Tuesday, February 13, 2018


#1 Aztec "national revelation"

There is another type of story that would not leave evidence for the audience to whom the story is told. This is a story placed so far in the past that no information survives from that time. In this case the story may involve public events. Even if the story describes an event that was supposedly experienced by the whole world, the audience cannot reason that its memory would have been preserved, since nothing at all was preserved from that time. So, for example, stories about a remote time when all people understood the language of the animals and conversed with them will not contradict KP. [See p. 154 of Reason to Believe.]

The Aztec story is not dated in our calendar system, so it fits what I wrote. Also, I checked the original. The migration is in fact true. 

I have received the following sources from David Greenberg that invalidate the entire question:

I found something on the Aztecs:

It seems the Aztec legend is NOT that the god spoke to everyone in a national revelation, but rather that the war god communicated to the priests, who then relayed the message on. Not quite a national revelation. Here are 3 sources:

See pg. 31-32: "Huitzilopochtli, later identified as a god of war, communicated directly with his high priests via dreams and profound trances, bestowing on them omens, prophecies and navigational tools to arrive at their promised land."

2- "These priests voiced Huitzilopochtli’s oracular directions as to where the combined Mexica-Aztec tribe was next to travel."

3- "Huitziton, a person of great authority...heard in the branches of a tree the trilling of a small bird...struck at this, and communicating his impressions to another personage...they both induced the Aztecs to leave their country, interpreting the song as a mandate from divinity."

See pg. 140

So it looks that the Aztec belief was that their war god did not communicate to the people, but rather to the high priests, who then relayed the claimed divine message on to the masses. But according to these sources, the Aztecs did not have a legend that it was the god Huitzilopochtli who spoke directly to everybody. So we can see this is definitely not a national revelation from god, but rather a relayed message from priests. This, unlike a national revelatory claim, is exactly what we’d expect to see in legends.

Added July 3, 2017;
There are three weaknesses in the account of the Aztec “national revelation” as a counter-example to KP – i.e. as a false NET.
1.       First, the translation presented is from A Scattering of Jades published in 2003 by The University of Arizona Press, pp 82-100. It is not mentioned at all in Handbook to Life in the Aztec World Oxford University Press; 1 edition (October 3, 2007) by Prof. Manuel Aguilar –published four years later by Oxford. I have written to Prof. Aguilar concerning the authenticity of the Jades text and the validity of the translation and have not yet received a reply. So at present the entire text is in question. And as David Greenberg pointed out there is nothing resembling a direct communication of a god with the Aztec people in Aguilar’s text.
2.     Second, in order to satisfy the condition of NET that requires the tradition record an event that would be expected to be remembered – to create a national tradition – at the time when the tradition started. This requires [at least] two characteristics of the tradition.  
a.    The tradition must specify an appropriate time for the event. If the tradition assigns the event to a date too far in the past, or the tradition assigns an unknown/uninterpreted date to the event, or fails to assign any date to the event then at the time the tradition is formed no one will expect to remember what happened at that time, and then the tradition is not an NET at all. In the Jades document the dates are given as compounds: In section VI "2-rabbit 1286" "11-reed 1295" and at the end "2-house 1325". I asked Prof. Aguilar what is the source of the modern dates 1286, 1295 and 1325? Did the author of the text [in the 16th century] have a modern calendar going back 200 years? Did the translator or the editors insert the modern numbers of the dates? How did they calculate the dates? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aztec_calendar is the Wikipedia page on the Aztec calendar. The phrases “2-rabbit” “11-reed” and “2-house” are days of the year; there is no provision whatsoever for counting years themselves – certainly not modern Christian numbers.
b.    Also, the content of the story must be such that we expect it to create a national tradition. A comparison of the Aztec text with the Torah’s description of the Jewish national revelation reveals a vast difference in this regard: the Torah’s story would surely be remembered while the Aztec story would not surely be remembered – perhaps would not be remembered at all. The Torah’s story included the following elements:  A prediction of the revelation before the exodus from Egypt; detailed instructions to prepare for the event, and positions to be taken during the event; the event of revelation is accompanied by vast pyrotechnics – fire, smoke, cloud, earth shaking, sound of the shofar; the reaction of the people is panic; the revelation includes the commandment of a weekly holiday; the plea of the people that there not be a repeat; repetition of the story in detail in Deuteronomy and at least five separate mentions of the story in the text of the Torah; and a specific command not to forget the event. By contrast the Aztec story reports the god speaking to the people in completely natural terms without any reaction on the part of the people or change in their culture. Indeed, the completely unemphasized nature of the narrative encourages David Greenberg’s suggestion that the sense of the text is not a direct communication from the god to the people but rather communication through the priests though the intermediaries are not mentioned. Calling these communications “Aztec national revelation” and encouraging comparison with Sinai is grossly out of proportion. The same holds for the miracles reported in the Aztec text – the contrast with the plagues in Egypt, the splitting of the sea, the manna, the destruction of Korach makes comparison grossly out of proportion.

