Two Beginnings

Bereshit bara Elokim et hashamaim v’et haaretz…
In the beginning G-d created heaven and earth…
Alternative translations: With two beginnings G-d created heaven and earth…
Genesis 1:1

Contemporary science places the age of the universe in the thirteen to fourteen billion years range, or 13.799 ± 0.21, [1] to be precise.  This age is derived from both theoretical models as well as experimental data.  (For an overview of theoretical and experimental approaches to dating the universe and our planet Earth see my original paper TOWARDS RECONCILIATION OF BIBLICAL AND COSMOLOGICAL AGES OF THE UNIVERSE.)

This number is in stark contradiction to the current year, 5773 that has just started according to the Jewish calendar.  The implication of this number is that it seems like the world, from the traditional Jewish point of view is no older than six thousand years.  First of all, let us note that the popular misconception that the Torah begins counting the calendar from the beginning of the creation of the world has no basis.  In fact, the calendar begins with the creation of Adam and Eve (Hava)– the first humans.  Thus, when we say that, according to Jewish tradition, today, for example, is five thousand seven hundred seventy-two years and 26 days, it is from the date first man and woman were created and not from the date the world was created.

Previous Attempts to Reconcile the Conflict

In his book “Immortality, Resurrection, and the Age of the Universe: a Kabbalistic View” [2], the late Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan presents an excellent overview of the various attitudes towards this problem and attempts to resolve it.  In summary, these attitudes may be categorized as follows:

Six Days as Six Epochs Each day represents an entire epoch billions of years long This interpretation of the biblical text is far from the literal meaning is not based on any classical commentaries
Dismissal If G‑d created the first man fully grown he could have created a “mature” universe which was already billions of years old at the point of creation Non-Popperian and, therefore, unscientific approach
Sabbatical Cycles Base on the concept of the cosmic sabbatical cycles, the world was 15 billion years old the first man was created A significant but not widely accepted view expressed by some important kabbalists almost two thousand years ago

 

Another approach was enunciated by the Ramban (Nahmanides) who says that the whole chapter Breshith is a closed book and cannot be interpreted literally. [3]  To this we may add another recent approach expressed by Gerald Schroeder that attempts to explain the difference in ages by means of gravitational time dilation. [4]

1.     Sabbatical Cycles

The most interest for our discussion presents the kabbalistic approach of sabbatical cycles expounded by R. Kaplan.  This section closely follows R. Kaplan’s exposition of this approach. The idea of sabbatical cycles is based on the esoteric interpretation of several scriptural and Talmudic sayings.  According to the Talmud, the world will exist for seven thousand years and in the [end of] seventh millennium it will be destroyed.[3]

According to the Talmudic sage and a great kabbalist of the first-century rabbi Nehunya ben HaKanah expressed in his important work Sefer HaTemunah, this seven thousand years period is only one cycle out of total even. This idea is based on a biblical concept of a Jubilee, which consists of seven sabbatical (seven-year) cycles.  This leads to forty-nine thousand years as the total age of the universe.  According to many later kabbalists, the present cycle is the last of the seven and, therefore, when Adam, the first man, was created, the world was forty-two thousand years old.

This approach is alluded to in some Midrashic sources.  Thus Midrash Rabbah on the verse “It was evening and it was morning, one day” (Genesis 1:5) states, “This teaches that there were orders of time before this.” Another Midrash teaches that “G‑d created universes and destroyed them”[4] seems to support the concept of sabbatical cycles, as it is explained in another kabbalistic treatise Ma’arekheth Elokuth.  Interestingly, the Talmud states that there were 974 generations before Adam.[5]  The idea of sabbatical cycles was expressed and elaborated in the works of such sages of Jewish philosophy and Kabbalah as Bahya, Ziyoni, Recanati and Sefer HaChinukh’s commentaries on Leviticus 25:8.  This idea is also alluded to in the commentaries of Nachmanides on Genesis 2:3, Yehuda HaLevy[6] and Ibn Ezra’s commentary on Genesis 8:22.

