Printer Friendly

The age of the universe: using the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics.



Although science and faith are based on diametrically opposite epistemological principles and, consequently, may not be compared directly, when it comes to verifiable facts, religion and science must agree if we are to believe that they both describe the same reality. This is particularly true for any perceived conflicts between science and Judaism. Indeed, the Talmud sages state that G-d looked into the Torah and created the world. (2) If the Torah served as a blueprint for the world, how can any scientific fact contradict a statement of the Torah? Thus, we must work diligently in attempting to resolve such apparent contradictions in a manner consistent with religious tradition and experimental data, without sacrificing scientific rigor. Such attempts, in my view, should not be deemed apologetics, but are rather the duty of any religious scientist.

Of all the apparent contradictions between science and religion, the most glaring is the question of the age of the universe. According to Jewish tradition, the Fifth Miami International Torah and Science Conference took place in the year 5764 from the creation of the world (2003 CE). Although I call this traditional age of the universe its "biblical age," it must be pointed out that the Bible does not mention explicitly when the world was created. The rabbis infer this indirectly, and there are different opinions about the age of the universe among the sages of the Kabbalah. (3) That the world will exist for six thousand years is first mentioned in the Babylonian Talmud: (4)

Rav Katina says, "Six thousand years the world will exist ..."

This idea is further elaborated by the Rishonim (the Early Jewish Sages) Rabbi Abraham ibn Ezra (5) and Rabbi Moshe ben Nahman (Nahmanides) (6) in their commentaries on the Torah.

On the other hand, modern science places the age of the universe at 13.73 billion years plus or minus 120 million years. (7) The latter age is supported by overwhelming experimental data as well as by compelling theoretical considerations of contemporary cosmology. Before we approach any possible solution of this contradiction, we need to point out that, in fact, the Jewish calendar reckons the years not from the creation of the world but from the creation of the first humans--Adam and Eve. As we shall see later, this fact is highly significant. The question of the interpretation of the first six days of creation is beyond the scope of this paper.

The Copenhagen Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics

At the Third Miami International Conference on Torah and Science, (8) I proposed a resolution of this contradiction based on the interpretation of Quantum Mechanics (QM) given in the work of John von Neumann, (9) Eugene Wigner, (10) and John Wheeler. (11) Essentially, this approach is based on the idea that only a conscious observer can collapse a wave function.

The state of a quantum-mechanical system is thought to be described by a wave function, [PHI], which satisfies the Schrodinger equation. All attempts (e.g., by Schrodinger) to interpret this wave function as physical reality, such as the de Broglie wave, failed. Max Born noticed that the square of the amplitude of the particle's wave function in a region gives the probability of finding the particle in this region of configuration space. He suggested that the wave function represented not a physical reality but rather our knowledge of the quantum state of an object. This epistemological approach, promulgated by the school of Niels Bohr, is known as the Copenhagen interpretation of QM. The wave function represents our knowledge of all possible quantum-mechanical states of an object. In other words, the quantum-mechanical state of a physical system is a linear superposition of all possible states of this system. According to the Copenhagen interpretation, Quantum Mechanics does not deal with reality per se, but rather with our knowledge of reality.

The problem with this approach is that when we solve the Schrodinger equation, we obtain only a probability distribution of all possible quantum-mechanical states. When we make an experiment, however, we find the system in only one of these possible states. In other words, the time-asymmetrical process of measurement breaks the time symmetry of the Schrodinger equation. This is known as the Measurement Problem in QM. Measurement always reduces the world of possibilities into a single reality. Since it is expressed mathematically as a collapse of the wave function into a point, this problem is also referred to as the collapse of the wave function. Bohr suggested that it was the collision of the macroworld measurement equipment obeying the classical Newtonian laws with the micro-world described by the laws of QM that led to the collapse of the wave function.

John von Neumann pointed out that the problem with Bohr's suggestion is that any macroscopic object is comprised of a finite number of microscopic building blocks--atoms and elementary particles. Since the latter must obey the laws of QM, there is no reason why macroscopic measurement equipment made of these atoms and particles should not obey the same laws. Consequently, it is not at all clear how the interaction with measurement equipment collapses the wave function.

