Friday, May 31, 2013

Time Reborn

James Gleick reviews a thus-titled "book from the theoretical physicist Lee Smolin aiming to convince us that time is real after all," and which thereby "contravenes our intellectual inheritance from Newton and, for that matter, Plato" — Time Regained! An exceprt:
    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.
More on the physicist:
    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.
It is good to see Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz get some respect, a philosopher who "spent his life trying to effect a reconciliation between Protestantism and Catholicism," which I blogged about here — Leibniz, Theodicy, and Ecumenism. Speaking of philosophers, it seems that all the above perhaps contradicts also St. Augustine's theory of time.

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Blogger Pints in NYC said...

Yet again - another amazingly uncanny post. I just finished (on Tuesday) reading Unamuno's "Tragic Sense of Life" and was interested in reading up a bit more about the philosophy of time. Somethings in his book inspired this train of thought. Well, thanks to this post I may have a springboard further into this topic.


BTW - I'm pretty sure von Balthasar had some worthwhile comments on Liebniz.

May 31, 2013 at 11:55 PM  
Blogger Pints in NYC said...

Oh, and also - C. S. Lewis was a bit critical of motor vehicles because their speed obilitarated space.

May 31, 2013 at 11:57 PM  

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