Menachem's Writings

Simulating Reality
"I, at any rate, am convinced that He does not throw dice"

My title, Simulating Reality, is of course a tautology. Simulation is the process by which something real is modelled, allowing us to see how a system performs without the need to actually build a prototype or the final product. For example, assume we are building a bridge, an expensive item no matter where or how small; lots of complex engineering involved. How much weight the bridge must bear, expansion and contraction under varying weather conditions and prevailing winds, and of course how it will stand up during acts of God: lightening, earthquakes, tornadoes or floods.

A scale model of your bridge isn't particularly useful for testing the real life structure. Before the advent of computers, you performed your simulation by way of mathematical equations. You had equations for the bridge's torque, for the wind and for other related factors. You tweaked the variables and you reached conclusions on how best to build.

Most of the worlds bridges were built well before the computer age or before we had any form of calculating machines. All we had in those days were slide rules and logarithmic tables.

Looking around our world, the manual methods seem to have been quite effective. Most major bridges in the world, all still standing, were built many years ago, well before the advent of calculating machines; for example, the Brooklyn Bridge, completed in 1883, the Sydney Harbour Bridge, completed in 1932, the Golden Gate Bridge, completed in 1937, the Bay Bridge, completed in 1936. As far as I know, only the latter was seriously affected by an earthquake. In 1989, a 15 metre section of the upper deck collapsed, crashing into the deck below. The cantilever section of this bridge is being replaced with a parallel structure. The Golden Gate Bridge was once thought to be able to withstand any magnitude of seismic activity, but this position has now been revised as a result of better simulation techniques and the bridge is currently undergoing a retrofit.

I started to program computers in 1971, on a, then state-of-the-art, IBM 360. Amongst the many programming languages we used was a favourite of mine called GPSS. It wasn't quite a language because it lacked a true syntax, none that could fit into the Chomsky hierarchy. It was a fun tool and great for simulating all kinds of queues and problems you could express as queues. (Simula was a full blown Algol programming language with added features for simulations. As a result, it was "the" original object-oriented language, the in term for today's languages; the "objects" were the elements being simulated.)

When you boil this down, the computer provides us an ability to handle many more equations in a myriad of variables, allowing for a far superior result than was imaginable by slide rule engineers.

Computer simulation games arrived on the game scene in the late eighties. Of these, SimCity was the first big hit. It placed you into a virtual environment. You are the mayor of a city which you run for the benefit of your (imaginary) citizens. You choose to be a benevolent dictator or to govern as a tyrant. Whatever you do exists only in the reality of your mind and within your computer. You can have a lot of fun, but the eventuality of long term damage is remote -- except perhaps to your own psyche. You are functioning within a system of virtual reality.

The "people" inside your simulation "see" themselves as real people. They interact with other individuals, animals and other objects in your city, as well as with you, their beloved leader. Whether any one of them is a serf or a prince is in your hands. You have a large degree of control over them. But, as with everything in the world, "things" develop a life of their own; they progress, they advance. Possibly, your creations, your citizens will not perform as you predict nor as you require. They may group together in revolt. Even you may be deposed from your throne; the safety of your sacred position is not guaranteed.

As this world exists only inside your device, and you are its creator, were it to go haywire or you do not like the way things are going, you can reboot your operating system, and you can purge the society from your hard disk.

The program which controls the simulated world is static. The formulae and equations behind its functioning are constant. Though no user has anything different from others on her version of SimCity, no simulation is likely to ever be repeated. The creators of the program, however, should be able to predict what will happen at any point in any specific game. Or has it become too complicated for them to do this and they too can enjoy a game?

Is it possible humanity is a simulation game on the Almighty's computer? Is mankind the product of the fertile mind of the ultimate computer programmer?

While science tells us the universe is 15 billion years old, the Torah relates that creation took a mere six days and that only 6,000 years have elapsed since. 15 billion versus six days -- are these positions reconcilable? I do not want to use a cop-out excuse that the word "day" in the Torah means a period of millions of years. The Torah is explicit in its language, " . . . and it was evening, and it was morning, a day".