This situation leads to absurdity, as clearly demonstrated by Schrodinger in his famous thought experiment, known as the Schrodinger cat experiment. An observer places a cat in a closed steel chamber, together with a Geiger tube containing some radioactive material, a hammer connected to the Geiger tube, and a phial of prussic acid. From the amount of the radioactive material and its half-life, we calculate that there is a 50 percent chance that one atom will decay within one hour. If an atom decays, the Geiger counter is triggered, thus causing the hammer to break the phial of prussic acid, which kills the cat. Prior to measurement, the quantum-mechanical state of the atom is a linear superposition of two possibilities: the decayed atom and the not-decayed atom. Accordingly, the state of the cat is also a linear superposition of two physical possibilities: the cat is alive and the cat is dead. In other words, before the measurement takes place, the cat is dead and alive at the same time! To be more precise, the cat is neither alive nor dead but is in an entangled state, which is a blurred combination of both possible states, called superposition. To be even more precise, the cat is neither alive nor dead, nor both, nor neither, but is in the state of superposition, which is not any of these classically imaginable possibilities.


It was John von Neumann who first suggested in 1932 that since consciousness is the only element that is time asymmetrical, it is the conscious observer who collapses the wave function. (12) Eugene Wigner and John Wheeler expanded on these ideas, which led Wheeler to replace the term observer with the term participant. Cartesian mind-body dualism is reincarnated in this approach.


Following these ideas, Avi Rabinowitz and Herman Branover (13) suggested that Adam and Eve first collapsed the universal wave function, thereby participating in the creation of the world. These authors, however, dismissed the cosmological age of the universe, maintaining that only the biblical age is valid.

In my previous article on this subject, (14) I suggested that there are two time lines: one reckoning billions of years from the Big Bang of fuzzy protophysical existence before the collapse of the wave function by the first human observer; and the second counting years of tangible physical existence brought about by the collapse of the wave function by Adam and Eve, the first human observers. (15)


Many-Worlds Interpretation of QM

The approach outlined above suffers from the same difficulty as does the traditional Copenhagen interpretation of QM: The collapse of the wave function is not part of the theory. It is brought in ad hoc. Therefore this paper is considering the more recent Many-Worlds Interpretation (MWI) of QM.

Proposed by Hugh Everett (16) in 1957 and developed by Bryce DeWitt, (17) the Many-Worlds Interpretation of QM is, perhaps, the most outlandish but yet the cleanest interpretation of QM. This theory suggests that every transition between quantum states splits the universe into multiple copies or 'branches' in which all of the possible states are realized.


This surprising approach is actually the most straightforward interpretation of the mathematical formalism of QM because it does not have to rely on an ad hoc collapse of the wave function that in no way follows from the Schrodinger equation. Everett suggests that no collapse takes place. Rather, all the possible states are realized in different universes. Every time-irreversible event, whether a transition between quantum-mechanical states or measurement, splits the world into as many branches as there are possible outcomes, which are realized in respective branches of the universe.

There is a difficulty here because we cannot sense the branching of the universe. Everett compares this complaint to the criticism of Copernicus' s heliocentric astronomy, that we cannot sense the rotation of the Earth around the sun. Our senses suggest the opposite, although Newtonian mechanics adequately explains the heliocentric view. Similarly, QM prohibits any information exchange between various branches of the universe and, therefore, hides the branching of the world.

A more recent variation on this theme is the parallel-universe interpretation. It differs from Everett's original idea in two important aspects. Everett and DeWitt spoke of branching every time there was a transition between quantum states. According to their model, the history of the world looks like a huge tree, with the trunk in the past and branches ever-increasing as times goes on. In comparison, in the parallel-universe model, the multitude of universes exists from the beginning, and a wave function of a quantum-mechanical system is partitioned among these preexisting universes. Another difference is that, unlike the many-worlds theory that prohibits any communication between different branches, parallel universes can merge under certain circumstances, such as an interference experiment. For example, in a double-slit experiment, a wave function of a photon is partitioned between two universes: In one, the photon passes through one slit, and in another, it passes through the second slit in a completely deterministic manner. After that, due to interference, the two universes merge, producing a single tangible photon.

On this level, the idea of parallel universes remains an optional interpretation of QM. The parallel universes model has its followers and its skeptics. On the level of quantum cosmology, however, we are almost compelled to adopt this interpretation. Indeed, in the quantum cosmology described by the Wheeler-DeWitt equation, the universal wave function [PHI] (h, F, S) is defined as an ensemble of all possible space-like universes, and is interpreted as a probability amplitude to find a particular manifold (abstract mathematical space) with a particular geometry h and non-gravitational (electromagnetic) fields F. The Anthropic Principle is usually invoked to select that universe which allows for emergence of life and intelligent beings that are capable of asking the question: In which particular universe do we live? Among the supporters of the MWI or parallel universes idea are luminaries such as Richard Feynman, Steven Hawking, Murray Gell-Mann, Steven Weinberg, and some of the other leading theoretical physicists of our time.

