Science and Technology
Discovering the Divine within Nature
Chapter 1 Technology: Vice or Virtue?
We live in a highly scientific world. Virtually every moment of our day – whether we are at home, at work, or in transit – is affected by modern technology.
The computer age and the information revolution have given all of us enormous power and the ability to reach virtually anyone at any time. Yes, technology allows us to live more comfortably and work more efficiently, but can we understand how it makes our lives more meaningful?
On its own, science is neutral; it attempts to give us an objective view of our physical universe and its natural forces, but it does not draw a conclusion as to how we should use these forces.
It does not deal with good and evil or with questions of morality. At its best, science acknowledges its own boundaries, recognizing that it is neither the basis nor the code for moral doctrine.
Technology, as with all forces in our lives, can be used either constructively or destructively.
Developments such as television, computers, and lasers, and discoveries in nuclear energy, medicine, and biology — these are all instances of G-dly forces that are manifested in nature.
Man has been charged with tapping those resources to refine and civilize the world, to transform our material surroundings into a proper home for spirituality and G-dliness.
Remember, G-d did not create bread; He created the sun and land and water and seeds of grain. We must plant the seeds, harvest the wheat, grind it into flour, mix it with water and bake it. Only then do we have bread to eat.
Couldn’t G-d have just as easily given whole bread, already made? Of course, but we are partners in the universe; our lives are an expression of free will, not a predetermined script. It is up to each of us to either use the earth to make bread or let it lie fallow.
It is the same with all of technology. G-d has created powerful forces throughout nature for use to utilize. We can choose to acknowledge the “hand inside the glove,” understanding where the power truly comes from, and use these forces as tools to lead a more meaningful life. Or we can choose to be distracted by the glove, to see technology only as a means unto itself, using it for indulgent, selfish, perhaps even destructive purposes.
Chapter 2 Why is it important to understand technology?
As Maimonides wrote “By contemplating G-d’s grand creations, one comes to recognize G-d’s great wisdom, which evokes deep love for G-d and a desire to bond with Him.”
Much of the technology discovered in this century, particularly in the area relating to the subatomic structure of matter, has given us a comprehension of the dynamic unity that bonds the entire universe and man.
Even for a person who doesn’t understand how a microchip or an electromagnet works, the resulting technology is an obvious testament to an unprecedented level of unity in our universe.
Modern communications allows us to connect instantaneously with practically anyone around the world.
Modern transportation enables us to reach places in just a few hours that only a hundred years ago might have been months away.
Computers allows us to process billions of pieces of information in a few seconds, performing tasks that used to be utterly impossible.
Yes, all of this technology saves enormous amounts of time and energy and creates countless new business opportunities. But such advantages should only be considered by-products of technology. Whose true purpose is to unite the world and make it a more fertile ground for a unified spiritual life.
This is the answer to understanding the technological revolution and where it is taking us.
The sweeping technological changes that have taken place during the past several generations are in keeping with the prediction some two thousand years ago in the Zohar, a classical text of mysticism, stating that in the year 1840, there would be an outburst of “lower wisdom,” or advancements in the physical universe, and an increase in “sublime wisdom,” or spirituality, which would begin to usher true unity into the world, leading toward the final redemption.
The increase in both types of wisdom — wisdom of the mind and wisdom of the soul — has surely come to pass; where we have fallen short is in integrating these spheres of knowledge. Only by balancing the scientific with the spiritual can we transform the dream of an ideal future into a functional blueprint for society, for true communication can begin only when human minds and souls interact.
With communication comes understanding; with understanding comes compassion; and with compassion comes a natural movement toward universalism.
So the current technological revolution is in fact the hand of G-d at work; it is meant to help us make G-d a reality in our lives. And as time goes on, science will show itself more and more to parallel the truths of G-d, thereby revealing the intrinsic unity in the entire universe.
Practice and Theory
The Divine purpose of the present information revolution, for instance, which gives an individual unprecedented power and opportunity, is to allow us to share knowledge — spiritual knowledge with each other, empowering and unifying individuals everywhere. We need to utilize today’s interactive technology not just for business or leisure but to interlink as people — to create a welcome environment for the interaction of our souls, our hearts, our visions.
