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Quantum Repentance

Quantum Repentance

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Imagine if you could turn your very worst liabilities into your most precious assets. Nice dream, isn't it?

Well, as it turns out, this is no wistful fancy but a daily reality, according to both cutting edge science and state-of-the-art religion, i.e., Judaism.

To explain, let's peer into the subatomic world of the quantum and explore an amazing property of nature, a weird, almost quirky kind of fact: Wave-particle duality.

The idea is that things are what you choose them to be, literally. For example, when photons pass through a barrier with two slits, you can choose to observe them as waves, in which case they necessarily went through both slits, or as particles, in which case they went through only one. You determine the reality.

But it gets even stranger. An implication of this "observer power" is that once you choose to see the photon as a wave, it was a wave all the way back to when it was emitted. Similarly if you choose to observe it as a particle, it was a particle not only at the time of observation, but retroactively all the way back to its origin.

"Whoa!" says the logical brain. "How can it be that an observation I make now is changing things earlier? It makes no sense. There must be some mistake here."

But there is no mistake. In 1978, physicist John Wheeler concocted a thought experiment to test this time-travel effect observers have on quantum systems, and lo-and-behold by 1984 it was proven in the lab and replicated dozens of times since. Today there is no doubt about it. Observer choices made now determine the history of quanta in the past, whether it's nanoseconds, minutes, or millennia ago.

We recreate all of history and even pre-history just by opening our eyes in the morning! And it's not just a matter of proton here and a neutron there. The entire cosmos is made of this stuff, so it turns out that any observations and all observations share this remarkable property. We recreate all of history and even pre-history just by opening our eyes in the morning!

In Judaic terms it's not all that strange. Jews celebrate the renewal of the universe every day in their morning prayers, which speaks of the Creator's "daily, constant renewal of the work of Creation." And all of that is because of us, as the Talmud states that "every individual is obliged to say: For my sake was the world created."

But this whole retroactive reality business has an even a deeper spiritual significance. It refers to the power of teshuvah, "repentance," more accurately translated "return" or "restoration."

We all have some fixing up to do in preparation for the New Year. But in this there are different levels. There's a basic kind of restoration that rights a wrong, repays a debt, gets us back to level ground. But then there's another, higher mode of teshuvah, where negatives get transformed to positives. A teshuvah where errors become assets, where even intentional sins become merits. Where darkness is transformed to light.

And here's where photons can illuminate our spiritual life as well. By choosing to return in the best possible way, we demonstrate to our Creator that we are in tune with the possibility of reinventing ourselves, of transcending sustainability, surpassing even tikkun olam, achieving a perfection within ourselves and the world.

Dr. Arnie Gotfryd, PhD, is a chassidic Jew and environmental scientist, having earned Canada’s first doctorate in Applied Ecology. He designed and taught an accredited, award-winning undergraduate course called Faith and Science which has been the most popular offering at University of Toronto’s New College for many years.
He writes and speaks extensively on the interplay of science and faith, and what it all means for the individual and the world at large. You can visit his website for more.
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Discussion (19)
August 13, 2010
To Naftaly
I think it is possible to construct some very detailed and truly interested ideas about the soul from Quantum Mechanics. I've certainly pondered some.

You just have to be careful not to be too strong in claiming even a good metaphor to be a correct description of such things, as they cannot be measured or defined precisely in the ways the QM can be defined. I like to remind people that religion and science are very different in how they understand reality. I believe that they are complementary rather than contradictory. But I also believe it is dangerous to be too liberal in mixing them together in ways that could cause confusion.

Anyway, Gut Shabbos!
Matt Wetstein
Chicago, IL
August 12, 2010
To Matt Wetstein re: Rozain part 2
The appreciation of the analogy is better understood if we realize what the holy Ari points out for us that even a rock has a soul. soul, in my opinion, should not be confused with consiousness.

Regarding what you say, "The uncertainty principle only dominates on extremely small scales. When you aggregate blobs of matter on human scales, they follow classical determinism." How do you explain that? what introduces 'certainty' simply because of aggregation? if you aggregate small scale "uncertainty" you ought to get large scale "uncertainty"?
Naftaly
August 12, 2010
To Matt Wetstein re: Rozain
Well said. but I'd like to highlight your conclusion in support of the author's point (i.e. kabbalah) via QM. Perhaps it's more than merely a broad analogy. we should appreciate our soul as a dimension. thus, let's take AF's statements and replace 'electron' with 'soul' and 'detector' with consciousness. here's what we get:

1) "By placing [a conscious perspective], you physically interact with the [soul] and limit its [potential expressions] "

2) "So, if you "attract" the [soul] by a [specific conscious perspective], ALL of the [soul] wave must be attracted toward the [consciousness], and the [soul] wave loses the ability to [be] itself.

