it weren’t, we wouldn’t be here to observe it. And when I heard those words, when we first started talking about this, this is a text that came to mind – Genesis, chapter 1, verses 26 through 31. “And God said, let us make humankind in our image, after our likeness. They shall rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, the cattle, the whole earth, and all the creeping things that creep on earth.” …. God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fertile and increase, fill the earth and master it, and rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and all the living things that creep on the earth. And God said, see, I give you every seed-bearing plant that is upon all the earth, and every tree that has seed-bearing fruit, and they shall be yours for food. And to all the animals on the land, to all the birds of the sky, and to everything that creeps on earth in which there is breath of life, I give all the green plants for food. And it was so God saw all that had been made and found it very good.”

In this text, God fine-tunes everything to support life. Right? Very similarly to the anthropic principle. Do you agree, Morris?

Morris Levine: I agree.

Linda Joseph: My job is done. (Laughter)

Morris Levine: Time for coffee and tea. Next is the multiverse hypothesis, or the parallel universe hypothesis. According to this, our universe is just one of many that exist, each with different fundamental constants and conditions. Again, the constants that describe our universe, if you tweak them or adjust them just a little bit, it could all disappear – literally. No electrons, no photons, et cetera. By the multiverse hypothesis, we are in the right one.

Linda Joseph: Right. And we already talked about the concept of worlds in Judaism, right? We have the four worlds of the physical world, the world of formation, creation, and the Atziluth, the world of archetypes. And if there’s any change in any one of these worlds, right – there are constants. But any change – there are changes in the universe as well. Very, very similar to what they’re saying in quantum physics.

Theories of creation in quantum and Judaism

Morris Levine: Next is theoretical physics, which argues that the fundamental constants and laws of nature are not arbitrary, but emerge from deeper, more fundamental principles or theories.

Linda Joseph: And, of course, we have our theories, too. We have, in Judaism, everything is based on the theoretical. We have three creation stories that bring three different theories about how life has been brought about. We have Genesis 1, which talks about the world being created in seven days or seven epochs, right? And that there are these building blocks of life itself. We start with a light and darkness, and then there is land, and then there is sea. And when that is ready, then we get the light and the way that the sun and the moon and the stars are. Then we get plants that can occupy the universe. Then we get fish, and then we get birds, and then we get animals, then we get humankind. Everything builds, one upon the other. That’s Genesis 1.

We also have a second creation story for those of you that are familiar with the Bible, which is the Garden of Eden story, this is a very different story. It sets about very different principles about the creation of the universe. Humankind is created within the Garden of Eden, and Eve is taken from the side of Adam, and both of them live in the garden. And we watch through that story as humans mature. This is about how they are infantile at the very beginning, then they start to grow up – they rebel against their parent, God, by not doing what God asks of them. They eat of the apple from the tree, and then as they mature, they have to grow up with that rebellion, and they’re expelled from Eden, and they have to be independent. That’s the same with our children, right? They’re infantile, they start growing. We have conversations with them, they rebel, they eventually leave us, right? They find their own parameters of who they are as human beings. That is the second story, Genesis 2.

There is a third story of creation in the Jewish mystical tradition as well. So this is also another theory about how the world came about. And in this theory, God decides the Ein Sof – the One without end decides – that God wants to create the world, but has a problem because Ein Sof, the One without end, is everywhere. And if you want to create something and you take up all of space, where are you going to create it? So the One Without End, God, has to withdraw Godself and create a space to create the universe. So God withdraws Godself into ten vessels – those ten vessels you often see in the Sephirotic tree. And God, in those ten vessels, puts Godself in there. 

The problem is, if you are Ein Sof, if you are the One without end, if you take up all space, you don’t fit into little vessels very well. And the vessels break. This is known as Shevirat Kelim, the breaking of the vessels. And with that breaking of vessels, shards of those vessels go into the universe. So as well as the world being created, we have these little bits of shards that shouldn’t be there. We call those things evil, right? Bad stuff. So we have the good stuff and the bad stuff created one way. And some of you may have heard of the phrase tikkun olam, repairing the world. The idea is we’re putting these vessels back together. That is another basic theory of how the world works.

Morris Levine: Next on the list: theoretical physics. Some physicists argue that the fundamental constants and laws of nature are not arbitrary, but emerge from deeper, more fundamental principles or theories.

Linda Joseph: Right? And of course, much like we have different stories about the creation of the world, in Judaism, we have multiple definitions of “deity,” some which are not inconsistent with what quantum physics has. And you can pick the version of deity you like best.