Added July 17, 2017


The Aztec and related peoples of central Mexico employed the cycle of 52 years, constructed, like its Maya equivalent, of concurrent 365-day years and 260-day cycles, any position of the former coinciding with a given position of the latter only at 52-year intervals. Again leap days were not used. At completion of the 52 years, known as “binding of the years,” elaborate ceremonies were held to avert destruction of the world expected on that occasion. The last occurrence before the Spanish conquest was in ad 1507. Although the last creation of the world was designated by a day name, neither that nor any other was in general use in central Mexico as the start of an era. Aztec reckoning is normally from their arrival in the Valley of Mexico, supposedly the year 1 Flint (ad 1168).
There is much confusion in placing events in Mexican history because no system of distinguishing one 52-year cycle from another was employed except by writing every year glyph throughout the period covered, a clumsy arrangement. Each year was named for either its last day (omitting the five-day unlucky period) or for the last day of the fifth month (both choices have distinguished supporters). In either case, only four day names (House, Rabbit, Cane, and Flint), each with its accompanying numeral, could designate a year. The Spanish conqueror Hernán Cortés seized the Aztec capital in 1521, year 3 House, but some past event, also assigned to a year 3 House but unlocated in a full sequence of years, might refer to ad 1261, 1313, or 1365, etc. Month positions were rarely given in chronological statements.
Peoples of Oaxaca and the Isthmus of Tehuantepec
Pictorial books of the Mixtec of Oaxaca record events in the lives of ruling families covering seven centuries, but, again, happenings are fixed only by the day on which each occurred and the year in which the day fell. Sequence is usually clear, but at times there is doubt as to which 52-year period is meant when parenthetical material, such as life histories of secondary characters, is inserted.
No era is recognizable. A clouded entry concerning the descent to Earth of the Sun and Venus, perhaps assignable to ad 794, is a logical starting point, but other entries are earlier.
Little is known of the calendar of the Zapotec, neighbours of the Mixtec. Years began on a different set of days, and glyphs differ from those of Mixtec and Aztec. Months are not recorded on monuments, which are numerous, and no chronological system has survived. Most Zapotec texts are early.
Rare inscriptions in western Chiapas, southern Veracruz, and the Guatemalan Pacific coast resemble the abbreviated lowland Maya Initial Series used in script and on a single sculpture in that numerical bars and dots are in a vertical column with period glyphs and month signs suppressed, clearly place numeration, that is, the value of each unit was shown by its position in the column. The linguistic affiliation of their sculptors is unknown.
All texts are either fragmentary or damaged; the two complete ones, unlike Maya Initial Series, open with days signs (and different ones at that). If, as one may reasonably assume, the series of bars and dots departed from those day signs, a fixed era is questionable. Nevertheless, some scholars postulate use of the Maya era ( 4 Ahau 8 Cumku). This little understood system may have been ancestral to the Maya Initial Series, the Maya perhaps developing a fixed era, for they alone seem to have been interested in an exact chronological system.

Added July 30, 2017:
A friend writes: It's worth mentioning that I searched a bit on youtube, and the only documentary on the Aztecs that I found which was done by an organization with name recognition was National Geographic. Professor Aguilar-Moreno is actually one of the experts that speaks during the documentary. The documentary makes no mention of the document allegedly authored by Montezuma's grandson, and it makes no mention of any Aztec myths about a national revelation or miracles. It simply says that after they made a human sacrifice out of the daughter of a nearby tribe leader on her wedding day to an Aztec, they were chased by the other tribe away from the mainland and onto the uninhabited island that they settled and made into the capital of their eventual empire. No mention of any fighting or casualties even, just chased away from the mainland. So that further strengthens points 1 and 3 that you make.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018


