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Merging science and Jewish thought

Posted By Abigail Klein Leichman On April 21, 2010 @ 12:00 am In | No Comments

He may be an impressive innovator in solar energy, and a captain of industry, but Arnold Goldman is also a thinker whose unusual goal is to bring science together with philosophy.

Builder of Jerusalem – solar energy leader Arnold Goldman.

Serious philosophers rarely make good businessmen. But solar energy innovator Arnold J. Goldman is no navel-gazer. Goldman heads Jerusalem-based BrightSource Industries and its California-based parent, BrightSource Energy, which is contracted to deliver more than 2,600 megawatts of solar electricity in California using new technology demonstrated at Goldman’s Solar Energy Development Center in the Negev, the largest solar energy facility in the Middle East.

Goldman, 67, was named a “Builder of Jerusalem” by Jerusalem-based educational institution Aish Hatorah, which also acknowledged his early role in founding solar energy pioneer Luz International; subsidiary Luz Industries Israel; and Electric Fuel Corporation, a vehicle battery developer.

Ever since the Rhode Island native was 16 and living in the San Fernando Valley he has been seeking higher truths in the beauty of mathematics, he tells ISRAEL21c. Later, Goldman’s search broadened to embrace Jewish thought.

“From the age of 14 I had worked at an assortment of odd jobs when I had time, including stretching springs across couches,” Goldman remembers. “The summer I was 16, I was selling mops. I woke up one night feeling miserable and came to the conclusion that if I had to work most of my life, at least I wanted it to be valuable.”

Meshing knowledge with real-world achievements

His future wife, Karen Fried, urged him to channel his intellectual curiosity away from academics into what he now defines as “Jewish thinking” – meshing pure knowledge with measurable real-world achievements. After earning a bachelor’s degree at the University of California-Los Angeles in engineering with a minor in philosophy and economics, and a master’s in computer science at the University of Southern California, Goldman went into business.

“I was trying to get into lines of work that I thought would expand my knowledge base so that I could gain a big enough comprehension of how reality worked,” Goldman recounts. “I decided that computers and communications were a focal point for integrating thoughts into places where they could be processed. I wanted to start a business and learn how to put together groups of people.”

Goldman first spent five years in computer development in the military industry. He was an innovator in the use of integrated circuits on projects such as the Minuteman rocket system (the Minuteman is a land-based intercontinental ballistic missile designed to attack ground targets), and then moved to defense contractor Litton Industries, where he tackled assignments for its subsidiary, Royal Typewriter.

Gathering a group of scientists from the California Institute of Technology and Xerox, in 1972 he started Lexitron, the United States’ first word processing company. “I felt if you could make electronics simple, people would do it,” Goldman tells ISRAEL21c.

Through it all, the thinker kept attending philosophy classes and began writing a book, A Working Paper on Project Luz, which provided the philosophical basis for Luz International.

An irresistible coincidence

At a night class in 1976, a Catholic priest recommended the works of Jewish medieval scholar-physician-philosopher Maimonides. Two weeks later, an aunt Goldman hadn’t seen for 20 years sent him a brochure about a class on Maimonides being offered at LA’s University of Judaism. It proved to be an irresistible coincidence.

“Karen and I went, and it was the first time I found a philosopher in whose stream I belonged,” says Goldman. “I found out I had been doing ‘Jewish thinking’ all along.”

As his book-in-progress assumed a Jewish flavor, the family relocated to Israel, planning to stay for two years so that Goldman could finish it there. They never left. The concept of Luz – the biblical locale of Jacob’s dream ladder connecting heaven and earth – fuelled Goldman’s “need to create an environment to integrate science and consciousness.” And that environment was a community that used solar energy.

The community didn’t pan out as well as its solar energy aspect did, “But I discovered that the company itself was a community,” Goldman recounts. Luz Industries grew to employ 500 people in Israel and thousands in California, where between 1984 and 1990 it installed nine solar power stations in the Mojave Desert, accounting for 90 percent of the world’s solar energy generation.

However, because of the large land mass required for equipment that captures the sun’s heat and turns it into electricity-generating steam, Luz’s coffers ran dry when its property-tax exemption expired in California.

Goldman poured his energies into a new book, Moving Jewish Thought to the Center of Modern Science, and founded several small companies to explore how linguistic dynamics integrate consciousness into physics. “I was interested in the play between speech, thought and language, and quantifying their impact on that which is created.”

Israelis can “bury their ego in the objective”

The effects of the 1997 Kyoto Protocols on clean energy combined with rising fossil-fuel prices provided the opportunity for Goldman to resurrect Luz. “Utility companies and investment bankers in California were willing to talk to me, so we were able to deal with very creative ideas for a next-generation system,” explains Goldman, who holds numerous patents and is the recipient of international prizes such as the International Solar Energy Society Achievement through Action Award. “No big system in the world had ever before produced more energy than it consumed.”

Luz II, a wholly owned subsidiary of BrightSource, handles research, development, logistics and project engineering for the advanced solar-thermal technology of BrightSource plants in Europe and the US. Though it may seem illogical to base his business in Israel, Goldman says he could not have accomplished what he did elsewhere.

“I was trying to do something broad and complex, and it’s hard for people to get their mind around all the elements. Israelis are intellectually curious and have experience in so many areas and that allowed us to put in place a big multidisciplinary conversation and build a learning model based on my specifications in something like six months. It would have taken three or four years in the States. Israelis show incredible dedication and are able to bury their ego in the objective,” he says.

Goldman, the father of five and grandfather of 10, takes a serious interest not only in Aish HaTorah – whose founder, Rabbi Noach Weinberg, was a fan of his writings – but also in the Jerusalem College of Technology, where he is a member of the international board of governors. ‘I am looking into doing ecological education within a Jewishly rich curriculum,” he declares. “I want to put together Jewish thought and science.”

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