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50 of 52 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Real eye-opening science speculation
Lee Smolin's book is largely accessible (more on this later) and simply mind-boggling in its scope. What he does here is take on time, and specifically the position of time in physics. Even taken as a simple book on time this is brilliant. The fact is, the majority of books that claim to be about time tell you nothing. It's striking that A Brief History of Time tells us...
Published 15 months ago by Brian Clegg

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1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A good effort
This book doesn't quite bridge the gap between popular science and a scholarly essay. The author belabours many of his points in order to demolish arguments the lay person isn't really aware of. I got the point and was bogged down in much of the proof at the end.
Published 11 months ago by B. Portes


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50 of 52 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Real eye-opening science speculation, 2 Jun 2013
By 
Brian Clegg "Brian Clegg" (Wiltshire, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Time Reborn: From the Crisis in Physics to the Future of the Universe (Hardcover)
Lee Smolin's book is largely accessible (more on this later) and simply mind-boggling in its scope. What he does here is take on time, and specifically the position of time in physics. Even taken as a simple book on time this is brilliant. The fact is, the majority of books that claim to be about time tell you nothing. It's striking that A Brief History of Time tells us that amongst a list of deep scientific questions that have answers suggested by `Recent breakthroughs in physics, made possible in part by fantastic new technologies', is `What is the nature of time?' But you can search the book from end to end for any suggestion of what time is or how it works. There is plenty on how we observe time, and how interaction with matter can change these observations, but nothing deeper.

Smolin gives what is, for me, the best analysis of the nature of time from a physics viewpoint in a popular science book I have ever seen. He goes on to describe how most physicists consider that `time does not exist', and comes up with an approach where time becomes real in physics. Now I do have one issue with Smolin here. He says that amongst his non-scientific friends `the idea that time is an illusion is a... commonplace.' This is garbage (or at least his friends are non-representative). The vast majority of people who aren't physicists or philosophers would say `Of course time exists.' However, Smolin sets off to first persuade us it doesn't, using the most common arguments of current physics, and then to show how this is a mistake.

In fact, I think the reason most people wouldn't agree is because it isn't really true that modern physics says time doesn't exist. What it says is that the idea of time as a moving present that heads from the past into the future isn't real, and that there are plenty of concepts in physics like natural laws that appear to be outside of time, and so time isn't as fundamental as people think. Nor, relativity shows us, is it absolute. This isn't the same as something not existing or being an illusion, and I think the physicists who use this label have spent too much time talking to philosophers. Dogs aren't fundamental to the laws of physics, but this doesn't mean they don't exist.

Nonetheless, current mainstream physics does prefer time to be kept in a box - and this is where Smolin breaks out. He shows us that pretty well all of physics is based on the idea that we are dealing with closed systems, where in reality there is no so such thing - meaning that it is quite possible that pretty well all existing physics is just an approximation. And he comes up with a mechanism where time, something that actually ticks by and has a universal meaning, can exist (though at the expense of space being quite so real as we thought).

In doing this, Smolin will have irritated a whole lot of physicists. Some will simply not agree - any string theorists, for example, would dismiss his loop quantum gravity viewpoint. Many others will simply not be able to cope. Physicists are, on the whole, a fairly conservative bunch (with a small `c') - they aren't very good at coming with radical shifts in viewpoint like this. Of course this doesn't make Smolin right, but it is a fascinating bit of speculation.

The book isn't perfect. Smolin's writing style is workmanlike, but suffers from too academic a viewpoint - he doesn't have the common touch. Oddly, it's not so much that he baffles us with science, but rather he baffles us with labels which don't have enough science attached. He has a tendency to use terminology and then say effectively `but you don't need to know what that's all about.' I think popular science is much better if you avoid the jargon and instead explain what lies beneath. Also he uses really scrappy hand-drawn illustrations that I suspect are supposed to make them look more friendly and approachable, but actually makes them practically incomprehensible.

