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Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan writes in his essay Immortality and the Soul that the Neshomo is effectively the data of our "memories, thought patterns and personality traits" and discusses the idea of transferring it to a computer or a new body. He also explains that Hashem is omniscient, so contains all of this data and never forgets it, thus making our Neshomos immortal.

More recently, physicists have developed theories that information cannot be destroyed. This seems to tie in nicely with what R' Aryeh Kaplan wrote.

With more modern developments of computers, it also makes me wonder about other implications. Presumably all software and all data that ever exists is also "immortal" and contained within Hashem's "omni-cloud". Does this mean that after we die, we can still access this data? R' Aryeh Kaplan writes that Neshomos don't exist in a static state, but continue to be active, because Hashem's memory is active. Does that mean that software can continue to exist in a runnable state as well, and that data is not just accessible as a series of bits, but that eg. images can be "seen", audio can be "heard" and video can be "watched"?

EDIT: Further question - does this open the possibility of humans creating an artificial Neshomo?

I'm not sure what it even means that Neshomos are not static as Hashem transcends time. Does time even apply after death?

I'm curious what other people think about this and whether anyone has come across anything else written on the subject?

Extract from Immortality and the Soul...

Imagine what it would be like to undergo a brain transplant. A man might be suffering from an incurable disease in his body, but still have a healthy brain. The donor, on the other hand, would have suffered irreparable brain damage, but otherwise have a perfectly sound body. The brain is removed from the sick body and placed in the healthy one.

Who is the new man? We have an old brain with all its memories, personality traits and behavior patterns. But it has a brand new body. The old body might have been old and sick, while the new one may be young and full of energy.

Let us ask this man to point to himself. Will he point to his body? Is the real you your body or your brain?

A brain transplant raises enough questions. How about a memory transfer?

The science of cybernetics has discovered many similarities between computers and the human brain. Computer technology allows one to program a memory transfer, taking all the information contained in one computer and transferring it to another. All that passes from one computer to the other is information. What if this were done with the human brain? This may lie in the realm of science fiction, but even if it will never be possible in practice, it is certainly possible in theory.

Let us try to envision such a memory transfer. Assume we have a person with an incurable disease where neither the body nor the brain can be salvaged. We clone a new body for this individual, brain and all. The possibilities of doing this have already been discussed at length in the literature. This new body has a blank new brain, capable of functioning, but without any memories or thought patterns. As a final step, we accomplish a memory transfer, bringing all the information from the sick person into the brain of the new body.

We now have a fascinating situation. If all of a man's memories, thought patterns and personality traits are transferred to a new body and brain, this person literally exists in his new body. But nothing physical has been transferred. No physical part of him has been placed in the new body. All that has been placed in this new body is information that previously existed in the old brain. Yet this information contains the sum total of this person's personality.

But if this is true, then it offers us tremendous new insight into our original question: Who is the real you?

The real you is not your body or brain, but the information contained in your brain -- your memories, personality traits and thought patterns.

What happens then when a person dies?

We know that the body ceases to function. The brain becomes inert and the physical man is dead.

But what happens to the real you -- the human personality? What happens to all this information -- the memories, thought patterns and personality traits? When a book is burned its contents are no longer available. When a computer is smashed, the information within it is also destroyed. Does the same thing happen when a man dies? Is the mind and personality irretrievably lost?

We know that God is omniscient. He knows all and does not forget. God knows every thought and memory that exists within our brains. There is no bit of information that escapes His knowledge. What, then, happens when a man dies? God does not forget, and therefore all of this information continues to exist, at least in God's memory.

We may think of something existing only in memory as being static and effectively dead. But God's memory is not a static thing. The sum total of a human personality may indeed exist in God's memory, but it can still maintain its self-identity and volition, and remain in an active state.

This sum total of the human personality existing in God's memory is what lives on even after a man dies.

EDIT - I missed an important part out earlier: -

[In a Kabbalistic sense, we are here speaking about the lowest level of the soul, the Nefesh Behamis or "animal soul". This most probably can be identified with the information contained in the human brain. However, this interacts with the higher parts of the soul, Nefesh, Ruach and Neshamah.]

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  • A "life" cannot be disassembled into component parts because life is indivisible.
    – The GRAPKE
    Nov 28, 2023 at 12:37
  • While I agree with what @TheGRAPKE said, I will still recommend you get "Heaven Exposed" by R Tzvi Freeman, who employs a lot of this sort of imagery of data/information/computer analogies to help understand spiritual matters, especially in the later chapters. I believe a lot of it is online for free as well.
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Nov 28, 2023 at 12:40
  • @TheGRAPKE I don't think that I said otherwise? Nov 28, 2023 at 13:37
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    There are not "bits of a person". Also, we cannot talk about "the memory of Hashem" per se because nothing about Hashem can be defined directly. In Judaism, the neshama is a core representation of reality and does not need "containers" to define its existence.
    – The GRAPKE
    Nov 28, 2023 at 14:44
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    @TheGRAPKE I've added an important extra quote on the end which may partly alleviate some of the issues you didn't like Nov 29, 2023 at 10:32

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In kabbalistic and Chassidic context, the term Neshamah is associated with the intellect aspect of a human being (also called שכליות), but the human is the whole being, not just the intellect. It is important to see the context of the word usage to understand the meaning. There is a generic usage and a component or constituent usage.

