Having completed our initial survey of Jewish sources regarding the nature of light, and in particular its mystical and paradoxical nature, we turn to the world of science in order to ascertain whether the observations we have made correspond to what science reveals regarding light. To our amazement modern science in a profound manner confirms the intuitive and text based observations of Jewish sages, mystics and rabbis throughout the ages. Similar to how Torah considers light a major symbol of spirituality and divinity, revelations in science place light in a very central position in regards to understanding the physical laws of the universe. We will now in very brief fashion review some of these findings and how they confirm to the Torah based teachings presented thus far.
Until the last two centuries the inner dynamics of light were virtually unknown. Then, within a relatively short time, one significant discovery after another began to reveal the physical properties of light. First it was found that electricity produces magnetism, and then it was revealed that magnetism produces electricity. It was Scottish physicist James Maxwell who first came to understand that these two forces, always considered to be totally separate, were in fact the very same force, which he termed electromagnetic. Science had begun to reveal a dualistic reality of light, but this was just the beginning.
Another scientist Heinrich Rudolph Hertz then discovered that there were in fact many more forms of electromagnetic energy other than light. His discovery of radio waves, opened the door for further revelations of all the other forms of electromagnetic energy of which light is but one manifestation. Other types include radio waves, x-rays, gamma rays, micro waves, ultra violet and ultra red waves. The type of electromagnetic energy is determined by its frequency and wavelength.
That light, and in fact all electromagnetic energy, emanates as a wave was also one of the important discoveries regarding light. Then another discovery that has mystified science to this day revealed that light in addition to having wave-like properties also has properties of a particle, which actually contradicts the wave-like properties of light. Without delving into a complicated scientific explanation of the contradictory reality of light having both wave and particle properties it will suffice us to state that according to science this reality is totally paradoxical and defies normative logic.
To quote Brian Greene, the author of the now classic book The Elegant Universe: “The microscopic world demands that we shed our intuition that something is either a wave or a particle and embrace the possibility that it is both… We can utter words such as “wave-particle duality.” We can translate these words into mathematical formulization that describes the real-world experiments with amazing accuracy. But it is extremely hard to understand at a deep intuitive level this dazzling feature of the microscopic world” (page 103; Vintage Books, 1999; New York).
And in fact no one does really understand it. Science has been extremely efficient in harnessing electromagnetic energy, creating so much of the technological world we take so for granted, yet science concurrently realizes how mysterious and paradoxical the physical world truly is.
Another feature of light is that although it has properties of both wave and particle, it only reveals one of those features at any given time. An astonishing fact is that when measuring light it will exhibit its wave or particle feature according to which manner the measurement is conducted. In other words: if light is measured to show its wave function it will react in kind, and the same for its particle function. This phenomenon reminds us of the property we discussed previously regarding the many examples of light being both revealed and hidden, and at times simultaneously.
The scientifically proven paradoxical nature of light is but one of many counter-intuitive facts which make up the fundamental truths of physics, especially quantum physics. The realization that much of how physics now describes our universe is absolutely paradoxical and above normative logic brings us back to our discussions of the paradoxical and mystical role of light and its ultimate source in the divine essence that lies behind all physical and spiritual reality. For according to the Kabbalah all physical reality mirrors higher spiritual truths. In that sense we should not be surprised at all that the dualistic and paradoxical nature of light as revealed throughout the Torah should be reflected in modern revelations of the inner dynamics of physical light.
Subsequent to these discoveries about light, physics determined that atoms, the building blocks of all matter, exhibit the same wave-particle duality and paradoxical reality as well. All physical matter, from the largest star to the smallest grain of sand, is made of atoms and they all exhibit this mysterious phenomenon.
But there is more, much more…
In the beginning of the twentieth century Albert Einstein in his general and special theories of relativity changed forever the way we view and understand the universe. His now famous equation E=MC (E [energy] = M [mass] x C [velocity of light] squared) revealed that energy and matter/mass are in essence two sides of the same coin and are exchangeable. It is through the knowledge E=MC , of converting relatively small amounts of matter into enormous amounts of energy, that atomic power is produced.
This revolutionary equation is quite similar to two ideas presented throughout this book: that vessels (matter) are “thickened” light (energy) and that the realms of the spiritual and the physical are not unrelated, but are intrinsically united. And light more than anything else represents this truth.
