The Future of Everything

April 7, 2015

An Imperfect Truth

Filed under: Physics, Reviews — Tags: — David @ 9:06 pm

Review of The Singular Universe and the Reality of Time, by  Roberto Unger and Lee Smolin

When the Perimeter Institute—a physics research institute in Waterloo, Ontario—decided several years ago to build an extension, they asked the architects “to provide the optimal environment for the human mind to conceive of the universe.” Clearly the results were effective. One of the founding faculty members, Lee Smolin, and the Harvard philosopher Roberto Mangabeira Unger have conceived of the universe, and have come to a number of conclusions about it, including that a) there is only one of it, and b) time is real, so all things change, mutate and get old.

To non-scientists, these main points, summed up in the book’s title, might seem unremarkable. We only have experience of one universe, so would it not be presumptuous to assert that there are more? Time is clearly real enough (just ask an editor). And Heraclitus pointed out a long time ago that “everything flows.” So how can the authors assert that the admittance of mutability “is astonishing in the reach of its implications”?

The reason for this lofty claim is that, when time is taken seriously, we need to relax the commonly held assumption that the universe is governed by strict mathematical rules based on immutable symmetries. This mathematical version of reality—the product of generations of scientists—is only “a proxy for our world, a counterfeit version of it, a simulacrum.”

Read the rest of the article at the Literary Review of Canada.

1 Comment »

  1. David,

    It does seem an advanced case of reductio ad absurdum, but how willing is physics to really go back and examine its myriad assumptions and models?

    I try making the very basic observation that we look at time backward. That it is not a vector from past to future, on which the present is a dimensionless point, but that only the present is real and its changing configuration turns future into past. To wit, the earth doesn’t travel some dimension from yesterday to tomorrow, but tomorrow becomes yesterday because the earth turns. Duration is just the state of this present, as the events form and dissolve.

    Given rational thought, history and therefore civilization is based on the narrative effect, which physics codifies as measures of duration, this goes much deeper than just physics, but physics and possibly the philosophy of science, are about the only communities with the logical structure to give this idea serious consideration.

    Safe to say though, I mostly run into a blank wall trying to bring it up for discussion. Not only am I not a professional academic, but it steps on the toes of too many who are. Although in bouncing it off those many walls over the years, I have managed to fill in a lot the gaps, as to how it explains reality and our neurological understanding of it.

    Recently I’ve been posting on Scientia Salon, but to little effect, though Massimo did grudgingly agree that causality yields determination, not the other way around. Basically that the past is the ordered product of the present, not the present a consequence of the order of the past. So you can see it poses problems for some basic assumptions.

    John B Merryman

    Comment by brodix — April 10, 2015 @ 12:49 am

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