Rabbi Kaplan’s discovery of a little-known commentary by Rabbi Isaac of Akkosheds entirely new light on the concept of sabbatical cycles.  Commenting on the verse, “A Thousand years in Your sight are as a day” (Psalms 90:4) Midrashic sources have stated that one divine day is equal to a thousand terrestrial years.  In his kabbalistic treatise, Otzar HaHayim, Rabbi Isaac of Akko states that the first six sabbatical cycles are counted in the divine, not human years.  If a divine day is thousand years and, then a divine year, equal to 3651/4 divine days, is 365,250 terrestrial years.  If we multiply this number by forty-two thousand years comprising the first six cycles before Adam we get fifteen billion three hundred forty and a half million (15,340,500,000) years.  Thus, according to one of the greatest Talmudic sages of the first century, R. Nehunya ben HaKanah, as explained by a prominent kabbalist of the 13th century, R. Isaac of Akko, at the time Adam was created, the universe was already more than fifteen billion years old – a number very closely correlated with the current estimates of the cosmological age of the universe!

We must note, however, that this approach was strongly contested by Rabbi Isaac Luria, the  Ari’zal, who is considered by many the greatest kabbalist of all times.  Ari’zal maintained that the previous sabbatical cycles did not exist on the terrestrial plane and were purely spiritual worlds.  Most of the later kabbalists with rare exceptions accepted the opinion of Ari’zal.  Apparently, there was a difference of opinion between these two (pre and post lurianic) schools of kabbalah whether the first phase of creation which stretched for fifteen billion years took place in the physical or spiritual universe.

2.    Quantum reality

In 1923, Louis de Broglie suggested that every particle has a wavelength associated with it.[7]  In 1926, Erwin Schrödinger formulated his famous equation for the wavefunction that now bears his name.[8]

But what is the nature of the wavefunction?  The attempts by Schrödinger and others to interpret it as a scalar potential of some physical field were not successful.  In 1926, Max Born noticed that the square of the amplitude of the particle wavefunction in a given region gives the probability of finding the particle in this region of configuration space.  He suggested that the wavefunction represented not a physical reality by rather our knowledge of the quantum state of an object.

The wavefunction represent our knowledge of all possible quantum mechanical states of an object.  In other words, the quantum mechanical state of a physical system is a linear superposition of all possible states of this system.  Thus, for example, the state vector for a left circularly polarized photon is a linear superposition of the vertical and horizontal eigenstates.

When a left circularly polarized photon goes through a calcite crystal it is detected to be in either vertical or horizontal polarization states.  At the moment of the measurement the state vector being a superposition of two possibilities Vertical and Horizontal, is suddenly reduced to one actuality: either Vertical or Horizontal.  This is called the collapse of the wavefunction.  What actually happens during the collapse of the wavefunction is that the previously amorphous reality existing in an undetermined state of various possibilities is suddenly comes into a physical reality in one particular state (eigenstate).

The irreversible (time-asymmetric) collapse of the wavefunction does not follow from the Schrödinger equation.

3.    Introduction of an Observer

The collapse of the wave functions is a serious problem in the quantum theory.  The trouble is that it doesn’t follow from the Schrödinger equation.  Let us consider an experiment in which we collide one elementary particle with another to measure its momentum.  Such an experiment is an interaction of two subatomic particles and should obey the Schrödinger equation.  However, as we said before, this Schrödinger equation does lead to a collapse of the wave function, which is a necessary result of any experiment. So, what than causes the collapse of the wavefunction?

To resolve this paradox, it was proposed by the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics to attribute the collapse of the wave function to the interaction of a microscopic particle with a macroscopic measurement apparatus.  Since the macroscopic object behaves according to the classical Newtonian physics and is not described by a wavefunction, it was thought to cause the collapse of the wavefunction of a microscopic object under measurement.  The apparent difficulty with such an explanation is that there is no reason why a macroscopic object should not obey the Schrödinger equation.  In deed, any macroscopic object is composed of microscopic molecules and atoms, which do obey the laws of quantum physics.