Practice and Theory
Understanding science and technology as Divine tools for our personal and spiritual growth is also crucial for our well-being.
History has taught us that it is not enough for a society to be scientifically or intellectually sophisticated; “wisdom,” “knowledge,” and “enlightenment” can all too easily be perverted by the equally human qualities of arrogance and brutality.
Only when infused with an external standard of goodness, with the standard of a virtuous life as dictated by G-d, can wisdom truly achieve a higher plane.
Practice and Theory
We are experiencing an explosion of technology that places undreamt-of power in human hands.
Biotechnology for example, has given us access to the levers of creation – the ability to develop powerful new medical treatments for instance.
Or conversely the power to hurt or destroy.
In this century alone, we have seen stark testimony to the destructive capabilities of various technologies.
But even when technology is not used destructively, it is often simply wasted or left wanting.
Every day, our load of manual labor is lightened.
We have more effective machines to do the work that used to take up so much of our time.
Do we take advantage of these hours by spending more time with our children and with those in need?
Do we volunteer to teach a class or help out a neighbor?
Or do we simply reach for the next new button that will make our lives that much more convenient and comfortable?
Practice and Theory
We all feel the need to better our lives, but we must balance the wonders of technology by responding to the spiritual demands of our soul’s potential.
These demands are beginning to resonate throughout our society.
Parents, for instance, are pleased that their children are learning computer skills at school, but wary that such occupational training is not complemented by more human, more compassionate training.
Practice and Theory
It is well and good to learn to program a computer, but unless a student also acquires a sense of discipline and integrity, he or she might use that skill to wreak havoc.
The best students – and the best teachers – recognize that there is much to be learned by inspecting the failure of cultures before ours.
In doing so it becomes painfully clear that no amount of wisdom or technology can overcome a value system that does not do enough to discourage selfishness and evil.
With all our human capacity for technological advancement, we must never forget our higher objective. We must strive to enhance our scientific search for truth by constantly expanding our spiritual quest for the Divine.
Chapter 3 Can we Reconcile Science and Religion?
Our spiritual search, though, is sometimes impeded by various barriers.
The scientific revolution, for instance, caused some people to abandon their faith in G-d, rejecting their beliefs in face of newfound scientific “truths.”
Others clung stubbornly to their convictions, refusing to recognize the discovery of science.
This battle peaked in the ninetieth century, when science presented itself as an almighty new “religion.”
Despite a certain degree of enlightenment and various attempts to reconcile, for some people there still exists today a rift between science and religion, as though some parts of life are controlled by G-d and others by the laws of science and nature.
This compartmentalized attitude however is wrong; Since G-d created the universe and the natural laws that govern it, there can be no schism between the Creator and His creation.
The natural laws of the universe can hardly contradict the blueprint from which they were made!
So science is ultimately the human study of G-d’s mind, the search to understand the laws that G-d installed to run the physical universe.
Science today is learning to recognize its true place. Whereas scientific conclusions were in the past considered natural “laws” with all the rigid implications of that word, modern science no longer holds such a dogmatic view.
Contemporary scientists now accept the fundamental indeterminism of nature; Heisenberg’s “uncertainty principle” for instance – the unpredictability of both the position and velocity of subatomic particles – is understood as being intrinsic to the entire universe.
This uncertainty does not point to a limitation in our ability to measure, but to an inherent characteristic of nature; the modern scientist, that is, no longer expects to find absolute truth in science.
The wisdom and will of G-d, on the other hand, is absolute and specific, teaching how man should act to take the fullest advantage of himself and the community at large.
Unlike science, G-d’s wisdom is absolute truth, it is not limited by cause and effect.
There are two approaches then in the search for truth: the human search via science and the search via G-d.
There is no question that the universe is guided by a certain logic. At the outset man begins searching for the truth from the “outside in” as it were, trying to understand various phenomena and then piece them together like a jigsaw puzzle to come up with a complete picture.
