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Time Reborn: From the Crisis in Physics to…
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Time Reborn: From the Crisis in Physics to the Future of the Universe (2013)

by Lee Smolin

Other authors: Henry Reich (Illustrator)

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    The Tao of Physics by Fritjof Capra (applemcg)
    applemcg: Both books are more about the philosophy of science, how we think about it. Capra opens our eyes to Eastern philosophy, Smolin about the possibility of laws evolving, a search for meta-laws.
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I'm not a scientist, but I keep thinking that the more science books I read, the more I'll eventually understand (and so far, that's been true). Having just finished The Grand Design I wanted to explore more on a similar topic and this seemed like it would address many of my questions, and to a certain extent did.

The first half I enjoyed quite a lot, a run-through of "established" science, and then the book turned into his apparently unorthodox repositioning of established truths. It seemed to me he made a lot of unsubstantiated claims (e.g. time must be real because we can feel it passing, say), and while my gut agrees with him (I can't help but suspect the fixed space-time orthodoxy is missing something) I don't think he makes his case. After a few chapters of samey-samey, I stopped reading and picked up an 80s mystery in stead. ( )
  ashleytylerjohn | Sep 19, 2018 |
“I propose that time and its passage are fundamental and real and the hopes and beliefs about timeless truths and timeless realms are mythology.”

In “Time Reborn - From the Crisis in Physics to the Future of the Universe” by Lee Smolin

Impermanence, Buddhist style?

Buddhism seems to acknowledge the play of opposites I've referred to elsewhere.
Recognising the yin-yang nature of the universe, in order to claim there is constant 'flux' (fluidity, rather than change; a subtle difference) - or for argument's sake, change - Buddhists balance that by asserting a 'greater' reality - the one, eternal, stable, whole (a supposed 'deeper' reality).

Contradiction and paradox is near the heart of evidenced, reasoned contemplation?

As for Aristotle:
time is a measurement of change is a measurement of time.
Change makes time possible, and vice-versa.
In principle, it seems that time persists, even in conditions of perfect stillness.
Yet any attempt to conceive a temporal progression, absent all change, seems to lead us into perplexing self-contradictions: any attempt to imagine how such unchanging time-flow could be measured, requires changing. It seems that time must be more than change; yet remove change, and time vanishes! But if time is just a means to measure change, then in principle, it should permit the possibility of a world where change is cyclical. Yet our understanding seems to limit time to a linear, one way progression.

Or does it?

Would a world where each day began the same as the previous one be conceivable? A world where, during 24 hours, everything that ever happens and could happen takes place? Alternatively, could a world be conceived of, in which everything changes every moment? Where NOTHING is the same from one moment to the next? How could time possibly apply to a world where there was nothing stable to measure change by?

Smolin talks of life lived in the moment: of time being a succession of moments.

But who, seriously, experiences life like that? To me, here, typing away, the present seems to persist. There's a smoothness, a constancy, and an openness about it. Smolin also claims that we must reconcile relativity theory and quantum mechanics - the micro and the macro - into one unifying theory. But, when asked why - perhaps we must live with fact that they are, and always will be, irreconcilable? - he flounders. It seems this is simply a matter of faith for him! Yet, he also claims that the world physics says is 'real', is merely a mathematically modelled one. And that these models, rather than existing in some sense 'outside' our spatiotemporal world of experience actually emerges from it; We should realise that, attempting to apply (as, he claims, physicists do) abstract mathematical models - designed to describe local, experimentally conditioned phenomena - to reality as a whole, is erroneous. Cosmology needs different concepts than quantum physics uses on the micro, mathematically modelled scale.

Everywhere and anywhere, our existence always pre-supposes our existence.
To assert it in the sense you do is, as I've said elsewhere, an obvious (sic) truism.
When lots of things are happening, and we are fully engaged, time may seem to 'fly by'.
When bugger all things are happening, and we are disengaged, time may seem to drag.
When young and active, time seems to pass so slowly.
When old and inactive, time seems to pass so quickly
As Einstein showed, time is relative - to an observer; to speed; to distance. The effects of change may seem temporal, insofar as we see them in a linear sense, from our past to our future.
Yet, what is the present?
On reflection, it seems that there's only the past - which, as past, no longer exists; and the future, which is yet to exist.
The present, where things supposedly 'exist', are 'real', right now.
Is illusion.
If time must exist, then how can there ever be a present?
And, if there's no present, how can anything, let alone time, exist?

