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Knowing the Program

Knowing the Program

How we can know what science cannot

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Can you imagine knowing something for certain? Without any shadow of a doubt? Not even science can afford us such luxury. Think about it: five hundred years ago we knew the world was flat; 250 years ago we knew that man would never fly; 100 years ago we knew that time was a constant that never varies . . . Today there is a lot that we “know,” but in the words of Agent Kay from Men in Black, “Imagine what you’ll know tomorrow.”

I used to want to be able to see the future; now I would settle for being able to clearly see the present

So is it possible to really know anything? What is it about our world that makes even “scientific fact” something ever-changing and clearly questionable?

In this generation, everyone over five can use a computer. If you have enough time and patience, you could probably even write a user’s manual for the programs that you operate on a regular basis. Yet, other than those who wrote the programs, and a few skillful hackers, no matter how expert we are at using a program, we have no idea how it was created and what is going on behind the scenes when we click a button. To most of us, pushing Control+V, going to the “Edit” menu to click on “Paste,” and right-clicking to press “Paste” on the popup menu all do the same exact thing: paste. The code for each of these operations is completely different, yet we would never be able to tell.

Let’s take an example from basic mathematics. How many ways can you arrive at the number 2 using a mathematical equation? It’s a silly question. Even after limiting the possibilities to a formula using only two numbers and one specific operator, the conclusion is the same. X + Y = 2 will always have an infinite number of possible solutions, and already knowing that X plus Y equals two doesn’t help us in the least to figure out how we got there.

Imagine a programmer who designs two versions of an animation of the solar system.1 In the code for the first version, she uses Newton’s laws of physics, and the size and masses of each of the planetary bodies, so that the program will operate in the exact pattern in which the heavenly bodies move through space. In the second version, she programs a unique path for each of the planets. After an extended coding time, this second version operates in exactly the same way as the first. The first version is much simpler and tighter than the second version, and the two versions are coded in completely different fashions, yet once the animations are running, we have no way of knowing which version we are viewing. Why? Because we are looking at the effect and not the cause, and it is impossible to determine the cause (in this case, the programming structure) simply by looking at the effect (the animation).

The field of science, by its very definition, is rooted in the “effect” portion of our universe. The Academic Press Dictionary of Science and Technology lists science as “the systematic observation of natural events and conditions in order to discover facts about them and to formulate laws and principles on these facts.”

Perhaps this definition in itself can help us understand why scientific fact doesn’t mean that we necessarily know anything. The word “observation” is our first clue, a blatant pointer to the truth that scientists can really only study the effects and results, not the causes; the descriptions, rather than the true hows and whys.

Our next hint comes from the word “natural.” Things happen every day which fall outside the realm of “nature”: miraculous recoveries, lifesaving coincidences, and events of all sorts which break the “normal” pattern of life in our universe. Science doesn’t address these phenomena; scientists are forced to exclude these “anomalies” because the field of science is structured around patterns. When something happens that falls outside of these patterns of nature, it’s labeled a scientific “singularity.” It’s not included in the laws and theories, meaning that scientific facts cannot be absolute truths.

With that in mind, let’s go back to our solar system animations . . . If you were to sit a few current-day cosmological physicists in front of the animation programmed one planet at a time, they would undoubtedly be able to find the patterns and derive Newton’s laws from their observations. Yet this set of laws would not at all describe how the system is actually functioning. It would be an accurate description of the effects, but the cause would forever remain a mystery.

If this problem exists for science taking place in our timeframe and relatively “close” to home, imagine how much more problematic things get when speaking about things entirely out of our realm of observation! The age and origins of the universe (think Big Bang) are taken as a “fact” by followers of popular science—which is a confidence that is not scientific in the least, being that such theories are not observable and not even testable. But this leaves us right where we began: full of doubts and not really knowing anything. Our question remains: is there anything that is plain and simple fact? Anything that is the truth? Any way to know the cause rather than the effect?

Talk to the Programmer

If you want to know exactly how the program behind the animation works, and not just draw conclusions based on your own observations, there’s only one way to find out: talk to the programmer.

Easier said than done, right? The Programmer of the Universe doesn’t seem to be readily available to ask.

Luckily for us, however, the work has already been done. Thousands of years ago, Moses received the code, the blueprint for our existence, the absolute truth: the Torah. This revelation on Sinai was our receiving of the knowledge of the Cause that preceded2 all of the effects that scientists have been studying for eons. With this code, we have something that no scientist will ever be able to attain: knowledge without change, and truth without doubt.