3) By placing a [particular consciousness], you influence the probability making it more [particular-like].

Looking at it thus, your consciousness has EVERYTHING to do with the results.
Mr. Naftaly Kleinman
August 11, 2010
To Rozain
As a particle physicist I would say that AF from Boston's description is accurate. There are some philosophical ambiguities in how Quant Mech can be interpreted, but AF is on point. A safer way to say it: the way you construct your experiment constrains the way the probabilities governing the particle can express themselves.

I am often frustrated by pop-culture notions of quantum uncertainty to mean that we change reality with our minds. The uncertainty principle only dominates on extremely small scales. When you aggregate blobs of matter on human scales, they follow classical determinism, more or less, and our act of observing has no affect on outcomes.

While I don't think the QM described in the article is uber accurate, I don't think we have to diminish the author's point. As long as people recognize that it is a broad analogy, not a literal description of physics, it is a nice metaphor to suggest that our method for observing our own soul can affect how our soul expresses itself.
Matt Wetstein
Chicago, IL
March 24, 2010
Please answer AF from Boston, MA
I would appreciate a response to AF from Boston, MA on this article...
rozain
rustburg, va, usa
April 30, 2007
Academic lecture on why G-d is no longer dead
Here's a fantastic non-Jewish lecture about why materialism is "dead," and consequently atheism is as well.
www.gresham.ac.uk/event.asp?PageId=108&EventId=271

Careful, it isn't Torah. BUT, it shows that the rest of the world is catching up.
yonason
April 29, 2007
A Correction To My "In the interrest of accuracy "
I MADE AN INCORRECT STATEMENT

I overinterpreted Feymnan's words.

I said " The fact is that one photon goes through ONLY one slit."

But I can not say that, because no one (but Hashem, of course) knows what the photon did when no one was watching. However, if Feynman is correct, then whenever we meet up with a photon it is always a particle. What it does on it's own time, however, is it's own business.

Sorry for the error.
yonason
April 19, 2007
to: Mark Cameron
I hope this helps clarify your understanding.

While it is true that as you say light doesn't "age," all other things being equal, it can appear to change when it's environment changes. As the universe expands, space (which is a component of the universe) expands, and light is "streched." I.e., it's energy decreases relative to it's surroundings. It transfers less enegy to an absorber, and so appears to have "cooled."

The red-shift results from photons emitted at high energies relative to the emitter but having lower energies relative to the receiver it is rushing away from -conservaton of energy.

It is also the same for CMB (Cosmic Microwave Background).
"The universe initially had radiation of an infinitely small wavelength, but the expansion has 'stretched' the radiation out and we now see microwaves. THIS IS JUST ANOTHER TYPE OF REDSHIFT" [my emphasis].
cmb.physics.wisc.edu/polar/ezexp.html

There really is only one and the same theory that applies to both phenomena.
yonason
April 19, 2007
It doesn't affect the author's conclusions, but...
In the interrest of accuracy - a correction for those who fuss over the details.

According to Richard Feynman "Newton got it right.", photons are not waves - they are particles. (See his "QED - The Strange Theory Of Light And Matter"). The fact is that one photon goes through ONLY one slit. The weirdness (and the illusion of "waviness") comes in because the photon somehow "knows" (before it chooses!) not only how many slits it has to choose from, but whether or not it's choice is being watched.

Of course, for Dr. Gotfryd's argument it doesn't matter because that difference doesn't affect his conclusions. And, for him to unseat such an ingrained misconception would take a lot more space than is available to him here.

For some information on the wonderful man who shaped Dr. Feynman's scientific thinking, see the Chabad article "A Tanya for Professor Wheeler."
www.chabad.org/library/article.asp?AID=81944
yonason
January 22, 2007
Teshuva
Quantum leaps of teshuva can displace you from society, family and once friends. Your circle has been divided as your search for God becomes stronger. When you understand and have deepen your inner beliefs that are in agreement with the divine law and Mosiac teachings -those that have not reach that spiritual height tend to ambush your efforts to maintain this level with God. You can feel tension and those around you despite your greatest example can be rejected or ignore-feign ignorance.
Mari Brooks
Meriden, Ct