This situation leads to absurd as clearly demonstrated by the Schrödinger Cat gedanken experiment.  If one places a cat in a closed steal chamber, together with a Geiger tube containing some radioactive material, a hammer connected to the Geiger tube and a phial of prussic acid.  From the amount of the radioactive material and its half-life, we calculate that there is 50% chance that within one hour one atom will decay.  If an atom decays, the Geiger counter is triggered and causes the hammer to break the phial of prussic acid, which kills the cat.  Prior to the measurement, the state vector of the atom is a linear superposition of two possibilities: decayed and not-decayed atom.  Accordingly, the state vector of the cat is also a linear superposition of two physical possibilities: the cat is alive and the cat is dead.  In other words, before the measurement takes place the cat is dead and alive at the same time!  To be more precise, the cat is neither alive nor dead but is in a state, which is a blurred combination of both possible states.

3.1.     Role of a Conscious Observer

In 1932 the mathematician Von Neumann published his famous work, Mathematical Foundations of Quantum Mechanics [10], in which he first clearly demonstrated the discrepancy between continuous time-symmetrical wave function in Schrödinger equation and a discontinuous time-asymmetrical (irreversible) event of measurement.  In this book, Von Neumann made a startling suggestion that it must be a conscious observer who causes the wavefunction to collapse.  The reason for this is that the conscious is the only element present in the quantum-mechanical measurement process which is not time-symmetrical and is not required to observe the laws of quantum mechanics.  In other words, Von Neumann replaced the dualism of macroscopic-microscopic worlds with the mind-matter dualism.  While the former is easily critiqued the latter is immune to criticism because whatever we mean by the word consciousness it does not have to obey the Schrödinger equation.

Since the mind is to a large degree the product of biochemistry of the brain, once we distill that level of the mind, which is no longer vested in a physical brain and is not a product of biochemical reactions, such non-physical mind has been called by some a human soul, or, more specifically, the intellectual faculty of the soul. Hence, Von Neumann’s approach to the collapse of the wavefunction leads us to a classical Cartesian body-soul dualism.

In 1961, Eugene Wigner revisited the hypothesis of a conscious observer.[11]  He posed a question: whose mind exactly collapses the wavefunction?  In one considers a gedanken experiment in which an observer relegates the measurement to his assistant and leaves the room.  After his return, he inquires of the result of the measurement.  Until he learns of the result, as far as he is concerned, the state of the quantum-mechanical system under observation is a linear superposition of all possible eigenstates.  However, when he asks his assistant whether he knows definitively the results of the experiment, the assistant answers that, of course, he does.  This led Wigner to conclude that it is the very first conscious observer who collapses the wavefunction.

One can ask a question at this point, what level of consciousness an observer must poses in order to collapse the wavefunction?  Is the cat in the Schrödinger experiment considered a conscious enough creature to collapse the wavefunction and thereby escape the inconvenience of being dead and alive at the same time?

What about the omniscient G-d?  If G‑d knows the eigenstate of all wavefunctions doesn’t He immediately collapse them all?!  This question is closely related to the paradox of free will.  If G‑d knows everything, and His knowledge must be absolute and true, then how can anybody express free will? Doesn’t G‑d forces us into acting in a certain way simply by virtue of Him knowing that we were going to act this way?  One possible answer to this paradox, as it is given in Chasidic philosophy, is that G-d indeed knows everything but He keeps His knowledge to Himself without affecting the actions and decisions of His creations.  One may try to apply a similar rational here and suggest that, perhaps, G‑d’s knowledge in some peculiar way does not automatically collapse all the wavefunctions of the universe.  Alternatively, one may say that the global collapse of the world wavefunction caused by G‑d’s ultimate knowledge further underlines the paradox of free will.

4.    Resolution of the Conflict

Putting aside any discussion of the merits of Von Neumann-Wigner hypothesis of the conscious observer, accepting for the time this hypothesis will allow us to resolve the discrepancy between biblical and cosmological ages of the universe.