In spatiotemporal terms, if Smolin's take on the 'metaphysics' or 'cosmology' of current physics is reasonably accurate, it's more like a link - or a line - between (point) A and (point) B. (Insofar as we conceive it as a 'journey', that's down to our woefully limited intellectual/instinctive/sensible abilities: we are stuck as things within space-time, rather than observers outside it, able to see the greater reality: what's real (sic). What you imagine to be the signs of a journey through time, taking its toll (e.g. ageing) are 'really' more like signposts on a route. Or the sights along the way, when you go from Cornwall to London, say.

To us spacetime trapped beings, it’s a one-way journey. But from 'outside' spacetime, that temporal transformation is neither back or forward. It just IS. Fully formed. Mapped out. 'Change' is a concept arising out of our limited conceptual capacity to comprehend the 'big picture'. We put our faith in seemingly obvious, common sense views; yet so often, over time, science has exposed their erroneousness (It seemed so obvious that a smaller, lighter object would fall slower than a big heavy one; yet science proved this wrong).

Kant realised time was imposed on experience by minds; physics has seemingly 'proven' this (Einstein onward) through evidenced reasoning. (Though, of course, a comparatively few theoretical physicists - like Smolin - resist this 'consensus'). Of course, what you think physicists mean when they deny time, and what they really (sic) mean, may well differ.

It may be useful to substitute (best) "explain" for "exist".

Assuming 'time' fails to explain what common-sense assumes it does about reality, as far as physics is concerned. So, physics, post-Einstein, replaced it with 'space-time'. Time, like length, width and depth, is an idealised, mathematical dimension; something we conceptually construct to measure stuff. Of course, I'm playing devil’s advocate above; assuming for sake of argument that Smolin is correct, and that most theoretical physicists have rejected time's 'existence'.

Hence, everything is true and false; real and unreal.
Which lead me to a choice: if everything is isn't; and vice versa.
Then attempting to think anything is impossible; as one must always be looking to negate anything Smolin asserted.
And, if you manage to do that, then you have then to try to re-assert it.
Anyway, I saw relativity (or relativeness) as a possible way out of this.
'Everything that is true is false' smacks of absolutism.

But if all is true and all is false, perhaps that can be seen as:
Everything is partially true and partially false; to varying, and probably changing, degrees.
What we are doing, for the most part, may be distinguishing what seems (relatively) more true from what seems (relatively) more false.
IE: what we say is true, is really more true than false.
Relatively speaking. (Absolutely speaking, it's still as false as it is true).
But, 'cos I'm still a sucker for this philosophy shit, I thought it might be interesting to try to see everything in positive terms.
After all, when we deny something, we say sod-all about what is.
'He's not guilty. your honour."
"So who is? Somebody did it!"
If 'time' is not 'real'; what is it? What does it refer to?

As long as any word has any meaning; as long as it's utterance makes some sense to someone, then it exists as something more than merely an empty word.
I'd like answers.
But I've been compelled to ask questions from an early age.
"That kid won't let up. He's always asking why!"
Somewhere along the line, that seemed to change from "why" to "what".
What is?
Sod all, really.
But, 'unreally', everything imaginable, and more.
Seeing the world as made up by minds; as the work of imaginations; It sure helps trying to understand how so many people seem to believe such silly stuff.
From astrology, thru theologies, UFOs, conspiracy theories, ad infinitum.
Everything is made up; but some of it makes more (evidenced reasoned) sense than others.
What alternative to science does Smolin offer?
None!
Merely an alternative scientism.

Theoretical physicists, in the absence of experimental support for their theories, have understandably come to increasingly rely on mathematical models, on which to base their speculation on the possible nature of the universe. Smolin's response is an appeal to 'everyday intuition'; but that 'intuition', in his hands, maybe more akin to an earlier, pre-post (or even simply) modern, metaphysical ideology. He says he seeks to re-align physics with making falsifiable hypotheses; yet how is what he seems to offer any more open to such testability?
"Is time emergent or fundamental?"
That's more akin to "the disagreement" that "could hardly be more fundamental".
And what about space?
Smolin seems to accept that space is "unreal" (is emergent).
If given a choice between space or time, people would be more likely to 'intuitively' assume space existed, than time.
Smolin, in the simplified, distorted sense in which his speculation about a fundamental conception of time is presented here, would be proposing a pretty bog-standard and old-hat metaphysical realism (the universal 'time' has objective/absolute 'existence').
Dressing this up as "everyday intuition' hardly does him any favours; it's more-like a kiss of death. (Science typically progresses by defying intuition).
Check yourself before you wet yourself!

