An oldie but a goody from 2001. Enjoy this mix of scientific and spiritual piffle. In the 8 years that have passed since I wrote this, I’ve come to see that, while, on the one hand, this piece was an interesting dance on the head of a pin, it was a somewhat trivializing attempt to blend science and theology. I’ve long since come to believe that theology cannot and should not be used to explain theology, and vice versa. Where once I found ideas like those expressed in "What the Bleep Do We Know" and "What the Bleep Do We Know: Down the Rabbit Hole" intriguing, I now see them as the sort of silly concept that some have labeled "quantum mysticism" and as espousing pseudo-science and as a somewhat gross misunderstanding of quantum theory. Nevertheless, I think my basic overall point, which really is another way of stating the concept of "reader response" (as a field of biblical interpretation) remains on the mark. The observer’s encounter with Torah does matter. What do you think?
Schroedinger’s Cat and Torah
Incongruities. You gotta love ’em!
Twice in Kedoshim we are reminded to not become involved with ghosts, or any kind of divination. And the stern warnings against following the practices of others, or worshipping idols or other G"ds is emphasized repeatedly here and elsewhere in Torah. Yet in Acharei Mot we have this crazy go "l’azazel" business. The folks at "Torah Tots" jokingly call it a sort of "X-File" – a great mystery of the Torah. And if we go back a bit, there’s always good ol’ Umim and Tumim! (Say, why didn’t they just use the Urim & Tumim to decide which goat was for Gd and which was for Azazel?)
Well, incongruities often get me thinking. Two sides of my brain argue. One saying these are incongruous and one arguing that there are no incongruities whatsoever-that the idea that things are incongruous is a human-imposed
layer of thinking upon the Torah.
Well, I, too, used to find myself very troubled by these seeming incongruities. Slowly, though a process of discovery which involves both knowledge of Judaism and of human physical science, I have come to realize that there aren’t really incongruities at all. The Torah is simply in line with the physical properties of the Universe-and of course, it should be, since the same entity created both! and what brought me to this understanding? It was no other than dear old Schroedinger’s cat.
For the non-physics-minded among you, Erwin Schroedinger, a physics professor, demonstrated a primary principle of the understanding (at that time) of quantum mechanics. Schroedinger postulated that observation interacts with quantum reality-that is, it is the observation of an uncertain event that causes the event to resolve into a definitive form. A cat is placed in a box, together with a radioactive atom. If the atom decays, and the geiger-counter detects an alpha particle, the hammer hits a flask of prussic acid (HCN), killing the cat. Before the observer opens the box, the cat’s fate is tied to the wave function of the atom, which is itself in a superposition of decayed and undecayed states. Thus, said Schroedinger, the cat must itself be in a superposition of dead and alive
states before the observer opens the box, "observes" the cat, and "collapses" it’s wave function.
Don’t worry if you don’t get it. The point is that matter or things (or situations in the Torah) can be in more than one state until they actually interact with an observe (i.e., a reader/interpreter)
That is, the mitzvot of Torah, the lessons of Torah, the words of Torah don’t resolve themselves into a definitive concept until someone interacts with them. And each interaction, just as with Schroedinger’s cat, can be random and different.
Finally coming to this understanding of the Universe and Torah, I see now the futility and foolishness of pursuing apparent incongruities in the Torah. There aren’t any until we read it. And for some, the act of reading will make an incongruity, and for others not. so it’s not what’s in the Torah…it’s what we do!
And doesn’t that put a whole different spin (forgive the physics pun) on "naaseh v’nishma," "we will do and then we will listen."
Is this a liberal or traditional interpretation of Judaism and Torah? I say it’s both..and remains so…until you encounter it and make it one or the other.
So don’t let anyone tell you Torah and science don’t mix well. The more we "discover" about our universe from a scientific standpoint, the more we come to realize that the Torah describes it perfectly already.
Recognize the power you have to alter the course of the universe (and if that’s not free will, I don’t know what is!) Until you open that cover or unroll that scroll, what’s inside can be many things at once. But once you encounter and start reading, you collapse wave fronts all over the place and turn uncertain words into a concrete interpretation. Just remember your concrete interpretation may not be the same one that some else creates when they have the same encounter.
Some Closing Thoughts from 2009
I still think my "reader response" idea is on target. I’m less certain about using that to ignore the seeming incongruities. I have written in other musings about other possible explanations for incongruities-for example, that they are purposeful as attention-getters. Yet others can be shown to not be incongruous at all. So I no longer subscribe to the idea that one’s quantum interaction with Torah obviates the need to pursue incongruities. Nevertheless, there is still something intriguing to the idea of free will being somehow being connected to, or a product of quantum interactions. Pseudo-science? Yes. Quantum mysticism? Yes. Still, the Bard had it right when he wrote "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy."
©2009 by Adrian A. Durlester (parts ©2001)