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JEWPHI -24b: Man and the Cosmos, Part 2

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Yeshivat Har Etzion's Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash

Mar 28, 2001, 3:29:56 AM3/28/01
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by Prof. Shalom Rosenberg

In memory of 10-month-old Shalhevet Pass z"l hy"d,
shot two days ago in Chevron, as well as the victims
of this morning's terrorist attack.
We pray for a refua shelema for Yitzchak Pass,
Daniella Fein, and the many others wounded in the recent

Lecture #24b: Man and the Cosmos, Part 2

This is the last installment of the Jewish Philosophy
series prior to the Pesach break. I wish all the readers
a chag kasher vesameach.

The Third System: The Anthropic Principle

Until this point we have viewed two different approaches
to the question of man's place in the universe. However, in
the middle ages and the modern era, three positions have
battled for prominence. The first sees man as the center of
the universe, the second transforms him into an insignificant
grain of dust, and the third tries to emphasize his importance
despite the fact that he does not constitute the geometrical
or the astronomical center of the world.

Where do we stand today? In order to approach an
understanding of this query, we must return to the critical
question which we posed in our intellectual chess game with
the proponent of the theory of evolution. Is what took place,
if it did take place, the result of chance?

What would be our opponent's answer? He would of course
respond that this is indeed the case, and indeed there is
enough time for any probability, even the smallest one, to
materialize. In nature we are not playing chess but rather
dice. The players are order and chaos. "Order" is a simple
player, generally as unsuccessful as I. I see him constantly
losing. Yet oddly enough, in the game against chaos, he
acquires a "lucky streak," and his dice show sixes, time after

Let us assume that such is the nature of things; in any
case our proponent of chance is faced with a much more severe
problem. And this problem has already been raised, in
principle, by the Rambam in his discussion of creation. His
approach to the problem constitutes, in his view, a most
important proof, bearing witness to creation. Despite the
danger of imprecision, I will try to simplify the problem.

In physics we study equations, however we also study a
significant number of givens, such as gravity, the charge of
electrons or the mass of neutrons, the age of the world
according to the theory of the big bang, the mass of the
world, etc. These are basic numbers which do not stem from
the theory; they are in effect arbitrary numbers that enter
into the theory.

Let me give you an example. When we study mathematics,
we learn the equation ax+by+cz=0. However, a specific
equation will be written as 5x+2y+7=0. These numbers are
arbitrary numbers. And here we come upon a very strange
phenomenon. Were we to multiply these measurements by ten,
one hundred, by one thousand, a modest multiplication which
from a mathematical perspective does not change a thing, we
would make an interesting discovery: the world as we know it,
which permits life and consciousness, could not exist. In
other words, everything takes place only, so to speak, in
theory. Certain givens were planted in the original design of
the laws of physics, which allow the existence of a particular
chemistry, in order to allow for the consequent appearance of
biology. These givens are seemingly planted in the world from
the start, in order to make the existence of man possible.
This is an anthropic, or human, principle, which is hidden in
the cosmic creation. Incidentally, I refer here not to one
world but to all the worlds, which depend on these same
physics and organic chemistry. Of course I could amuse myself
by saying that perhaps other chemical systems could exist,
which could also make the existence of life possible. But
this is a speculation. Happy is the believer.

The Cosmos and the Human Observer

Modern physics has presented us with some very strange
phenomena. The conclusions which stem from some of these
well-based experiments teach us that our observation of
occurrences actually alters reality, even retroactively.

There are a number of experiments which have been proven
more conclusively than any physical theory, yet they are
particularly paradoxical. There are, for example, phenomena
which will occur differently if observed. Not only that, but
if you were to observe the phenomena tomorrow, things will
occur in it today, that are different from those that would
occur if you did not look at it tomorrow. In other words, to
borrow a talmudic concept, in physics we rule that "yesh
brera" (lit., there is specification) from an experimental
point of view, or in other words, there is a "retroactive
addition." This can be compared to a man who wears pajamas in
his house if there are no visitors. In our interpretation,
the electron then appears in the form of a wave. If we look
at it, it will put on more representative clothing; the
electron will appear in the form of a particle. However, let
us conduct a simple mental experiment. The hour is late, and
someone knocks on the door with no advance warning in order to
catch the man wearing pajamas. Thus the scientist discovers
to his astonishment that the particle is always ready. Even
if the time elapsed from the moment of knocking at the door
until the moment the door is opened is smaller than the time
needed for the man to go to the closet and change clothes,
nevertheless, this man, who goes about all day long in
pajamas, is always ready. There is something very peculiar
about particles, something related to time.

Today we know that quantum theory contains a mysterious
principle, which was first mentioned by the Rambam. We had
become used to hearing explanations and theories which claim
that psychology is based on biology, biology on biochemistry,
chemistry on physics, etc. But in the wake of the recent
experiments in physics, it seems that at the basis of physics
lies ... a sort of psychology. Quantum phenomena are
dependent on the fact that there be an observer. In other
words, the physics of the world is built as a sort of movie
with sensors, which is shown in a movie theater. The moment
there are spectators, the film begins. This means that if
quantum physics is correct, it expects the presence of a
spectator. We can only draw one conclusion from this - it
creates a doubt regarding the anthropic principle. The
anthropic principle assumes that the world seemingly "expects"
the appearance of man. It expects man not only in the area of
biology, but even in the area of cosmology, before the
development of chemistry. Earlier we saw the world
functioning "in theory;" its existence was dependent upon the
existence of a spectator. The rules are created in such a way
that allows for the existence of a spectator, yet on the other
hand, only if there is a spectator can the world exist. These
two extremes meld in our reality. On the one hand, there is a
starting point, a world that has rules and an initial state.
And on the other hand, we reach the final point, where man,
the spectator on the world, appears on the scene. And behold,
"the end is included in the beginning." In other words, this
end is not coincidental. This approach is completely opposed
to the principles of evolution.

Rabbi Nachman of Breslov writes a story about the heart
of the world and the spring. The heart of the world is based
upon the wondrous concept that psychology preceded physics.

(This lecture was translated by Gila Weinberg.)

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