Monday, December 07, 2009

Fabric of the Cosmos, Chapter Four part I.

Here is the next installment the commentary on Fabric of the Cosmos. The question is whether or not modern scientific cosmology can be reconciled with Biblical Faith. The answer so far seems to be yes, it can be squared with the Bible, but with Rabbinic Tradition and beliefs? Not so much. The text will be in italics, my comments in plain type.

Fabric of the Cosmos
Brian Greene
Chapter Four
What Does it Mean to be Separate in a Quantum Universe?
Part One

To accept special and general relativity is to abandon Newtonian absolute space and absolute time.

This means we have to torpedo the idea that God micromanages the universe. Unfortunately, the Rabbis are rather heavily invested in this myth. But the reason we call it a miracle when God intervenes in ordinary cause and effect is because God does it so rarely. Normally, things are allowed to continue on their ordinary cause-and-effect course.

This means that both Rabbis and ordinary people need to stop blaming God for things that people do or that is a natural process. For example, in some Rabbinic circles cancer is considered a curse from God. More likely, however, it is the result of a lifetime of exposure to the products of modern petrochemical society, not to mention dangerous hormone-mimicking substances, toxins and other poisons that we allow into our air, water, and food in the name of profit. My grandfather was a union man - Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers Union. Is anyone surprised that he died of cancer? No, of course not. What would surprise most people is the sheer quantity of toxic and cancer-causing chemicals that they personally breath in, rub on themselves, and ingest every day. But we don't blame ourselves, or lack of government oversight, or greedy CEOs for our cancers and other such illnesses. No, for some strange reason most people blame God.

Now we have to ask: Isn't it partially God's fault for allowing it to happen, if not for causing it directly? Again, the answer has to be "no." Suggesting that God has some sort of obligation to stop us from stupidly poisoning ourselves and everything around us removes free will from our lives - and God wants free will. God could have programmed us to always love and obey. God could have programmed everyone to never develop any product that would be harmful to others or to the environment - and to be willing to bear the cost of the long-term studies that would find out one way or the other. God could program every CEO to value people over profit, too - but doing those things would make us all robots. If we're programmed to love, to obey, to put others first, to eschew greed and convenience, then WE aren't really choosing to do those things. That's not free will, that's a program. Unfortunately, free will means we have the possibility of choosing to do the expedient thing instead of the right thing, and to do the profitable thing instead of the thing that best serves the greater good. And most people are not willing to take the time necessary to really find out what they are buying and what effects it has on the rest of the world. We could choose to research carefully and boycott such products, or pass laws with harsh punishments for those who manufacture such substances. If we fail to pass the test, we have only ourselves to blame.

As with relativity, whose effects become significant under extremes of speed or gravity, the new physics of quantum mechanics reveals itself abundantly only in another extreme situation: the real of the extremely tiny.

Where as Newtonian beliefs deal with the macro, our beliefs in the quantum age need to be observant of the micro. It's not enough to look the look on the outside - we have to walk the walk down to the smallest detail. It is noteworthy that the Rabbis, however, are at this moment entirely fixated on external appearances. If one is dressed "appropriately," one is considered "frum." What happens behind closed doors or in secret matters not - Rabbis have endorsed cheating on taxes, committing insurance fraud, welfare fraud, investment fraud, and justified every sort of violation of local zoning and building codes all in the name of the macro, the "greater good." But the end does not justify the means in real life. By focusing on the macro the UO and Chereidi Ravs have tarnished the name of Judaism, because the devil is always in the details - the micro.

The World According to the Quantum

Every age develops its stories or metaphors for how the universe was conceived and structured. With Newton and his precise, deterministic mathematical formulation of motion...the universe was likened to the ticking of an enormous, grand clockwork: after being wound and set into its initial state, the clockwork universe ticks from one moment to the next with complete regularity and predictability
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It is from this concept of the universe - a calvinistic and deterministic worldview - that the Rabbis got the idea that the future is fixed and everything is determined in advance.