Let us consider the wavefunction ψ0 in the initial moment of time t0 describing all possible eigenstates of the singularity from which, according to the Big Bang theory, the universe is about to be born.  One of the eigenstates of this wavefunction is |ψ+>, which represents the possibility of the explosion that we call Big Bang.  Another eigenstate |ψ> represents an alternative – no Big Bang.  The state vector of the universe in this instance is a linear superposition of both eigenstates: to be or not to be.  Even though the probability of the Big Bang and the subsequent birth of the universe is greater than zero, the state vector of the universe will remain such superposition of existence and non-existence for billions of years, until such time as a conscious observer enters the scene and collapses the world wavefunction thereby realizing the one and only one eigenstate of the universe corresponding to its existence.  The universe is like a giant Schrödinger cat who is awaiting its observer to find out whether it is alive or dead.  It is the man who brings the universe into existence from its undefined state of mathematical probabilities.  The great paradox of the Creation is that if the universe was ever born, it needed a human for a midwife.

Until the first human brought the universe into tangible existence as we know it, it evolved for billions of years in an intangible proto-physical state.  This notion finds its support in the Nahmanides commentary on Genesis where he says:

…At the briefest instant following creation all the matter of the universe was concentrated in a very small place, no larger than a grain of mustard. The matter at this time was very thin, so intangible, that it did not have real substance. It did have, however, a potential to gain substance and form and to become tangible matter. From the initial concentration of this intangible substance in its minute location, the substance expanded, expanding the universe as it did so. As the expansion progressed, a change in the substance occurred. This initially thin noncorporeal substance took on the tangible aspects of matter as we know it. From this initial act of creation, from this ethereally thin pseudosubstance, everything that has existed, or will ever exist, was, is, and will be formed.[2]

Not only did Nahmanides describe here the Big Bang, he clearly states that, “The matter at this time was very thin, so intangible, that it did not have real substance.” He further describes this stage of the existence as “noncorporeal” and “etherieally thin pseudosubstance” or what we called here a “proto-physical existence.

Therefore, we may say that the universe has two important dates the date of its conception, t0, and the date of its birth.  When human observer probes the age of the universe the physics dictated that he will arrive at the age when the universe was conceived as a mathematical wavefunction having a probability of existence.  The real age of the universe may by definition be no greater than the age of the first human observer who collapsed the world wavefunction.

4.1.     Adam as the First Observer

According to the biblical account of creation, Adam and Eve were the first fully conscious beings – the first observers.  Prior to the first humans, the universe existed in a superposition of all possible states, including the states of existence and no-existence.  When the first human observers looked for the first time at the universe they immediately collapsed the world wavefunction and brought the world into physical existence.

It is easy to see now why the Bible begins the chronology of creation with Adam and not before.  Even though the universe could have been already billions of years old it was the first human (Adam) who actualized the creation and brought it from a fuzzy state of existence/non-existence into the definite physical existence.

Perhaps this is why the Bible states:

And G‑d blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it; because on it He had rested from all his work which G‑d created to make” (Genesis 2:3)

The classical Jewish commentators on the Bible suggest that the meaning of the peculiar expression “G‑d created to make” is that G‑d created a man to complete His creation, to be a partner of G‑d in creating the universe.  Now it makes perfect sense.  Initially, G‑d created the universe in amorphous spiritual form and He created a man to complete the creation and to bring the universe from its potential to an actual reality.

This approach allows us to rationally resolve the apparent contradiction between the scientific and the biblical ages of the universe.

4.2.     Resolution of the Dispute regarding Sabbatical Cycles

As we noted before, the dispute related to the age of the universe existed not only between science and religion but also between two main schools of Jewish esoteric philosophy – kabbalah.  According to the ancientschoolofRabbi Nehunyaben HaKanah, as explained by Rabbi Isaac ofAkko, the universe existed for over fifteen billion years before the creation of Adam.  While the lurianic school of kabbalah maintained that this took place in the spiritual rather than the physical world.

It seems that our approach allows us to resolve that contradiction as well.  Indeed, both opinions may be correct at the same time and do not contradict each other.  When Rabbi Nehunya ben HaKanah and Rabbi Isaac of Akkoalong with other early sages of kabbalah spoke of sabbatical cyclesand billions of years in pre-human history they spoke of the universe as originally created by G‑d in general terms.  Ari, however, further clarified the picture by pointing out that the initial phase of pre-human world history was different from the phase the post-human phase and existed on a different plane, which he called spiritual world.  In fact, the quantum mechanics confirms that prior to the first human, the world indeed existed on the different (almost spiritual) plain described by purely mathematical constructs such as the wavefunction.  This completes the puzzle.