Kings II - the found sefer

Kings 2, chapters 22-3
The discovery of a sefer in the Temple and the resulting reform eliminating the widespread avoda zara [idol worship] in Israel has prompted some to think that during the period of avoda zara there must have been a complete loss of the original tradition. The newly found sefer must be introducing a new ideology/religion. Some think that this is the origin of sefer Devarim [Deuteronomy]. And then they conclude that since at least in this case the old tradition was completely lost, we have no reason to think that our tradition, which goes back certainly no farther than this incident, represents a tradition from Moses.  Indeed, they say, if the tradition was forgotten on this occasion, it may have been forgotten on other occasions as well.
We should note that the suggestion that the found sefer is the book of Devarim is directly contradicted by earlier references. Namely:
Kings II 14: 1- 6
     Amatz-yah of Yehuda, son of Yoash, became king in the second year of King Yoash.  He did what was pleasing to G-d, but not like his ancestor David....  After consolidating his hold on the kingdom, he put the servants who had assassinated his father, the king, to death.   However, he did not put their children to death, as written in the Book of Moshe's Torah, where G-d commanded: "Fathers shall not be put to death for their children, and children shall not be put to death for their fathers.  Rather, every man shall be put to death for his own sins."
[Deuteronomy  24:16
     Fathers shall not be put to death for their children, and children shall not be put to death for their fathers.  Rather, every man shall be put to death for his own sins.]
So chapter 14 makes a clear reference to Devarim.
In addition:
Kings II Chapter 17:10.
     And they set up for themselves pillars and Asherim in every high hill, and under every green tree; 12. For they served idols, about which the Lord had said to them, you shall not do this thing.13. Then the Lord warned Israel, and Judah, by all the prophets, and by all the seers, saying, Turn from your evil ways, and keep my commandments and my statutes, according to all the Torah which I commanded your fathers, and which I sent to you by my servants the prophets….16. And they left all the commandments of the Lord their God, and made them molten images, two calves, and made an Ashera, and worshipped all the host of heaven, and served Baal. 
Kings II Chapter 18:1.
     And it came to pass in the third year of Hoshea son of Elah king of Israel, that Hezekiah the son of Ahaz king of Judah began to reign.  2. Twenty five years old was he when he began to reign; and he reigned twenty nine years in Jerusalem. His mother's name was Abi, the daughter of Zechariah.  3. And he did that which was right in the sight of the Lord, according to all that David his father did.  4. He removed the high places, and broke the images, and cut down the Ashera, and broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made, for in those days the people of Israel burned incense to it; and he called it Nehushtan.
[Deuteronomy 16:21.
     You shall not plant you an Ashera of any tree near the altar of the Lord your God, which you shall make.]
So the destruction of the ashera took place before chap 22, even though the only prohibition of ashera is in the book of Devarim.
[These references are due to Rabbi Yehuda Albin.]
Below there is a summary of certain details of the text of chapters 22-3 showing that the idea of discontinuity in the tradition has no more substance that the emperor's new clothes.
Chap 22
3ff - the sofer is sent to check on the money; he is given the sefer and reads it; he reports to the king on the money and then reads the sefer to the king.
4 - the king calls the house "beis Hashem"
So even the king, who participates in idol worship, refers to the Temple as the house of Hashem, using G-d's proper name from the tradition.]
8 - the finder of the sefer is "kohen gadol" [a title from the tradition] and he calls the sefer "sefer haTorah" ["The book of [the] Torah" - Malbim points out the the "ha" means "THE sefer Torah" which means the known, unique one, so the title and the concept were certainly not forgotten. He suggests that this refers to the Torah written by Moses. That would explain why it made such an impact. [See below.] But even if one does not accept that is was the sefer written by Moses, it still means that the concept of a special sefer Torah was well known.]
10 - Shafan says he received a sefer
11 - when the king heard the words of sefer haTorah....[The king too identified it as the special sefer Torah, even though it was not identified that way to the king.]
13 - "this found sefer"
[Presumably they could tell the age of a sefer by the condition of the parchment so they could see that it was really an old sefer. Is it possible that it was a forgery on specially prepared old parchment, or that they had a way of counterfeiting old parchment? Yes, it is possible. But possibilities play no role in a serious investigation. We would need positive evidence of forgery before we could consider mere possibilities of possessing or counterfeiting old parchment.]
14 - Chulda hanevia is a true prophet of Hashem and is a resident of Yerushalayim and known to the king's advisors [So the population of the capitol was not only adherents of avoda zara.]
chap 23
1ff - the king gathers all people of Yehuda and all the inhabitants of Yerushalayim and reads the "book of the covenant" to them.
3 - they make a covenant to perform all the commandments in the sefer. [if the tradition were really forgotten - if this sefer is a forgery with new content - then this would be an unknown old book with unknown ideas - why should they agree to follow it? And see next comment.]
4ff - they destroy all elements of avoda zara.
[Note: there is no local catastrophe to motivate this wholesale religious revolution - no attack by enemies, famine, pestilence, etc. - why do they take it so seriously?]
9 - the only kohanim [priests] allowed to serve the alter are those who ate matzos among their brethren. [So there was a group of kohanim publicly identified as loyal to the old tradition.]
21 - the king commands to make Pesach as is written in "this sefer habris" [book of [the] covenant] [So it could not be sefer Devarim – the detailed instructions for Pesach are in Exodus and Leviticus. The only new element in Devarim is restriction to the place shosen by hashem. But since the verse here says that the Pesach was kept in the time of the Judges, and that pre-dates the choice of Jerusalem, it cannot be that new element that the text here is referring to. And see next comment.]
22ff - no Pesach like this was made since the shoftim [Judges]. [Malbim: No explanation is given of what made this Pesach so unique, unless verse 24, which means that this Pesach was accompanied by the uprooting of avoda zara, unlike the Pesachim of previous years, in which case this is an allusion to the link between Pesach and the elimination of avoda zara which is reasonably explicit in the story of the exodus in Exodus - which means again that the found sefer cannot be Devarim.]