This is not a simple code, though. And if you’ve ever seen programming code for a computer, you probably know that it is not helpful in understanding how the animations work at all, without the Programmer’s comments. As complicated as computer coding is, the code for our universe must necessarily be infinitely more complicated than a “simple” animation. Not to worry, though, because Moses was given instruction3 by the Programmer Himself on how to read this code and what to do with it, and he trained each person after him in face-to-face training sessions passed down from generation to generation. The troubleshooting guide was also received at the same time, and whenever the human race needed to contact “support,” a prophet was put back in touch with the Programmer and the answers were written down as the first part of the user’s manual—the Prophets and the Writings—with each part revealed as that particular scenario became relevant.

Yet the Programmer’s comments on the code remained an oral tradition for centuries, until they were finally recorded in writing as a major part of the universe’s users’ manual. These comments were written down as the Mishnah, Talmud, Shulchan Aruch, and each of the commentaries. All of them were received by Moses and the entire Jewish people4 as an integral part of the code from the very beginning:5 hints about the way the universe is created and how it works, straight from the Programmer.

To this day, we are fortunate enough to still have access to the code, as well as its troubleshooting guide, and all of the code comments which make up our universe’s users’ manual, still fully intact and accessible to anyone. Not only is it possible to figure out how the universe works through this user’s manual, but Torah is the only way to know what G‑d was thinking when He hit “play” on this crazy animation we live in.

In this world of variable facts, changing sciences, and constant doubt, there is an opportunity to look past the effects to see deeper than observations, to know something beyond any shadow of a doubt. Torah is our truth, our chance to go beyond the animation, to delve into the code, and get to know the Programmer’s intention and desires for ourselves. So break out the user’s manual and dive headfirst into the code to discover just how much we really know.

FOOTNOTES
1.

This analogy, and many concepts in this piece, are from Rabbi Y. Kaufmann of Mayanot Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem, Israel.

2.

“G‑d looked into the Torah and created the world”—Zohar II:161b.

3.

Maimonides’ Eighth Principle of Faith (in his Commentary on the Mishnah).

4.

Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Laws of the Foundations of Torah 8:1.

5.

Maimonides, introduction to Mishneh Torah.

Rucheli Manville lives in Brooklyn while pursuing a Master's in Engineering Management at Columbia University and working for the Chabad.org Media Team. She is also a freelance writer, small business development consultant, and perpetual student in Torah.
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Discussion (9)
June 17, 2011
talk to the Celestial Programmer
We are all on this planet and Plan It is part of a Divine Plan. We have doubt and we have certitude and this does differ from person tp person as we are each unique and do filter the Light through our own prisms. The prison here is in not being fully open to what is incoming from each other and universe. We tend to block each other if what we hear somehow is deflected or blocked by our very selective persoal prisms or even, "prisons" as in the cult discussion on this series of articles.
ruth housman
marshfield hills, ma
June 15, 2011
So the Torah is just a description of how the world works, how it got to work that way, and how you successfully take advantage of it's unique programing? Congratulations! You have just condemned the Torah as being the most banal document ever conceived!
William Shatner
Moscow
June 13, 2011
Wonderful posting, Ms. Manville!
You ask: "Is it possible for us to know anything?"

My quick response to that is, what Rabbi Akiva was known to say: "It's not so important if you have the right answers. It's more important to ask good questions."

Judaism, more so then any other of the houses of faith, is of the mind; the questioning mind, the challenging mind, which is from G-d just as are our hearts and souls.

What happens when certain people (such as Muslim extremists and Xtianists fundamentalists, for instance) say they know all the answers and question nothing; and go on from there thoughtlessly, senselessly, blindly?

The mind gets so buried behind the heart that no one can tell the difference between what's good and what's bad.

Rabbi Freeman once said this at one of this commentaries:

"The intellect is necessary in order to discern the yetzer hatov."

I'm trying to convince him that that is what really separates a Jew from everyone else; a center point of the Jewish covenant itself.

What do you think?
Thomas Karp
New Haven, Ct.
June 13, 2011
Great Article
The analogies in this article between programming and Torah are great. I'm always interested in finding relations between Torah and science, showing that the two can work well together (provided the science agrees with the Torah), and the author does a great job of doing so here. Shkoyach.
Yossi
Jerusalem, Israel
June 13, 2011
Talk to the Programmer
I loved the whole programmer analogy. I am sending this on to several friends.
Georgianna Johnson
June 13, 2011
Great job
Extremely well written. Since im a pretty heavy computer user, and I love almost everything about them, I have constantly used the analogy you present hete to help me understand the world around us. It really spoke to me, thank you.
Yoel Kreisler
Tucson, AZ/USA
June 13, 2011
what a vivid description of today´s ancient blueprint
natalie
Munich, Germany
June 5, 2011
Wow!
It's great to consider Torah from such a scientific perspective! I really enjoyed this peice.
Chava D
Jerusalem, IL
June 4, 2011
This very well written, I enjoyed reading it, even tho I am not very educated. You are a very good writer.
Caroline Kussner
Miami
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