In the quest for ‘the God particle,’ mystics get a new machine


large hadron collider

The Large Hadron Collider. Image courtesy ” target=”_blank”>blog every day. He can be reached at martyk@jewishjournal.com.



Calendar Girls picks and clicks for July 12 – 18 — Hadassah, the cosmos and more


SAT | JULY 12

(BENEFIT)
To lure young and trendy philanthropists to their big-deal fundraising bash, Young Hadassah International is trotting out more than just the humdrum silent auction. The charitable organization, which brings together young activists from ” target=”_blank”>http://www.hadassah-international.org.

(ART FESTIVAL)
Looking for an all-day event that appeals to all five senses? Join participants from across the Southland for the 19th annual Pasadena Summer Art Festival. Take a stroll around Pasadena’s beautiful Centennial Square as you listen to the various musical talents performing live, stop to appreciate the stunning art selections on display, indulge in the sweet scents of candles and potpourri and enjoy the delicious summer food sold by an array of vendors. All this fun is just a short drive away. The proceeds from the event will go to support two nonprofit organizations: Children’s Action Network and Second Acts Foundation. Sat. 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Also July 13. Free. Pasadena City Hall, 100 N. Garfield Ave., Pasadena. (626) 797-6803.

(SUMMER PARTY)
The ingredients for a perfect summer party have to include a pool, plenty of food and drinks and excellent entertainment. Lucky for you, all of these elements will be available at the GesherCity Superbad Summer Party. Sponsored by ultra geeky-cool Heeb Magazine, this poolside fiesta is an event that should not be passed over easily — with drinks a flowin’ and a screening of one of Judd Apatow’s most hysterical comedies, “Superbad,” connecting with your fellow Jews has never been so refreshing! Sat. 6 p.m. $10. Alpert JCC, 3801 E. Willow St., Long Beach. R.S.V.P., (562) 426-7601, ext. 1521. ibakal@alpertjcc.org. ” target=”_blank”>http://theatregroupstudio.com.

SUN | JULY 13

(CONVENTION)
Zionist women from all over the country will pour into Los Angeles for Hadassah’s 94th National Convention. Over four days of Jewish exploration, women will have the opportunity to participate in a variety of workshops, discussions, film screenings and performances that highlight everything from modern Israel ” target=”_blank”>http://www.hadassah.org/convention.

(COMEDY)
Watch out “First Wives Club,” because the Brentwood Divorcee Club joins some of the kookiest, comical and cosmetically inclined women on the wrong side of the ketubah. Actress Juliette Marshall, often praised for her charisma and sensuality, sings her way through a musical rendition of divorce in “Shift Happens: A (Piece of) Work in Progress.” With two musicians at her side, Marshall delivers a one-woman performance of startling range as a single, divorced mother edging back into the dating world. With the advice of her treasured Westside therapist and her wild bunch of divorcĂ©e girlfriends (a plastic surgery prototype, a woman with “food issues,” a newfound lesbian and a modern Southern belle), Juliette negotiates the harrowing and sometimes hilarious world of life post-marriage. Sun. 7:30 p.m. Through Aug. 3. $20. Improv Comedy Lab, 8158 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles.(323)960-1055. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.beverlymagid.com.

TUE | JULY 15

(POLITICS)
Angelenos from the Valley to downtown have been suffering from a frightening phenomenon: seeing a light flicker on their dashboard letting them know they’re out of gas. This inevitably means pulling into a station and paying north of $5 a gallon (in some places) to fill up. When will this travesty end? Hear what some people high up have to say on the matter at the Republican Jewish Coalition’s informative lecture, “GOP Solutions for Energy and the Environment: How to Diversify Away From Middle East Oil.” Representatives from the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security will discuss some immediate solutions for a dire situation that has commuters seriously contemplating public transportation. Tue. 7 p.m. Free. Shomrei Torah Synagogue, 7353 Valley Circle Blvd., West Hills. R.S.V.P., (310) 478-0752.

Ice on Mars: Good for the Jews?


I have always been only slightly embarrassed by my avidity for reports of UFOs, ETs, new planetary systems, semantic transmissions across the galaxies and every
other kind of disruptive wow.

My embarrassment stems not from a reflexive belief in reports of bright lights flying low and fast over Stephenville, Texas or Chilliwack, British Columbia; I am as skeptical of tabloid headlines, and as cautious about the madness of crowds, as any other child of Voltaire or Mad Magazine.

No, what makes me sheepish about this stuff isn’t my intellectual credulousness; it’s my yearning for some indisputable event that will bust up our paradigms, some unruly discovery that will force us to remake from scratch our stories about who we are, where we come from and where we’re headed.

Now that the Phoenix Lander has confirmed the existence of ice on Mars, it’s likely to be only days before we learn whether the red planet’s soil and water contain the chemicals necessary for creating the kind of life we have on Earth. I’m rooting for carbon. Hell, I’m rooting for amino acids. I want it to be conceivable that Mars is a mere billion years behind Earth on the path to evolution, or maybe, sadly, a couple of billion years ahead of us on the road to extinction. And if not carbon, if they don’t find organic molecules, I’m rooting for some strange silicon-based information-rich strings in that Martian soup.

