Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Fabric of the Cosmos, Chapter 1.

As mentioned earlier this summer, for the fall semester we will be reading Brian Greene's book "Fabric of the Cosmos." Though I am certainly no expert on Kabbalah, in going through these chapters we will be searching for congruity (and discongruities) between quantum physics and scripture. These are deep cosmological issues about the nature of reality and how the space/time continuum is made and works. The basic question, though, is simply this: can Biblical faith co-exist with the findings of quantum physics?

As in the previous books studied on this blog, excerpts from each chapter will be discussed. The italicized material is Mr. Greene's text, the regular type is commentary.

Brian Greene
Fabric of the Cosmos
Chapter 1: Roads to Reality
Space, time, and why things are as they are.

"There is but one truly philosophical problem, and that is Suicide," the text began. The book was The Myth of Sisyphus and was written by...Albert Camus. You can ponder this or analyze that till the cows come home, but the real question is whether all your ponderings and analyses will convince you that life is worth living.

For many people, scientific issues just don't interest them. They either decide that it's not important to them, or they decide that science is a rival for religion and they don't want to complicate their lives by trying to decide which is "true," never asking themselves what they mean by "truth." Here Greene reminds us that science does not have all the answers of our everyday lives. There are realities that we perceive, and realities that we don't perceive. Scientifically, "reality" is only determined by what can be measured and quantified. That is, unfortunately, a limited view of what is "real." By reducing reality to only that which can be perceived by human physical senses, we more often than not will be mistaken about what is "real." Perception has limits, and quantum physics demonstrates this better, in fact, than any religion or philosophy can.

Surely reality is what we think it is, reality is what is revealed to us by our experiences. To one extent or another, this view of reality is one many of us hold, if only implicitly. [But] modern science tells a very different story. THE overarching lesson that has emerged from scientific inquiry over the last century is that human experience is often a misleading guide to the true nature of reality.

Modern science has spearheaded one assault after another on evidence gathered from our rudimentary perceptions, showing that they often yield a clouded conception of the world we inhabit.

Physical reality both sets the arena and provides the illumination for grappling with Camus' question.

Regrettably, that is true for a great many people - even people who profess a religious faith in God or a philosophical faith in humanity. And for a scary number of secular athiestic scientists who are now being appointed to positions of power in governments across the globe, it is the only arena for consideration.

Thus we have calls to increase abortions, because to them children have no value and are burdens on the environment and on an adolescent society that is not interested in having responsibilities or having to put the welfare of others above themselves. And on the other end of the scale, we now hear calls to limit healthcare for the elderly, because they have supposedly already contributed everything they have to give to society and are now a burden themselves.

Other examples abound, but you get the idea. The question of what comprises reality is not an abstract one - it is one that sets government and social policy, sets economic policy, and sets the stage for how human beings are treated by each other, by corporations, by government, and by other peoples. A view of reality driven solely by "Science" gave us Mao, Stalin, and Hitler - men who view other human beings as interchangeable parts, numbers on a spreadsheet, or only as resources to be used up and discarded when "better" resources, such as robotics, come along. It is a viewpoint devoid of ethical, moral or religious sentiment. It values nothing but what can be "scientifically" discerned.

Classical Reality

Early pioneers of modern scientific thought argued that, when looked at the right way, the happenings in the universe not only are explicable but predictable. The power of science to foretell aspects of the future - consistently and quantitatively - had been revealed.

The challenge was to hear the rhyme and reason behind the rhythm and regularity...Understanding requires context, insight must be anchored.

So one of the basic foundations of science is a premise that is seldom acknowledged by scientists themselves - that things are the same way they have always been, that things work the same way they have always worked, and measurements we have taken in our short modern computerized "scientific" era of history represent constants and are not just variable that happen to be particular to our own time and place. This is a presumption that cannot itself be demonstrated scientifically - it has to be taken on faith.

