- For Smolin, the key to salvaging time turns out to be eliminating space. Whereas time is a fundamental property of nature, space, he believes, is an emergent property. It is like temperature: apparent, measurable, but actually a consequence of something deeper and invisible—in the case of temperature, the microscopic motion of ensembles of molecules. Temperature is an average of their energy. It is always an approximation, and therefore, in a way, an illusion. So it is with space for Smolin: “Space, at the quantum-mechanical level, is not fundamental at all but emergent from a deeper order”—an order, as we will see, of connections, relationships. He also believes that quantum mechanics itself, with all its puzzles and paradoxes (“cats that are both alive and dead, an infinitude of simultaneously existing universes”), will turn out to be an approximation of a deeper theory.
For space, the deeper reality is a network of relationships. Things are related to other things; they are connected, and it is the relationships that define space rather than the other way around. This is a venerable notion: Smolin traces the idea of a relational world back to Newton’s great rival, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz: “Space is nothing else, but That Order or Relation; and is nothing at all without Bodies, but the Possibility of placing them.” Nothing useful came of that, while Newton’s contrary view—that space exists independently of the objects it contains—made a revolution in the ability of science to predict and control the world. But the relational theory has some enduring appeal; some scientists and philosophers such as Smolin have been trying to revive it.
- Smolin maintains a fairly puritanical view of what science should and should not do. He doesn’t like the current fashion in “multiverses”—other universes lurking in extra dimensions or branching off infinitely from our own. Science for him needs to be testable, and no one can falsify a hypothesis about a universe held to be inaccessible to ours. For that matter, any theory about the entire cosmos has a weakness. The success of science over the centuries has come in giving rules and language for describing finite, isolated systems. We can make copies of those; we can repeat experiments many times. But when we talk about the whole universe, we have just the one, and we can’t make it start over.