Special and general relativity pointed out important subtleties of the clockwork metaphor: there is no single, preferred, universal clock. There is no consensus on what constitutes a moment, what constitutes a NOW. Even so, you can still tell a clockworklike story about the evolving universe. The clock is your clock. The story is your story. But the universe unfolds with the same regularity and predictability as in the Newtonian framework. If by some means you know the state of he universe right now - if you know where every particle is and how fast and in what direction each is moving - then, Newton and Einstein agree, you can, in principle, use the laws of physics to predict everything about the universe arbitrarily far into the future or to figure out what it was like arbitrarily far into the past.

Quantum physics breaks with this tradition. We CAN'T ever know the exact location and exact velocity of even a single particle. We CAN'T predict with total certainty the outcome of even the simplest experiments, let alone the evolution of the entire cosmos. Quantum mechanics shows that the best we can ever do is predict the PROBABILITY that an experiment will turn out this way or that. And as quantum mechanics has been verified through decades of fantastically accurate experiments, the Newtonian cosmic clock, even with its Einsteinian updating, is an untenable metaphor. It is demonstrably NOT how the world works
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And so while determinism ruled the era of Newton and Einstein, free will is restored to the universe by quantum physics. Things are NOT all determined in advance - they are not determined at all until we choose how they will be determined with our everyday actions. We make the future with every present act - it isn't already made, except in the very broadest outlines. Like the structure of an atom itself, the nucleus (the past) is fixed, and an outer shell with knowable properties exists (the broad outlines of future as described in prophecy, for example) but the location, velocity, and activities of each individual electron between the two (representing human will and human action) is unknowable and not fixed. We choose what role we will play - we have free will.

But the break with the past is yet more complete. Even though Newton's and Einstein's theories differ sharply on the nature of space and time, they do agree on certain basic facts, certain truths that appear to be self-evident. If there is space between two objects...we can and do consider the objects to be independent. WE regard them as separate and distinct entities. Space, whatever it is fundamentally, provides the medium that separates and distinguishes one object from another. That is what space does. Things occupying different locations in space are different things. Moreover, in order for one object to influence another, it must in some way negotiate the space that separates them.

To be sure, if we are over here we can influence someone over there, but no matter how we do it, the procedure always involves someone or something traveling from here to there, and only when the someone or something gets there can the influence be exerted. Physicists call this feature of the universe locality.

But a class of experiments performed during the last couple of decades has shown that something we do over here...CAN be subtly entwined with something that happens over there...WITHOUT anything being sent from here to there. While intuitively baffling, this phenomenon fully conforms to the laws of quantum mechanics, and was predicted using quantum mechanics long before the technology existed to do the experiment and observe, remarkably, that the prediction is correct. The long distance links these experiments confirm are extremely delicate and are, in a precise sense, fundamentally beyond our ability to control
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What does this mean from a religious point of view? It means that things are connected invisibly, in ways we cannot see with our eyes and they don't have to be touching for it to happen. And things that appear separate may not be. When scripture declares that a man and his wife are "one," we don't take it seriously in this day and age, but quantum physics suggest that we should. Anecdotal stories of twins who somehow "know" something has happened to the other miles away, and stories of mothers who "know" something is going on with their child - these are proof in everyday life of quantum physics. A man and his wife, siblings, parents and children can still be quantumly connected though they are apart in space. It's not "magic," it's science.

The universe admits interconnections that are not local. Something that happens over here can be entwined with something that happens over there even if nothing travels from here to there - and even if there isn't enough time for anything, even light, to travel between the events. This means that space cannot be thought of as it once was: intervening space, regardless of how much there is, does not ensure that two objects are separate, since quantum mechanics allows an entanglement, a kind of connection, to exist between them. The quantum connection between particles can persist even if they are on opposite sides of the universe.

Another obvious application is resurrection. Most people refuse to believe in resurrection because they can't see how a person's body could possibly be "put back together again" after going through decomposition. A person's atoms would be scattered all over the place - especially after thousands of years of being dead. But quantum physics tells us that it is not only not impossible, it is very much likely that all a person's atoms are still quantumly connected to each other. Therefore it is not outside the realm of scientific accuracy to say, "I believe with perfect faith that the dead will be resurrected when God wills it to happen." The atoms "remember" through quantum physics how they are supposed to be arranged - they are all quantumly connected each to its neighbor, all together to form a human being - even the neurons and stored memories and personality encoded in the brain, each and every particle just the way it was before. We might not be able to explain how God can exert the influence to call them back together, but there's no doubt the quantum links to guide them back into place are present even after they are long scattered about.

