Abstracts Friday, December 22nd

Abstracts Friday, December 22nd

Mordechai Olesky The blueprint of creation and blueprint of life: Locating the template of Genesis in the structure of the DNA molecule

The blueprint of Genesis is derived primarily from the numerical values of letters in key words in the first line of the Torah. This numerical pattern is the template for creation of the entire physical world, including the potential for living beings to survive and reproduce. DNA, the main component of chromosomes that transfers genetic characteristics has a numerical structure corresponding to the pattern derived from Genesis. The first letter in Genesis, beis (2), and the numerical value of an alternate meaning of bereishis, “bara sheis” (He created 6), describe the structure of Creation. In parallel fashion, the DNA molecule is a double helix (two strands twist around each other), and consists of 6 different molecules. In Genesis Ten Utterances by G-d bring creation into existence, and the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet give shape and form to creation. Correspondingly, in DNA there are 10 paired bases within each full coil of the framework of the double helix molecule. The sequence of these bases determines the genetic code; they consist only of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen, which have a total of 22 protons.

Elokim, the name of G-d that appears in the first chapter of Genesis, has a numerical value of 86; similarly, there is a total of 86 atoms in the originating molecules (phosphoric acid, deoxyribose, adenine, guanine, cytosine and thymine) that form DNA. The name Elokim appears 32 times in Genesis before stating that Havaya Elokim created earth and heaven. The last letter of the Torah (lamed, which equals 30) and first letter (beis, which equals 2) bind the Torah together; their added numerical value equals 32. The two letters form the Hebrew word lev, meaning heart. In the originating molecules of DNA there are four oxygen atoms in each of the two molecules that form the framework of DNA and a total of four in the bases. Each group of four oxygens has a total of 32 protons. A discussion follows on the permeating structure of 32 in Judaism, and its practical application.

Professor Joseph Jacobson The Near Future of Autonomous Vehicles, Robots and Artificially Intelligent Systems and Their Halachic Implications.

The next 5-10 years is very likely to see the introduction of a range of new autonomous systems based on recent extraordinary advances in the power of artificial intelligence (AI) including autonomous cars, robots and drones; exceptionally capable medical diagnostic systems; expert systems capable of generating human answers including potentially halachic decisions and creative systems capable of novel works of music, design, art and invention.

In this talk we plan to outline a number of technical milestones in AI systems which are likely to be realized over the coming decade and to delve into a range of their halachic implications including what (i) ethical rules should be programmed into self driving cars and autonomous robots[.מי יאמר דדמא דידך סומק טפי- סנהדרין עד ], (ii) can you be machalel shabbos on the basis of an AI based medical diagnosis?, (iii) What are the issues of copyright and patent on inventions made by machines [הָסַּגַת גְּבוּל] (iv) Can we hold by a halachic decision made by a machine?  Finally we hope to discuss the demarcation between entities which possess or do not possess free choice [בחירה חופשית] in both halacha and technology.

Professor Joseph S Bodenheimer  Nature vs Nurture in Eden

Neither Nature nor Nurture can explain the expulsion of Adam from Gan Eden. Nature was created perfect, and Nurture did not yet exist in the absence of family or human society to influence Adam and Eve. What was missing to cause the fall? The Torah describes this in chapter 2 of Breishit: In a series of structured steps, HaShem forms Mankind and gives him life, Hashem plants a Garden in Eden and places Mankind therein, HaShem grows trees in the garden, HaShem places Mankind in Gan Eden, HaShem instructs Mankind to eat from all the trees but to refrain from eating of the Tree of Knowledge Good and Evil. It was HaShem’s instruction to Mankind which brought free will into play. Before that, Mankind was at one with nature, without the burden of accountability for his deeds or for lack thereof. Chapter 3 of Breishit goes on to describe how free will was activated in practice, and the outcome of Mankind’s transgression. The structure outlined above emphasizes that activation of Mankind’s free will was a central purpose of Creation itself. Without free will, the terms good and evil would seem to be meaningless. Nature exists, Nurture develops with time, but morality, ethics, accountability – these are contingent upon Divine instruction. Neuroscience pursues a scientific foundation for human behavior through Nature and Nurture. But Jewish religion postulates Divine creation of humans, Divine transmission of the Torah, and Divine definition of moral principles. Do good and evil exist independently of a Divine Creator?   Could there be a source other than Tzelem Elokim for morality? Should any attempt to form a non-monotheistic basis for a moral code of behavior, be considered Avoda Zara? This presentation will address these fundamental questions.

Dr. Ira Bedzow Free Will, Determinism, and Cognitive Pluralism in Halachic Living Judaism

Free Will, Determinism, and Cognitive Pluralism in Halachic Living Judaism has two seemingly contradictory concepts.  Bechira Chofshi (free will) gives a person the ability to serve God wholeheartedly.  Hashgacha Pratis (Divine oversight), on the other hand, teaches that nothing acts without God willing it so.  How do these two concepts relate to each other?  In this talk, I will present through the writings of the Baal HaTanya and Nefesh HaChayim, how Jewish thinkers have used cognitive pluralism to understand the relationship between these two concepts.  Cognitive pluralism is the idea that people understand the world through different conceptual models which may or may not be compatible across different domains.  Under this notion, these two concepts should not be seen as contradictory but rather as complementary accounts, each coming from a different conceptual scheme.  Free will should be understood from the perspective of the how humans act in the world, while Divine oversight should be understood from the perspective of how God continually creates and maintains the world.  This discussion can also be used to respond to the reductionist scientistic perspective that dismisses free will because it does not fit in a mechanistic worldview.