The classical Jewish sources are replete with the notion of multiple worlds and parallel universes. Consider, for example, the universes of Tohu (Chaos) and Tikkun (Restoration) that coexist in parallel. Consider also the four descending simultaneously existing worlds described by Kabbalah: Atsilut (the world of Emanation), Briah (the world of Creation), Yetsirah (the world of Formation), and Asiyah (the world of Action). Each of these four worlds is said to be subdivided into a myriad of parallel worlds. Needless to say, all these universes denote spiritual rather than physical worlds.

The most troubling aspect of the many-worlds approach is that it suggests that the observer also splits into multiple copies completely oblivious of each other! Yet, there are examples of this phenomenon in Kabbalah. The Zohar suggests that in Genesis 18:2 the three persons who came to visit Abraham in Mamre were Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Here we have a 'celestial copy' of Abraham visiting his 'terrestrial copy' in two coexisting parallel universes.

Let us reconsider the Schrodinger cat in this new light. According to the Many-Worlds Interpretation, the decay of the radioactive atom splits the universe into two copies, thereby realizing both possibilities: decay and no decay. Accordingly, the poor cat is also split into two copies, each inhabiting one of the universes: being dead in one and alive in the other. If it would end here, it wouldn't be so bad, but, alas, it gets worse. The observer who looks inside the box is also split into two copies. Oblivious to one another, one copy of the observer finds a dead cat in one universe, while the other copy of the observer finds a live cat in the other universe.


What does all this have to do with the age of the universe, though? Well, there is a curious nuance in Everett's theory. The cat and the observer do not split into multiple copies at the same time. In fact, there are two time-irreversible events leading up to the two distinct time lines. When the atom in Schrodinger's thought-experiment decays with a probability of 50 percent (i.e., the state vector of the radioactive atom is the linear superposition of the two states of decayed and not-decayed), the universe inside the box splits into two branches: one in which the atom decays and kills the cat and the other in which it does not decay and the cat remains alive. This sets off one time line. The moment the observer looks inside the box, he is also split into two copies: One copy finds the dead cat, and the other finds the other copy of the cat alive. This second split sets off a new time line--that of the observer. Since the observer is conscious of neither his own branching out nor that of the cat, he may think that his clock is synchronous with the clock inside the box. However, this copy of the universe did not exist for him just a moment ago, while the cat has been there for as long as it took from the time of radioactive decay until the time the box was opened. Consequently, it is appropriate to speak of two time lines, both of which are equally correct. This is very similar to the two time lines we mentioned when we discussed the Copenhagen interpretation of QM. (See Figure 3 above.)

Splitting of the World Wave-Function by the First Observer

Let us apply this logic to the question at hand. According to contemporary cosmology, the Big Bang was set off by a random quantum fluctuation of the vacuum. Similar to the kabbalistic doctrine of yesh me'ayin (creatio ex nihilo), according to quantum field theory, before there was something, there was nothing--a quantum vacuum. Although nothing usually means nothing, Werner Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle allows temporary 'borrowing' of energy, which leads to the creation of virtual particles. Consequently, the physical vacuum is not quite empty; in fact, it is full of action-producing and -annihilating virtual particles. (18) One such quantum fluctuation could have led to the rapid expansion of the very fabric of space-time known as the Big Bang.

Let us suppose for simplicity that the probability of such random fluctuation (or collision of two branes in string cosmology, or whatever other physical event that might have triggered the Big Bang) was 50 percent. This means that, at the time of this possible quantum fluctuation (t = 0), the universe branches out into two copies: one in which the fluctuation leading to the Big Bang occurs, and the other in which it doesn't. When the first human observers (Adam and Eve) open their eyes and look at the universe, they are split into two copies for each of the two branches of the universe. Unfortunately, the branch of the universe in which the Big Bang never took place does not contain the planet Earth or any other conditions for human habitation. Consequently, the second copy of Adam is short-lived. Therefore, what we are left with is a single Adam and Eve (thank G-d!) inhabiting our branch of the universe.