The Red and the Blue

According to quantum physics, a particle can hang in a state of limbo between having one or another particular property - and only when the particle is "looked at" (measured) does it randomly commit to one definite property or another
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One way we "look at" something is to make a choice about it. Your "properties" are not fixed. You choose what kind of person you will be - free will, again.

Two particles can be so entwined by quantum effects that their random selection of one property or another is correlated...even if they are far apart in space.

Meaning while you do have the power to choose individually, the choices you make influence those quantumly attached to you and those properties (or the effects of those properties) are transferred to those other persons, even if you are removed from them physically. This manifests itself in several different ways in our lives. Recall in the Torah it says that a person's sin will have effects down to the third and fourth generation (Exodus 34:7). What does this mean?

If you are an alcoholic or drug abuser, for example, you have had negative influences on your children. They, in turn, having learned certain coping mechanisms to deal with your drunkenness, employ those mechanisms (consciously or unconsciously) on their spouse and their own children. Those coping mechanisms may or may not work well in their new situation away from their drunken parent. Their children, the drunk's grandchildren, may or may not pass on those dysfunctional coping mechanisms to their own children. So the ripples spread out. A person who is physically, emotionally, psychologically or sexually abused by a parent or other relative (or even a stranger, for that matter) is in the same situation. Their relationships with their future spouse and future children will never be free from the influence (again, either consciously or subconsciously) of the abuser - the scars are deep and never really be completely healed.

The same can be said for any sin - what we do overtly or covertly affects our children and grandchildren and perhaps even our great-grandchildren, the fourth generation. What we do, what we choose, what we believe can and does exert influence on everyone around us. When the Torah says to put evil out of your midst, it's not just an issue of "hate" or "intolerance" - the ripples really do spread out. Any sinful behavior does not just affect the person who sins, it affects their entire family and community - every quantum connection is influenced buy it.

Einstein, who was never a great fan of quantum mechanics, was loath to accept that the universe operated according to such bizarre rules.

Nor are people today who are invested in defending their sinful lifestyles as not hurting anyone but themselves (or not even themselves).

Einstein claimed that particles do not randomly choose between having one feature or another, but instead are similarly "programmed" to have one particular, definite feature when suitably measured. The correlation between the behavior of widely separated photons is evidence, Einstein claimed, that the photons were endowed with identical properties when emitted, not that they are subject to some bizarre long-distance quantum entanglement. The Irish physicists John Bell showed that the issue could be settled experimentally, and by the 1980s it was. The most straightforward reading of the data is that Einstein was wrong and there can be strange, weird, and "spooky" quantum connections between things over here and over there..

To take this one step further, Karma isn't as far-fetched an idea as many would like to believe. If our actions cause some sort of disequilibrium in the universe, then it is not such a wild thought that it would be visited back on the person who caused it, measure for measure, to even things out.

From the Jewish Virtual Library:
The doctrine of reward and punishment is central to Judaism throughout the ages; that man receives his just reward for his good deeds and just retribution for his transgressions is the very basis of the conception of both human and divine justice, and it is with the latter that this article deals. The doctrine of reward and punishment is incorporated in every classical enumeration of the fundamental principles of Judaism. In the Bible the doctrine of reward and punishment – individual, national, and universal – is of this world...

...t is even given an almost mathematical exactitude with the often reiterated belief in "measure for measure" (middah keneged middah): "all the measures [of punishment and reward] taken by the Holy One, blessed be He, are in accordance with the principle of measure for measure" (Sanh. 90a; cf. Sot. 8b); and "from the very creation of the world the Holy One, blessed be He, arranged that by the measure with which a man measures is he measured" (Gen. R. 9:11).

...With the gradual acceptance of the doctrine of reward and punishment belonging to the world to come, the idea was developed that this world is the place where one, so to speak, accumulates a credit or a debit balance of good or bad actions, the results of which one enjoys or suffers in the world to come (cf. Avot 4:22, Er. 22a)...

...The credibility of the doctrine that God rewards compliance and punishes rebellion was once again subjected to great strain as a result of the Nazi extermination of the Jews. The phrase "after Auschwitz" became a theological code word for the question of whether it is still possible to believe in the election of Israel and the God Who acts in history, especially Jewish history, in view of the Holocaust...


