Abraham Meets Abraham from a Parallel Universe

Abraham Meets Abraham from a Parallel Universe

And he [Abraham] lifted up his eyes and looked, and, lo, three men stood over against him…  (Gen. 18:2)

 

On this blog, we often discuss a collapse of the wavefunction as the result of a measurement. This phenomenon is called by some physicists the “measurement problem.” There are several reasons, why the collapse of the wavefunction—part and parcel of the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics—is called a problem. Firstly, it does not follow from the Schrödinger equation and is added ad hoc. Secondly, nobody knows how it happens or how long it takes to collapse the wavefunction.  This is not to mention that any notion that the collapse of the wavefunction is caused by human consciousness leading to Cartesian dualism is anathema to physicists. It is a problem, no matter how you look at it. What is the alternative, you may ask? —The many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics.

Hugh_Everett

Hugh Everett

Proposed by Hugh Everett  in 1957 (H. Everett, Review of Modern Physics, July 1957) and developed by Bryce de Witt, (B. S. DeWitt and N. Graham, The Many-Worlds Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics, Princeton Univ. Press, 1974) the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics is, perhaps, the most outlandish, but yet the cleanest interpretation of the Schrödinger equation.  This theory suggests that every transition between quantum states splits the universe into multiple copies or “branches,” in which all of the possible states are realized.

Bryce_de_Witt

Bryce de Witt

This approach, as weird as it sounds, is actually the most straightforward interpretation of the mathematical formalism of quantum mechanics, because it does not have to rely on an ad hoc collapse of the wavefunction, which in no way follows from the Schrödinger equation. Recall that Schrödinger equation does not describe the evolution of physical system per se, but the evolution in time of the wavefunction of the system.

Max_Borne

Max Borne

Max Borne interpreted the wavefunction as the measure of the probability of finding the system in a particular state. More precisely, square of the amplitude of the wavefunction is the probability of finding the system in a certain region of the configurational space. Thus we cannot say anything certain about finding the system in any particular state. We can only speak of probabilities of finding the system in a particular state or place. However, when we measure parameters of the system such as its position, or momentum, we always get a particular value of the parameter we measure. It is as if the cloud of probabilities has suddenly collapsed to a single point—the value we find in an experiment. Hence, the measurement problem.  Instead, Everett suggested that no collapse takes place, but that all of the possible states are realized in different universes.  Every time-irreversible event, be that a transition between quantum-mechanical states or measurement splits the world into as many branches as there are possible outcomes, which are realized in respective branches of the universe.

A more recent variation on this theme is a parallel-universe interpretation.  It differs from Everett’s original idea in two important aspects.  Everett and DeWitt spoke of branching every time there was a transition between quantum states.  So the world’s history looks like a huge tree, with the trunk in the past and an ever-increasing number of branches as time goes on.  In the parallel-universe version, the multitude of universes exists ab initio, and a wavefunction of a quantum-mechanical system is partitioned among these parallel universes.  Another difference is that, unlike the many-worlds theory that completely prohibits any communication between different branches, parallel universes can merge under certain circumstances, such as an interference experiment.  For example, in a double-slit experiment, a wavefunction of a photon is partitioned between two universes: in one, the photon passes through one slit, and in another, it passes through the second slit in a completely deterministic manner.  After that, due to interference, the two universes merge together producing a single tangible photon.

On this level, parallel universes remain an optional interpretation of quantum mechanics, which has its followers and its skeptics.  On the level of quantum cosmology, however, we are almost compelled to adopt this interpretation.  Indeed, in the quantum cosmology described by the Wheeler-DeWitt equation, the universal wavefunction Ψ(h, F, S) is defined on an ensemble of all possible space-like universes, and is interpreted as a probability amplitude to find a particular manifold S with a particular geometry h and non-gravitational fields F.  The Anthropic principle is usually invoked to select that universe which allows for emergence of life and intelligent beings that are capable of asking the question: which particular universe we live in.

It is remarkable that the many-worlds interpretation or parallel universes idea boasts among its supporters such luminaries as Richard Feynman, Steven Hawking, Murray Gell-Mann, Steven Weinberg, and some of the other best theoretical physicists of the twentieth century.

