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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, [...]

Wigner’s Friend Paradox

Amicus est Socrates, magister meus, sed magis est amica veritas. “Socrates is my friend but a greater friend is truth” – Plato c. 428-348 BCE. Amicus Plato, sed magis amica veritas. “Plato is my friend, but a greater friend is truth" – Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, 350 BCE. Amicus Plato amicus Aristoteles magis amica veritas. “Plato is my friend, Aristotle is my friend, but a greater friend is truth.” – Isaac Newton, Cambridge Student Notebook, 1661 You are my friend, but what is truth? – Eugene Wigner, 1961 If Isaac Newton summed up the aphorisms of Plato and Aristotle in his student notebook, exactly 300 years later, Eugene Wigner put this notion on its head. Although taking a poetic license, I put Wigner's words above in quotation marks, I do not know if he [...]

By |2023-03-23T18:18:41-04:00March 17th, 2019|Uncategorized|4 Comments

Shavuot — Three States of Consciousness

Shavuot (a.k.a. the Feast of Weeks, or “Pentecost”) is the only Jewish holiday with no fixed day on the calendar—it is always the fiftieth day from the beginning of the counting of the Omer (which itself starts on the second day of Passover). What is so special about the number 50, and what is its connection to Shavuot? Shavuot is not only the culmination of the counting of the Omer—Sefirat HaOmer—but also the culmination of the process of the maturation of our consciousness. On Shavuot, it is customary to read the Book of Ruth (Megilat Rut). The story begins with Lot and his daughters running away from Sodom and hiding in a mountain cave. Seeing the destruction of Sodom, the daughters of Lot suspected that God, in his fury, destroyed the whole of [...]

Two Beginnings

B’reshit bara Elokim et hashamaim v’et haaretz… In the beginning, G‑d created heaven and earth… Alternative translation: With two beginnings G‑d created heaven and earth… Genesis 1:1   *This is an abridged and updated version of my paper “Towards Reconciliation of Biblical and Cosmological Ages of the Universe” Presented at the Third Miami International Conference on Torah & Science in Dec. of 1999 and published in B’Or HaTorah, 13 (2002) p. 19. Contemporary science places the age of the universe in the thirteen to fourteen billion years range, or 13.787 ± 0.02, [1] to be precise.  This age is derived from both theoretical models as well as experimental data.  (For an overview of theoretical and experimental approaches to dating the universe and our planet Earth see my original paper TOWARDS RECONCILIATION OF BIBLICAL AND [...]

On the Nature of Time and the Age of the Universe

Presented at the International Torah and Science Conference in Miami International University on December 18, 2005 Alexander Poltorak   Introduction. This is the third in a series of articles, in which I attempt to sketch various approaches to reconciling a cosmological age of the universe currently estimated at 13.75 billion years with the Jewish tradition setting this age at less than six thousand years (5770 as of the day of this writing, to be exact). The first article [1] tackled this problem from the point of view of Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics suggesting that there were two distinct forms of existence—physical and proto-physical—and that the first conscious observers, Adam and Eve, collapsed the universal wavefunction, bringing the world from amorphous proto-physical existence into tangible physical existence.  This approach leads to two distinct [...]




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