Which brings us back to the beginning - blaming God for the actions of man. Certainly plenty of men, including President Roosevelt, had both the power and the ability to stop the Holocaust, and chose not to. He could have bombed the train tracks to the camps on numerous occasions - but he and others in similar positions were complicit in failing to act. Many died because of it - will there be an accounting? Quantum physics suggests it is possible - their actions or inactions are traceable back to them at the level of their very atoms.

Casting a Wave

Light is a wave. A typical wave involves a periodic succession: peak followed by trough followed by peak, and so forth. It two waves head toward each other...when they cross there results an important effect known as interference. When a peak of one wave and a peak of the other cross, the height of the wave is even greater, being the sum of the two peak heights. Similarly, when the trough of one wave and a trough of the other cross, the depression in the wave is even deeper, being the sum of the two depressions. And here is the most important combination: when a peak of one wave crosses the trough of another, they tend to cancel each other out. If the height of one wave's peak equals the depth of the other's trough, there will be perfect cancellation when they cross, so that the wave at that location will not move at all
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So in order to cancel out evil choices, enough people have to make good choices. And in the world today, it appears there are far too few who are choosing good, or deciding to "choose life," to cancel out all the evil going on in the world. And often, God gets blamed for it when we ourselves are the ones granted the ability and authority of free will to choose good.

Light is an electromagnetic wave. Two light waves [will] interfere with each other [as described above]. Moreover, this analysis applies to any kind of wave (light wave, water wave, sound wave, you name it) and thus, interference patters provide the metaphorical smoking gun...

[Individual] electron impact positions filled out an interference pattern characteristic of waves. The beam of particulate electrons must, unexpectedly, be some kind of wave. With enough patience, we can run this experiment over a long period of time and record the impact positions of each individual electron that passes. We see that even individual, particulate electrons, moving to the screen independently, separately, one by one, build up the interference pattern characteristic of waves.


In other words, our individual choices and actions combine to form these waves - the waves present in our day and age, either waves of good choices or waves of bad choices. Each person's choices and actions count - though they may individually be near the edge of which ever wave they are on, collectively their effect is cumulative. Small sins add to the amplitude of a wave of evil just as small acts of obedience and little good deeds add to the amplitude of a positive wave. And each act becomes a microcosm of the whole. In other words, the overall tendency of the waves we produce reflects our nature - our whole. Honest mistakes are one thing (little things) but true evil leaves a large quantum effect - that is directly traceable back to us, individually.

This is as if an individual H2O molecule could still embody something akin to a water wave. But how in the world could that be? More than that, wave interference seems to require a wave from "here" to cross a wave from "there." So how can interference be at all relevant to single, individual, particulate ingredients?

Probability and the Laws of Physics

If an individual electron is also a wave, what is it that is waving? In 1927, Max Born put forward a...suggestion. The wave, Born proposed, is a probability wave. The probability waves envisioned by Born also have regions of high and low intensity, but the meaning he ascribed to these wave shapes was unexpected: the size of a wave at a given point in space is proportional to the probability that the electron is located at that point in space. Places where the probability wave is large are locations where the electron is most likely to be found. Places where the probability wave is small are locations where the electron is unlikely to be found. And places where the probability wave is zero are locations where the electron will not be found. We test such theoretical calculations by comparing them with experimental results in the following way: After calculating the purported probability wave for the electron in a given experimental setup, we carry out identical versions of the experiment over and over again from scratch, each time recording the measured position of the electron.


What does that mean? It means that our past choices affect us in the present, because we have narrowed the possibilities that could have been open to us with our choices - both good and bad choices. A person who has chosen poorly has closed many doors that will be difficult, if not impossible, to open. Conversely, a person who has chosen wisely has closed some doors, too - doors that needed to be closed. Likewise, a person who has chosen poorly has opened doors that should have been left closed, and a person who has chosen wisely has many good open doors to now choose from. As the old saying goes, we have made our beds, and now must lie in them.

However, free will still reigns, and we can, from any current starting point, choose a new path. So what do the results show when identical starting points are used, as described above?