Relativistic Reality

[But] The classical conceptions of space, time and reality - the ones that for hundreds of years had not only worked but also concisely expressed our intuitive sense of the world - were overthrown. Newton's conception of space and time, the cornerstone of classical physics, was flawed. Space and time are not independent and absolute, as Newton had thought, but are enmeshed and relative in a manner that flies in the face of common experience. Space and time are part of a unified whole...[and] by warping and curving they participate in cosmic evolution. Far from being rigid, unchanging structures envisioned by Newton, space and time in Einstein's reworking are flexible and dynamic.

Einstein toppled Newton's conception of reality. Even though Newtonian physics seemed to capture mathematically much of what we experience physically, the reality it describes turns out not to be the reality of our world. Ours is a relativistic reality.

But utility and reality are very different standards.

This last means that what "works" for us in our everyday lives, using math and high school physics to work out everyday problems, should not be confused with the true, objective underlying reality of the universe. The two are entirely separate things.

Quantum Reality

A core feature of classical physics is that if you know the positions and velocities of all objects at a particular moment, Newton's equations, together with their Maxwellian updating, can tell you their positions and velocities at any other moment, past or future. Without equivocation, classical physics declares that the past and future are etched into the present. This feature is also shared by both special and general relativity.

By the 1930s, however, physicists were forced to introduce a whole new conceptual schema called quantum mechanics. Only quantum laws were capable of resolving a host of puzzles and explaining a variety of data newly acquired from the atomic and sub-atomic realm. But according to the quantum laws, even if you make the most perfect measurements possible of how things are today, the best you can ever hope to do is predicts the PROBABILITY that things will be one way or another at some chosen time in the past. The universe according to quantum mechanics is NOT etched into the present. The universe, according to quantum mechanics, participates in a game of chance.

This relates to the question of free will. Under Newtonian and even Einstein's teachings, the universe was a fixed place where everything happened in a calculable way. It was, to borrow a phrase, a very Calvinistic universe - and even some persons of various religious faiths still cling to Calvin's teaching that everything was set in stone at the creation of the universe and nothing is changeable. Those who were destined to be "saved" will be, and those who were not have no chance at all - it was all decided before they were ever born.

But quantum physics tells us that's nonsense. We have free will. Things may be probable, but they are not in concrete.

Probability is deeply woven into the fabric of quantum reality. Things sometimes hover in a haze of being partly one way and partly another. Things become definite oly when a suitable observation forces them to relinquish quantum possibilities and settle on a specific outcome. The outcome that's realized, though, cannot be predicted - we can predict only the odds that things will turn out one way or another.

[Another weird thing is that] quantum mechanics, if taken at face value, implies that something you do over here can be instantaneously lined to something happening over there, regardless of distance.

Here we get into a fascinating arena that is covered more in depth in the following chapters (as are the rest of these issues - this chapter is primarily an introduction). Quantum physics here verifies what kabbalah and some eastern philosophies have known all along - that what we choose to do DOES affect others and the the physical world in ways we cannot perceive or measure. We are not islands, we are part of a much bigger whole and what we do MATTERS.

Researchers confirmed that there CAN be an instantaneous bond between what happens at widely separated location. Normally [as we perceive it], spatial separation implies physical independence. Quantum physics challenges this view by revealing, at least in certain circumstances, a capacity to transcend space. Long range quantum connections can bypass spatial separation. Two objects can be far apart in space, but as far as quantum mechanics is concerned, it's as if they are a single entity.

Which means, for example, that you and your spouse really are "one." When you enter that bond, it is reflected at the very atomic level of your being. Cheating on your spouse, viewing porn, or other indiscretions aren't just a problem if you get caught - they cause fundamental problems at the very deepest levels, and those disruptions manifest in various way at the level of everyday life and can affect not just your present circumstances but can bleed over into your future as well.

Moreover, because of the tight link between space and time found by Einstein, the quantum connections also have temporal tentacles.

Cosmological Reality

The reality we experience is but a glimmer of the reality that is. We take for granted that there is a direction to the way things unfold in time. These asymmetries govern our lives - the distinction between forward and backward in time is a prevailing element of experiential reality.

But where does time's asymmetry come from? What is responsibel for this most basic of all time's properties?