After these theories were proven to be correct, Einstein spent much of the rest of his life working on the unified field theory, which he hoped would reveal the manner in which the four fundamental forces of the universe – the electromagnetic force, the strong nuclear force, the weak nuclear force and gravity – are united. He made great progress but was unable to unite the four forces in a coherent formulation. What is important though is that all science now accepts that these four forces are in fact unified.
The ramifications of this idea cannot be emphasized enough. While Torah has always maintained the oneness of God, and by extension the unity of all things, science now too realizes this basic and fundamental truth. It can be said that the Jewish unified field theory is the cardinal statement of faith in the Torah: “Hear O Israel, God our God, God is one” (Deuteronomy 6:4). It is interesting to note that in the Torah the dalet, last letter of the word for “one,” אחד , is written large. The letter dalet equals four. It can be said that this alludes to the four forces of the universe and their intrinsic unity. In addition it is taught by Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh that the four primary forces of physical reality correspond to the four letters of God’s essential name.
Science has already come to understand how three of the forces are unified, and only gravity remains to be integrated into a full understanding of the ultimate unity of all the physical forces of the universe. The unified field theory has been renamed by some as the “theory of everything.”
Of the four forces, three are relatively constrictive, while only the electromagnetic force is a dynamic, extroverted force. The strong and weak nuclear forces only operate at subatomic levels, keeping the atomic structure in place and mediating radioactive decay respectively, while gravity in a sense keeps the universe “glued” together and not flying off randomly in space. The electromagnetic force in contrast, like the initial ray of light piercing the vacuum, is the forceful and active energy that pervades the universe in all its many forms, from the smallest atomic particles to the vast expanse of the galaxies.
Science postulates that at the moment of the Big Bang all four forces were in fact unified. Only after the universe began to expand and therefore cool did the four forces separate. This reminds us once again of the statement in the Zohar that vessels come into being from “thickened” light – or in the words of science – from the cooling and expansion of the universe. It also confirms to the basic equation of “one becomes two (in this case four) in order to become one.” The revelation of the unified field theory, which all science believes is just a matter of time, will no doubt be a part of the revelation of the words of the prophet that “on that day God will be one and His name one” (Zecharia 14:9).
It is highly significant of course that the speed of light is part of the E=MC equation. In fact it is a crucial part, as the speed of light is fixed and unchanging, making it the absolute constant of the equation and the ultimate bridge between matter and energy, or in Torah symbolic terms, physicality and spirituality.
The fact that the speed of light is constant (186,000 miles per second) is another great mystery to science. In measuring the amount of time an object will take to reach a certain destination, the crucial factor is whether the destination is moving or stationary. For example: if one person throws a ball at someone who is moving towards him the ball will get to him faster than if he was moving away from the ball. That makes sense. Yet if it is light and not a ball that is being “thrown” it makes absolutely no difference if one is moving toward the light or away from the light – the light will still be measured at the same speed. In other words: unlike anything else, light is absolutely not affected by the factor of velocity of any other matter in relationship to it. On the surface this may not seem all that important, but since it has also been established that no matter can ever go faster than the speed of light, it turns out that this has a major effect on the measurement of time.
While the speed of light is constant it has been tested and proven that the closer an object approaches the speed of light the more time slows down. High velocity causes the mass of an object to become heavier and heavier, to the point that it is impossible for anything to propel itself beyond the speed of light. The relativity of time has been tested in many ways including sending clocks into space that return with a different time than on earth. In our daily lives we do not perceive this as the differences are so small to be almost negligible. But when atoms are shot through super conductors at velocities close to the speed of light this phenomenon has been proven to be true.
As time slows down when approaching the speed of light it mysteriously stops altogether when theoretically reaching the speed of light. This is what would be called the “eternal present.” As incredible as it sounds there is no passage of time at the speed of light. It is as if past, present and future are happening simultaneously.
It is taught in Jewish tradition that God is above and beyond all strictures of time. For God there is truly no past, present and future. This reality is crucial in understanding one of the greatest of all paradoxes: how free choice and Divine Providence can both be true when according to logic they should cancel each other out. This is not the proper forum to enter into this complex paradox that has occupied thinkers throughout the ages, but unlike many other philosophies or religions which avoid this and other paradoxes by nullifying one or both concepts, Judaism embraces both free will and Divine Providence as being simultaneously true. This is the typical Jewish view when presented with paradox – to stretch the mind until one can understand how two mutually exclusive ideas can both be true. Yet it is not just religion which does this. In the new picture of the universe painted by quantum physics, paradox is in fact the only way to understand reality.
