Ben Rothke

Book review: From Infinity to Man

The last few decades have seen many books written attempting to reconcile seeming contradictions between Torah and science. For some of these authors, their attempts have been met with the same consternation that Galileo experienced. For others, their books have become classics. Perhaps the most ambitious of this genre may be the just released From Infinity to Man: The Fundamental Ideas of Kabbalah Within the Framework of Information Theory and Quantum Physics (White Raven Publishing 978-1911195849) by Eduard Shyfrin, PhD.

Quantum physics is the study of how things work within subatomic particles. These are the most fundamental entities in nature. Information theory, as every computer science student knows, was created by Claude Shannon in 1948. Kabbalah is the mystical interpretation of the Bible (it’s actually a lot more than that, but we will leave it at that for now).

While seemingly incongruous, there is actually significant connections between kabbalah, quantum physics and information theory. At the most general level, physics has shown that matter is the realization of energy. That same idea is part of the fundamentals of Hasidic thought. In the book, Shyfrin attempts do for these 3 topics what Douglas Hofstadter did in Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid.

In much of the book, Shyfrin finds corollaries between kabalistic ideas, and tries to map them to the world of physics. A similar approach in the book  Was Yosef on the Spectrum? Understanding Joseph Through Torah, Midrash and Classical Jewish Sources attempted to show that the biblical Yosef was on the autism spectrum. There are significant difference between the approaches though. That author is an attorney with no clinical psychological experience, while Shyfrin has a PhD in in the sciences, in metallurgy, albeit not in physics. Attempting to medically diagnose biblical personalities is certainly more contentious than trying to correlate Torah and science.

After giving a basic introduction into the most elementary aspects of kabbala, Shyfrin shows that certain parts of kabbala corresponds to many modern concepts within quantum mechanics. One example is that he finds confirmation in Sefer Yetzirah where it says that the sefirot ‘run and return’ according to the word of God, as proof of the Big Bang.

This approach though, of showing scientific proofs within Torah has two problems. First off, it can often be easy, too easy, to superimpose our limited scientific understandings into an immortal text. Also, a most astute observation made by my friend, Dr. Barry Jacobson (PhD, Bioengineering, MIT), is that while the gemara does discuss the concept of Sisrei Torah (hidden meanings of the texts), it is not clear that the kabala of today is genuine, or whether we have lost this mesorah over the years and do not know what it actually contained.

Jacobson notes that if what we have is genuine and it does contain advanced scientific knowledge, then rather than well-meaning authors coming up a posteriori with scientific concepts supposedly found in kabala, the kabbalists should be ahead of things and be publishing novel scientific works such as mechanics, electrodynamics, relativity, and quantum mechanics before the scientists, not after. They should be inventing fascinating new devices such as radios, airplanes, computers and lasers without need for technical training. Yet, we don’t often see this happening, and it is unclear whether many Kabbalists are even conversant with the science that has already been published, let alone able to contribute to that body of knowledge novel insights previously unknown.

Notwithstanding those caveats, the use of information theory and quantum physics can be used to answer many Torah questions. For example, Shyfrin says Adam eating the forbidden fruit was a matter of receiving forbidden information about good and evil. As to the vexing question of space and time (if time even exists is not so clear within physics), kabbalah provides the notion of space and time as a single whole.

A long-standing question is how could the giving of the Torah at Sinai over 3,300 years ago obligate Jews who would only be born thousands of years later? The author answers that all Jews without exception were united in a multidimensional quantum mental space at the point of the revelation at Sinai. This aspect of consciousness can show how information is shared with the brain through quantum entanglement.

So how does information theory relate to all this? Shyfrin writes that Sefer Yetzirah, God created the world with the twenty-letter of the Hebrew alphabet and the ten sefiros. Both letter and number are information code. Therefore it is possible to conclude that information is the basis of all reality, both spiritual and material. He notes that modern science is also coming to this opinion.

This is an interesting book and Shyfrin does his best to show the dynamic between Torah and science. Quantum physics is an absolutely fascinating topic and certainly can be used to better understand the nature of the world we live in.

When asked about how to use the commentary of 13th-century Talmudist Menachem Meiri, which was for the most part unknown for 600 years and only rediscovered in 1920, Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik said it should be treated as a mere curiosity. In From Infinity to Man, Eduard Shyfrin has written a thought provoking and most curious work.

About the Author
I’m a senior information security and risk management professional, based in New York City. I speak at industry conferences, and write on information security, social media, privacy and technology. My book reviews are on information security, privacy, technology, and risk management. My reviews for the Times of Israel focus on Judaism, Talmud, religion and philosophy.
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