It turns out that the known and accepted laws of physics show no such asymmetry. Each direction in time, forward and backward, is treated by the laws without distinction. And that's the origin of a huge puzzle. Nothing in the equations of fundamental physics shows any sign of treating one direction in time differently from the other, and that is totally at odds with everything we experience.

God lives in a nexus of "now," where past, present, and future exist simultaneously. God can view any or all, God can interact with any or all. Time is not linear - even the Hebrew calendar shows that time is cyclical. To our perception, it should more rightly be viewed as a spiral than as a straight line, and kabbalah has known this long before science figured it out. Since God exists outside of space/time as we know it, the rules of what we perceive simply don't apply to God's reality or to the conditions outside of the space/time continuum of creation.

Special physical conditions at the universe's inception may have imprinted a direction on time, rather as winding up a clock, twisting its spring into a highly ordered initial state, [and] allows it to tick forward. But [this] does not fully solve the mystery of time's arrow. Instead, it shifts the puzzle to the realm of cosmology - the study of the origin and evolution of the entire cosmos - and compels us to find out whether the universe actually had the highly ordered beginning that this explanation of time's arrow requires.

Religion, of course, insists that creation was in fact an orderly and planned event, not random or haphazard at all. Many other philosophies share this view - one that science has sought to refute in the past but now must embrace to assure its own validity. Science's view of the inception of the Universe has therefore changed over the years, too.

Inflationary cosmology modifies the big bang theory by inserting an extremely brief burst of astoundingly rapid expansion during the universe's earliest moments. This stupendous growth of the young universe goes a long way toward filling in the gaps left by the big bang model - of explaining the shape of space and the uniformity of the microwave radiation, and also of suggesting why the early universe might have been highly ordered - thus providing significant progress toward explaining both astronomical observations and the arrow of time we all experience.

And because space and time are inexorably bound together, we must realize that "accelerated" describes a relationship between speed and time. As you may recall from high school physics, velocity is a measurement not just of distance, but also time. As the universe's expansion of space was going extremely rapidly compared to now, time was also expanding more rapidly than we now perceive. Time itself, if you will, was in "fast forward," just as the universe's expansion into space was in "fast forward."

Yet despite these mounting successes, for two decades inflationary cosmology has been harboring its own embarrassing secret. Like the standard big bang theory it modified, inflationary cosmology rests on the equations Einstein discovered with his general theory of relativity.

Physicists h ave long known that an accurate theoretical analysis of small objects - such as the observable universe when it was a mere fraction of a second old - requires the use of quantum mechanics. The problem, though, is that when the equations of general relativity comingle with those of quantum mechanics, the result is disastrous. The equations break down entirely, and this prevents us from determining how the universe was born and whether at its birth it realized the conditions necessary to explain time's arrow.

It's not an overstatement to describe the situation as a theoretician's nightmare: the absence of mathematical tools with which to analyze a vital realm that lies beyond experimental accessibility. Understanding space and time fully requires us to find equations that can cope with the extreme conditions of huge density, energy, and temperature characteristic of the universe's earliest moments. This is an absolutely essential goal, and one that many physicists believe requires developing a so-called unified theory

To put that into plain English, we right now do not have the math or the tools necessary to investigate the first few moments of creation. We cannot show that "things are as they have always been." We cannot say what did or did happen in those moments, or how they came to be caused, because we lack the science to do so.

Unified Reality

Over the past few centuries, physicists have sought to consolidate our understanding of the natural world by showing that diverse and apparently distinct phenomena are actually governed by a single set of physical laws.

Physicists found that the central obstacle to realizing a unified theory was the fundamental conflict between the two major breakthroughs of the 20th century physics: general relativity and quantum mechanics. Although these two frameworks are typically applied in vastly different realms - general relativity to big things like stars and galaxies, quantum mechanics to small things like molecules and atoms - each theory claims to be universal, to work in all realms.