One could make a case that the Torah is telling us that God created an "old" world in six days -- fossils and dinosaurs, and all of geology, was formed into Creation. A Midrash teaches that Adam was created a mature adult, "as if he was thirty years old", trees were produced already bearing fruit, grass blew in the breeze on its first day. We could similarly postulate the earth too was created as if it were 15 billion years old when in fact it was but six days old. Buried fossils are part and parcel of the mature earth.

Such a position is feasible, but extremely unsatisfying. It makes far more sense to declare that the universe operates exclusively according to the laws of physics. As such, to realise the universe as we know it today, 15 billion years need to have elapsed from the initial Big Bang. There are no shortcuts in physics.

Einstein's Law of Relativity teaches us that all motion is relative to the observer. For example, you are seated on a stationary train. You notice a woman across from you, on a another train along side of you. You don't hear anything as your carriage is soundproof. The neighbouring train slowly rolls backwards. Or is it you slowly edging forward? Hard to tell, right? You view the adjacent train reversing, but your neighbour sees you moving forward. Only a man sitting on the platform can differentiate which of you, or perhaps it's both of you, is moving. You observe him and his bench, moving backwards too.

A corollary of Relativity is the twin paradox. One twin journeys into space in a high-speed rocket. On her return home, the astronaut finds she has aged far less than her identical twin who remained on earth.

The disparity between physics and the six days of creation is a variation of the the twin paradox. God created the universe with a "Big Bang". Massive amounts of energy exploded at a single small point in Space. Part of it immediately converted into matter based on Einstein's E=mc2 which formulates the relation between mass and energy. The remaining energy pushed this matter outwards, at close to the speed of light. This expansion continues to this day.

I won't bore you with the mathematics here, but, let's assume two clocks were in existence at the moment of creation, one at the centre and the second at the expanding edge, moving rapidly outwards. When the external, moving clock indicates an elapse of 144 hours [six earth days], the central clock has already advanced 15 billion years.

Not only clock times are predictable by the laws of physics. Everything is predictable. Since a split second after the Big Bang, the universe continues, governed by the laws of physics only. Someone with access to all the equations could predict any event at any time at any place anywhere in the universe.

We [still] do not have all of the equations, nor are we [yet] able to handle them all at once -- we lack the computer power. Einstein's work keeps proving to be more true and applicable to our universe as time goes by. Einstein, Stephen Hawkings and others search for the Grand Unified Theory, a theory to "unify quantum mechanics with Einstein's general theory of relativity, forming a single theory to explain the origin and end of the universe".

I do not wish to enter here into the evolution versus creative design controversy (it may be an interesting future topic). The laws of physics are a form of intelligence, perhaps the ultimate form. Anything that occurs in the universe is predictable. Everything is predictable: a blade of grass swaying somewhere in a breeze, a cheetah catching a gnu for breakfast, an earthquake caused by tectonic plates movements, and the formation of a black hole somewhere far away in the universe. This includes the development of life, wherever in the universe. It happens according to the the same laws, represented by the same equations.

Is it possible, in a different universe, that another physics may exist? I don't know, but I assume it is possible. But, driving the point home, in our universe, physics is immutable.

My conjecture that everything is predictable by the laws of physics, going back to the moment of the Big Bang, implies we lack no free choice. We are automata to the laws of nature and thus to the Creator, and, given enough computational resources, everything about us is predictable, calculatable, including our interactions.

A complimentary question is, "When did mankind's time-frame move from the clock at the edge of the universe to a clock on earth?"

The answer is at the time God put a soul into man. Adam was not the first humanoid. We have found Java Man, Peking Man and other specimen. What differentiates Adam is that he was the first person who had control of his environment, viz he was able to modify his destiny, he was no longer totally tied to the physics.

Unlike all previous creations, which worked according to the predetermined rules, thus their actions were predictable at every moment since creation, a man with a soul possessed free will. He did not always act by natural instinct like all other creatures. Anywhere in the universe man has not trodden, continues to function purely by the physical laws.