In a more sophisticated version of this scenario, the initial random fluctuation of the vacuum leads to a plurality of universes--multiverses--each having different values for fundamental physical constants. This event leads to a single universe branching into many parallel universes with different laws of physics (or different values of fundamental constants). Only one such universe has the values of the constants just right for the emergence of conscious beings. The moment the first such composite being (Adam-and-Eve) looks at the universe, it is split into many copies--one for each of the multiple branches of the universe. Of course, the branches of the universe in which the values of physical constants are not right for the emergence of planet Earth or for the emergence of life cannot be hospitable to other copies of the first observer. Therefore, just as in the first scenario, the other copies of Adam and Eve do not survive even for a moment in all those other (parallel) universes. Thus, we are still left with a single Adam and Eve inhabiting our unique universe. (This, by the way, explains the legitimacy of the Anthropic Principle.)

Notwithstanding the lucky outcomes of our thought experiment, which left us with only one copy of Adam and Eve, the two instances of branching out--one of the universe at the initial moment t = 0, and the other of Adam-and-Eve at the time they first opened their eyes and observed the universe--do create two distinct time lines: one that flows from the moment of the Big Bang, and the other from the creation of the first human observer. Both time lines are correct and in full compliance with the Many-Worlds Interpretation of QM.

Alternatively, from the point of view of parallel universes, at the time of the quantum fluctuation of the vacuum, the wave function of the world is partitioned between two parallel universes: one in which the Big Bang took place, and the other in which it didn't. The first human observer sets up the first interference experiment, which causes the two universes to merge, producing the one physical world in which we live. Once again, we have two time lines: one that starts from quantum fluctuation at t=0, and the other that starts at the time when Adam-and-Eve cause the two universes to merge--producing our tangible physical reality.

Resolution of the Problem of the Age of the Universe

The discussion above demonstrates how the many-worlds or parallel universes interpretations of QM resolve the controversy between the cosmological and 'biblical' ages of the universe, both of which turn out to be valid, albeit different, ways of looking at the same picture.

Essentially, this resolution coincides with the result obtained in my previous paper, but without the use of the much-disputed notion of the collapse of the wave function.

Sabbatical Cycles

The parallel-universe approach also sheds new light on the age-old kabbalistic dispute over the sabbatical cycles discussed in my previous paper. (19) According to the ancient school of Rabbi Nehunya ben Ha'Kanah, as explained by Rabbi Isaac of Acre, the universe existed for approximately fifteen billion years before the creation of Adam. (20) On the other hand, the Lurianic school of Kabbalah maintains that the universe previous to Adam and Eve existed in the spiritual rather than the physical realm.

Indeed, both opinions may not be contradictory. When Rabbi Nehunya ben Ha'Kanah and Rabbi Isaac of Acre, along with Nahmanides and other early kabbalistic sages, spoke of sabbatical cycles and billions of years in pre-human history, they specifically focused on pre-human history, and therefore spoke of the first time line--the age of the protophysical universe as originally created by G-d. This can be seen clearly from the emphasis on using the Divine years rather than the years reckoned by man. Rabbi Isaac Luria further clarified the picture by pointing out that the initial phase of pre-human world history was on a different plane, which he called spiritual worlds and which contemporary physicists call parallel universes.

Parallel Universes or Parallel Time Lines?

Many find it hard to believe that every time we look at a quantum system we are split into multiple copies and that these myriad copies inhabit parallel universes completely unaware of each other. I am referring to MWI here only because it is one of the most popular interpretations of QM subscribed to by the majority of experts in the fields of quantum theory and quantum cosmology.

The many-histories approach of Richard Feynman may be more palatable. When we study light, we use geometric optics based on Isaac Newton's corpuscular theory of light, or wave optics based on Christiaan Huygens' wave theory of light. According to the Fermat principle in geometric optics, a ray of light always travels along the quickest path. Waves, however, travel along all possible paths, and when they come together, we add them up to compute their interference patterns. A similar analogy exists between classical and quantum mechanics. In classical mechanics, when objects behave like particles, to determine a future state of the system we write a lagrangian (which is roughly the difference between potential and kinetic energy) of the system. Then we find the extreme path that the system will follow. This is called the Principle of Least Action. In QM, where particles have waves associated with them, the waves follow all possible paths and then come together, producing interference. In the 1940s Feynman proposed calculating all possible actions and adding them together. In other words, when a QM system evolves from point A to point B (in configurational space) it travels every possible path, not just the extreme path of the least action. The method of calculating the wave function by summing up all of its histories is called the "sum-over-histories" approach (famous for its Feynman diagrams). Some consider this approach to be merely a clever computational aid, but others believe that it actually describes the physics of the evolution of the quantum system. According to the latter view, the system does evolve over all possible paths, which is equivalent to saying that all possible states are realized in parallel universes with one comfortable exception: this approach does not require splitting the observer into multiple copies. Geometric optics with its shortest path for the ray of light is but a special case of the many paths of wave optics when the wave length of light is sufficiently short. So, too, is classical mechanics--with its least action path arising out of many paths of QM--also a special case in which the length of a de Broglie wave of a particle is sufficiently small. It may be said that Feynman's many-histories approach is a theory of parallel time lines.

