Interlude ס: Binary

“Today I will expound unto you the kabbalistic theory of the creation of the world,” said Ana. “It all starts with Leibniz…”

We were sitting together on the couch after dinner. Erica and Eli Foss were on the other couch. Zoe Farr was in the armchair. Ana was wearing a blue t-shirt saying “I WENT TO THEODICY CON 2014 AND ALL I GOT WAS THIS CRAPPY TSHIRT, AND I DON’T UNDERSTAND WHY A JUST GOD WOULD ALLOW THIS TO HAPPEN.” It was pouring outside, and the occasional gust of wind added eerie punctuation to her argument.

“See, there’s this idea called divine simplicity. People keep asking, okay, so God created the Universe, but who created God? The answer is that God doesn’t need creating. He’s perfectly simple. He’s just a natural thing for there to be. People act like you need God to explain why the universe isn’t just nothing. But why should the Universe be nothing? Why shouldn’t it be, I don’t know, a piece of bread? The only reason people think ‘nothing’ needs no explanation, but a piece of bread does need an explanation, is that nothing is simpler than bread. Well, God is just as simple as nothing. So there.”

“How is this Leibniz?” asked Eli Foss.

“I’m getting to Leibniz! Right now we’re at information theory. A well-defined mathematical explanation of simplicity. We can measure the complexity of a concept in bits. The number of binary digits it would take to specify the concept in some reasonable encoding system. We can do it with numbers. The numbers 0 and 1 are one bit. Two is 10, three is 11; those are two bits. Four is 100, five is 101, six is 110, seven is 111; so three bits. And so on. We can do it with computer programs; just count how many bits and bytes they take up on a computer. We can do it with images if you can get them into a format like .gif or .jpg. And we can do it with material objects. All you have to do is figure out how long it would take to write a program that specifies a description of the material object to the right level of complexity. There are already weather simulators. However many bits the most efficient one of those is, that’s how complex the weather is.”

“And God?” asked Zoe Farr.

“God is one bit. The bit ‘1’”.

“I find that…counterintuitive,” was the best Zoe could answer.

“Well, it’s easy to represent nothingness. That’s just the bit ‘0’. God is the opposite of that. Complete fullness. Perfection in every respect. This kind of stuff is beyond space – our modern theories of space take a bunch of bits to specify – but if it helps, imagine God as being space filled with the maximum amount of power and intelligence and goodness and everything else that it can hold, stretching on to infinity.”

“The maximum amount of purple?” I objected.

“Sure. And the maximum amount of red, green, blue, et cetera.”

“So God is kind of an off-shade of brown, is what you’re telling me,” I told Ana. “Because in third grade I tried mixing all the colors of paint together, and that was what I got.”

“Well, what color should He be?”

“Brilliant golden light,” suggested Erica.

“Exodus 20:23,” I objected. “You shall not make a god out of gold.”

“And,” said Ana, “if you don’t think God can be brown, then you’re racist.”

“But,” said Erica, “if God contains everything alike, then He is evil as well as good. Weakness as well as strength. Sadness as well as happiness.”

“I know the answer to this one,” said Zoe. “Goodness is the same as existence. To exist infinitely is to be infinitely good. A human who was really human, who fulfilled her humanity to the utmost degree, would be a truly excellent human, one who was good at being a human and exemplified all the human virtues. Insofar as you are less of a human than that person, you exist less than them. God is pure existence, so He has to be pure good as well.”

“No,” I said. “That’s assuming the conclusion. It’s saying that humans exist to be good. Why can’t humans exist to be bad? There are three numbers that need no justification – zero, infinity, and negative infinity.”

“Negative infinity isn’t simple!” said Ana. “You have to put the minus sign in front of it! That’s a whole extra pen stroke!”

“That’s only convention,” Erica protested.


“Aren’t religious people always talking about how the Bible is a source of absolute values?” I proposed.

“Maybe,” said Eli seriously “existence is like distance. There’s only one direction you can go. God went that direction and we called it ‘good’. Bad is something else.”

“Bad is just the absence of God,” said Zoe.

“We’ve had this discussion!” said Ana. “No it isn’t! Nothingness is the absence of God! Hitler requires a design decision! Four arms on the swastika! Two sides to the mustache! One testicle!”

“I thought that was a myth,” I said.

“I still don’t get how this is Leibniz,” said Zoe. “Or the creation of the world.”

“Leibniz was studying the I Ching, and he noticed that its yin and yang sticks, when arranged in hexagrams, corresponded to a new form of arithmetic, because he was Leibniz and of course he noticed that. So he invented binary numbers and wrote a letter to the Duke of Brunswick saying that he had explained how God could create the universe out of nothing. It goes like this. You’ve got God, who is 1. You’ve got nothingness, which is 0. And that’s all you need to create everything. 1s and 0s arranged in a long enough string.”

“How, exactly?”

“The kabbalistic conception is that God withdrew from Himself to create the world. I, for example, am beautiful and intelligent, but not so physically strong. God is perfectly beautiful and intelligent and strong, so by withdrawing a little bit of His beauty and intelligence, and a lot of His strength, and some other things, we end up with an Ana.”

“Except you’re not an off-shade of brown,” said Erica.

“And also, God mostly just withdrew from the original universe in such a way that made it have laws of physics that generated you,” I added.

“Same difference,” said Ana.

“How did God decide which 1s to change to 0s?” asked Erica.

“And there’s the rub,” said Ana. “To change any 1s to 0s at all is making the world worse. Less Godly. Creation was taking something that was already perfect – divinity – and making it worse for no reason. A wise woman once said that those who ask how a perfect God create a universe filled with so much that is evil miss a greater conundrum – why would a perfect God create a universe at all?”

We were all silent just a little too long.

“I have a question,” Zoe Farr said, finally. “If God is just the binary digit 1, and nothingness is the binary digit 0, and the both contain one bit of information – then isn’t neither one the simplest thing? Wouldn’t the simplest thing be zero bits, neither God nor nothingness?”

“That’s Atzmus and you’re not supposed to talk about it!” said Ana.

“Okay, jeez,” said Zoe.

“Any other dumb objections?” Ana asked, play-acting a death glare at all of us.

“I might have one,” said Eli Foss. “I…appreciate what you’re trying to do, Ana, but I have to remind you that kabbalah isn’t just the word for whatever cool theory you happen to come up with by combining information theory and the I Ching and the doctrine of divine simplicity. It literally means ‘received tradition’. It’s a body of work that’s been designed and created according to specific rules set forth by the rabbis, and it’s within the tradition of a relatively insular religion that’s really strongly against mixing its concepts with those of other ideas, especially ones from different faiths the way that the I Ching is from Daoism. So I think your theory is interesting. But it isn’t kabbalah. It’s not from the ARI, or the Baal Shem Tov, or anybody like that. So when you say that it’s the kabbalistic theory of the world, I think you need to walk that back a little unless you think real orthodox kabbalists are actually going around saying that God is just the binary digit ‘1’.”

“I don’t just think it,” said Ana. “Every single Jewish person says exactly that, twice per day. ‘HEAR, O ISRAEL, THE LORD OUR GOD, THE LORD IS 1.'”

“I retract my objection,” said Eli.