The classical Jewish sources are replete with the notion of multiple worlds and parallel universes.  Consider, for example, the universes of Tohu (Chaos) and Tikun (Restoration) that coexist parallel to each other.  Or the four worlds of ABYA: Atzilut (the world of Splendor), Briyah (the world of Creation), Yetzirah (the world of Formation) and Assiya (the world of Action), each of which is said to be subdivided into a myriad of parallel worlds.  Needless to say, all these “universes” denote spiritual rather than physical worlds.

The most troubling aspect of the many-worlds approach is that it suggests that the observer also splits into multiple copies completely oblivious of each other – “schizophrenia with a vengeance!”

Let’s look at this week’s Torah portion—Vayeira. The second verse says, “And he [Abraham] lifted up his eyes and looked, and, lo, three men stood over against him…  (Gen. 18:2)” The Zohar suggests that the three persons who came to visit Abraham in Mamre where no other than Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  Here we have a “celestial copy” of Abraham visiting the “terrestrial copy” of Abraham, the two coexisting in parallel universes. This idea is further stressed by the way we read the Torah scroll. According to the Messorah—the Jewish Rabbinical tradition—the Torah scroll is read using cantillation marks (taamey ha-miqra or “trope”) that one can find in Tikun Sofrim or in most printed editions of the Chumash (Pentateuch). Later in this Torah portion, in the story of the Akeida, an angel called to Abraham from heaven and said, “Abraham! Abraham!” (Gen. 22:11). There is a vertical line between the first Abraham and repetition of the name: “Abraham | Abraham.” This sign tells the reader to pause between the first Abraham and the second Abraham when reading the Torah scroll. The Kabbalah and Chassidic philosophy (see, for example, Hemshech Samech Vav) explain that the pause is required to distinguish between the celestial Abraham and terrestrial Abraham.

abraham_and_three_angels-

Abraham and three Angels, 1966 – Marc Chagall

In this Torah portion, at least in the Zohar’s interpretation, we read about the terrestrial Abraham meeting his celestial counterpart. This situation is analogous to the parallel universe interpretation of quantum mechanics, which allows for the occasional merger of parallel universes. Indeed, it is as if the spiritual universe—the abode of the celestial Abraham—merged for a moment with the physical universe—the abode of the terrestrial Abraham—to allow for their face-to-face encounter.

Biblical commentators struggle to explain the meaning of the language used by the Torah in the last weeks portion Lech Lecha, when God tells Abram “lech lecha,” lit. go to yourself. Seemingly, it does not make sense in a literal translation. Some translators simply read out “to yourself” part,  others translate it as “for your own good,” which is far from the literal meaning. Given our explanation above, perhaps it simply means a commandment for Abram to go to himself—his higher self, his celestial counterpart, of which we read in this Torah portion.

Each of us has such celestial counterpart, our high self—it is called the Godly soul—nefesh Elokit.  When Abram was told by God to leave his land and his father’s house and go to his higher self, Abram was not a Jew yet—this was before the covenant God made with him, before he was given a new name—Abraham. He only merited to meet his higher self after his circumcision, after he became the first Jew. Children of Abraham, the Jewish people, have their higher self, their Godly soul, inside. As the Tanya says, every Jew possesses nefesh Elokit, which is helek Eloka memaal mamash—“a piece of God from above indeed.” Thus, our task is not going outside ourselves to seek our higher self, as our forefather Abraham had to do, but to direct our attention inward, to return to our true Godly self. That is why the word teshuvah should not be translated as “repentance” but as “return,” which is what it literally means—return to our higher self. Our father Abraham paved the way for us.

abraham_serving_the_three_angels

“Abraham Serving the Three Angels” by Rembrandt, oil on canvas, 1646.