This presents an interesting set of possibilities. We now have, starting a mere six thousand years ago, an interaction between predictable events and those over which we have the ability to modify. The question needs to be asked: how does one type of event affect the other?

We know that God acts in this world via history. We know this specifically from the events leading up to the exodus from Egypt. God performs a series of miracles, many of which directly affected Pharoh's decision-making. On a number of occasions during the year of plagues, Pharoh appears to acquiesce to Moses's request to "Let my people go". God "hardens his heart" and he relents, only to enter the ring for another round with the Creator. This is gross interference by God in the natural events of history.

We see it, though less directly, in the words of the prophets. God, via His prophets, warns the people of Israel and Judea that if they do not follow His commandments in the Torah, they will be removed from their Land, as they were only granted entry into the Land based on their agreement to keep the commandments. It is clear that history is manipulated to achieve the stated goal. The Jews don't just get up and leave. An army forces them out. They are returned in response to a political decision by the Persian emperor. Things Daniel tells Nebuchadnezzar most certainly influence his next moves.

How does the preordained, by the laws of physics, interact with the variability caused by Man? A mishna in tractate Avoth teaches that ten (though it turns out to be a few more) things were created in the last second of the six days of creation. Amongst these we find the "mouth of the donkey" and the "mouth of the earth". The mouth of the donkey refers to Bilaam's she-ass which argues with him. Is the mishna telling us that this specific donkey was "precreated", ready for use when needed, or that the laws of physics were the creative process producing a speaking donkey; and that at exactly the time Bilaam was travelling to curse the Children of Israel, he would be in possession of the world's only speaking ass prototype?

The mouth of the earth is perhaps more poignant. Could the physics of the universe include a tectonic plate movement in the great rift valley, timed to occur just at the time Moses challenged Korach? Or was Korach's action the result of a predetermined chain of events? The latter would rule out free choice on Korach's behalf.

We are informed in the Bible that the final redemption will come "in its time, suddenly". There appears to be a inbuilt contradiction in this prophetic statement. In order to explain this contradiction, many commentators have speculated it to have a double meaning: if the Jews repent, the End will come suddenly and immediately in response to their good deeds, prior to the appointed time. But even if they do not repent, and even if they are very evil, redemption will still arrive at the predetermined time -- they will be no delay.

This may be a "nice" interpretation, but it is certainly not the simple, plain meaning of the text. The commentators provide an incentive for the Jews to observe the commandments and they also offer potential reward.

But we are told to always explain the simple meaning, pshat before venturing into the esoteric meanings.

The prophet is telling us that the time of our redemption is fixed, but we should not fear, for when the time does come, it will occur over a short time, relatively quickly.

Rabbi Yochanan did not wish to live during the final redemption, but the prophets, while certainly not implying an easy time, provide us with enough information to know that the End, as horrific as it may appear during the final run-up, is assured. And this message is important to remember.

Why must we understand prophesy in this way? Because the End will be cataclysmic, of that there is no doubt.

Let's look at some of the prophesies:

We are presented with visions of a day which will be as dark as the night, only just before sunset will the sun emerge into view. An earthquake so powerful that it splits the Mount of Olives into two, causing a headwater to flow from the newly created valley. This headwater splits into two, half forming a river flowing to the east, into the Dead Sea, and a second a stream flowing to the west, discharging into the Mediterranean. Unlike our current sole dependency on rain for water supply, a situation existing since biblical times, our water problems will immediately vanish -- these rivers will flow all year long.

And what happens to the armies gathered against Yerushalayim, the foreign [NATO] troops who are on our soil? They, and the populations with their countries will perish in large numbers. Their eyes will melt in their sockets. We will spend months burying their dead.

I once thought that the catastrophic events described in parallel prophesies describe events triggered by a nuclear blast in our region, a possibility increasing by the day with the Iranian reactor threat.