However, as mentioned above, whenever the theories are used in conjunction, their combined equations produce nonsensical answers. For instance, when quantum mechanics is used with general relativity to calculate the probability of some process or other involving gravity will take place...out of the combined mathematics pops and infinite probability. That doesn't mean a probability so high that you should put all your money on it because it's a shoo-in. Probabilities bigger than 100% are meaningless. Calculations that produce and infinite probability simply show that the combined equations of general relativity and quantum physics have gone haywire.

A very few realms - extreme physical situation that are both massive and tiny - fall squarely into the demilitarized zone, requiring that general relativity and quantum mechanics simultaneously be brought to bear. The center of a black hole...and the big bang...provide the two most familiar examples. Without a successful union between general relativity and quantum mechanics, the end of collapsing stars and the origin of the universe would remain forever mysterious.

A conflict in the known laws of physics means a failure to grasp a deep truth and that was enough to keep scientists from resting easy.

The approach that many agree is a leading contender is superstring theory.

Superstring theory starts off by proposing a new answer to an old question: what are the smallest, indivisible constituents of matter? For many decades, the conventional answer has been that matter is composed of particles. Superstring theory tells a different story. It does not deny the key role played by electrons, quarks, and other particle species revealed by experiment, but it does claim that these particles are not dots. Instead...every particle is comprised of a tiny filament of energy, some hundred billion billion times smaller than a single atomic nucleus (much smaller than we can currently probe), which is shaped like a little string. And just as a violin string can vibrate in different patterns, each of which produces a different musical tone, the filaments of superstring theory can also vibrate in different patterns.

But these vibrations don't produce different musical notes. Remarkably, the theory claims that they produce different particle properties. A tiny string vibrating in one pattern would have the mass and the electric charge of an electron. According to the theory, such a vibrating string would BE what we have traditionally called an electron. All species of particles are unified in superstring theory since each arises from a different vibrational pattern executed by the same underlying entity.

Or, as Einstein explained it more simply: E=MC squared. Mass (matter) and Energy (in this case, vibrations) are the SAME thing. You don't "have" a soul. You ARE a soul. It's not something separate from your physical body - it IS your physical body as it is currently configured. You cannot separate your spiritual self from your physical self. Anything you do with your body IS a reflection of your spirit, indeed, it IS your spirit doing it. So we may not understand all the reasoning behind Biblical laws of purity of our body, such as not eating certain things called "unclean" and not being ritually defiled by various actions considered "unclean," but quantum physics shows that what we do MATTERS at levels even deeper than atoms. It matters at the very essence of ourselves.

Superstring theory combines general relativity and quantum physics into a single, consistent theory, banishing the perniciously infinite probabilities afflicting previously attempted unions. And as if that weren't enough, superstring theory has revealed the breadth necessary to stitch all of nature's forces and all of matter into the same theoretical tapestry.

[But] superstring theory's proposed fusion of general relativity and quantum mechanics is mathematically sensible only if we subject our conception of spacetime to yet another upheaval. Instead of the three spacial dimensions and one time dimension of common experience, superstring theory requires nine spacial dimensions and one time dimension. And, in a more robust incarnation of superstring theory known as M-theory, unification requires ten space dimensions and one time dimension - a cosmic substrate composed of a total of eleven spacetime dimensions. As we don't see these extra dimensions, superstring theory is telling us that we've so far glimpsed but a meager slice of reality.

The confusion between whether there are 10 or 11 dimensions is reflected in the kabbalastic confusion between whether there are 10 or 11 sephirot, or aspects of creation. The elusive 11th sephirot, called "Da'at," knowledge, is represented as being (or not being) at the position of the human head in the usual illustrations of the kabbalistic "tree of life." The problem with Da'at is that in order to be a true sephirot, all knowledge would have to come from God. But that's not our everyday experience. We can receive knowledge that is absolutely objectively true from God's perspective, or we can receive subjectively true knowledge from other sources, or we can receive deceptive untrue knowledge from other sources. In kabbalistic thinking, Da'at is only a real sephirot when knowledge comes from God, and since that is not our normal everyday experience, they usually consider only 10 sephirot to be manifested. The M-theory of quantum physics, which seeks to describe the ultimate reality of the universe, presumes knowledge is inherently true and therefore reflects an 11-dimensional universe.