When I teach Introduction to Judaism, which I do on a regular basis, and we talk about God, and I’m talking to these people that are not Jewish, I say to them, “There are only three concepts in Judaism about God-belief.” What are those three concepts? One is that God is One, unique, alone. It’s one entity. The second is that we struggle with what that divine is – not that we believe that we struggle. Our name is “Israel” – “the ones that struggle with the divine.” We’re not asked to believe. We’re asked to struggle with that belief. 

And the third is that God speaks to us in some way, that that divine entity is in conversation with us, whether that be through Torah, whether that be through our experience in the world, through our knowledge of science, that we do that.

So we believe that there is some constant in the universe, that there is a divine behind that. But we can understand that divinity in multiple ways. As long as we believe that divinity is one, that we are struggling with what that divinity might be, right, and that we believe that that divinity is in some way – I’m not defining the way here – in conversation with us. Theoretical Judaism.

Morris Levine: This brings us to an idea that has been denigrated a lot, sometimes called creationism or intelligent design. This viewpoint posits that the apparent fine-tuning of the universe is evidence of an intelligent designer or creator who intentionally set the parameters to allow for life, often associated with religious or theological beliefs.

Linda Joseph: Right. And of course, intelligent design is something that Judaism believes in systemically. This might not be a scientific description of it, this might not be how scientists would explain it, but it’s in eight, in Genesis one, these seven days of creation, right, that the world was set up and created in steps.

Morris Levine: There are a couple of others who pop up on the screen every once in a while. Anybody see the movie The Matrix? Matrix 1 and 2 – that’s another way to posit another universe. And over just the last few weeks, there have been several articles appearing about the universe being a simulation. So imagine a 14-year-old God sitting at a – (laughter)

Linda Joseph: I said he could define God however he wanted. Fourteen-year-old God, if that’s his definition, zei gezunt

Morris Levine: And it’s playing a game. It’s a simulation of a universe, and that’s where we are. I’m kidding. But some people are not. 

Practical applications of quantum

Let’s talk about some practical things that we see in quantum. There’s a lot of literature now about quantum computing. The factor that makes quantum computing important is its power to compute. Sounds right. About a five-bit computer, an analog computer, which uses 0s and 1s to compute, can record one of 32 combinations of 0s and 1s. But a quantum computer with five qubits can work with all 32 permutations at once.

Now, currently, there’s a contest, there’s work going on between IBM and other companies, including one called atom computing, which broke just in the last two weeks, about a 1024-qubit computer. To use an example on the left side, Google – [but it] could be just as well be IBM. This development of a 158,000,000-times-faster-than-the-most-fast supercomputer. In other words, it was able to perform a calculation so complex that it would take the world’s most powerful supercomputer 10,000 years to perform in just 200 seconds. Now, this is real stuff. It’s not fiction. It’s not imagination. And it’s only going to get bigger. This obviously also has implications for artificial intelligence, or the human brain, as it were.

Linda Joseph: Isn’t it amazing at the intellectual ability that God has given us to create and to do things that are so wondrous?

Morris Levine: Incredible.

Linda Joseph: Let me talk about quantum computing a little bit, because much of this is really beyond our comprehension and understanding right? And for those of you that were in my lunch- and-learn last year, this might seem very familiar. We looked at the book of Job, and the idea that the world is beyond us is right there in the book of Job itself. Job, for those of you that are not familiar with the book, Job has everything. He has family, he has wealth, he has houses, he has cattle, he has land. And Satan comes along and says to God, “Job is only righteous because you have never really tried him. You know, you try him, and Job’s not going to be so righteous, and Job is going to curse you.”

So Satan convinces God, if you can say such a thing, to try Job. And right through the whole of the book of Job, Job has everything taken away from him. His children die, his wife dies, his land is taken away, his cattle die. Everything is taken away from him. He has three friends that try to come and convince him that he’s done something bad to deserve all of this. But all at Job maintains his innocence, but he also rails at God. “Why are you doing this to me?” And then we get this text – this is from God. “I will ask you, and you will inform Me: Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Speak if you have understanding. Do you know who fixed its dimensions? Or who measured it with a line? Unto what were its bases sunk? Who set its cornerstone when the morning stars sang together and all the divine beings shouted for joy?”

Our tradition, much like quantum computing, which is growing in its ability, is beyond our understanding. This world is beyond our understanding. And the book of Job tells us that many thousands of years ago. Another example of practical quantum, right – photosynthesis.

