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True Identity
by Prof. Yirmiyahu Branover

Among the fifty scientists honored by Scientific American for significant contributions to scientific research in 2007 were four Israelis. Two of them, Professor Eshel Ben-Jacob and Itay Baruchi, were recognized for their innovative research in the field of memory formation. The two scientists used neurons from rat embryos placed on a chip surface, and connected electrodes to the neurons to record activity. They found that the neurons showed an identical pattern of nerve firings when chemical stimulants were dropped repeatedly at the same place on the chip. Eventually, the neurons fired spontaneously without the chemical stimulants being dropped - which is believed to occur when a "memory" has been formed.

The memory experiment may be one more step to creating an artificial "brain" attached to a computer, that can think independently, like the fictional "cyborg." The idea may not be so farfetched. We already have electronic devices that replace important biological mechanisms like heart pacemakers, artificial limbs and hearing aids and implants. The science-fiction aspect begins when the artificial organ begins to dominate over the organic body and makes it a slave to its own ends.

Strange as it may seem, all of us are a type of "cyborg." Every one of us consists of two separate "systems," which co-exist together with amazing coordination. One system is the physical body and the soul that drives it, which together make up a skilled, powerful and intelligent robot. The soul is like the CPU (central processing unit) of the computer - it stores and interprets memories, desires or commands, and then directs the actions of the various limbs. The second system is the G-dly soul, which is eternal. This G-dly soul has been implanted within the physical, "robotic" body.

Like the scientific experiment described above, the most important question is: Whose will is imposed on whom? Does the G-dly soul control the body, or is it the animal soul that's in charge? This is the essence of the freedom of choice given to every person.

It is not easy for the soul to express itself in the life of the body. The body, or the animal soul that innervates it, fights its own battle for domination. The first step towards success is the battle over identification: Do we recognize the G-dly soul as part of us, as the essence of our identity? The second step is to learn about what the G-dly soul needs to be nurtured and sustained. The desires of our Creator are listed in the Torah. The Torah explains what we must do in order to live a life worthy of its name - true life, not robotic life.

Living such a life is a constant struggle for most people. To be successful in this battle is to experience a personal "redemption" from worldly cares and desires, to be free of physical compulsions that are destructive not only spiritually but physically as well. This personal redemption is a decisive impetus for the ultimate redemption to the whole world.

Prof. Yirmiyahu Branover is chairman of the Center of Magnetohydrodynamic Studies and Training at Ben-Gurion University.



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