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Like an Open Book
by Dr. Arnie Gotfryd

Dr. Gotfryd,
I believe there is a lot of science in how nature works. Before I ever had a feeling I could identify as faith, and before I could say I believed in or recognized G-d, I spent a lot of time in nature, outdoors, as a child, teenager and young adult.
Now, thank G-d, I have a more cognizant appreciation of our Creator through Judaism. However, I always felt a holy presence outdoors, and I still do, whenever I can get away to a non-city environment.
Can you write an article about the science of how "nature" works, and how it shows us G-d?
Y___ G_____,
Pittsburgh, PA

* * *

Dear Y________,
I think we are kindred spirits.
My background is very secular but I always wondered about things like "What happened before the Big Bang?" and "What makes nature so orderly yet so unpredictable?" There's a sense of wonder and mystery one feels traipsing through the woods and fields, listening to the loons on the lake at night, peering up at the night sky and even watching little things grow in sidewalk cracks.
The eminent Swiss-American geologist and zoologist, Professor Louis Agassiz, sized up the joy of discovery well when he wrote,
Come wander with me,
In regions yet untrod,
And read what is still unread,
In the manuscript of G-d.
But what is this "manuscript of G-d"? Is the universe really an open book? At first glance, it's anything but! Books are just information about things; they are not the things themselves. Or are they?
Maybe there is more to information than information alone. One might say, in a sense, that what we call Laws of Nature are the words and numbers in that manuscript we speak of. After all, such mathematical equations are very good at describing how the world works in a very profound way. But this just raises the question - why does the world work that way? As Albert Einstein put it, the only thing unintelligible about the world is that it is intelligible.
Physicist Paul Davies wonders, where does the mathematics of natural law reside? Math is a concept; matter is mindless. Matter's mathematical behavior could not be self-generated. Where did the math come from? If matter got it's orderliness from elsewhere, where is that elsewhere? And if space-time started out orderly in the beginning, must we not say that its orderliness somehow preceded it? For reasons like these, Davies thinks that studying natural science is akin to probing "The Mind of G-d" (which happens to be the name of one of his books).
But orderliness is just one aspect of nature. An oppostie discovery of modern science is that nothing is completely predictable and randomness is an integral feature of every phenomenon, from the paths of the planets down to the orbit of an electron.
True, your apple tree will predictably blossom in the spring, fruit in the summer, change color in the fall, and lose all its foliage in the winter. But which bud will burst first, which fruit will be the sweetest, which leaf will fall the farthest or stay on the twig the longest, no one will ever be able to precisely predict.
This too is part of the plan. A certain amount of disorderliness is built into the workings of the world. There is a science to this as well, as scientists have recently discovered with Chaos Theory, the brainchild of meteorologist Edward Lorenz, who "accidentally" discovered that infinitesimal differences in environmental conditions reverberate quickly to radically divergent outcomes.
Since those small random dynamics are characteristic of everything, it turns out that nothing can ever be known precisely in advance.
Many ask, if G-d is perfect, shouldn't His works be too? What perfection is there in randomness? It seems in fact to imply the very opposite of the purposefulness one normally ascribes to the Creator.
But really, randomness is just as purposeful as order. It serves as a Divine Mask, a handy hiding place from which to toss around reward and punishment, life and death, stubbed toes and found money, all kinds of things that are meted out measure for measure without anyone seeing where it's really coming from or why. What's wise about that is this: If we got a cookie for every good deed and a dump for every "dis", we would be automatons, avoiding aveirosand amassing mitzvosat every moment.
The only thing wrong with that scenario is that G-d does not want robots. He wants our free will, and He gets that by making room for us and whatever it is we want to do.
There's a much deeper aspect to all this. Not only does the divine manuscript describe the world, in a sense it makes it. Kabbala teaches that G-d looked into the Torah and created the world. Does it sound farfetched to imagine that information creates reality, or even that information is reality? If you live in this millennium it shouldn't faze you at all. After all, you live in the Information Age, the only time in history when so much of life has become virtual.
Picture a TV screen displaying an image of a tree. That scene appears to be perfectly static, but it's not just sitting there. Scanning electrons are actually recreating that image from scratch dozens of times every second. How is it done? Information. The digital video on the recording end is basically just encoded information, as is the code that transmits the signal, and the receiving code that creates the image before you. You are not looking at a tree. You are looking at information.
The same is true in the world at large. Scientists used to think that atoms were like little billiard balls, solid little things with an existence of their own that bounce around the universe ad infinitum. That view is long gone. Atoms are now seen as localized energy fields whose components are continually zipping into and out of existence, and whose very physicality is just a subjective impression. If it sounds very spooky and weird, don't worry. It is.
One of the premiere physicists of the 20th Century, John Wheeler, culminated his illustrious career with an essay called "It From Bit." Obsessed as he was with how nature manifests being and nothingness, he used to spend six months of every year on a little island off the coast of Maine contemplating creation ex nihilo, ie, yesh meayin. "It From Bit" bridges that gap and says that physical reality emerges from some transcendent information space which in turn originates in the indivisible wholeness beyond space and time that unites all the phenomena in the universe (what we call G-d).
Of course the Jews have been saying this all along. In Judaism, the information that creates reality is called divine speech, as in "And the L-rd said, let there be light and there was light." This is highlighted in the Baal Shem Tov's doctrine of continuous creation which is elucidated so comprehensively in the chassidic text, the Tanya.
Perhaps the simplest way to sum up my little manuscript about the heavenly manuscript is to reflect on the meaning of just one word, Universe. Uni means one; a Verse is a sentence of Biblical text. The cosmos as whole comes down to just one Verse: "In the beginning, G-d created the heaven and the earth."
And the more we recognize the truth of this, the closer we bring the universe's its ultimate fulfillment, with the coming of Moshiach NOW!.

Dr. Aryeh (Arnie) Gotfryd, PhD is a chassid, environmental scientist, author and educator living near Toronto, Canada. To read more or to book him for a talk, visit his website at


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