If the idea of discontinuity is utterly inconsistent with the text, what is the correct understanding?
(1) The practice of avoda zara did not mean abandoning the old tradition, it meant adding to it. This is called syncretism. The Temple is still Hashem's house, but other gods are worshipped there as well. Indeed, one form of false prophecy is when a prophet says that Hashem wants us to worship other gods in addition of Himself! And we have at least one explicit reference to syncretism in 1 Kings 18:21 where Elija tells the people: "How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Hashem is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him." Elija’s critique of the people is precisely that they were practicing syncretism.
(2) In addition, the population was mixed: some accepted the new syncretism and some did not.  So there never was a complete discontinuity with the original tradition.
(3) It remains to explain why the king was part of the idol worship of the times. He was eight years old when he became king. His father was a leader in the idol worship. Even though he knew of Hashem and the original tradition [as did the vast majority of the population, if not all of them], he regarded the syncretism as natural, and perhaps even not in contradiction to that tradition. Hearing the contents of the sefer, and knowing that it is the unique, genuine sefer Torah [perhaps even going back to Moses], made its absolute prohibitions against idol worship, and the curses resulting from idol worship, impossible to ignore.

Hello Rabbi! How is everything? I really hope everything is going well with you and your family. I am emailing you regarding a few questions that have come up.

The Kuzari principle has probably been the strongest intellectual reason for me to believe anything the Torah says, but I have been revisiting it. I have also been reading up on the many kashas that are brought against it. I was wondering if you could elaborate on a few points I have found that seem to seriously challenge the principle, especially since I am heading back to America for the first time since I have become religious, and I think I’ll really need an intellectual approach to fall back on when things get difficult. Here [is a] few question:

1. The statement in Nechamia 8:14 And they found written in the law which the LORD had commanded by Moses, that the children of Israel should dwell in booths in the feast of the seventh month:

2. The statement in Nechamia: 8:17 And all the congregation of them that were come again out of the captivity made booths, and sat under the booths:for since the days of Jeshua the son of Nun unto that day had not the children of Israel done so. And there was very great gladness.

Do these statements not suggest a lack of awareness of the tradition of the exodus, plus an enormous power the rabbis had enabling them to institute such laws, that might have not come from Sinai? Wouldn’t this make the faith on my part have to rely on a much smaller number of people, the rabbis, instead of an entire nation’s claim?

Have an amazing week Rabbi!


Below I try to answer your question. It has been posed to me many times over the years, but your letter prompted me to analyze it in detail. As usual, the problem stems from reading without sufficient care and scholarship. I would be interested in hearing from you how the answer strikes you.

