Tagged: Lee Smolin

A, B, C time!

time-flows-awayThis might get technical, despite the vaguely Sesame Street quality to the title. You see, philosophers have long worried over time and causality, and rightly so, going back to the Greeks like Heraclitus and Parmenides, as well as their documenters many years later. Is time a series of events one after another or is that a perceptual mistake? For if everything comes from some cascade of events that precede it, it is illogical to presume that something might emerge from nothing (Parmenides). And, contra, perhaps all things are in a state of permanent change and all such perceptions are confused (Heraclitus). The latter has some opaque formulations in the appreciation of the Einsteinian relativistic form of combining space and time together while still preserving the symmetry of time in the basic equations, allowing for the rolling forward and backward of the space-time picture without much in the way of consequences.

So Lee Smolin’s re-injection of time as a real phenomena in Time Reborn takes us from A and B theories of time to something slightly new, which might be called a C theory. This theory builds on Smolin’s previous work where he proposed an evolutionary model of cosmology to explain how the precarious constants of our observed universe might have come into being. In Smolin’s super-cosmology, many universes come to be and not be at an alarming rate. Indeed, perhaps in every little black hole is another one. But many of these universes are not very viable because they lack the physical constants needed to last a long time and for entities like us to evolve to try to comprehend them. This does away with any mysteries about the Anthropic Principle: we are just survivors.

Smolin’s new work has some other rather interesting temporal consequences that are buried behind a wall of revisited thermodynamic reasoning: there are actually only a few basic particles that become other instances as they evolve over time. Because they are still connected together at a fundamental level, these particles are entangled in a collection of what we call forces, but as time unwinds, they become increasingly differentiated. Time piles on history, and the disparate trajectories are distinct enough that they become the arrow of time that thermodynamic evolution dictates.

Interestingly, in Smolin’s universe, time piles up into consistencies that we interpret as physical law. Physical law does not pre-exist per se, but is a consequence of the mighty machinations that emerge from a universe in a state of change, perhaps like that of Heraclitus, but also like that of Leibniz and Husserl. The pervasiveness of the notion of randomization and selection as an alternative to static views of the universe is interesting because it also begs the question of what else can possibly explain what we observe? Is there a post-Darwin “crane” that can lift the universe or are we at the end of big science?

Towards an Epistemology of Uncertainty (the “I Don’t Know” club)

space-timeToday there was an acute overlay of reinforcing ideas when I encountered Sylvia McLain’s piece in Occam’s Corner on The Guardian drawing out Niall Ferguson for deriving Keynesianism from Keynes’ gayness. And just when I was digesting Lee Smolin’s new book, Time Reborn: From the Crisis in Physics to the Future of the Universe.

The intersection was a tutorial in the limits of expansive scientism and in the conclusions that led to unexpected outcomes. We get to euthanasia and forced sterilization down that path–or just a perception of senility when it comes to Ferguson. The fix to this kind of programme is fairly simple: doubt. I doubt that there is any coherent model that connects sexual orientation to economic theory. I doubt that selective breeding and euthanasia can do anything more than lead to inbreeding depression. Or, for Smolin, I doubt that the scientific conclusions that we have reached so far are the end of the road.

That wasn’t too hard, was it?

The I Don’t Know club is pretty easy to join. All one needs is intellectual honesty and earnesty.