I want what’s found in that ice to make us say, Whoa! I want us to experience the kind of radical amazement that will require sending conventional cosmology to the repair shop. I want data that upend our accepted accounts of origins and evolution. I want scientific cover for the most boldly creative re-imaginings of the nature of life and of our own place in the great chain of being. I want to see the concepts of meaning and purpose up for grabs. I want new discoveries about stardust to make both ancient texts and current textbooks wholly inadequate for understanding the mysterium tremendum of the physical universe.

I want the discovery of extraterrestrial life — or “life” — to change everything. I don’t mean an eruption of “War of the Worlds”-style paranoia or of “Close Encounters”-style romanticism. I’m thinking instead of that 4-million-year-old black monolith that astronauts find deliberately buried on the moon in the 1968 movie “2001: A Space Odyssey,” an object identical to one in the movie’s opening “Dawn of Man” sequence. Forget the middle part of the movie, the voyage to Jupiter to examine a third monolith circling that planet, a trip sabotaged by the mutinous supercomputer HAL; think instead about how the movie ends.

There is an amazing light show, followed by actor Keir Dullea’s accelerated aging in a weird Louis XVI-furnished room, followed abruptly by Dullea’s transformation into the Star Child, a fetus in a glowing orb looking down from space on the Earth. If you’re of boomerish vintage, you know that plenty of stoned debates about the meaning of the movie’s strange conclusion followed its initial release (I know, I know: you didn’t inhale). The interpretation that worked best for me was that, basically, we humans don’t know nothing.

Is evolution the merely pointless, meaningless consequence of having world enough and time, or is our current state of consciousness just too embryonic to grasp the telos of the universe? If cosmologists are right about the Big Bang, what’s the difference between the essential preposterousness of that account of ontology, and the tsimtsum of the kabbalah? If a starry night or a baby’s finger can make you marvel at the sheer existence of anything at all, why should God be a less plausible account of materiality than quantum physics’ favorite theory: superstrings vibrating in 11 ineffable dimensions of space-time? If scientists believe, as they do, that invisible dark matter and unobservable dark energy make up the vast majority of the universe, then why should mystical accounts of an unseeable cosmos be any more inconceivable?

Jews, of course, don’t need monoliths, or Martian ice water, to set them off in these speculative directions. Jacob was renamed Israel because he wrestled with God, and his descendants still spend their days wrestling with the idea of God, no matter what the news might be from the Large Hadron Collider, the SETI Arecibo Observatory or the Phoenix Lander on Mars.

Nor do I underestimate the capacity of midrashic reasoning to assimilate even the most alien of singularities that scientists may turn up. Should microscopes examining a soil sample from the third planet’s northern arctic plane next week reveal a Martian version of Horton’s Whoville, there will no doubt be talmudic exegetes aplenty who will calmly conform such a disorderly discovery to the literal narrative of Genesis.

But for those who despair about the postmodern dead end that the history of consciousness has led to (and I include myself among them); for those too undisciplined to reliably integrate yoga, meditation, beginner’s mind or other spiritual technologies into their daily lives (yes, my hand is up); for those who can sleepwalk past a rose, forget to say the Modeh Ani or succumb to anti-mindful pathologies like boredom or killing time (guilty, guilty and guilty) — for us garden-variety broken vessels, a thrilling we-interrupt-this-program bulletin from the scientific magisterium is arguably not too childish to ache for.

Marty Kaplan is the Norman Lear Professor of Entertainment, Media and Society at the USC Annenberg School for Communication. His column will appear weekly in this space. He can be reached at martyk@jewishjournal.com.

Spectator – What It Looks Like From Here


Biting off more than most of us can chew, husband and wife authors Joel R. Primack and Nancy Ellen Abrams have taken on the enormously ambitious task of tackling that age-old question: How did the world get here, and does our existence really matter? Primack is a professor of physics at UC Santa Cruz, and Abrams a lawyer and writer with a life-long term interest in science; their new book, “The View From the Center of the Universe, Discovering our Extraordinary Place in the Cosmos” (Riverhead Books, 2006), uses cosmology — the astrophysical study of the history and structure of the universe – to meld “Meaning” and science to reach a greater understanding of the origins of life. In the process they also show how humans have long sought connections between their actions on earth and the cosmos.

The book is dense and deals with many complex theories, histories and sciences in layman’s language. After examining the makeup and history of the universe using current scientific data, Primack and Abrams argue that humans hold an essential place in the universe and are not merely inconsequential beings in the great unknown. They argue that our current knowledge of the verifiable scientific theories, such as quantum mechanics and relativity gives us a unique understanding of the universe and the opportunity to shape the future destiny of the planet we live on.

The book discusses origin stories and myths from many religions, but it is the Jewish mystical tradition of Kabbalah that best resonates with the authors’ view of our role in the universe.

“The interesting thing about the Kabalistic creation story — particularly the version of it that was developed by [16th century Kabbalist] Isaac Luria — is that it has certain similarities to the modern scientific story,” Primack said in a joint Journal interview with Abrams. “In the Kabalistic story the creation of the universe is connected to the human role in it, and that is what we are trying to do — connect people with the cosmos.”

Nevertheless, their own Jewish backgrounds did not limit their exploration, they say.

“Meaning is not owned by one religion,” Abrams said. “We are Jews, we think like Jews, but we don’t restrict ourselves to the imagery and the concepts that come from Judaism. We try to find the most apt mythological description [from any religion] for these concepts.”

Joel Primack and Nancy Ellen Abrams will lecture on “The View from the Center of the Universe” on May 11 at UC Irvine, Room 100 Engineering Lecture Hall at 8 p.m. For more information visit