Hosted by MIT Hillel in collaboration with Hillel at Stanford University and the Center for Jewish Life at Princeton Hillel.

There is a particular set of behaviors (self-replication, energy-harvesting, predictive computation etc) that we think of as being most distinctive of life. It is feasible to think about the physics of these behaviors from the perspective of thermodynamics, and to make some progress in clarifying when it is possible, or even likely, for them to emerge on their own. Interestingly, there is a passage in the Torah that directly contemplates the boundary between living and inanimate matter: the three signs given to Moses at the burning bush all reference the idea of such a borderline. It turns out that these signs (the staff that becomes a serpent, the “snowy” affliction of Moses’ skin, and the river water mixed with earth that turns to blood) provide a startlingly rich library of concepts and connotations for constructing a qualitative description of the physics life-like behavior. This talk will trace this argument and achieve the dual purpose of teaching cutting-edge physics in lay terms and demonstrating that the Torah contains some of the best conceptual tools for doing so.