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Lee Smolin

Time Reborn

Lee Smolin Time Reborn From The Crisis In Physics To The Future Of The U
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Excerpt from book:

INTRODUCTION

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.

The core of the physicists’ case against time relies on the way we understand what a law of physics is. According to this dominant view, everything that happens in the universe is determined by a law, which dictates precisely how the future evolves out of the present. The law is absolute and, once present conditions are specified, there is no freedom or uncertainty in how the future will evolve.

As Thomasina, the precocious heroine of Tom Stoppard’s play Arcadia, explains to her tutor: “If you could stop every atom in its position and direction, and if your mind could comprehend all the actions thus suspended, then if you were really, really good at algebra you could write the formula for all the future; and although nobody can be so clever as to do it, the formula must exist just as if one could.”

I used to believe that my job as a theoretical physicist was to find that formula; I now see my faith in its existence as more mysticism than science.

Were he writing lines for a modern character, Stoppard would have had Thomasina say that the universe is like a computer. The laws of physics are the program. When you give it an input — the present positions of all the elementary particles in the universe — the computer runs for an appropriate amount of time and gives you the output, which is all the positions of the elementary particles at some future time. Within this view of nature, nothing happens except the rearrangement of particles according to timeless laws, so according to these laws the future is already completely determined by the present, as the present was by the past.

This view diminishes time in several ways.1 There can be no surprises, no truly novel phenomena, because all that happens is rearrangement of the atoms. The properties of the atoms themselves are timeless, as are the laws controlling them; neither ever changes. Any feature of the world at a future time can be computed from the configuration of the present. That is, the passage of time can be replaced by a computation, which means that the future is logically a consequence of the present.

Einstein’s theories of relativity make even stronger arguments that time is inessential to a fundamental description of the world, as I’ll discuss in chapter 6. Relativity strongly suggests that the whole history of the world is a timeless unity; present, past, and future have no meaning apart from human subjectivity. Time is just another dimension of space, and the sense we have of experiencing moments passing is an illusion behind which is a timeless reality.

These assertions may seem horrifying to anyone whose worldview includes a place for free will or human agency. This is not an argument I will engage in here; my case for the reality of time rests purely on science. My job will be to explain why the usual arguments for a predetermined future are wrong scientifically.

In Part I, I will present the case from science for believing that time is an illusion. In Part II, I will demolish those arguments and show why time must be taken to be real if fundamental physics and cosmology are to overcome the crises they currently face.

To frame the argument of Part I, I trace the development of the concepts of time used in physics, from Aristotle and Ptolemy through Galileo, Newton, Einstein, and on to our contemporary quantum cosmologists, and show how our concept of time was diminished, step by step, as physics progressed. Telling the story this way also allows me to gently introduce the material the lay reader needs for an understanding of the argument. Indeed, key points can be introduced by ordinary examples of balls falling and planets orbiting. Pa

One of our foremost thinkers and public intellectuals offers a radical new view of the nature of time, and explores its implications for everything from physics and cosmology to economics and climate change.


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