Conclusions

Following the approach advocated by some of the most respected scientists of this century, Von Neumann, Wigner, Wheeler and others, we are able to reconcile the apparent discrepancy in the age of the universe as it is predicted in the biblical account of creation and contemporary cosmology.  The history of the universe is comprised of two main periods: pre and post human.  In the first period, before first conscious observer peered into the universe, the universe was in an amorphous fuzzy state of linear superposition of all possible states.  The universe at this stage existed only mathematically, as a distribution of probabilities.  This period lasted approximately twelve billion years.  When the first human opened his or her eyes he/she collapsed the world wavefunction and brought the universe into actual existence.  From that point on the Bible and the humanity began counting the new age of the universe.

Perhaps, this is hinted in the very first verse of the Torah:

Bereshit bara Elokim et hashamaim v’et haaretz…

Traditionally, this verse is translated as “In the beginning G-d created heaven and earth…” However, all classical commentators, including Rashi, note the grammatical difficulty with this translation. The word “reishis” means “beginning”. But what does the prefix beis (read as “b”) signify? The letter beis is the second letter of the Hebrew alphabet and is used as digit 2. Rashi splits the word breishis in two as b’reishis meanting beis reishis – 2 beginnigns.  He interprets it homiletically as for the sake of two beginnings – Torah (which is called beginning of your way) and Israel (which is called beginning of your plantings). I would like to propose an alternative translation.  Literally, this phrase means,  “In two beginnings G-d created heaven and earth…” or “Whith two beginnings G-d created heaven and earth…” The first beginning was at the time of the Big Bang when G-d created the universe in a protophysical state. The second beginning was at the time when Adam and Eve collapsed the wavefunction and brought the universe into a tangible physical existence.

References

[1]   N. Jarosik et al (2011). “Seven-year Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP) Observations: Sky Maps, Systematic Errors, and Basic Results”. “The Astrophysical Journal Supplement Series” 192: 14. arXiv:1001.4744

[2]   Kaplan, Aryeh. Immortality, Resurrection, and the Age of the Universe: a Kabbalistic View. (Hoboken, NJ: KTAV, 1993) ch.1, pp.1-16
[3]   Commentary on Torah, Genesis 1:1, Naḥmanides.

[4]   Schroeder, Gerald. The Science of God, (New York: The Free Press, 1997), ch. 3, p.41

[3]   Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 97a

[4]   Rabbi Nehunya ben HaKanah, Sefer HaTemunah. p.314

[5]   Babylonian Talmud , Hagigah 13b

[6]   Ha Levi, Yehuda. Kuzari, 1:167

[7]   De Broglie, L. Annales de Physique. (1925)

[8]   Schrödinger, E. Annalen der Physik79, 361. (1926)

[9]   This discussion follows J. Baggott. The Meaning of Quantum Theory(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992), 5.3, p. 185-194

[10] Von Neumann, John. Mathematical Foundations of Quantum Mechanics(Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1955)

[11] Wigner, Eugene in Good, I.J. (ed.) The Scientist speculates: an anthology of partly-baked ideas. (London: Heinemann, 1961).

This essay is an abridged and updated version of the paper “Towards Reconciliation of Biblical and Cosmological Ages of the Universe” Presented at the Third Miami International Conference on Torah & Science in Dec. of 1999 and published in B’Or HaTorah, 13 (2002) p. 19.

It was originally published on www.QuamtumTorah.com.

About the Author
Dr. Alexander Poltorak is Chairman and CEO of General Patent Corporation. He is also an Adjunct Professor of Physics at The City College of New York. In the past, he served as Assistant Professor of Physics at Touro College, Assistant Professor of Biomathematics at Cornell University Medical College, and Adjunct Professor of Law at the Globe Institute for Technology. He holds a Ph.D. in theoretical physics.
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