First we’ll celebrate the award.
Yesterday, the Nobel Prize in Economics was awarded to an Orthodox Jew, who wears his observance visibly and proudly. Robert J Aumann shared the prize for his work in game-theory, the same field that led to an earlier award to John Nash, of A Beautiful Mind fame.
My students at Loyola Law School probably have a hard time figuring out why an article from American Scientist (July-August 2000) is included in their opening assignment. During the opening lecture, I explain some of the reasons why a secular (actually, Jesuit) law school would bother teaching about Jewish Law. One reason I offer is that Torah literature often anticipates problems that are first considered in Western thought only many centuries later. Jewish law can often provide a template for further discussion and analysis. The article points to one such area: the fair division of assets in complex situations. It points to and analyzes the earliest consideration of a problem now taken up by mathematicians, and reproduces some of the text of the Gemara Kesuvos 93A that offers it. The primary source of the analysis is an article by Aumann in the Journal of Economic Theory, which happens to be dedicated to the memory of his son HY”D who was killed in action in Lebanon, and who is described as a talmudic scholar.
In a scientific climate often hostile to religion, especially for overachievers, Professor Aumann’s warm embrace of his Yiddishkeit is a kiddush Hashem/ sanctification of G-d’s Name. His love for and defense of Israel should pour salt on the festering wound of the Arab world’s self-consciousness of its failure to contribute its share to the progress of modern civilization.
Back to the Codes. Fairness demands that I reveal that I have been one of the most vocal skeptics about the so-called Bible Codes, for many years. (This is not the place for a full discussion. Yes, of course I believe that Hashem placed many levels of deep meaning in the text of Torah. I just don’t believe that what the Codes people have come up amounts to “scientific” evidence, and that it is unhealthy for the Torah community to provide the world with yet another excuse to point to religious people as being so gullible that they will believe anything, as long as it suits their needs.)
Dr. Aumann was a supporter of the Codes for over twenty years. In recent years, however, he helped oversee what was supposed to have been the authoritative test of the effect, jointly produced by the pro- and anti-Codes camps. The experiment failed to support the contentions of the Codes people, but they voiced objections to the way the experiment was conducted. Depending on who you asked, the recent experiment either had much significance, or none at all.
Nonetheless, Dr. Aumann wrote a short commentary to the experiment and his own involvement it it, and published it as a discussion paper at the Center for the Study of Rationality, with which he is affiliated. His remarks seem to be a wise summary of a difficult topic:
During the years of the committee’s work, I became convinced that the data is too complex and ambiguous, and its analysis involves too many judgment calls, to allow reaching meaningful scientific conclusions.
In other words, there is just too much wiggle room in the data studied to permit anyone to design an experiment that will be considered scientific. If you want to believe in the phenomenon, you can as a matter of faith. But you really can’t call it science.
A good analysis, that now bears the imprimatur of a Nobel laureate.