Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Can A Multiverse Exist In Jewish Thought

This seems like a silly idea, but ever since I read this article in Scientific American a couple of years ago this was something on my mind. Previously, I thought the "Multiverse" was something made up in order for the DC Universe to have a solution to having so many conflicting stories with the same personalities (corrected with the comic book "Crisis on Infinite Earths"). However, it seems like this idea has taken hold in more mainstream sources.

Personally, I thought this idea was made up by people that were trying to figure out a way to exclude G-D from being a necessary part of the world. I thought that an infinite amount of universes existing just meant that scientists could claim that there was no creator, since there are an endless amount of "realities" where every possible permutation existed then the world could exist "by accident" without an intelligent being creating life. Imagine, every possible universe existing somewhere. One universe still has not experienced the "Big Bang." Another universe never had the proper conditions to form life on Earth. Yet, another universe ended up forming life on Mars instead of Earth and so on and so forth. The possibilities are endless.

On a more theological level I think there is an even greater problem. If one believes a Multiverse exists and that G-D exists as a single entity (meaning, there is only one G-D and an infinite amount of universes. Not one G-D per universe) how does G-D know what I am doing in each universe separately? Let me give an example for clarity. In a Multiverse setting, as explained in Scientific American, a new universe would exist every time I come to a point where I have to make a decision. Something as simple as should I go left or should I go right. That creates two separate universes, one in which I went left and another in which I went right. So, does G-D relate to me as a sinner or a righteous person? I ended up pursuing both, so does He punish me or does He reward me?

This problem is compounded when we think about other factors as well. Does each and every me, which ends up being in the millions if not billions, if not trillions because of all the choices I will make in my life, have a different Neshama (soul)? Do we each have a separate personality? 

It should come as no surprise to those who know me that I found the answer of whether a Multiverse can exist in Jewish though while reading the Ralbag's "Milchamos Hashem" (Wars of The Lord). In book 4 the Ralbag discusses divine providence. and how it works. He believes there are three options: 1) The theory of Aristotle that asserts divine providence does not reach individual members of the human species, but only the species in general. 2) The theory of most of the followers of the Torah that maintain divine providence reaches each and every individual human as an individual. 3) The theory of the outstanding scholars of our Torah who assert that divine providence reaches only some individuals on an individual level, but not all men (Referring to Rambam in The Guide 3:17,51 and Abraham Ibn Ezra in Exodus 23:25, 33:21). This is the basis for how we can understand if Jewish theology allows for a Multiverse.

According to the second approach it is IMPOSSIBLE for there to be a Multiverse. If G-D is "guiding" every aspect of your life, that means no matter which universe you are in, G-D is guiding you on the path He believes is best. The best way to describe this approach is that G-D knows what you are going to do before you do it. G-D knows whether you are going to go left or right. This appears to mean you have no free choice except how much you will fear G-D. I believe this is the Maharal's view throughout his writings, that you really have no free choice. (Obviously, this view existed well before the Maharal because the Ralbag, who lived 400 years before the Maharal, quotes this view.) G-D has already set up your path. You will make so much money your entire life, you will have so many children, you will have such and such a profession and so on. However, you do have the choice as to how much fear of heaven you will have. Will you be an earnest Jew or will you be a faker? This is what, I believe, the Maharal takes away from the Gemara in Brachos 33b "All is in the hands of heaven except fear of heaven." Anyway, back to the topic at hand, this approach leaves no room for a Multiverse since there can only be one path that G-D guides each and every single person down with his individual providence.

This, seemingly, allows us to claim that the third approach, by those outstanding scholars, allows for a Multiverse. However, this is a false claim. Divine providence excludes the second approach of most of the Jewish people from believing in a Multiverse, but that is not the only criteria. According to the Rambam (The Guide 3:20,16-21 are all relevent) G-D's providence only rests on the few that have reached a very high level, but that does not mean He doesn't know what everyone has, is and will be doing. G-D has foreknowledge of everything. This would also seem to exclude the possibility of a Multiverse, because if G-D knows what choice you will make, that means you will not choose anything else, hence no Multiverse.

It seems to me that the Ralbag has the only approach in Jewish theology that allows for a Multiverse (he also believes Abraham ibn Ezra agrees with him). In book four of The Wars of the Lord he discusses that the third approach of divine providence is the correct approach. However, he also states in book three a unique approach to divine knowledge that fits perfectly with the idea of a Multiverse. Ralbag is of the opinion that G-D does not know particular events as particulars, but only in a general sense. I know that sounds complicated and might not have much meaning, so I will explain. I don't want to go into why medieval thinkers needed to find a way that G-D's knowledge of the future never changed, but they believed G-D could acquire no new knowledge since He contains all knowledge that eixsts. Hence, Rambam concluded that G-D knows everything that has, is and will happen. The Ralbag came up with a much more original approach to prevent G-D from ever having to attain new knowledge. Ralbag explains that G-D knows every person's nature and what that nature, if uncontested by man's rationale, would lead him or her to do. Therefore, G-D knows I am going to eat the cheeseburger in the sense that He knows my nature inclines me to eat the cheeseburger. However, in actuality I may have not eaten the cheeseburger. G-D allows nature to run its course without interference, unless the person is extremely righteous and only in certain cases. That is all I want to say about that, it is a complicated subject and requires a separate post to discuss it.

This approach of the Ralbag allows for a Multiverse, because it does not require that G-D know the actual future. G-D knows a person's nature and what he or she may do, but He allows free choice. A person's rationale may override their nature and thereby a Multiverse can be formed from an orthodox Jewish perspective. How? Because, this approach leaves open the possibility that option a or b may happen and G-D does not prevent either from happening. This is only possible in the Ralbag's approach because according to the approach of most of the followers of the Torah, G-D would guide a person on one path and according to the Rambam G-D knows which path you chose.

Therefore, if a Multiverse does exist it seems like only the Ralbag's approach is correct. This would mean all the questions running through your brain about this approach need to be answered. Hopefully, I will get a chance to explain how G-D can give rewards and punishment, how He relates to prophets and so on. I'll let you in on one secret though, prophecy for the Ralbag is basically the same as for the Rambam.

For anyone who tries to call the Ralbag an Apikores or the like, I just want to state that the Ralbag makes sure to explain every one of his views that can be misconstrued as to why it agrees with other great scholars. He almost always shows why the Rambam would agree that his approach is acceptable. With regards to this approach of divine knowledge, the Ralbag quotes the Rambam in The Guide (3:20), "Some thinkers have been inclined to say that G-D's knowledge refers to the species and uniformly encompasses all members of the species. This is the view of any believer in a revealed religion who is guided by the necessity of reason." The Ralbag says that this clearly shows that the Rambam thought this approach was congruent with the view of the Torah. He also quotes the Ibn Ezra (Breishis 18:21) as agreeing with his approach, "The truth is that He knows every particular generally, not as a particular."

I hope you found this post enjoyable and intriguing. 

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