In context, those verses read:

8:14 And they found written in the law which the LORD had commanded by Moses, that the children of Israel should dwell in booths in the feast of the seventh month: 8:15 And that they should publish and proclaim in all their cities, and in Jerusalem, saying, Go forth unto the mount, and fetch olive branches, and pine branches, and myrtle branches, and palm branches, and branches of thick trees, to make booths, as it is written.
8:16 So the people went forth, and brought them, and made themselves booths, every one upon the roof of his house, and in their courts, and in the courts of the house of God, and in the street of the water gate, and in the street of the gate of Ephraim.
8:17 And all the congregation of them that were come again out of the captivity made booths, and sat under the booths: for since the days of Joshua the son of Nun unto that day had not the children of Israel done so. And there was very great gladness.

I suggest that the word “so” refers to the passages above in bold - it refers to the universality of performance, not the mere fact that it was performed. If that is even a possibly correct understanding, then there is no reason to say the text implies that the institution was forgotten.

Furthermore, the phraseology “since the days of ...” is found earlier, in the book of Kings:

2 Kings Chapter 23
1 And the king sent, and they gathered unto him all the elders of Judah and of Jerusalem. 2 And the king went up to the house of the LORD, and all the men of Judah and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem with him, and the priests, and the prophets, and all the people, both small and great; and he read in their ears all the words of the book of the covenant which was found in the house of the LORD. 3 And the king stood on the platform, and made a covenant before the LORD, to walk after the LORD, and to keep His commandments, and His testimonies, and His statutes, with all his heart, and all his soul, to confirm the words of this covenant that were written in this book; and all the people stood to the covenant. 4 And the king commanded Hilkiah the high priest, and the priests of the second order, and the keepers of the door, to bring forth out of the temple of the LORD all the vessels that were made for Baal, and for the Asherah, and for all the host of heaven; and he burned them without Jerusalem in the fields of Kidron, and carried the ashes of them unto Beth-el. 5 And he put down the idolatrous priests, whom the kings of Judah had ordained to offer in the high places in the cities of Judah, and in the places round about Jerusalem; them also that offered unto Baal, to the sun, and to the moon, and to the constellations, and to all the host of heaven. 6 And he brought out the Asherah from the house of the LORD, without Jerusalem, unto the brook Kidron, and burned it at the brook Kidron, and stamped it small to powder, and cast the powder thereof upon the graves of the common people. 7 And he broke down the houses of the sodomites, that were in the house of the LORD, where the women wove coverings for the Asherah. 8 And he brought all the priests out of the cities of Judah, and defiled the high places where the priests had made offerings, from Geba to Beer-sheba; and he broke down the high places of the gates that were at the entrance of the gate of Joshua the governor of the city, which were on a man’s left hand as he entered the gate of the city. 9 Nevertheless the priests of the high places came not up to the altar of the LORD in Jerusalem, but they did eat unleavened bread among their brethren. 10 And he defiled Topheth, which is in the valley of the son of Hinnom, that no man might make his son or his daughter to pass through the fire to Molech. 11 And he took away the horses that the kings of Judah had given to the sun, at the entrance of the house of the LORD, by the chamber of Nethan-melech the officer, which was in the precincts; and he burned the chariots of the sun with fire. 12 And the altars that were on the roof of the upper chamber of Ahaz, which the kings of Judah had made, and the altars which Manasseh had made in the two courts of the house of the LORD, did the king break down, and beat them down from thence, and cast the dust of them into the brook Kidron. 13 And the high places that were before Jerusalem, which were on the right hand of the mount of corruption, which Solomon the king of Israel had builded for Ashtoreth the detestation of the Zidonians, and for Chemosh the detestation of Moab, and for Milcom the abomination of the children of Ammon, did the king defile. 14 And he broke in pieces the pillars, and cut down the Asherim, and filled their places with the bones of men. 15 Moreover the altar that was at Beth-el, and the high place which Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin, had made, even that altar and the high place he broke down; and he burned the high place and stamped it small to powder, and burned the Asherah. 16 And as Josiah turned himself, he spied the sepulchres that were there in the mount; and he sent, and took the bones out of the sepulchres, and burned them upon the altar, and defiled it, according to the word of the LORD which the man of God proclaimed, who proclaimed these things. 17 Then he said: ‘What monument is that which I see?’ And the men of the city told him: ‘It is the sepulchre of the man of God, who came from Judah, and proclaimed these things that thou hast done against the altar of Beth-el.’ 18 And he said: ‘Let him be; let no man move his bones.’ So they let his bones alone, with the bones of the prophet that came out of Samaria. 19 And all the houses also of the high places that were in the cities of Samaria, which the kings of Israel had made to provoke [the LORD], Josiah took away, and did to them according to all the acts that he had done in Beth-el. 20 And he slew all the priests of the high places that were there, upon the altars, and burned men’s bones upon them; and he returned to Jerusalem. 21 And the king commanded all the people, saying: ‘Keep the passover unto the LORD your God, as it is written in this book of the covenant.’ 22 For there was not kept such a passover from the days of the judges that judged Israel, nor in all the days of the kings of Israel, nor of the kings of Judah; 23 but in the eighteenth year of king Josiah was this passover kept to the LORD in Jerusalem. 24 Moreover them that divined by a ghost or a familiar spirit, and the teraphim, and the idols, and all the detestable things that were spied in the land of Judah and in Jerusalem, did Josiah put away, that he might confirm the words of the law which were written in the book that Hilkiah the priest found in the house of the LORD. 25 And like unto him was there no king before him, that turned to the LORD with all his heart, and with all his soul, and with all his might, according to all the law of Moses; neither after him arose there any like him.