If it's 'outside' time (actually, that's 'outside' spacetime), it can hardly precede or succeed), can it?!
Such a theory, should it ever emerge, would unite quantum field theory with general relativity. Insofar as 'time' is 'unreal', how could it concern itself with a 'history', when history presupposes time?
Smoliin claims to have captured something of the essence of physics; minus the maths. If this is any indication, then it's also minus any sense, common or otherwise. If Smolin is right - if he's being read right - then physics' study of the natural (material) world has lead it to largely posit ideal objects - mathematical models and speculative concepts derived from them - as if they are the constituents at that make up the material world's essence? Black holes, dark matter, electromagnetic fields, etc. are theoretical constructs - ideas - that are inferred and imagined, based on understandings of observed 'material' phenomena.

How is it inconsistently to be skeptical of something unless and until there is some necessary data? Necessary and sufficient would be nice but I'm enough of a realist and a seasoned experimentalist to know that is asking a lot. Just some at least indicative data. All I've had thrown at me is 'Theory' meaning hypotheses. A theory without data is just waffle. Darwin knew that, which is why “On The Origin of Species” is packed with data. He also spent years doing scientific grunt work to establish himself. His systematics of the barnacles is still the seminal work on the subject. Added to, amended by genetics but still sound, referred to science. He was the first to demonstrate what good worms did to soil. Some people think all he did was think up a nice theory then sit back. Darwin was a data man. Evolution came upon him in contact with the data just as it did with Wallace in the Indies. The Wallace line denoting the divide between Asian animals and plants and Australian animals and plants still exists, still carries his name.

AS HEINLEIN WOULD SAY. AGAIN, SHOW ME THE DATA!

Bottom-Line: Sadly, drink is consuming me - even now, I'm pissing blood, I should be drinking water, and here I am with a glass of booze. Like the smoker, putting a cig into a hole in his throat, as he approaches lung-cancer death? Nietzsche helped me 'realise' that everything true is false; Derrida, that everything false is (therefore) true.

NB: After the wonderful “The Trouble with Physics”, Smolin fell on his face with this one… ( )
  antao | Sep 21, 2017 |
Smolin has a point: this business of timelessness needs a re-think. At the risk of sounding arrogant, his community shrinks because of his argument. I'm one of those curious, who likes to think i can appreciate what the serious thinkers think. I didn't say understand; i'm not that arrogant. But I think I'm clever enough to appreciate what's at stake. A recent reading of the Tao of Physics resurrected any recollection I had that quantum physics now tells us that time is an emergent property, rather than fundamental. At least according to the largest part of that community. I think many (most?) well-read people would find that a novel idea. So do I. So, I start this book in sympathy with where Smolin is going. He carefully lays out his plan. To paraphrase "First, let's see how time lost it's unquestioned status as fundamental", then he says he'll see why that has to be rethought. This is an honest approach for a scientist. "I'm with you, Lee". And he's thorough. By the end of Part I, he's taken us from Newton thru Einstein and Bohr, when in the 20's (I guess) "time" lost it's place in the equation's denominator.

His restoring time on scientific grounds comes from cosmological questions: Einsteins forsaking the cosmological constant, and since his death, the need to insert it back to explain newer observations. I can appreciate (recall, not the same as understanding) that now, dark matter and dark energy explain the need for a cosmological constant, and help to model the observations. Smolin argues that physical laws have evolved in this universe to explain the measured changes in the distribution of the universe's constituents: photons, stars (matter), energy, and the dark versions. And evolution implies passage of time. The initial conditions and the "selection" of fundamental constants receive pro and con arguments. So too, the possibility of multiple (infinite numbers of) universes, and a single infinite universe. As his scope widens, his audience narrows. The problem he's trying to solve matters to fewer and fewer people. He confesses his real motive in the epilogue, where he sums up his argument as the need for a new philosophy. I suspect literary critics could easily tease out the circularity of his reasoning. To me, it's not unlike a local pastor of my witness who complains about those who complain, failing to see himself in that club. I rationalize my rating of 3* on my belief one's ratings should be a binomial distribution. Since the lowest I will go is 2.5, and I only allow a handful of books at that rating, this book is not one of those. ( )
  applemcg | May 10, 2017 |
+ve CBC review
  kgreply | Feb 6, 2017 |
I loved this book. Theories of biological evolution and cosmology are the closest thing we have to a modern mythological worldview, trying to give us an origin story and answer the big questions in societies now obsessed mostly with trivia and limiting their attention to the most recent crisis. But evolutionary science has become dominated by reductive materialists (not to mention arrogant, bigoted blowhards) like Richard Dawkins who dismiss the idea that subjective experience has any reality. And cosmology (for any non-physicists who’ve been paying attention) has been unable to produce a coherent picture of the universe that unites what happens at the smallest level of reality to what happens at larger scales. Instead when it tries to describe the universe as a whole, it has descended into a kind of mise en abime of untestable hypotheses, proliferating infinities, and incoherency that (Lee Smolin says) results from taking its own mathematics as a literal stand-in for reality instead of as a human tool used to produce models of limited situations. (It seems to have become kind of a scientific analog of French critical theory, which is really depressing to anyone who has tried to get a meaningful picture of the world from THAT.)