Scientists and philosophers peer through the outer layers of the universe to discover the forces lying within.
What we are all actually searching for, whether or not we acknowledge it, is G-d, the hand inside the glove.
But if we choose instead to search for the truth from the “inside out” looking directly through the eyes of the creator and abiding by His laws, we begin to gain a more complete understanding of how the world operates and why.
One can say that secular or scientific wisdom deals with what the universe is, while spiritual wisdom deals with why it is and what it means to ones’ life.
True science and true religion, therefore, are two sides of the same coin. The emphasis is on “true” – not a science that denies G-d or a religion that sees science as its enemy.
Both of these attitudes stem from the same flaw: belief that G-d who created the natural universe and its laws cannot coexist with His creation!
Any scientific theory that seems to contradict His laws will ultimately be scientifically proven to be unverifiable even by the most diligent scientific exploration.
Because the world has been so categorically affected by science in recent centuries, today’s scientists and scholars have a great responsibility.
They must teach not only the laws of science but its role – what science is and what it is not.
So the true challenge of science today is not to refute G-d, but to discover how it reflects and illuminates parts of G-d’s mind that have yet to be uncovered.
Only then will science fully become part of the search for truth.
As scholars in the Middle Ages often counseled “Love Plate, love Aristotle, but love truth more than all.”
Chapter 4 What can technology teach us about ourselves?
Everything a person sees or hears is meant to teach us a lesson about life. When we look at technology merely as a source of personal comfort or advancement, we are seeing only the end product. When we look at technology as an expression of G-dliness, though, we are better prepared to understand life itself.
From atomic energy, for instance, we realize the power of every individual being.
We now know that even the smallest bit of matter can release a massive amount of energy. So to does every person’s very core contain enormous power.
How is it released?
By getting to a person very core and shaking him from his contend state.
It is the human equivalent of nuclear fission or fusion – a person inner strengths are released when he is acted upon by the proper combination of force and direction, when we help him live according to the laws of G-d and encourage him to help others do the same.
This creates a chain reaction. Just as the splitting of the first atom triggers other atoms to split, every possible human thrust and every virtuous act creates an energy that can only intensify.
On the other hand, the energy released through negative behavior can be controlled just as an atomic chain reaction can be controlled.
Atomic energy also shows us how the macrocosm of the entire universe is reflected in each of us.
In an atom (according to the planetary model) the various particles orbit around the nucleus, while in the human being, the various material aspects also orbit around a nucleus: our soul.
Finally, we see that an atom ultimately releases far more energy than the amount of energy required to split it.
Not so many years ago, the prospect of producing atomic energy must have seemed painfully complex and expensive, perhaps even futile.
And yet it turned out be highly productive.
We may feel similar reservations on a personal level - wouldn’t it be much simpler to wander though life without imposing on ourselves the demands and responsibilities of a spiritual life?
Perhaps, but then we would waste our own most precious natural resource, leaving our inner potential untapped.
Our sages have described each person as an entire world and the world as a personality in macrocosm.
Indeed the new developments in science show that the world is a dynamic of inseparable interacting components and that the human observer is an integral part of this system.
The universe can no longer be perceived as a series of independent building blocks, for we have discovered that all matter – and therefore all people – is inextricably linked.
One of the most important reverberations of the new physics is that the long accepted idea of scientific objectivity can no longer be upheld.
We now understand that the scientist becomes involved in the world that he observes. He influences the properties of the objects he observes.
His perception of nature, therefore are intimately connected with his own mind, his own idea, and his own value system – all of which are sure to inform the scientific “results” he reaches so any scientist must exercise moral as well as intellectual judgment in his research.
There is much to learn from the technological revolution, as long as we understand its role in our lives and see it as a final step in our dramatic search for unity throughout the universe. After all, developments in science and technology have taught us to be more sensitive to the intangible and the sublime: the forces behind computers, telephones, television, and so on are all invisible, and yet we fully recognize their power and reach. Similarly, we must come to accept that the driving force behind the entire universe is intangible and sublime, and we must come to experience the transcendent and G-dly in every single thing — beginning, of course with ourselves.