The room provided by large extra space dimensions might allow for something even more remarkable: other, nearby worlds - not nearby in ordinary space, but nearby in the extra dimensions - of which we've so far been completely unaware.

Well, science has been unaware of them. We can't say the same for various religions and philosophies, who've known about them for millennia.

If superstring theory is proven correct, we will be forced to accept that the reality we have known is but a delicate chiffon draped over a thick and richly textured cosmic fabric. Camus' declaration notwithstanding, determining the number of space dimentions, and in particular finding there aren't just three - would provide far more than a scientifically interesting but ultimately inconsequential detail. The discovery of extra dimensions would show that the entirety of human experience had left us completely unaware of a basic and essential aspect of the universe.

And that basic and essential aspect could very well be God.


SJ said...

Hi Ahava I was waiting for this XD

Firstly, Abortion is not a secular/religious issue. Abortion, to me, is a

liberal/conservative issue. I'm secular, and conservative on abortion, I'd like to see

Row vs. Wade overturned.

Though I do see the medical risks of leaving a woman to abort herself, individuals and

society should to change to end the need for abortions.

Also, show me one secular atheist scientist who said that children have no value. O.O

If a view of reality driven solely by "Science" gave us Mao, Stalin, and Hitler, a view

of reality driven solely by religion gave us:

- the death of the Canannites (if one were to believe the bible's nonsupernatural


- the death of the Edomites (if one were to believe the bible's nonsupernatural


- the dark/middle ages

- wars throughout the dark/middle ages

- Osama bin Laden

Atheism and religion is not blood free. There's good and bad people all over making it

impossible to generalize like that.

>> This last means that what "works" for us in our everyday lives, using math and high

school physics to work out everyday problems, should not be confused with the true,

objective underlying reality of the universe.

I think mathematics is as close to truth as you can get. 1+1 = 2 always. I don't even

think that God himself if he exists can change the laws of math, it wouldn't make


>> Quantum physics here verifies what kabbalah and some eastern philosophies have known

all along - that what we choose to do DOES affect others and the the physical world in

ways we cannot perceive or measure.

Does one really need quantum physics or kabbalah or eastern philosophy to understand

that? O.o

>> Two objects can be far apart in space, but as far as quantum mechanics is concerned,

it's as if they are a single entity.

I'd love to see a quick summary from somewhere of the steps that the quantum physicists

did to deduce this. Is there a link on the Internet somewhere? Or does Greene's book

have it?

Sometimes I think that the quantum physicists need to go out for air because they

sometimes sound like the guy from Gulliver's Travles trying to extract sunlight from

cucumbers with all the outlandish stuff that the quantum physicists say.

>> God lives in a nexus of "now," where past, present, and future exist simultaneously.

God can view any or all, God can interact with any or all. Time is not linear - even

the Hebrew calendar shows that time is cyclical. To our perception, it should more

rightly be viewed as a spiral than as a straight line, and kabbalah has known this long

before science figured it out. Since God exists outside of space/time as we know it,

the rules of what we perceive simply don't apply to God's reality or to the conditions

outside of the space/time continuum of creation.

I don't think that anyone can truely claim to know the properties of God, should he

really exist. If I were to believe in God (I'm extremely agnostic), I'd believe in a

more down to earth god than the god of Rashi.

I'd believe that God does not in fact know the future unless God directly intervenes.

>> The confusion between whether there are 10 or 11 dimensions is reflected in the

kabbalastic confusion between whether there are 10 or 11 sephirot, or aspects of


I'm not impressed by this correlation. It is pure coincidence. If there's a planet with

a multitude of creation stories, one or more them is gonna be closer to the real deal

than others. It's probability, pure and simple.

Is there any similarity between the 11 sephirot of kaballah and the dimensions of

string theory?

From http://www.physicsforums.com/showthread.php?t=41846: Extra dimensions was

simply added mathematically to unify the equations of electromagnetism with general


SJ said...

I highly doubt that this kind of unification of physical forces has anything to do with

what the kaballah says that the sephirot are about ...

thereby making the correlation of 11 a simple fluke of probability.