Morris Levine: Yeah. I think almost everybody thinks that they can’t see any quantum results or activity. And photosynthesis is there every day where sunlight or photons are absorbed by a chlorophyll molecule, and the energy is transferred into the photosynthetic reaction with near 100% efficiency. I don’t need a large hadron collider. I don’t need absolute kelvin, zero degrees. It just happens as part of the process. And there are others like this as well. There is research about the example of quantum biological effects affecting the way that birds and animals migrate and find their way back and forth.

Awe in knowing

Linda Joseph: What is amazing about this acknowledgment in quantum, as we go back, of how the universe works and it interacts and can be explained by science, is the awe that is there. And that awe is also innate in Judaism, and many of you are familiar with it. These are the blessings that proclaim in our tradition – some of the blessings that proclaim how awesome it is that our universe operates at all. I love the first blessing. We’re an adult crowd here. This is the bathroom blessing, right? This is “thank God I can go to the bathroom and it’s all working correctly.” And it’s one of the first blessings we say when we wake up. Why? Well, what’s one of the first things you do when you wake up?

“Blessed are You, Adonai, our God, ruler of the universe. You formed me a human being, so wisely, you created in me all kinds of hollows and ducts.” You know what that means – “Inner organs and intestines. As I am all transparent to you, it is apparent and clear that if any of these that need to be open would clog, or any of these which need to be enclosed would seep.” Right, constipation and diarrhea here – “I could not exist and live in your sight, not even for a moment. Blessed are you for healing me in amazing ways.” 

Isn’t it amazing when our bodies work? And as we get older, I think we’re more appreciative of this, right? Isn’t it fantastic? And isn’t it great to have a blessing, to say that? Because we often don’t think about that. We’re very earthy in Judaism, right? We often don’t think about that as something. But the idea that we have here that the universe operates in a specific way is specifically here in our blessing.

More the idea that the seasons operate and day and night operates in the order that it does, right. Blessed – which, is this blessing might be familiar for those of you that go to Friday evening services. “Blessed are you. Adonai, our God, ruler of the universe, who speaks the evening into being.” I love those words. “Speaks the evening into being, skillfully opens the gates, thoughtfully alters the time and changes the seasons and arranges the stars in their heavenly courses according to plan.” That there is a plan – there’s deliberation in the universe. 

“You are Creator of day and night, rolling light away from darkness and darkness from light, and transforming day into night and distinguishing one from the other. Adonai Tz’va’ot” – Adonai being God, law, or lord, literally Tz’va’ot of hosts. The idea in ancient times was that there were many types of angelic beings and gods, but there was one God as well – “Adonai Tz’va’ot is your name.” You are in charge of everything, and that’s your name.

“Ever-living God, may You reign continually over us into eternity. May everything keep operating just as you set it out, as you planned it. Blessed are you, Adonai, who brings on the evening.” Right? So this whole idea that the universe operates in a specific way, and quantum physics is behind that, is so totally okay with Judaism, because we believe in that order of the universe. We believe in that.

Morris Levine: I’m still waiting for God to fix my body. (laughter)

Linda Joseph: Do you say the blessing every morning?

Morris Levine: Thanks, God, for letting me wake up. One of the original thoughts about this presentation and talk was that we would deal with consciousness and quantum. It turns out that basically there is only one theory that’s operating between consciousness and quantum by Roger Penrose. If you’re interested in that, let me just say a few words. 

Roger Penrose is a Nobel laureate physicist, 92 years old, who developed a quantum theory of consciousness. The theory is called Orch-OR. It suggests that consciousness depends on quantum computations and microtubules within brain neurons. And these computations are terminated by a process of objective reduction of the quantum state. This theory, which sounds really great, and you can read all about it online – just Google “Penrose consciousness” on YouTube, and there are several excellent presentations – is subject to laughter by other scientists. And among themselves, scientists disagree. Everybody seems to disagree on the consciousness side. The neurologists, psychiatrists, psychologists, the biologists, even the DNA folks, get in on it. So what consciousness is – pick your own favorite definition and thoughts, and that’s what it is, because there’s no agreement.

Linda Joseph: I think Judaism would talk about that in terms of soul, and we have several different words for soul. There’s haya, which is the life force that’s within us. Even little animals have that. There is nefesh, which is the spiritual soul that is within us. There is ruach, which is our life-animation form of soul. And this is very innate in mystic concept[s], this idea that we have these different types of soul, or levels of soul, within us. And I think that’s very parallel to that idea that different things animate us.

Morris Levine: Yeah, it’s a difficult [question]. It’s along the same lines of sentience. What constitutes sentience?

 Linda Joseph: Right.

Morris Levine: And consciousness.

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