In the Generic context, some authors will refer to the whole human being as the soul (usually either Nefesh נפש or Neshamah נשמה). But in the Component context, these terms for different aspects of the soul are not referring to whole human being. This is also discussed by Rambam in Moreh Nevuchim in his discussion of this same subject.

When thinking about the five "categories" or "aspects" applied to the soul, namely, Nefesh נפש, Ruach רוח, Neshamah נשמה, Chayah חיה and Yechidah יחידה, the best way to to conceive of their interaction is in the sense of sympathetic vibration of sound. For a general explanation of this idea, see the commentary Akeidat Yitzchok to Bereshit of the subject of עולם הנגון.

In this context, it is worth taking note that the Roshei Teivot of Nefesh, Ruach, Neshamah, Chayah, Yechidah (נרנח״י) is 318, which is also the gematria of the first of the ten utterances in the works of Creation, אלהים יהי אור (Bereshit 1:3). It is in this sense, that the Zohar states that Israel, represented by the manifestation of all five constituents, preceded the Creation of the world by 2000 years. (See the commentary Ba'al HaTurim HaShalem to Bereshit 1:1-5)

While a human being is alive, these constituents are unified in this world or Universe עולם הזה. Death is when these constituents are no longer in a unified state. When we observe a cessation of respiration or a condition of brain death, that is the external indication of the separation of these constituents. They return to the Universe of Souls, usually called עולם הנשמות or עולם הנפשות. Those constituents are not destroyed, but continue forever. The concept of resurrection is that those constituents will be reunified and be remanifest in this physical, material universe. To find a good discussion of this, see the Chassidic discourse of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, להבין ענין תחיית המתים כו׳, in particular the concept of the descent and ascent of souls being compared to the dressing and undressing of 3000 garments (based on the teaching from Shlomo HaMelech and his being able to teach each concept in the Torah via 3000 allegories.

This unusual definition of death is also mentioned by the Vilna Gaon in the book Ohrot HaGra (אורות הגר״א). It is also one of the explanations that the Lubavitcher Rebbe gives over the subject that Yaacov Avinu doesn't die (יעקב אבינו לא מת) and like is mentioned also in Talmud (Taanit 5b) and also how Yehuda HaNasi would make kiddush for his family in his Shabbat clothes on Shabbat fulfilling their obligation even after his passing (See Mishnat Chassidim, Section 1129 on Ketubot 103a). That by those who are like Yaacov Avinu, (meaning Nasi נשיא, which is a Notarikon of נ״צוץ ש״ל י״עקב א״בינו,) their constituents (at least some of them) do not separate, but remain unified even after passing. Because of that, they continue to be able to interact directly with this world or universe.

Regarding your additional question regarding Time, that is a separate aspect of existence according to the Torah. Existence is made up of Olam עולם, Shanah שנה and Nefesh נפש. What is termed Shanah שנה, is referring to Time.

Time also exists in the Universe of Souls, but in a different way than in this Universe. This is discussed in the sense that souls, for example, learn Torah after departing this Universe and ascending to the Universe of Souls. That is the concept of Going from strength to strength. לך מחיל אל חיל.

And finally, the Animal Soul (נפש הבהמית), which is constituently referred to simply as Nefesh, is dressed in the blood, which originates from the bone marrow, (Bereshit 9:4).

It is that spiritual intermediary, which gives all other aspects of the soul the ability to interact with physical, material existence. The Nefesh is both effected by and effects the material plane of existence. All other aspects of the soul are not effected directly by material existence in any way. Their connection (which is tenuous, in the sense of being נבדל from the material plane) is only by way of their association with the Animating soul.

It is in this sense, that The Ari z"l explains that a Jew has two bodies, the Animating Soul (often written נפש הבהמי׳ from the root בהם היינו בהמי which means the Cattle-Driver, the one who drives the Cattle, not the animal itself) and a body comprised of light (גוף זך ודק מחשמל).

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  • Thanks for this, but I'm not sure that it really addresses the main/first part of my question, which is whether data/information is accessible to departed neshamas, whether it could also be in an "active state" in a similar way to a neshama. Nov 29, 2023 at 21:45
  • If you mean by “data”, knowledge of this world, the short answer is yes. There are numerous sources both from Talmud, Midrash and kabbalistic sources which confirm this. I tried very hard to understand what you are asking. In terms of your specific question(s), it might be helpful to everyone if you made a concise set of bullet points in brief, clear language. Nov 29, 2023 at 23:22
  • @YaacovDeane not 100% sure if this is what he is asking (but I want to know what you have to say anyway on this): does the nefesh bahamis/chiyunis remain conscious and active (on whatever plane of existence even though we can't understand it properly now) between death and ressurection?
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Nov 29, 2023 at 23:32
  • I mean can a dead soul access seforim, shiurim that were online etc and all other information because Hashem is omniscient and the soul is attached to Him? R' Kaplan mentions that it has some kind of share in His omniscience, which seems to imply that. I was also asking whether software can be accessed as well - eg can a dead soul use something like ChatGPT, or does the "active state" of Hashem's memory only apply to human souls and not other information? Nov 30, 2023 at 7:58
  • The 5 aspects of soul, once they are not unified via the body, lose their ability to interact directly with the material world that we occupy. Awareness of what is transpiring on this plane and even learning about it, in the Universe of Souls is possible . But for most, they cannot interact directly. Nov 30, 2023 at 12:00

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