Hi Rabbi Fried,
I have a question for you when you have a little time: Have you done any study of quantum physics and whether there is anything we can learn from that field about Torah, or vice versa? If so, what have you learned, or what resources would you point me toward?
I ask because I’ve perhaps turned a bit of a spiritual corner lately and, interestingly, quantum physics has been a major catalyst for that, so I’m trying to see what else I can soak up.
I’ve always been a bit undecided about what’s really out there and have never been able to fully disavow the notion that this world came into being accidentally or by random chance; maybe what we see and observe here is all there is. I’ve tended to lean more toward answers I can physically observe or mentally internalize, and the simplest explanation of my worldly observation is that humans are born, live, and die like any other animal, and that there is nothing special about us beyond our prefrontal cortex.
However, my views have evolved a lot lately as I’ve been studying Simulation Theory (from which I take the idea that this world is not the truest manifestation of reality) and quantum physics and ideas like entanglement — that two particles in two different places can be entangled and cooperate at a quantum level — that go so completely against what we can observe about our universe. Lately, I’ve truly come to internalize how limited our powers of observation are in accurately understanding the nature of ourselves and our world, which I think makes me far more spiritually open than I have been before. So, I’m hoping to capitalize on that by layering in my learning on these topics with some relevant Torah learning.
For example, I’ve long wanted to understand more about the mechanics of how mitzvot and prayer affect the world, and science now has the language — courtesy of quantum entanglement — to describe how doing one thing in one place might instantly affect something else in another place, without any passage of or through time and space. In other words, perhaps the mechanics of quantum entanglement are identical to the mechanics of how a mitzvah or tefilla here might affect an outcome somewhere else.
If you have any insights or guidance on materials I should be looking at, I would appreciate it!
I am fascinated by your journey and the new look you’re taking at the world through the lens of the scientific theories you mentioned. Many others like yourself, including many scientists, have begun to question their previous secular outlook on the world as the result of quantum physics and many of its shocking revelations which are often diametrically opposed to the way they considered the world previously. (For example, in past columns we discussed at length the profound Jewish insights which we glean from “Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle” in lieu of Einstein’s criticism of that theorem that “God doesn’t play dice”).
The comparison you draw between quantum entanglement and the effect of mitzvot and prayer upon the world is very compelling, and we shall discuss this in more detail in next week’s column.
For now, let us focus on the inspiration you have drawn from “Simulation Theory” and its argument that perhaps we don’t truly exist in the normal sense of the word, and the probability that we are living in a virtual reality simulated in a computer built by some advanced civilization. This idea, developed most notably by Nick Bostrom, assumes the concept of “substrate independence,” which postulates that our consciousness could be implemented not only through carbon-based neurons, such as those in our brains, but also on some other computational substrate such as silicon-based processors. The fact that we don’t presently have the ability to do so is merely a technical difficulty which may have been surmounted by another civilization, or we ourselves may get there soon.
One small thing not taken into account by this theory, which to us is huge, is the existence of the Soul. Substrate independence would relegate all human feelings, emotions and thoughts to chemical processes, completely secularizing the entire human experience.
There is, however, a level of Jewish understanding in the deeper sources that we are living a type of simulated reality. This is based upon the Kabbalistic concept of tzimtzum, which teaches that the only true reality is that of God, and hence our existence is only virtual. On the other hand, the same sources teach that we need to live completely with our focus on our earthly reality. That dichotomy forms a Jewish dual existence which is similar to the quantum concept of parallel universes which we discussed in previous columns. Our existence is both simulated and real simultaneously! (This is equivalent to the standard Jewish answer of “yes and no,” or “it depends”!) To understand this properly would take not a column but a book; suffice it to say that this is one of myriad examples of how quantum and Torah realities mesh into one beautiful tapestry.
Rabbi Yerachmiel Fried, noted scholar and author of numerous works on Jewish law, philosophy and Talmud, is founder and dean of DATA, the Dallas Kollel.
Questions can be sent to him at
Hi Rabbi Fried,