And here too only a limited comparison is meant – look at the words in bold. That is: the text does not say “there was no other Passover at all” but only “there was no other Passover like this one”. [The explanation may be, as the Malbim writes, that the destruction of idol worship accompanying the Pesach was unlike the previous generations - that is what v. 24 is explaining.] So too, in Nechemiah, only a limited comparison is meant.

Furthermore, Yeravam pretty clearly moves Succos from the seventh month to the eighth:
1 Kings Chapter 12

32 And Jeroboam ordained a feast in the eighth month, on the fifteenth day of the month, like unto the feast that is in Judah,

which means that at least at his time Succos was celebrated.

It remains only to explain the words And they found written in the law which the LORD had commanded by Moses - it sounds as if these words [and their content] are newly discovered. But let us compare that phrase with the similar phrase in the book of Esther:

Esther - Chapter 6

Chapter 6
1. On that night, the king’s sleep was disturbed, and he ordered to bring the book of the records, the chronicles, and they were read before the king.
2. And it was found written that Mordecai had reported about Bigthana and Teresh, two chamberlains of the king, of the guards of the threshold, who had sought to lay a hand on King Ahasuerus.
3. And the king said, “What honor and greatness was done to Mordecai on that account?” And the king’s servants who minister before him said, “Nothing was done for him.”

Now since Mordechai’s report took place only four years before, this could not be the discovery of an unknown event. It seems that it was unexpected that it should be found now. Similarly in Nechemiah, “found” should mean “found unexpectedly in this context’, not “found when utterly unknown”.

Furthermore, it is very unclear exactly what they were reading when the text of Succos [which must be Vayikra 23 since that is the only place where the Torah prescribes living in booths]. How did they get to that passage on the second day of Rosh Hashanna? [And what did they read on the first day - for half the day?] [And notice that it is the people who initiate the reading - they ask for the scroll to be brought and read.] So I do not understand the reading at all [nor does the critic understand it], and within that event I do not fully understand the “finding” of Succos. But a passage we do not understand does not provide a proof of anything.

Finally, I have trouble understanding the critic’s reading of the event. So the rabbis of the time invented Succos on the spot? But then what could it mean to say that there never was a performance of that holiday over the last 1200 years? That in the generation immediately following Moses the entire people stopped keeping the mitzva? That would be impossible to prove to their audience, and impossible to explain to them. And the prophets, who inveighed against all sorts of infractions, never mentioned it? It is a very peculiar reading of the event, I think.