Novel Time-Relativistic Interpretation of QM

To take this concept a step further, it is my contention that the collapse of the wave function has to do with synchronization of clocks in two reference frames, not unlike the Special Theory of Relativity. One of the main paradigm shifts of relativity theory is the realization that there is no absolute time. Events simultaneous in one reference frame may not be simultaneous in another. Before we can compare measurements in two reference frames moving relative to each other, we need to synchronize their clocks. I suggest that a similar situation occurs in QM.

I call my approach the time-relativistic interpretation of QM. This should not be confused with the standard special-relativistic QM developed by Paul Dirac and others in the late 1920s. Rather, this is a novel interpretation of QM, generally based on Albert Einstein's idea of relative time, i.e., the lack of simultaneity in different frames of reference. I call it time-relativistic to emphasize that unlike Special Relativity, we are not dealing here with the relativity of motion, but rather with the relativity of time. Although Einstein only considered classical frames of reference moving relative to each other, I suggest extrapolating this notion on the quantum-mechanical system and its observer regardless of their relative movement. In my definition, a quantum-mechanical frame of reference is a closed information-processing system. The common thread with special relativity is the realization that clocks will show different times in different frames of reference and an exchange of information, i.e., an act of measurement, is necessary to synchronize the clocks in different frames.

A quantum-mechanical system represents one frame of reference that has its own clock and its own time line. An observer is in another frame of reference with its own clock and time line. Thus, a quantum-mechanical system (the object of measurement) and the observer measuring it are in two different reference frames. Before their clocks can be synchronized, an information exchange between the two frames of reference must take place. This is the process of measurement.

Physicists do not like the collapse of the wave function because it does not follow from the Schrodinger equation. Mathematicians do not like it because it makes wave function a discontinuous function, very difficult to deal with. Yet, we forget that we deal with an almost identical situation every moment of our lives. Isn't every present moment a transition between future and past, collapsing many future possibilities into a singular present reality?

There is an uncanny similarity between the collapse of the wave function and the transition from the future to the present. Indeed, future time is characterized by a plurality of amorphous possibilities, or--in the language of mathematics--by a distribution of probabilities of all possible events, just as a quantum mechanical system is characterized by the wave function that describes a distribution of probabilities of all possible states of the system.

Let us consider a flipped coin before it lands (while the event of heads or tails is still in the future). At this point, the probability of it falling heads up is 50 percent. In other words, when the event of a coin falling heads up is still in the future, its probability equals 0.5. After the coin has landed, the probability of it being heads up is either 1 or 0, depending on whether or not it landed heads up. In general, events in the future have a probability between 0 and 1, and any event in the past has a probability of either 1 or 0, depending on whether it happened or not.

The past is distinguished from the future by the fact that all probabilities have only two possible values: 0 or 1. The present moment is the point in time when the distribution of probabilities of future events collapse into a single value--zero or one--depending on whether the event in question happened or not.

This is exactly the situation in which we find ourselves when conducting a quantum-mechanical experiment: we select only one state from all possible quantum-mechanical states that we observe in the experiment. This is referred to as the collapse of the wave function. This suggests that we are dealing here with the transition from future to present.

This transition happens because for as long as there is no exchange of information between the reference frame of a quantum-mechanical system and the reference frame of its observer, the quantum-mechanical system is in the observer's future. Indeed, until the experiment is conducted, there is no information available about the quantum-mechanical system apart from what we can glean from the Schrodinger equation--a distribution of probabilities. Thus, as far as the observer is concerned, the system is in his/ her future. When the experiment is conducted and the information about the system is obtained, as far as the observer is concerned, the quantum-mechanical system has entered the observer's present time.