In contrast to what Newton would have expected, identical experiments and starting conditions do NOT necessarily lead to identical measurements! Instead, our measurements yield a variety of measured locations. Sometimes we find the electron here, sometimes there, and every so often we find it WAY over there. Eight decades of experiments have shown that the predictions of quantum mechanics are confirmed by spectacular precision.

According to quantum physics, every probability wave extends throughout all space, throughout the entire universe. In many circumstances, though, a particle's probability wave quickly drops very close to zero outside some small region, indicating the overwhelming likelihood that the particle is in that region. In the quantum world, we've learned that everything has both particlelike and wavelike attributes
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In other words, our actions and choices primarily affect those closest to us (that is, other individual particles), most of the time - though taken cumulatively with other actions and choices they become part of the larger wave.

Over the last eight decades, the ubiquity and utility of quantum mechanical probability waves to predict and explain experimental results has been established beyond any doubt. Yet there is still no universally agreed-upon way to envision what quantum mechanical probability waves actually are. Whether we should say that an electron's probability wave IS the electron, or that it's associated with the electron, or that it's a mathematical device for describing the electron's motion, or that it's the embodiment of what we can know about the electron is still debated.

Regardless of improvements in data collection or in computer power, the best we can ever do, according to quantum mechanics, is predict the probability of this or that outcome. The best we can ever do is predict the probability than an electron, or a proton, or a neutron, or any other of nature's constituents, will be found here or there. Probability reigns supreme in the microcosmos.

Einstein and Quantum Mechanics

Because of its inherently probabilistic nature, quantum mechanics differs sharply from any previous fundamental description of the universe, qualitative or quantitative. As mentioned, in many circumstances (although by no means all), the quantum equations show that a probability wave typically has an appreciable value in some small region of space and quickly drops nearly to zero as you move away from this region. So the likelihood that even a single electron that you expect to be in the same room as you - such as one of those that you just exhaled - will be found in a moment or two on the dark side of the moon, while not zero, is extremely small.

Second, there are a lot of electrons, as well as protons and neutrons, making up the air in your room. The likelihood that all of these particles will do what is extremely unlikely even for one is so small that ti's hardly worth a moment's thought. It would be like not only marrying your movie-star heartthrob but hen also winning every state lottery every week for, well, a length of time that would make the cosmic age of the universe seem a mere cosmic flicker
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In our daily lives, you might say that all other things being equal, a person is pretty predictable. It takes a rather extraordinary shift of the gears for a person to radically change the course of their lives - not impossible, though. When a person is stuck in a position with inertia working against them, they are not likely to change. But fortunately for us, though it may be difficult, we are not insensible electrons - we are human beings with true free will. It can be done - though a great deal of energy may need to be expended to bring it about.

Einstein expended much effort on trying to show that quantum mechanics was not the final word on how the universe works. Even though he could not say what it was, Einstein wanted to convince everyone that there was a deeper and less bizarre description of the universe yet to be found. Over the course of many years, Einstein mounted a series of ever more sophisticated challenges aimed at revealing gaps in the structure of quantum mechanics. But the Danish physicists Niels Bohr and his entourage of quantum mechanics defenders [prevailed].

Like many people today, Einstein was reluctant to give up his view of the universe at a fixed and determined place, where the future can be calculated perfectly if you know the present, and the positions of all the players can be absolutely known. But it simply isn't so. God does not micromanage the way the Calvinists and Determinists want it done. Everything is not plotted out in advance, and for the most part, things just happen, cause and effect, because of the choices WE make - not because God wants things to be that way. We truly do have free will - and that means mistakes and evil are not just possible but probable, since we can't and don't know everything when we make our choices, much less accurately predict the outcome. Einstein was deeply disturbed by a "&(*#$& happens" universe, but that is the universe we live in, not one mapped out to the tiniest detail.

According to Bohr and the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum physics he forcefully championed, before one measures the electron's position there IS NO sense in even asking where it is. It does NOT have a definite position. The probability wave encodes the likelihood that the electron, when examined suitably, will be found here or there, and that TRULY is ALL that can be said about its position. Period. The electron has a definite position in the usual intuitive sense only at the moment we "look" at it - at the moment when we measure its position - identifying its location with certainty. But before (and after) we do that, all it has are potential positions described by the probability wave that, like any wave, is subject to interference effects.

