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Cartesian Dualism, Kabbalah, and Quantum Mechanics

Cartesian dualism, or mind-body dualism, formulated by the French scientist, mathematician, and philosopher René Descartes (1596–1650), holds that the body and the mind (which he equated with consciousness, or the soul) are two distinct ontological substances with nothing in common.[1] They exist in different worlds and do not interact or communicate with each other. This position presents a serious problem—if the two have nothing in common, how can they have the causal connections they seem to have? How, for example, can the mind causally direct the body? And, vice versa, how can the body communicate sensations, such as pain, to the mind? This valid criticism proved fatal for Cartesian dualism, which has been all but relegated to the dustbin of history. The Jewish theosophical doctrine of Kabbalah takes a very different approach. It [...]

What is a Soul? III. The Many Souls of Man

  …[H]e who tries to cure the soul, wishing to improve the moral qualities, must have a knowledge of the soul in its totality and its parts…Maimonides[1] Maimonides opens his introduction to The Ethics of the Fathers with this statement: Know that the human soul is one, but that it has many diversified activities. Some of these activities have, indeed, been called souls, which has given rise to the opinion that man has many souls, as was the belief of the physicians, with the result that the most distinguished of them states in the introduction of his book that there are three souls, the physical, the vital, and the psychical.[2] While Maimonides lists three souls—the physical (tiv’it), the vital (chiyunit), and the psychical (nefoshit)—he believes them to be aspects of one soul—“Know that [...]

What Is a Soul? II. Anatomy of the Soul

In the biblical story of the creation of Adam, the Torah states: Then the Eternal G‑d formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.Genesis 2:7 The word translated into English as “soul” in the original Hebrew is nefesh. This is the first and the lowest level of the soul given to Adam. The taxonomy and anatomy of a soul in Judaism are quite complex. Original biblical sources speak of three levels of the soul: nefesh (“soul”), ru’ach (“spirit”),[1] and neshamah (“breath”).[2] The Kabbalah speaks of the five levels of the soul: nefesh, ru’ach, neshamah, chayah, and yechidah. This is based on classical rabbinic sources. As stated in the midrash, “By five names is the soul called: nefesh, ru’ach, [...]

The Cosmological Problem of Initial Conditions and the Universe of Tohu

Now the earth was unformed and void.Genesis 1:2 We have a big problem in cosmology: the problem of the initial conditions of the universe at the time of the Big Bang.[1] Before we can explain this problem, however, we need to review some basic concepts of thermodynamics. Thermodynamics developed by Boltzmann and others[2] described the behavior of gases and liquids and the transfer of heat. A key concept in thermodynamics is entropy. Entropy is a measure of disorder, of chaos. The second law of thermodynamics states that in an isolated system, entropy always increases with time. The second law of thermodynamics explains universal decay. And entropy is the measure of that decay.[3] Shining stars produce entropy. Stars collapsing into black holes produce entropy. Evaporating black holes produce entropy.[4] Entropy is increasing in the universe.[5] Let us [...]

Jacob and Esau—Thermodynamics of Order and Chaos

And these are the chronicles of Isaac… (Genesis 25:19) So Esau went unto Ishmael, and took unto the wives that he had Mahalath the daughter of Ishmael Abraham’s son, the sister of Nebaioth, to be his wife. (Genesis 28:9)   This Torah portion is called Toledot. In Hebrew, toledot means “generations” or “chronicles.” Indeed, this Torah portion starts with the phrase, “These are the chronicles of Isaac.” This is not the first or the last time this word appears in Tanakh (the Hebrew Scriptures). It appears for the first time in the opening verse of chapter 2 of Genesis: These are the chronicles of the heaven and of the earth when they were created, in the day that the Eternal G‑d made earth and heaven. (Genesis 2:4) The second time it appears in [...]

The Surrounding Light and the Penetrating Light

The Torah portion Vayakhel deals with the construction of the Mishkan, i.e., the “Tabernacle.” In Kabbalah, the Mishkan is viewed as a microcosm that represents a miniature model of the entire universe—both physical and spiritual. The Mishkan was comprised primarily of two categories of objects. The first category included the coverings that made up the roof and the walls surrounding the Mishkan. The second category included kelim—the objects inside the Mishkan. This is not the first time the description of the coverings and kelim appear in the Torah. In the Torah portion Teruma, G‑d gives Moses detailed instructions for the construction of the Mishkan. Interestingly, in Teruma, G‑d first speaks of the kelim and then of the coverings, whereas in Vayakhel, when Moses instructs the Jewish people, he reverses the order and first [...]

Sukkot — Bringing Time into Space

Jews have a very strange custom to take four species (Heb. arba’a minim)—a fruit of a citron tree (etrog), a branch of a date palm (lulav), boughs from the myrtle tree (chadassim), and branches of the willow tree (aravot)—and wave them in all six directions (na’anuim) while holding the species together. The precise movements involve bringing the bunch to one’s heart, then moving them to and fro in all six directions, three in each direction each time returning the bunch to the heart. A strange sight indeed… what could it possibly mean? I’ve written before that Sukkot has to do with bringing holiness into time and space. The seven days of dwelling in the sukkah-booth (a.k.a. tabernacle) is related to the most important cycle of time – 7: there are seven days in a week, seven years in a Sabbatical cycle (shemita), seven [...]

By |2020-10-15T23:06:22-04:00October 18th, 2019|Sefirot, Space, Sukkot, Sukkot, Time, Uncategorized|2 Comments

Space – Between Future and Past

Meditations on the Maaseh Merkavah – I We do science by studying nature. We study physics in a lab, peering into space, or working out mathematical models with pencil and paper to see if they fit experimental data. However, great mystics of the past were able to see how this world operates by gazing into spiritual worlds above. On Shavuot, the holiday when we celebrate the revelation on Mount Sinai, we read the prophecy of Ezekiel (the First Vision of Ezekiel) called Maaseh Merkavah (or Ma'aseh Merkabah) – Work of the Chariot. Masters of Kabbalah have taught us that understanding the Work of the Chariot gives the initiated an understanding of the works of nature. This Shavuot, studying and thinking about Maaseh Merkavah, I came to understand some profound insights about the physics [...]

Ten Sephirot and Special Relativity

The Special Theory of Relativity, published by Albert Einstein in 1905, was a game changer. It ushered the era of new physics dubbed by some as the “Jewish physics.” And Jewish physics it was. At the core of Special Relativity is the notion of the relativity of motion – all motion is not absolute, as Newton thought, but is relative to something else, to a particular point of view. In physics, we define a point of view as a frame of reference. If you are standing in a moving train, leaving the railroad platform, in your frame of reference (which is always at rest) the train is at rest relative to your frame of reference. The railroad platform, on the other hand, is moving with respect to your frame of reference. For someone [...]

Abraham Meets Abraham From a Parallel Universe

And he [Abraham] lifted up his eyes and looked, and, lo, three men stood over against him…  (Genesis 18:2) On this blog, we often discuss the collapse of the wavefunction as the result of a measurement. This phenomenon is called the “measurement problem.” There are several reasons, for which the collapse of the wavefunction—part and parcel of the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics—is considered a problem. Firstly, it does not follow from the Schrödinger equation, the main equation of quantum mechanics that describes the evolution of the wavefunction in time, and is added ad hoc. Second, nobody knows how the collapse happens or how long the wave function takes to collapse. This is not even to consider that any notion that the collapse of the wavefunction is caused by human consciousness, as proposed [...]




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