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December 14: Quantum Indeterminacy and Judaism

December 14, 2013
blog-quantum-physicsGerman theoretical physicist Max Planck introduced his black-body radiation law, also called Planck’s law, a key theoretical building block of quantum physics, on this date in 1900. Planck’s theory preceded Albert Einstein’s description of light quanta (that light can be described as discrete particles) by five years and won him a Nobel Prize in 1918. According to Nazi investigators — who sought to discredit and destroy Planck for his refusal either to leave Germany or to collaborate with Nazi power — he was “one-sixth Jewish.” His son Erwin was executed by the regime in 1945 for participating in the July 1944 attempt to assassinate Hitler. What qualifies Planck’s law for Jewdayo, however, is the way that the principles of quantum indeterminacy and the many counter-intuitive implications about reality that emerged from the work of Planck and other physicists have been invoked by contemporary Jewish and non-Jewish mystics to cultivate an “anything is possible” attitude. “Quantum mysticism,” as the skeptical physicist and author Victor Stenger describes it, embraces belief in the power of pure thought to shape the material reality, in the non-coincidental nature of synchronicity (amazing, meaningful coincidence), and in there being a rational basis for “miracles.” Such mysticism has also been critiqued in certain ultra-Orthodox Jewish circles as an effort to provide a scientific or naturalistic basis for miracles, i.e., as an effort to expel a miracle-making God from the picture! “The myth of quantum consciousness sits well with many whose egos have made it impossible for them to accept the insignificant place science perceives for humanity . . .” —Victor Stenger