“Do these statements not suggest a lack of awareness of the tradition of the exodus, plus an enormous power the rabbis had enabling them to institute such laws, that might have not come from Sinai? Wouldn’t this make the faith on my part have to rely on a much smaller number of people, the rabbis, instead of an entire nation’s claim? “
I hope you can see from the above that this conclusion does not follow.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Scientific mysteries – the next time someone tells you science has everything under
 control, send him here
Top 10 scientific mysteries for the 21st century
Solving the toughest problems posed by nature is not just fun and games
8:00AM, JANUARY 28, 2015
The last few centuries have been pretty good for science. In the 17th century, Isaac Newton solved the ancient controversy over the nature of forces and motion with his three laws. In the 18th, Ben Franklin figured out a lot about electricity. In the 19th, Darwin explained the diversity of species, Maxwell revealed the physics of light, Mendeleyev defined the families of chemical elements. In the 20th we had Einstein, who figured out all sorts of stuff, including gravity. No to mention Watson and Crick, who deciphered the molecular foundation for genetics and life. What more do you want?
Well, there are still lots of mysteries left for the 21st century to solve, and it has only 86 years left in which to solve them. So it’s a good idea to put them in a list, just to avoid any danger that everybody will forget to work on them.
Actually there are many more than 10, so this list will have to be restricted to my favorites. To select from all the many possibilities, let’s make a game of it.
10. How did life originate?
It doesn’t seem like this one should be so hard, but it continues to defy solution. There’s plenty of speculation, often related to RNA’s ability to act both as catalyst and bio–hard drive to store information. And new findings turn up all the time about how life’s basic building blocks could have been generated in primordial conditions or delivered to Earth from space. I think this question will end up having something to do with game theory, as biomolecules interact in competitive ways that could be described as strategies, and the math for calculating optimal strategies is what game theory is all about.
9. What is the identity of the dark matter?
It has been eight decades or so since astronomers began to notice that there is more gravity pulling stuff around out in space than there is visible matter able to produce such effects. Attempts to detect the supposedly exotic (as in, unknown) species of subatomic particle responsible for the extra gravity have been frustrating. Hints seen in some experiments have been ruled out by other experiments. I think there’s a missing piece to this puzzle, but it probably has nothing to do with game theory.
8. What is the nature of the dark energy that drives cosmic acceleration?
If you think dark matter is frustrating, try explaining dark energy. Something is driving space to expand at an ever increasing rate. Physicists think that they know what it is — the never-changing density of energy residing throughout all of space, referred to by Einstein as the “cosmical term” and now called the cosmological constant. But when you calculate how strong the cosmological constant should be, the answer is too big by dozens of orders of magnitude — much more than the difference between the size of the entire universe compared with a proton. So dark energy’s identity remains a mystery; if it is the cosmological constant, something else is seriously wrong with what physicists think they know. And so far game theory has been absolutely no help.
7. How to measure evidence
This one is so mysterious that many scientists don’t even know there’s a mystery. But if they paused to think, they’d realize that the standard way of inferring conclusions from experimental data — calculating “statistical significance” — makes about as much sense as punting on fourth and seven when you’re down by 15 with eight minutes to go. One small example: if you do an experiment and get a statistically significant result, and then repeat it and get a statistically significant result again, you’d think you have better evidence than doing the experiment only once. But if the significance level was a little less the second time, the combined “P value” would be less impressive after the second experiment, even though the evidence ought to be regarded as stronger. It’s a mess. Game theory would surely be able to help somehow, possibly by virtue of its relationship to thermodynamics.
6. Genes, cancer and luck
You might have read recently that most cancer is caused by bad luck, as a study published in Sciencesupposedly concluded. (Actually, the study concluded that the disparity in prevalence of cancer of various types was largely due to luck.) A firestorm of protest followed, essentially based on the belief that such a study must be wrong because it would “send the wrong message” to the public. Proving the illogic of that syllogism should be left as an exercise for the reader. Other responses revealed that experts do not agree on how random mutations (bad luck) compare with heredity (parent’s fault) plus lifestyle (your fault) and environmental exposure to bad things (somebody else’s fault) in causing cancer. Sorting all that out, and in the process solving cancer’s other mysteries, should be a high-priority exercise for 21st century science. And yes, there is a considerable amount of research relating game theory to cancer.
5. Are there extra dimensions of space?
