Biology

//Biology

Quantum Cheshire Cat vs. Venomous Snakes

A Study in Form and Matter And Moses prayed for the people.  And the Eternal said unto Moses: “Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole; and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he seeth it, shall live.” And Moses made a serpent of brass, and set it upon the pole; and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he looked unto the serpent of brass, he lived. (Numbers 21:8-9)   The Torah portion, Chukat, tells a bizarre story. Jews complain against God and Moses. God gets angry and sends venomous snakes that bite and kill many Jews. The people repent and ask Moses to pray for them. In response to Moses’s prayer, God instructs him to make a [...]

The Soul is in the Blood

For the life of the flesh is in the blood." (Leviticus 17:11) The word translated here as “life” in the Hebrew original is nefesh, i.e., “soul.” Torah appears to be telling us that soul of every live creature is in its blood. Indeed, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi says so explicitly in the Tanya: The abode of the animal soul derived from kelipat nogah in every Jew is in the heart; in the left ventricle, as it is filled with blood, and it is written, 'For the blood is the soul' (nefesh)…. just as the blood has its source in the heart, and from the heart it circulates into every organ…" (Likkutei Amarim, 9)[1] The animal soul is primarily vested in the blood (from where it spreads to the whole body and beyond). What does [...]

Ki Tisa Hints at the Coronavirus

On the Eve of Shabbat, we received a government mailing containing documents that we were required to fill out and send back to the Census Bureau. The connection between the Census and the plague was not lost on me. The Torah portion we read last Shabbat, Ki Tisa. It begins with the story of the census: When you count the children of Israel according to their numbers, let each one give to the Lord an atonement for his soul when they are counted; then there will be no plague among them when they are counted.” (Exodus 30:12) This verse, linking the census with a plague, was uncanny in view of the COVID-19—Coronavirus pandemic—the modern-day plague, in the midst of which we find ourselves today. Interestingly, the word “count” in the verse above is [...]

Fractal Tu B’Shevat

When thou shalt besiege a city a long time, in making war against it to take it, thou shalt not destroy the trees thereof by wielding an axe against them; for thou mayest eat of them, but thou shalt not cut them down; for is the tree of the field man, that it should be besieged of thee? (Deut. 20:19) On Tu B’Shevat we celebrate the New Year of the trees. There is much to be said about the legal, ecological, homiletical, and mystical meaning of this day. And, indeed, much has been written about this minor holiday from these perspectives. In this post, however, I’d like to focus on the mathematical and biological aspects of this holiday that, to my knowledge, had not been discussed until now. When the Torah rhetorically asks, [...]

The Meaning of Life as Taught by Bayesian Angels

And he [Jacob] dreamed, and behold! a ladder set up on the ground and its top reached to heaven; and behold, angels of God were ascending and descending upon it. (Gen. 28:12) Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi (a.k.a Baal HaTanya, or the Alter Rebbe) once remarked in Yiddish, “lieben mit di tzait” – live with the time, meaning one should live with Torah portion of the week.  Last week I was taught a lesson on how the current Torah portion affects my thinking, whether I know it or not. Last week I shared with my wife, who is a biophysicist, that while thinking about system biology, I realized that all organisms – from a single cell to multicellular organisms – are Bayesian systems. I knew that the brain is a Bayesian engine, but [...]

The Beard of the Long Face is Found

The previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, the Rebbe Rayatz (a.k.a. the Fridriker Rebbe) told the story about his father, the Rebbe Rashab. Once the brother of Rebbe Rashab, Rabbi Menachem Mendel (a.k.a. the RM”M) told him that he read in a magazine an article that stated that scientists found a nerve in the brain regulating the cognitive function so that when a person needed to remember something he would tilt his head looking up, whereas when the person needed to concentrate, he’d tilt his head down. The Rebbe Rashab took his brother to his study, took from the shelf a book by the Second Lubavitcher Rebbe, the Mittler Rebbe, in which it stated the same thing. The Rebbe Rashab said to his brother, “You’d think he was a doctor, but he wasn’t. He saw Adam [...]

String Theory

Speak to the children of Israel and you shall say to them that they shall make for themselves fringes on the corners of their garments, throughout their generations, and they shall affix a thread of sky blue [wool] on the fringe of each corner." (Num. 15:38) At the end of the weekly Torah portion Shelach (Num. 13:1–15:41), Torah commands us to attached tzitzit, "tassels," to the four corners of the garment. Reading about the white and blue strings of the tzitzit brought back childhood memories of how I first invented a naïve form of the string theory. It was 1970, as I recall, and I was about 13 years old at the time. Growing up in Russia, alas, I didn’t have a Bar Mitzvah, so I wasn’t busy studying Torah or preparing for [...]

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