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About the Author:

Alexander Poltorak was trained as a theoretical physicist in Russia. He is Chairman and CEO of General Patent Corporation. Dr. Poltorak served as an Assistant Professor of Biomathematics at Cornell University Medical College, as an Assistant Professor of Physics at Touro College, he guest-lectured at Columbia University School of Engineering and Business School. He is presently affiliated with the CUNY serving as an adjunct professor of physics at the City College of New York and Research Fellow at the Institute for Ultrafast Spectroscopy and Lasers. Alex Poltorak authored several books and many articles. He blogs about physics, kabbalah and Jewish philosophy.

7 Comments

  1. Reuven November 4, 2017 at 12:01 am - Reply

    Thank you, Alex. Gut voch.

  2. Adam Miller November 4, 2017 at 2:45 pm - Reply

    Amazing, a big yashar koach!

  3. Lev Korinets September 4, 2018 at 6:30 pm - Reply

    Thank you, Alex. It is very interesting. Sorry for being late in reading and commenting on your article.
    I have a couple of thoughts:
    Among the multitude of all “possible” parallel universes you select only two – celestial and terrestrial – to explain textual ambiguity. Would it not be simpler to invoke “prohibited” Cartesian dualism for the textual explanations? I think everything will then fall into place.
    Also, what are your thoughts about the Multiverse interpretation by David Deutsch?

    • Alexander Poltorak September 4, 2018 at 8:31 pm - Reply

      On the one hand, Rashi says the three visitors were angels. On the other, the Zohar says they were Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Angels live in the celestial sphere. Consequently, the only conclusion possible two reconcile both opinions is to assume that terrestrial Abraham met his celestial counterpart. The Occam’s Razor principle requires the most economical explanation drawing on the fewest assumptions. I don’t see any need to bring multiple other universes into this account when two are sufficient for our purposes.

      The Cartesian dualism speaks of the mind-body dualism. The visitors that came to Abraham had a physical appearance and were not fruits of Abraham’s imagination. He was not hallucinating. I don’t how Cartesian dualism fits into this picture.

  4. Lev Korinets September 4, 2018 at 9:56 pm - Reply

    Alex, you are right applying The Occam’s Razor principle in this situation – two Universes are plenty for two Abrahams. My understanding of celestial is “heavenly” (being in the mind), while terrestrial is “earthy” (being in the body), that is why I suggested Cartesian dualism. Perhaps, I am wrong, and both Abrahams, as you insist, were real and they were not hallucinating.
    Then in which Universe did they meet, the first, the second, or even in the third, because of short-lived merger? How did this encounter effect all those Universes and their Abrahams now having knowledge about the encounter?

    • Alexander Poltorak September 4, 2018 at 10:12 pm - Reply

      The celestial universe is indeed “heavenly,” but it doesn’t mean it’s in your mind. In this case, “heavenly” or “celestial” simply means spiritual. The word “spiritual” does not have a precise definition in the scientific vocabulary except for meaning “not-physical.” However, one Kabbalah, spiritual world means a world that has no spatial limitations. I can easily define it as a world of higher dimensions. Say, we consider a ten-dimensional universe, in which the first three dimensions are familiar to us spatial dimensions. I would call the remaining seven dimensions a “spiritual” part of this universe, because this is a part not limited by our spatial limitations. But this is another topic.

      The terrestrial Abraham met his celestial counterpart in this physical (terrestrial) world. In Everett’s many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics, the branches of the universe, after they split, never meet again. However, in a closely related but slightly different interpretation, called parallel universes interpretation, wherein the universe does not split but exists ab initio in multiple strata (i.e., parallel universes) with the wavefunction apportioned among these strata, the parallel universes can merge through the process of superposition.

  5. Lev Korinets September 4, 2018 at 10:44 pm - Reply

    Ok, we can say even 11 dimensions as the latest String Theory suggests, but after the encounter of Abrahams the whole strata will not be the same as before the encounter, meaning the previous probabilities for each participating Universe (as square of the amplitude of the wavefunction) will be different. And in which Universe are we communicating now – with the first Abraham, the second, or the merged? Yes, it is crazy.
    Also, I still would like to hear your opinion about the Multiverse interpretation by David Deutsch, if you are familiar with it. To me it is the latest and the most amazing development of Hugh Everett’s ideas. Thank you.

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