I don’t know why people keep thinking this is a mystery, as I have on several occasions pointed out that there are no extra dimensions. However many there are, they are all absolutely necessary. Posed properly, this question should be how many dimensions of space are there? (For that matter, you could also ask about how many time dimensions there are, but that might overlap with No. 4.) Many physicists believe more dimensions than the ordinary three will be needed for physics to make sense of the universe. (Don’t even ask if they’re talking about bosonic or fermionic dimensions.) A key to understanding this issue is the mathematics of Calabi-Yau manifolds, which can curl up in gazillions of different ways to prevent easy detection of the additional dimensions’ existence. And that makes it really hard to figure out which of the gazillion possibilities would correspond to the universe we inhabit (unless there is some sort of fixed point theorem that would choose one, like a Nash equilibrium in game theory). In any event, anyone attempting to solve this riddle should first read Edwin Abbott’s Flatland, in which the protagonist character, A. Square, demonstrates the existence of an extra dimension and is promptly thrown in jail.
4. The nature of time
So many mysteries, so little time in which to solve them, unless solving this one would reveal some clever tricks to play with time. Many submysteries underlie this one, corresponding to almost all of the 44 definitions of time in the dictionary (and that’s just as a noun). What’s the nature of duration and the flow of time — is it illusory or “real” in some elusive way? What about the direction of time — does it always go forward? Why? Is time travel possible, or can messages at least be sent backward in time? (Forward in time is easy — just print this blog post out and read it a year from now.) Perhaps the biggest mystery is whether all these issues about time are related or are completely separate questions. Of course, it would all be simpler if somehow time could be connected to game theory, which it might be, because game theory can be related to cellular automata, which in turn can be related to time.
3. Quantum gravity
Quantum physics and general relativity (aka Einstein’s theory of gravity) both seem to describe the universe and its components with compelling accuracy, yet they seem wholly incompatible with one another. Attempts to combine them into a coherent unified theory have been as successful as brokering compromise in the U.S. Congress. Yet there are clues. In 1930, Einstein tried to refute quantum mechanics (specifically, the Heisenberg uncertainty principle) by suggesting a clock attached to a box hanging on a scale could measure both the mass of a photon and the precise time that it escaped from the box. (Heisenberg said you couldn’t measure both at the same time). But Niels Bohr pointed out that the time on the clock would be uncertain, because as the box moved upward in the gravitational field, Einstein’s relativity required a change in time that would introduce just the amount of uncertainty in the timing that Heisenberg required. So how, you might ask, did the uncertainty principle know about this effect of general relativity? Maybe if the experts posed the question that way they would be able to figure out the quantum gravity mystery. The next best bet would be to undertake the study of quantum game theory, which hasn’t been adequately exploited yet in this regard.   
2. Does intelligent life exist elsewhere?
It’s tempting to delete the “elsewhere,” but given what passes for intelligence on Earth, it makes sense to wonder if anything like it could be blundering about on some distant world. It seems likely, given how many other worlds there are out there. But finding out for sure will probably require receiving an actual message. Projects like SETI have been listening for some such message, so far unsuccessfully. There are two (at least) possible explanations: One, there have been no messages (perhaps the aliens are experts at game theory and calculated that contacting humans would be a bad strategy). Two, the messages are there, but nobody knows how to detect or recognize them. Perhaps enhanced scrutiny is in order on Twitter, where numerous tweets every day seem most plausibly to be the work of aliens. 
1. The meaning of quantum entanglement
All sorts of quantum mysteries remain unsatisfactorily resolved, but maybe the rest would succumb if entanglement does. Entanglement occurs in systems with widely separated parts that share a common history; a measurement of one of the parts reveals what you will find out when you measure its distant relative. Entanglement is a fact of nature, well-established by experiment. It suggests that time and space do not constrain quantum phenomena the way they do ordinary human activity. Among the latest intriguing aspects of entanglement to be studied involves black holes. It seems that black holes can be entangled, which apparently is equivalent to their being connected by a wormhole. Related work suggests that space, time and gravity are all part of a vast quantum entanglement network. Since both the evolution of networks and quantum entanglement fit nicely into game theory, solving all sorts of mysteries might boil down to viewing the world from a game-theoretical perspective. But maybe that will still be too hard for human brains — it might take advanced artificial intelligence, which, as this paper suggests, might be created with the help of some version of quantum game theory.  
Editor’s Note: It might not surprise readers to find out that Tom Siegfried is the author of a book about game theory. But he says the book did not include the sort of wild speculation that is suitable only in blog posts.


10 mysteries that physics can’t answer… yet
From why we travel forwards in time to how bicycles travel forwards at all, we present the questions great and small that our finest minds can't explain
Image: Carlo Giambarresi


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