Let us again reconsider the Schrodinger cat. Before we look inside the box, the cat is in the future time with respect to us. Therefore, there is nothing unusual about its entangled state--it's neither dead nor alive because, as far as we are concerned, the event that will determine the fate of the cat hasn't happened yet. Once we open the box, which synchronizes the clocks, the cat moves into our present time and, no wonder, we find only one possibility actualized--the cat is either dead or alive. The key to the solution of the Schrodinger cat paradox is to realize that time flows differently in different reference frames associated with a quantum-mechanical system and the observer. That which is present in an isolated quantum system is still in the future for the observer until he or she conducts an experiment that synchronizes the clocks and brings the QM system into the observer's present. This accounts for the collapse of the wave function, which is hardly a paradox at all. This illustrates how our time-relativistic interpretation demystifies Quantum Mechanics (see table, page 165).

The Age of the Universe according to the Time-Relativistic Interpretation of QM

Applying our approach to the problem of the age of the universe, we can say that before the first observer opened his/her eyes and looked at the universe, the world was--in respect to the observer--in a future time. It may be said that Adam and Eve synchronized their clock with the universal clock. (The universal clock might be what Rabbi Nehunya ben Ha'Kanah calls the Divine years.) Therefore, we have two time lines associated with two frames of reference: one time line connected with the universe, and the other with us humans.

Conclusion and a Parallel in Jewish Sources

I have tried to demonstrate here that the apparent contradiction between the 'biblical' age of the universe and its cosmological age can be reconciled by applying various interpretations of Quantum Mechanics. The common denominator of all these approaches is that the first human observers, Adam and Eve, set off a new time line, which coexists with the much older universal time line originating at the moment of the Big Bang. In the Copenhagen interpretation, Adam and Eve collapse the universal wave function. In the Many Worlds Interpretation, Adam and Eve realize only one of many branches of the universal wave function. In the parallel universes model, Adam and Eve cause an interference of the wave function distributed between the two parallel universes. In the time-relativistic approach that I propose, identifying the collapse of the wave function with the transition from future to present, the pre-human history of the universe appears as future until the first observer brings it into his present. Since all of the above approaches are mathematically equivalent, the various interpretations are closely interrelated and, to a large degree, are a matter of taste. They all, however, effectively reconcile the two vastly different ages of the universe by pointing out that there are two distinct time-lines, one beginning with the Big Bang and the other beginning with the first conscious human observer.

Interestingly, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menahem Mendel Schneer son, may have alluded to this approach in one of his discourses on the Torah portion of Shoftim. (21) In this discourse, Rabbi Schneerson discusses two types of witnesses. (22) The Torah commands the rabbinic courts to rely on witnesses:
      A case must be established through the testimony of [at least]
   two or three witnesses. (23)

The first type of witness is called a clarifying witness. Clarifying witnesses are required for transactions that might be complicated by dispute. If a dispute arises, the court judges can question the witnesses in order to verify exactly what transpired.

The second type of witness is called an establishing witness. An establishing witness observes an event and is not interrogated later by the court. At a Jewish wedding two witnesses must be present in order for the wedding to be legally valid. Without the presence of two witnesses, the marriage cannot take effect.

Rabbi Yosef Rosen, the Rogatchover Gaon, (24) explains that the difference between clarifying witnesses and establishing witnesses lies in the laws of interrogation. A witness must be interrogated by the judges in a court of Jewish law before he can be considered a clarifying witness and testify. Establishing witnesses, on the other hand, says Rabbi Rosen, perform their primary function by simply observing an event. Their status of witness is not conferred by the court.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe draws a parallel with two interpretations of the Zohar (25) on the verse "You are my witnesses, says G-d." (26) The first, more simple, interpretation is that the witnesses are the Jewish people. The second interpretation suggests that the sky and the earth are the witnesses, based on Deuteronomy 30:19, "I call heaven and earth as witnesses." The Lubavitcher Rebbe concludes that heaven and earth are clarifying witnesses, while the Jewish people are establishing witnesses, whose testimony establishes the act of creation.

The similarity between the halakhic definition of the establishing witness and John Wheeler's model of the 'participating observer' is remarkable. According to Wheeler "... the observer is as essential to the creation of the universe as the universe is to the creation of the observer ...," (27)

Our discussion, moreover, sheds light on the question of the interplay between science and faith. Both fulfill important but different roles. Nature is a clarifying witness, while people of faith are establishing witnesses. Just as Jewish law requires the judges to interrogate clarifying witnesses to test the veracity of their testimony, so must we question and test the physical properties of heaven and earth to formulate the laws of nature. Only after the clarifying witnesses have been successfully examined can they testify.