But the prophets envisage these events heralding a new peace in the world, in which Israel will no longer be persecuted by the nations, in which the [remaining] peoples will recognise the supreme authority and join us in the Temple in Jerusalem each year for the festival of Tabernacles. This tranquility is incongruous with the lasting radiation and longterm disease following the explosion of man-made atom bombs.

I do not, nor cannot know exactly what events will trigger the realisation of these calamitous prophesies. The Maimonides warns that calculating the End is a frivolous pursuit. Referring to the prophesies, he cautions us that no-one will know to exactly which incidents they refer until after the events have transpired, as their words may be understood in many ways.

All that said, I am prepared to stick out my neck, not because I am wiser than the Rambam -- I am not, I do not claim to even reach his ankles. However I have the advantage of being right in the middle of the events described. Like Rabi Akiva at the end of Makkoth, who, on reaching Mount Scopus, probably for the first time in decades, looking down onto the destroyed Temple complex, across the Kidron Valley and one hundred and twenty metres below, laughed while his two companions wept. When asked how he could laugh on seeing such unrestrained destruction, he answers that he had had some doubts regarding the fulfillment of the words of the prophets, until this moment, until viewing this sight [site]. The destruction in front of them was prophetically predicted. If so, he told his comrades, he now also firmly believes their prophetic words regarding redemption, though I would hazard a guess, he did not expect another 1,900 years to pass until their fruition.

I too am seeing prophesy in its implementation. The venom of the governments around the world increases daily. The ruling classes trample the desires of the common people. They are aligned in a coalition against Jerusalem. Even "Yehuda will make war against Yerushalayim". Our greatest enemies are our own, Jews within Israel and without, as well as court Jews striving to divide Jerusalem and worse.

I see the foreign forces on their way. I see a United Nations resolution demanding Israel leave so-called East Jerusalem, including all the Jewish suburbs. No American veto. Foreign troops sent to enforce the resolution, and to protect the poor Palestinians from the Jewish Goliath. I read the identical words the Ramban read in the Prophets, but I also hear the these venomous words from the media, Israeli and international. When I hear today's politicians, theirs and ours, I hear Isiah, Zachariyah and Ezekiel too.

So if not a nuclear blast, how will it all end, how will the anti-Semites disguised as "only" anti-Zionists, be brought down?

It will be natural. It will be something that was preordained by physics in the first seconds of the Creation of our universe, something that, had our scientists a powerful enough computer and a unified theory, would already observe today. Mankind will have made the free choices along the way to be in the situation where these natural events will cause them the "required" damage.

One possibility is that the earth will pass through a shower of some sort of meteoroid, asteroid or other floating space debris, rocks and ice balls which are still too small for us detect at this early stage, but which can cause great damage if they strike, our planet, especially in the "wrong" localities. The scary things is, given our current astronomy knowledge, we will in all likelihood see the oncoming scourge, but how long prior to the strike? How accurately will we be able to calculate which locations will be hit?

There are other physical possibilities. Independently or in tandem, but all "natural". A number of volcanoes could explode within a short period of time, each compounding the atmospheric conditions. Earthquakes (other than that of Zechariyah). Tidal waves (though I'm not sure how this would cause darkness).

God's eyes are on this Land from the beginning of the year until the end of the year. The Jews in Israel are offered unique protection, a promise of living in the redeemed world during the messianic age.

But please my dear readers outside Israel, please do not assume you can run here at the drop of a hat when the predetermined time arrives. Today it is still easy to come home. We all saw the chaos caused to European air traffic after the recent volcanic events in Iceland. We should have learnt from this that our sophisticated transportation system is far from assured.

I know you will continue on with your lives after reading this essay. I know that life is great wherever you are. My only hope is that perhaps I have provoked you to think, just a little, and that when signs of the cataclysmic events become clearer, you may remember my words and you may eventually arrive home safely.

Menachem Kuchar, 1st June, 2010

Based on the many subsequent comments we received pertaining to this article, in addition to the ensuing discussions, I expand on my initial thoughts and present other scenarios to the End of Days as prophesied in the Bible.

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