Enter Smolin, who tells us that a lot of this can be fixed by seeing the existence of time and its uni-directional passage as fundamental instead of an illusion. (Religion, western philosophy, and science, oddly, have all succumbed to the idea of a timeless reality). He finds that an evolutionary model where time is an essential component and the laws that govern physical reality can themselves evolve offers more promise, and not just for physics but for a range of human inquiry, even including social thought and action. (This is his weakest area –and in a social system where expertise has become so narrow, I suppose there’s no reason to be shocked that his theories of social behavior are as crude as my understanding of theoretical physics… but it’s too bad.)

All in all, along with Rupert Sheldrake’s Science Set Free, this is one of the most promising challenges to the frenzied scramble toward a mechanistic, increasingly alienating, and reductive world that a lot of science seems to be caught up in enabling right now. Will it open new lines of inquiry and give us a cosmos that makes sense, and that we make sense in? Time will tell.
( )
  CSRodgers | May 3, 2014 |
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Epigraph
All things originate from one another,

and vanish into one another

according to necessity …

in conformity with the order of time.

—ANAXIMANDER, On Nature
Dedication
For my parents, Pauline and Michael

With many thanks to Roberto Mangabeira Unger for a shared journey
First words
Preface
What is time?
Introduction
The scientific case for time being an illusion is formidable.
Before starting this or any other journey of discovery, we should heed the advice of the Greek philosopher Heraclitus, who, barely a few steps into the epic story that is science, had the wisdom to warn us that “Nature loves to hide.”
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0547511728, Hardcover)

From one of our foremost thinkers and public intellectuals, a radical new view of the nature of time and the cosmos

What is time?

This deceptively simple question is the single most important problem facing science as we probe more deeply into the fundamentals of the universe. All of the mysteries physicists and cosmologists face—from the Big Bang to the future of the universe, from the puzzles of quantum physics to the unification of forces and particles—come down to the nature of time.
The fact that time is real may seem obvious. You experience it passing every day when you watch clocks tick, bread toast, and children grow. But most physicists, from Newton to Einstein to today’s quantum theorists, have seen things differently. The scientific case for time being an illusion is formidable. That is why the consequences of adopting the view that time is real are revolutionary.

Lee Smolin, author of the controversial bestseller The Trouble with Physics, argues that a limited notion of time is holding physics back. It’s time for a major revolution in scientific thought. The reality of time could be the key to the next big breakthrough in theoretical physics.

What if the laws of physics themselves were not timeless? What if they could evolve? Time Reborn offers a radical new approach to cosmology that embraces the reality of time and opens up a whole new universe of possibilities. There are few ideas that, like our notion of time, shape our thinking about literally everything, with huge implications for physics and beyond—from climate change to the economic crisis. Smolin explains in lively and lucid prose how the true nature of time impacts our world.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:18:43 -0400)

"From one of our foremost thinkers and public intellectuals, a radical new view of the nature of time and the cosmos What is time? This deceptively simple question is the single most important problem facing science as we probe more deeply into the fundamentals of the universe. All of the mysteries physicists and cosmologists face--from the Big Bang to the future of the universe, from the puzzles of quantum physics to the unification of forces and particles--come down to the nature of time. The fact that time is real may seem obvious. You experience it passing every day when you watch clocks tick, bread toast, and children grow. But most physicists, from Newton to Einstein to today's quantum theorists, have seen things differently. The scientific case for time being an illusion is formidable. That is why the consequences of adopting the view that time is real are revolutionary. Lee Smolin, author of the controversial bestseller The Trouble with Physics, argues that a limited notion of time is holding physics back. It's time for a major revolution in scientific thought. The reality of time could be the key to the next big breakthrough in theoretical physics. What if the laws of physics themselves were not timeless? What if they could evolve? Time Reborn offers a radical new approach to cosmology that embraces the reality of time and opens up a whole new universe of possibilities. There are few ideas that, like our notion of time, shape our thinking about literally everything, with huge implications for physics and beyond--from climate change to the economic crisis. Smolin explains in lively and lucid prose how the true nature of time impacts our world"--… (more)

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