According to Jewish tradition, in the messianic era physical heaven and earth will offer testimony and proclaim the Oneness of G-d (instead of concealing the Creator as they do now). On the other hand, Adam and Eve, as the first human observers or establishing witnesses, established the world the moment that they 'witnessed' its existence. (28)

Thus, science and faith do not contradict each other, but rather play complementary roles of clarifying and establishing witnesses to the creation. As Niels Bohr put it, contraria sunt complementa (the opposites are complementary). (29)

Presented at the Fifth Miami International Conference on Torah and Science, 13-15 December 2003

Alexander Poltorak, PhD


(1) Alexander Poltorak, "On the Age of the Universe," B'Or Ha'Torah 13 (2002) vol. 13, pp. 19-37.

(2) Midrash Rabbah Genesis 1:2; Zohar I:134a, vol. II, p. 161b.

(3) Aryeh Kaplan, Immortality, Resurrection and the Age of the Universe: A Kabbalistic View (New York: Ktav Publishing House, 1993).

(4) Talmud Sanhedrin 97a.

(5) Avraham ibn Ezra on Leviticus 25:2.

(6) Nahmanides on Genesis 2:3.

(7) Cosmological models based the Hubble constant (such as ACDM) result in a 13.73-billion-year-old universe. Radioactive dating of elements in old stars suggests a range of 11.5 to 14.1 billion years. Estimates based on the age of the oldest white dwarf stars give the age of the universe as 12.8 billion years. Most recent data, based on new results from NASA's Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP) satellite, launched in 2001, sets the age of the universe at 13.73 billion years plus or minus 120 million years. Cyclic Universe Theory, however, suggests that the universe may be much older than that.

(8) Poltorak, "On the Age of the Universe" (2002).

(9) John von Neumann, Mathematical Foundations of Quantum Mechanics (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1955).

(10) Eugene Wigner, "Remarks on the Mind-Body Question" in I.J Good, ed., The Scientist Speculates: An Anthology of Partly-Baked Ideas (London: Heinemann, 1961).

(11) John A. Wheeler, "Genesis and Observership," in R.E. Butts and K.J. Hintikka, eds., Foundational Problems in the Special Sciences (Dordrecht: Reidel, 1977) pp. 3-33. John A. Wheeler, "Beyond the Black Hole," in H. Woolf, ed., Some Strangeness in the Proportion: A Centennial Symposium to Celebrate the Achievements of Albert Einstein (Reading, MA: Addison Wesley, 1980).

(12) Von Neumann, Mathematical Foundations.

(13) Avi Rabinowitz and Herman Branover, "The Role of the Observer in Halakhah," in H. Branover and I. Attia, eds., Science in the Light of the Torah (Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson, 1994). Originally published in Fusion (New York/Jerusalem: Feldheim Publishers, 1990).

(14) Poltorak, "On the Age of the Universe" (2002).

(15) According to the biblical account, Adam and Eve were created simultaneously as one being. Only later were they separated into male and female. Therefore, the question of who collapsed the universal wave function first--Adam or Eve--does not arise.

(16) Hugh Everett, "Relative State," Review of Modern Physics, vol. 29, no. 3 (Jul 1957) pp. 454-462.

(17) Bryce S. DeWitt and N. Graham, The Many-Worlds Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1974).

(18) For a more detailed explanation of this, see my article "Creatio ex Nihilo, Number Theory, Quantum Vacuum, and the Big Bang" in B'Or Ha'Torah 17 (2007) p. 115.

(19) Poltorak, "On the Age of the Universe" (2002).

(20) Nehunya ben Ha'Kanah, Sefer Ha'Temunah, p. 314. See also Kaplan, Immortality, pp. 1-16.

(21) Menahem Mendel Schneerson, Likutey Sihot (Brooklyn, NY: Vaad L'Hafotzas Sichos, 1998) vol. 19, Deuteronomy, pp. 188-196.

(22) Talmud Kiddushin 65b.

(23) Deuteronomy 19:15, Aryeh Kaplan, trans., The Living Torah (New York/Jerusalem: Maznaim Publishing Corporation, 1981).

(24) Yosef Rosen, Responsa Tsafnat Paneah (Dvinsk) vol. 1, 69.