The electron simply DOES NOT have a definite position before the measurement is taken. This is a radically strange reality. In this view, when we measure the electron's position we are not measuring an objective, pre-existing feature of reality. Rather, the act of measuring is deeply enmeshed in creating the very reality it measures.

Even though his objections were shot down, Einstein remained deeply uncomfortable with quantum mechanics.


As are many theologians to this day. They want God to mircomanage - so they can blame God for everything. But God declines. Evil exists because we allow it to, plain and simple. We are our own worst enemies.

Heisenberg and Uncertainty

The uncertainty principle provides a sharp, quantitative measure of how tightly probability is woven into the fabric of a quantum universe. Heisenberg's uncertainty principle...says, roughly speaking, that the physical features of the microscopic realm (particle positions, velocities, energies, angular momenta, and so on) can be divided into two lists, A and B. And as Heisenberg discovered, knowledge of the first feature from list A fundamentally compromises your ability to have knowledge about the first feature from list B. Knowledge of the second feature from list A fundamentally compromises your ability to have knowledge of the second feature from list B, and so on.

Moreover, the more precise your knowledge of a feature from one list, the less precise your knowledge can be about the corresponding feature from the second list. The fundamental inability to determine simultaneously all features from both lists - to determine with certainty all of these features of the microscopic realm - is the uncertainty revealed by Heisenberg's principle.

As an example, the more precisely you k now where a particle is, the less precisely you can possibly know its speed. Similarly the more precisely you know how fast a particle is moving, the less you can possibly know about where it is. Quantum theory thereby sets up its own duality: you can determine with precision certain physical features of the microscopic realm, but in doing so you eliminate the possibility of precisely determining certain other, complimentary features.

When we measure the position of any object, we generally interact with it in some manner. The most common instance of all is locating something by seeing it - by receiving light that has reflected off the object and entered our eyes. The key point is that these interactions not only affect us but also affect the object whose position is being determined. Even light, when bouncing off an object, gives it a tiny push. Now, for day to day objects such as a book in your hand or a clock on the wall, the wispy little push of bouncing light has no noticeable effect. But when it strikes a tiny particle like an electron it can have a big effect: as the light bounces off the electron, it changes the electron's speed, much as your own speed is affected by a strong, gusty wind that whips around a street corner.

In fact, the more precisely you want to identify the electron's position, the more sharply defined and energetic the light beam must be, yielding an even larger effect on the electron's motion. This means that if you measure an electron's position with high accuracy, you necessarily contaminate your own experiment. The act of precision position measurement disrupts the electron's velocity. And although we are focusing on electrons, the uncertainty principle is completely general: it applies to everything.


In other words, the very act of watching or measuring something changes the outcome. You can never know what the results would have been if you had not looked or had not tried to quantify something.

It's why judging people by what they do in public is a completely useless way of measuring them - because you cannot ever know what they would have done if nobody was looking. It makes the current Rabbinic push to make everything "tznuit" - that is, to make them APPEAR kosher - is a terribly misguided plan. Forcing people to conform to a public standard, an external appearance, will do nothing whatsoever to bring their private thoughts and actions in line with the supposedly desirable standard - and the very act of "measuring" everyone by appearances will have unforeseen circumstances, not to mention precisely measuring everyone's outward appearance will actually conceal the data leaders really need, the data pertaining to whether or not their subjects have internalized and accepted their lessons.

Uncertainty is built into they wave structure of quantum mechanics and exists whether or not we carry out some clumsy measurement. Although the details get more involved, similar reasoning applies to all other wave shapes, so the general lesson is clear. In quantum mechanics, uncertainty just is.

A fixed and deterministic world is one we don't inhabit. And we cannot trust our own measurements of what is real - because the very act of measuring anything or anyone renders other aspects of them unmeasurable. We can never have a complete view of anyone or anything - our knowledge is finite, but the possibilities are endless.

2 comments:

GreenViolin (Youlin) said...

I regret not being able to make a more astute comment. All I want to say is that this seems like a very interesting book and I will buy it when I go the bookshop next. Also I'm interested in how we can relate to quantum physics as humans and I feel that you have put this in a way that allows me to do so. I particularly like the fact that you continually reinforced the concept of free will which reminds me to be more in control of my actions. Thank you.

Ahavah Gayle said...

I'm glad you've enjoyed reading along.