Director of Biomedical Ethics and Humanities

Professor Yaakov Friedman Unification of laws of Nature by extending Relativity

The Oneness of G-d is the source of our world. The way we can appreciate this is by scientific search for “oneness” in the world. Einstein modified the laws of mechanics to conform to electromagnetism. His theories of Special and General Relativity consider the influence of kinetic and gravitational potential energies on spacetime, respectively. Einstein’s theories, however, do not explain microscopic behavior, nowadays explained by quantum mechanics. The disparity between relativity and quantum mechanics prevents the unification of laws of physics. In order to extend relativity to microscopic region, one must recognize what makes the laws in this region distinct. It is commonly assumed that this region refers to objects of microscopic size. However, the motion of planets and a grain of salt are governed by the same laws! Hence, it is unreasonable to attribute the change in the laws to the size of the objects. On the other hand, the microscopic region is characterized by extremely high accelerations not experienced in everyday life.

General relativity considers only the influence of acceleration due to gravitational potential energy. Gravitation, however, generates small accelerations compared to those in the microscopic region. Hence, in order to explain microscopic behavior, one needs to consider the influence of any potential energy on spacetime.

My research team is developing a model for describing this. Since it is very difficult to generate such high accelerations as in the microscopic region, one needs extremely high precision measurements. Three experiments using Mossbauer spectroscopy and synchrotron radiation indicated the correctness of this model. This model predicts precisely the anomalous precession of the orbits of Mercury and of the Hulse-Taylor binary, without the need of curving spacetime. The model also explains source of chaotic behavior in the microscopic region. This model substantiates the approach of N. Berg (BOH 9, 35-49) concerning   the comment of the Lubavicher Rebbe that “the uncertainty principle is not correct from Jewish point of view”. N. Berg proposed that the probabilistic description of quantum mechanics should be replaced by Chaos Theory, or more accurately, non-linear dynamics.

Professor Nathan Aviezer Do human beings have free will?

The question of whether human beings have free will to act as they choose has a long history.  Almost everyone believes that he or she has free will to make choices.  Rambam devotes an entire chapter of Mishna Torah (Repentence, Chapter 5) to emphasizing that free will exists and is central to Torah and mitzvot, with every person having the ability to do good deeds or to do evil.  Free will is also the basis of the Torah theme of reward and punishment: “I have set before you this day life and good, and death and evil… therefore, choose life” (Devorim 30:15, 19).    However, there are scientists who maintain that free will is only an illusion and people do not really possess free will.  Several challenges to free will be discussed.

  • Challenge to free will from sociology: Everyone in the Western World dresses similarly. If I were to wear the clothes worn by Europeans 300 years ago, or by the natives who live in the Amazon jungle today, my sanity would be questioned.  This strong dependence on social milieu determines almost every aspect of my life, including my clothing, my food, my leisure activities, my family life, my social life, etc.  Almost everything that I “choose” to do actually depends on my surroundings.  So, where is my free will?
  • Challenge to free will from psychology: Psychologists tell us that without our being aware of it, we are all deeply influenced throughout our lives by our early childhood experiences, including toilet training, parental love/abuse, sibling rivalry, very early schooling, etc.  So, where is my free will?
  • Challenge to free will from theology: We are told that G-d knows everything, including the future.   If G-d already knows today what I will do tomorrow, it follows that I have no choice regarding my behavior tomorrow.  So, where is my free will?

Rambam writes (loc. cit.) that answering this question is beyond human understanding.  However, recent advances in quantum physics provide the framework for answering this long-standing conundrum.

  • Challenge to free will from physics: Newtonian physics asserts that all particles move according to the forces that are presently acting on them.  Therefore, their future motion is already determined in the present.  For a small number of particles, their future motion can be calculated exactly.  This is the basis for the Chabad calculation of halachic times in the future for any place on Earth.  This is also the basis for predicting eclipses.  In general, however, so many forces act on each object that it is impossible to predict its future behavior.  However, this is only a technical limitation.  In principle, the future is already determined now, in the present.

In the 19th century, Pierre Laplace emphasized that the lack of free will is not restricted to inanimate objects.  This lack also applies to animals and even to people, since we are all simply collections of many particles. Therefore, according to the laws of physics, my future behavior is already determined now.  So, where is my free will?

  • Reply to the challenge of Pierre Laplace: In the 20th century, Newtonian physics was replaced by quantum theory and chaos theory.  According to quantum theory and chaos theory, the future is not determined by the present. Professor John Polkinghorne of the University of Cambridge has shown how this result undermines Laplace’s challenge to free will.  Details will be presented in my talk.
  • Challenge to free will from neuroscience: Benjamin Libet: Free will has recently been challenged by Professor Benjamin Libet of the University of California in San Francisco.  Libet performed neuroscience experiments that seemed to show the absence of free will.  These experiments and their implications will be described in my talk.
  • Reply to the challenge of Benjamin Libet: Professor Daniel Dennett of Tufts University and others have presented a different interpretation of Libet’s experiments, according to which free will has not been challenged after all. Details will be presented in my talk.