(25) Zohar III, 86.

(26) Isaiah 43:10.

(27) John Wheeler, "Genesis and Observership."

(28) Jews continue this process every week in the Sabbath eve liturgy, giving testimony to the creation of the world. Hasidism maintains that the world is recreated by G-d every moment. (See the Tanya, Shaar Yihud Veha'Emunah.) Therefore, just as at the time of Adam and Eve, there is a continuous need for establishing witnesses to reaffirm and establish the act of creation. In the language of Quantum Mechanics, the Jewish people are quinessential participating observers.

(29) Niels Bohr chose this motto for his coat-of-arms when knighted by the Order of the Elephant.

Alexander Poltorak was born in Krasnodar, Russia, in 1957. Devoting his studies at the Kuban State University in Krasnodar to Einstein's theory of relativity and gravitation, Poltorak published several papers in this field and wrote his doctoral thesis on a solution to a long-standing 'energy problem' in the Theory of General Relativity.

Accused of Jewish nationalist dissident activity, Poltorak was stripped of his academic degrees. In 1982 he immigrated to the USA. He served as an assistant professor of biomathematics at Cornell University Medical College, where he conducted research on mathematical modeling of blood-flow circulation in the brain and on Positron Emission Tomography. He also served as an assistant professor of physics at Touro College and adjunct professor of law at the Globe Institute of Technology.

Poltorak is chairman and CEO of General Patent Corporation. He has coauthored two books and authored numerous papers on intellectual property law and economics.

While still in Russia, Alex and his wife Leah became interested in religion as an outgrowth of their inquiry into science, and they became Torah-observant. Later, in Italy, on their way to America, Rabbi Hirsh Rabisky introduced them to Habad Hasidism. Dr. Poltorak has been active in Jewish education. He wrote many articles on Judaism for the Russian-Jewish press, cofounded and edited Yevreyski Mir, the first Russian Jewish weekly newspaper in the US, and hosted weekly radio programs on two Russian radio stations. He taught Jewish studies at Touro College and lectures frequently throughout North America on Jewish mysticism, religion, and science. His articles and a book, A Light unto My Path, are published on
Four Approaches to the Schrodinger Cat Experiment

Before the box         After the box
is opened              is opened

Classical              The atom either        The observer finds
physics                decays (and kills      the cat either dead
                       the cat) or doesn't.   or alive.
                       At all times, the
                       cat is either dead
                       or alive.

Copenhagen             The atom exists in a   The observer
interpretation         superposition          collapses the wave
of QM                  state of               function,
                       decay/non-decay; the   retroactively
                       cat is in a            causing' the atom to
                       superposition state    decay (or not) and
                       of being dead/alive    kill the cat (or
                       at the same time.      not).

Many-Worlds            The radioactive atom   The observer is
Interpretation         causes the universe    split into two
of QM                  to branch out into     identical copies.
                       two copies: in one,    One copy of the
                       it decays and kills    observer finds the
                       the cat; and in the    cat alive in one
                       other, it doesn't.     universe and the
                       The cat is alive in    other copy of the
                       one branch of the      observer finds the
                       universe and dead in   cat dead in the
                       the other branch.      other universe.

Time-relativistic      Until the              Opening the box,
interpretation of QM   measurement, the       resulting in the
(See pages 162-164     observer's clock is    exchange of information,
for an explanation     not synchronized       synchronizes
of this novel          with the clock in      the clocks in the
approach.)             the box. Each clock    reference frames of
                       is in a separate       the observer and the
                       reference frame.       quantum-mechanical
                       From the observer's    system. This brings
                       vantage point, a       the
                       possible decay of      quantum-mechanical
                       the atom and           system into the
                       resulting demise of    observer's present,
                       the cat are            allowing the
                       indeterminate          observer to decide
                       because they are in    whether the cat is
                       the observer's         dead or alive. The
                       future. From this      collapse of the wave
                       point of view, the     function' is nothing
                       cat is neither dead    more than a
                       nor alive simply       transition from the
                       because it hasn't      future into the
                       had a chance to die    present.
                       yet, as far as the
                       observer is
COPYRIGHT 2008 Jerusalem College of Technology
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2008 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Poltorak, Alexander
Publication:B'Or Ha'Torah
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2008
Previous Article:The evolving feminine: an enlightened view from Kabbalah.
Next Article:Meditation.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2019 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters