Thursday, January 24, 2013

Shtroodle


            I was waiting outside Einstein’s office, thinking about the code name for the secret project, “Red Penguin.” It didn’t exactly move me. Why didn’t they ask me about it? I wondered. I would have at least picked a kosher bird.
            The door opened and he greeted me with that quizzical look of his: John Einstein, top scientist of the Orthodox Union of Scientists, the OU-s.
            Einstein had invited me there to discuss Red Penguin, of which I knew nothing, to prepare me for tomorrow’s press briefing introducing the secret project.
            “Come with me to the library,” he said. “There’s a book I want to show you.”
Einstein led me to the stacks.
“This book,” he proclaimed, pulling an old, dusty tome from the shelf, “changed how we see the world. Isaac Newton’s Principia proved once and for all, through experimentation and rigorous mathematics, that nature operates, not by magic, but like a machine. At least that’s what most people thought. Newton, himself, never perceived nature as a machine.”
“Wait,” I said. “Isn’t this the guy who discovered gravity when he got beaned on the head with an apple?”
“And I suppose you also believe he invented the Fig Newton?” he asked.
“Well, yes,” I admitted.
“As I was saying,” Einstein continued, “Newton refused to view nature as an autonomous network of impulses and responses. He insisted that G-d operates the universe. He even wrote a friend that he hoped this book here, the Principia, would serve as a proof of G-d’s existence.
Newton wanted science to make G-d known, not conceal Him.”
            We then proceeded to a small laboratory tucked away in a corner of the building’s top floor. Einstein worked the lock on a safe at the far end of the lab. He produced a leather case and pulled out a laptop, which he placed on a nearby desk, facing me.
“You are about to experience the result of 23 years of work dedicated to proving the forgotten Newton right,” he declared. “G-d calls the shots. And science will show it.
“My invention detects the soul’s very will. It demonstrates that the spiritual world the soul inhabits exists.
 “I don’t know,” I protested. “This is starting to remind of the time you accidentally launched those lab mice in that propulsion experiment.”
“Don’t worry,” he assured me. “Look at the text box at the top of the page. Think of something you want. Now blink … Okay, here’s your search result in .00027 seconds: ‘See like this New Delhi rabbi! Laser eye surgery could be for you!  ... What was your wish?”
“An Indian restaurant under rabbinic supervision,” I said.
“We still have to work out a few kinks – it’s only a beta version,” Einstein insisted. “But once it’s ready, my new search engine will give the world its first glimpse of the spiritual world … I call it Shtroodle.”
“I think you better check with our lawyers about the name,” I said.
“Listen, there’s another reason why I’ve asked you here,” Einstein revealed, dropping his voice. “Ill-intentioned people want to thwart Shtroodle’s launch. I need your help.”
“Press release?” I said.
“No. A rogue group from the National Science Institute knows about Shtroodle,” he confided. “They’re trying to steal her and destroy the evidence that anything other than random chaos rules the universe.
“Someone posted a skull and crossbones on our Facebook page last week with the caption: ‘Red Penguin Is a Dead Duck’. And last night this building was broken into.”
“So, so what does this have to do with me?” I stammered.
“For security reasons I made no copies of Shtroodle,” he said. “This is the only version. I want you to take possession of Shtroodle and guard her. No one will suspect you. By accepting this responsibility you will be doing humanity a great kindness.”
“Don’t they have professionals for this kind of thing?” I protested. “Private security firms? Guys with unlisted phone numbers? I never hold on to anything! Give your magic search engine to me and it’s likely to end up with Al Qaeda!”
“We cannot trust Shtroodle to anyone on the outside,” Einstein insisted. “She is too sensitive!”
“Well, tell her to stop being so sensitive!” I shouted.
Einstein made a pouty face.
“Oh, all right. All right. I’ll do it for G-d and country … in that order.”
The next day I strode to the podium at the Union of Orthodox Scientists conference room to meet the press:
“I have a short statement and then I will take questions.
“This Monday at 8 pm at the Allegro ballroom of the Rodeway Inn, the OU-s will unveil Red Penguin, the top secret project in development for over 20 years. Red Penguin will prove once and for all that science and G-d are not incompatible – that science, in fact, points the way to G-d.
“This invention will fulfill the vision of Isaac Newton, who believed that science should show how G-d directly intervenes in and affects the world. I hope to see you all there ... OK, questions? Yes, you in the third row.”
“Isn’t Isaac Newton the guy who discovered gravity when an apple beaned him on the head?”
“That’s in all likelihood just a story. And I’ll save you another question: He didn’t discover the Fig Newton, either.
“Isaac Newton, the first physicist, was able to see G-d’s hand in the world with his science. The pertinent question is ‘Why didn’t anyone else see that?’ … Yes, the gentleman from the Ledger.”
“Why didn’t anyone else see that?”
“Good question. Newtonian physics made nature look like a machine, convincingly. Although Newton found Divinity there, most people couldn’t because physics was not advanced enough yet to explain the workings of the world as anything but machine-like … Myrna, go ahead.”
“Science has taken some pretty unpredictable turns since Newton’s time. Does it still describe a world without G-d?”
“In the 19th Century science began to change. Eventually, as scientists probed the properties of light and later looked inside the atom, a peculiar universe of strange behavior emerged. Scientists themselves began to speculate that the implications of the quantum world opened the door to the possibility of an intelligent being transcending the physical … Yes, Roy.”
Newton did more than leave the door open to G-d. He firmly believed that science and the belief in a Deity went hand in hand. Is anyone upholding that standard?”
“In the 1970s the Lubavitcher Rebbe announced that the time had come for science to fulfill its purpose, predicted by Kabbalah over 1,800 years ago: prepare the world for the Era of Mashiach. Then, according to the prophet Isaiah, everyone will see tangibly the Divinity that sustains the universe. Today’s science gives us a preview … Yes, in the front row, Ms. Skeptical.”
“That’s quite an assertion. Could you give us an example?”
“Einstein’s formula, E=mc2, states that mass and energy are interchangeable, aspects of the same thing. E=mc2 reduces the entire universe to these two equivalent states.
“The unity in the physical world demonstrated by Einstein is a reflection of the true existence of the world, G-d’s unity. Today science shows us unity in matter. In the future we will see with our eyes G-d’s essential oneness in the world … You in the third row.”
            “Can you confirm the rumors that a rogue group from the National Scientific Institute is trying to steal the OU-s’ much awaited secret project?”
            “No, I cannot. I think you’ve been reading too many spy novels … Next question. In the back.”
            “Why is that laptop case handcuffed to your left wrist?”
“What laptop? … Oh, this? My lunch is in here … peanut butter and jelly … and herring … sandwich. It’s my favorite. I don’t want it falling into the wrong hands … Good, there are no more questions … Have a nice day.”
I hurried out of the building, flagged a taxi and headed home.
That night I made dinner with the laptop still handcuffed to my left wrist. That didn’t present much of a problem, as I rarely use my left hand while cooking. But in my highly nervous – no, frightened – state I attempted to scratch my forehead with my left hand and banged myself on the nose.
            I decided to unlock the handcuff and place the laptop on the dinner table. As I reentered the kitchen, the computer began to beep. I had an email.
I opened the email and clicked on a smiley face. Nothing happened for a few seconds – then the computer started making loud noises, and the screen flashed on and off. Worried, I called Einstein.
“Did you open the email and select a smiley face icon?” he asked.
“Yes.”
“You just launched the Funny Virus,” he informed me.
“What’s the Funny Virus?” I asked.
“The Funny Virus takes control of your operating system, erases your hard drive and finally melts your hardware from the inside out,” he explained.
“What’s funny about that?” I asked.
“Nothing – except that it tells a joke before it destroys your computer,” he said.
Just then a commanding voice came through my speakers:
“Knock, knock.”
“Who’s there?” I said.
“Bill and Melinda Gates,” the virus answered.
“Bill and Melinda Gates who?” I responded.
“You know, Bill Gates and Melinda Gates. Bill is the guy who founded Microsoft, and he and his wife Melinda now head an international foundation that gives billions of dollars a year for global health and development …”
“What happened?” Einstein interjected.
“The virus told a joke,” I said.
“Now what’s happening?” he asked.
“The computer hardware is melting from the inside out,” I reported.
“Yep,” Einstein said. “It’s the Funny Virus.”
“But that wasn’t even a real joke!” I protested.
“I guess you were right, then,” he admitted. “It’s not that funny, after all.”
After Shtroodle was torpedoed, the haranguing from the group of rogue NSI scientists stopped. I began exploring other ways to elevate awareness that science reveals G-dliness in the world. In my trolling of the Internet I came across an interesting scientific phenomenon, quantum entanglement. In the quantum universe when two particles interact and then become separated – even at opposite ends of the world – a change in one automatically yields the same change in the other.
I wrote a memo outlining how the OU-s could explore this area as a possible demonstration of G-dly unity and was directed to one of our scientists, Jerry Oppenheimer, who did work on the phenomenon.
Jerry was interested in my proposal, and we decided to begin collaborating. While we were talking I noticed he would occasionally drum his fingers on the lid of a green Tupperware container on his desk. As I was about to leave, I asked him what was in the container. He said with a smile it was his wife’s shtrudel and offered me a sample. I respectfully declined.