The idea of past, present and future being simultaneous for God is actually seen in the four letters ( י-ה-ו-ה (of God’s name. These four letters when arranged differently spell out the word for being (ה-ו-י-ה ), in the past ( היה ), present ( הוה ) and future ( יהיה ).
When we really contemplate the above facts about light we see an astounding paradox regarding the relationship of time and light. The speed of light is constant, yet everything in relationship to it is relative. A similar idea is stated in the verse: “I am God, I have not changed” (Malachi 3:6). God is concurrently the paradigm of permanence and immutability, as well as transformation and change. God is not moved or changed by any force, yet is the initiator of all change and Creator of all forces of the universe. According to Kabbalah and Chassidut, God is the same before and after the tzimtzum; it is only from our perspective that a contraction has occurred.
As we have seen, light is the closest paradigm we have to divinity, therefore it shares these two opposite qualities of permanence and change in its physical form as well. Light in its more spiritual form performs the same function as it expresses God’s essence which is immutable, yet is not exactly the essence of God and therefore actualizes all states of change.
The consequence of time being relative means that in reality there is no one objective clock in the universe; each planet, galaxy or moving object depending on its velocity of travel and its mass affected by the gravitational force (the other major factor in determining time) will record time differently.
We can relate to this in a very personal way as each person experiences time both objectively and subjectively. Time “drags” or “flies by” depending upon our mood and our emotional state. Some people are masters of using time wisely, while others waste time as if it was an endless commodity. Certain moments last a lifetime, while others cannot be recalled even a minute later.
Until Einstein, space and time were considered to be two completely separate realities. He revealed that time and space are in fact not separate; each one is intimately bound up with the other. He united the three dimensions of space with the fourth dimension of time.
Just as a soul animates a body, time gives “life” to space, as without time there would be no movement of matter through space: all would be, as if, “frozen in time.” In this sense time is the inner dimension of space.
The Sefer Yetzirah, one of the oldest of all Kabbalisitc texts, speaks of five dimensions: three of space, one of time and one of soul. It took science thousands of years to recognize time as a dimension and although it has not as yet named soul as a dimension, science now speaks openly of the affect consciousness has on reality. The time is perhaps closer than we think when science will understand soul as a dimension as well.
This is an important point to mention at this juncture as we have identified consciousness, intellect and the soul as analogous to light. For this reason the soul is compared to light in the verse: “The candle of God is the soul of man” (Proverbs 20:27). Rebbe Nachman, taught that the greater the conscious intellect the less one is constricted by time or space (Likkutei Moharan; Torah 6:2). Enlightenment activates an important quality of being created in the image of God, allowing man to, as it were, travel at the speed of light, above the strictures of time and space.
The first mitzvah given to the Jewish people as they prepared to leave slavery in Egypt was the wisdom of how to calculate the Jewish calendar. Freedom entails being a master of time and not its slave. The word for Egypt in Hebrew is derived from the root word meaning “confinement” or “narrow space.” The historic exodus of the Jewish people serves as the symbolic journey of every individual from the dark slavery of constricted time and space to the light of freedom and new consciousness. This transformation is represented by the giving of the Torah fifty days after the exodus at Mount Sinai.
In the last 250 years of history we have seen in the industrial revolution the breath taking advances in science, the vast technological progress and the communication highway, as well as the manner in which human intellect has been used to overcome the distances of space and the constrictions of time. What used to take months for a letter to arrive now takes a second by fax or e-mail. What used to take weeks of travel is now done in hours in a plane. What used to take weeks to harvest a field is accomplished in a day.
This is all in the physical realm. We are taught that in the Messianic times there will be a parallel spiritual revolution when man will not “hunger for bread or thirst for water, but rather to hear the word of God” (Amos 8:11). The physical world mirrors the spiritual worlds, and as the world becomes a more technologically unified global village in a physical sense, a spiritual revolution bringing light and a more divine consciousness cannot be too far behind.
Understanding light in its physical and spiritual manifestations plays a crucial role in the radical changes we see all around us. This is certainly true in the physical realm. A time will certainly come when we will see the full revelation of spiritual light and how it connects and reveals the unity of God and man, infinite and finite, physical and spiritual, matter and energy, space and time, and past, present and future.