November 10, 2013 - 8 Kislev 5774
By Yonatan Gordon
Part of the fun of writing about technology, is that there’s often opportunities to bring seemingly unrelated topics into the mix. So for this article, I decided to talk about Samsung’s announcement to have foldable smartphones by 2015, and Malcolm Gladwell’s new book, David and Goliath.
If you are still reading, then you probably are intrigued enough to see how I could relate the two (or you were just looking for a good, lighthearted article, and this fit the bill).
Either 6 or a Backwards 9
First, let’s imagine that you could fold your screen horizontally in half. If there is a “6” on the half of the screen closest to you, then the folded side would look like a backwards “9” (if your screen was see-through).
Now let’s take “R/1”. In this case, the flip side would be “1/R” with the “R” appearing upside-down.
Amazingly, while one may think that there is a difference between R/1 and 1/R, according to physics, size does not matter.
Here is how Rabbi Ginsburgh explains it, in his book “Lectures on Torah and Modern Physics”:
“There is a symmetry principle, which derives solely from string theory considerations, which is the most amazing type of equivalence that can be imagined. This principle is denoted by the simple equation R = 1/R, where R is the radius of the universe, which is very large, millions of light years. And yet, what this equation says is that our huge universe, which is billions of light years across, is no different from a universe that is so tiny that it is inconceivably small, much smaller than even a photon. A universe with radius R is equivalent to a universe with radius 1/R. In other words, there is no difference between big and small.”
“He who is large is small (and large)”
Now we can begin to explain our topic for this article: Why are foldable phones are so exciting?
Because with every new upgrade in the word of communication technologies, the public deep-down is also hoping for an upgrade in their real-life interpersonal communications. Whether the public realizes it or not, we are attracted to the idea of foldable smartphones because of our desire to start “folding” our conversations.
The source in the Torah for this big = small symmetry, is an explicit source in the Zohar which reads:
“He who is very small is very big, and he who is very big is very small.” [Zohar III, 168b.]
What do I hope to gain from folding my phone? That not only should I realize the greatness of my own smallness (i.e., to have lowliness in the face of the Almighty), but that I should help someone else to become “big” (i.e., by uplifting them either physically or spiritually).
To continue the metaphor, when I “fold my phone,” I should have in mind that I am turning my R into a 1/R in order to uplift and benefit the other person. This is a very straightforward meditation we can all have when giving charity, or even when smiling at someone to cheer up their day.
This also relates to Malcolm Gladwell’s new book “David and Goliath,” a title that we can now rename “1/R and R.” David, who is the foremost example to proper lowliness in the Torah, had to become great, into order to make the ego-driven Goliath small. This is the opposite of what we just said with regard to uplifting others.
The difference is when someone is downcast, your “R” (bigness) should be inverted in order to uplift them out of their straights. But when someone is full of themselves, then where possible, it is worthwhile to attempt to “fold” them over to the opposite side of the equation or “1/R” (smallness).
Folding Two Into One
We still have a problem, and that is that foldable phones are still not a complete representation of our equation. Ideally, instead of the R appearing upside-down (like the “6” that now appears as a backwards “9” when folded to the other side), it would be much better if the fold auto-corrected somehow according to our perspective. While we want the “1/R” to become a “R/1” and vice-versa, we also want to be able to relate to, or look at another person correctly without standing on our head.
This is how Rabbi Ginsburgh explains this (again from the book):
“The usual interpretation is that if you consider yourself to be small, in truth you are big, and if you consider yourself to be big, in truth you are small, or insignificant. But, now we are saying that to be very small is to be very big. Both are true simultaneously. So symmetry is telling me that I cannot tell the difference between the two things. Big and small are entirely equivalent. It is not just a question of perspective; they really are exactly the same.”
There are two important lessons to take home from this discussion:
The first is that to “fold” conversations is not enough. As long as you view yourself and this other person as two separate beings, then even when you make your “R/1” (bigness) into a “1/R” (smallness), their “R/1” will still appear upside-down to you. The best thing is to view this person as an extension of yourself, then you can both be R/1 and 1/R simultaneously (this is the symmetry found in healthy marriages, friendships, etc…).
The second lesson is that there are times when you need to be big, and times when you need to be small. David, who again is the foremost example of smallness in the Torah, took on a very big challenge and defeated Goliath. In this case though, the test was not to relate to this other person, but overcome the test. So too, as Gladwell brings in his book, when a person is confronted by some challenge in their life, this is an opportunity to become great.
To say it another way, the challenges or tests themselves can bring out the R/1 in each of us.
This post originally appeared on Community of Readers, republished with permission.