>> Well, science has been unaware of them [other worlds]. We can't say the same for

various religions and philosophies, who've known about them for millennia.

Oh come on Ahava this is not proof of anything supernatural. Leonardo Da Vinci made a

picture of something that looks like a helicopter. Does that make Da Vinci a prophet of

some sort? Of course not.

>> And that basic and essential aspect could very well be God.

Or that basic and essential aspect could very well be mechanical as opposed to

supernatural. I don't think anyone can know for sure which is why I call myself

agnostic even though I lean more atheist.

Ahavah Gayle said...

Regarding your 3:18 comment, the sephirot describe the structure of the universe, as does string theory. It may be a "coincidence" that the Sages arrived at the same number of dimensions as string theory, but that's a whoppingly large coincidence.

A helicopter is a mechanical devise, and Da Vinci was a mechanical enginner. I frankly don't see how this comment was relevant to the discussion. Mechanical principles have been understood for a long time, it's no act of prophecy to use that knowledge and design workable objects. The ancient Greeks had knowledge of hydrolics that wasn't rediscovered until modern times. Mechanical engineering is not quantum mechanics by any stretch of the imagination.

Regarding your comment of 3:17, Paul Erlich comes to mind, and his students who are now in Obamas government as policy advisors, as well as Congresswoman Nancy Pelosy, who was quoted here and other places as stating that children of the poor and of minorities are a burden and should therefore be targeted for abortion. These things have been widely publicized lately - have you not been paying attention?

As for the Cana'anites, etc., you do know that in those days they didn't have passports and visas, right? They didn't need to apply for asylum with some other government, or register and prove their lineage to make aliyah back to their Mesopotamian or Mycean or Phonecian homelands. Many thousands of people got up and left when Joshua's army came. Rachav is recorded as saying they all knew that Joshua was coming and were terrified of him. The only people who died were those who chose to stay and fight. Everybody else prudently decided the climate was nicer elsewhere. Archaeological evidence simply doesn't show much in the way of genocidal massacres, just migrations of people in and out.

I'm sure the Rabbis of the southern nation of Judah dressed it up to look dramatic in the book of Joshua, but real life was much more prosaic. If you want the more likely story, try the southern nation of 10-Israel's version: the Book of Judges. The truth is no doubt somewhere in between, but the facts on the ground simply don't show any genocides going on - that's a myth put forth by Arab antisemites, and I'm sorry to see you using it.

SJ said...

The sephirot does try to explain the structure of ontology, but with apparently very different things than quantum physics; making it difficult to say that sephirot and quantum physics are referring to the same things.

It's no act of prophecy that a religion which is a belief in something supernatural happens to reference other worlds.

I do think that Obama has some f---ed up Tsars. I haven't heard that quote by Nancy Pelosy O.O but I already knew that she is a bitch. I am a Republican, after all. XD

LOL if one were to believe the Bible, the remaining Cananites musta ran after Jericho got messed up (Joshua 6:17) or otherwise got killed if they weren't able to hold their ground. And there were borders at the time if not post-Westphalia nation-states.

Ahavah Gayle said...

Just what is a "dimension" exactly - that seems to be what you're asking. To quantum physics, it's just a mathematical construct that describes the structure of the space/time continuum. Is that different from a sephirot? Who can say? What does math actually represent in the real world? Is "2" a thing? And idea? A state of being? Does x+y=z have a reality or is it just a description of reality?

Your complaint is not invalid, but it's deep into metaphysics, which is hardly the subject of Dr. Greene's book. I'm a proponent of radical subjectivity myself - nothing we experience or perceive is 100% as it "really" is because we are simply incapable of objective truth or objective reality from our necessarily limited experience, education, biases (conscious and subconscious), etc. Can what you do every minute of your day be described mathematically? Sure (if you're really, really bored) but does that describe what "really" happened during your day? Math can't really convey motive, now can it? And the universe, per se, only has "motive" if God set it in motion, or runs it, or whatever. Hard to prove, yes. Easy to disprove? No.