These are minor moans though. Whether or not you agree with the physics, this is a book to get you thinking, awash with ideas and totally fascinating. It isn't the easiest popular science book to understand - it is very much of the `read each sentence slowly, and some times several times' school, yet it is a superb contribution to the field that really puts that cat among the pigeons. Three cheers for Lee Smolin who is, for me, apart from lacking that common touch, the nearest thing we have in the present day to the late, great Fred Hoyle.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Provocative and brave, 24 May 2013
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This review is from: Time Reborn: From the Crisis in Physics to the Future of the Universe (Hardcover)
Lee Smolin has truly made a book that does make you think very differently about time. His arguments are provocative and perhaps controversial but that is a good thing. I love that his emphasis is always on making his theories as amenable to experiment as possible. Having read the book I am especially swayed by his arguments about trying to build a cosmological theory that is not based on what he calls the "physics in a box" theories which always involve boundary conditions. The most important thing about this book is that it is easy to read and engaging. Another reviewer was horrified that he was promoting a nonlocal hidden variables theory, but at least he has made a justification for it and his focus is always in trying to build such a justification for a new theory that will be experimentally falsifiable. I also rather like his ensemble-interpretation of quantum physics because it at least is trying to make the theory based on real-ensembles. Almost throughout the book this falsifiability is his main commitment, and if it was throughout the whole book then I would have given it 5 stars. However, he recapitulates in the epilogue and claims that there are things that are probably "intrinsic" and "essence-like" and seems to hark back to dualist and unfalsifiable theories of consciousness. Though this is a tiny section of the book it scares me that he would build such a wonderful relational justification for the universe and then discard it because he can't "see" how consciousness would fit into it. He drives a difficult path through the mire and then seems to jump on an easy one at the end for a bit of light relief! It is difficult to imagine a relational and heterophenomenological theory of consciousness, but just because it is difficult to imagine is no argument against it, and certainly should justify believing in essences! He was admittedly coy about even delving into this topic and I just wish he hadn't. It seemed to come out of nowhere. In the rest of the book he argues very well that people have been stuck in a rut and think about physical theories in a dubious way, and I think is argument is important and should be well-read. I also like his arguments for things having an actual history and evolving being a very important criteria in science - as else we are effectively presuming timelessness. His main thesis is certainly very palatable, and deserves serious attempts to falsify it. One of the most exciting sections of the book is the section on shape dynamics - theories which are equivalent to general relativity but in which size is not absolute, but relative, yet which also has a preferred time slicing. A wonderful idea. In summary: read this book, just be careful with the epilogue!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book, 16 Jan 2014
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This review is from: Time Reborn: From the Crisis in Physics to the Future of the Universe (Hardcover)
Lee Smolin is a researcher at the Perimeter Institute in Canada and considers low level issues in physics like why it's so hard to formulate gravity in a quantum framework. He's also a bit of an outsider because he thinks modern physics hasn't really progressed in 30 years. Sure we have light emitting diodes and smartphone but there's been no change in fundamental physics. For example, the theoretical under-pinnings of the recently discovered Higgs boson were written down 50 years ago.

So in the book Smolin advances his view of a possible alternative formulation of fundamental physics which he believes will allow progress to be made. Core to this alternative formulation is our perception of time as an eternal, outside constant. This is why the book has the name it does. He's not proposing to rewrite general relativity or quantum mechanics he's just suggesting looking at these pillars from a different perspective.

If you are into physics and want a non-establishment view of current ideas and research in physics this will be a good read for you.
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23 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Melting moments..., 26 April 2013
This review is from: Time Reborn: From the Crisis in Physics to the Future of the Universe (Hardcover)
Professor Lee Smolin argues that we need to move away from 'timeless' theories of physics and put 'now' back where it belongs, at the centre of our theories, just as it is at the centre of our experience. This, he maintains, will allow progress in quantum theories beyond the discomfiting and untestable notion that we live in an infinite multiverse, where anything that can happen does happen, an infinite number of times. Exciting stuff, presented in a non-mathematical way that does not presume an extensive knowledge of physics. Einstein found 'now' puzzling... I guess he might approve of this approach.
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13 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Did some kind of natural selection produce our universe?, 27 May 2013
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This review is from: Time Reborn: From the Crisis in Physics to the Future of the Universe (Hardcover)
Lee Smolin examines the possibility that our universe is the product of some kind of natural selection involving black holes and/or cyclic Big Bang/Big Crunch scenarios. Like Ilya Progogine, he maintains that the future is uncertain to some extent and amenable to human influence here on Earth, so we should take seriously our responsibility for reducing global warming for example. Entanglement could be explained if the holographic nature of our 3D reality is based on information stored on a quasi 2D surface, analogous to the event horizon of a black hole. By reinstating time, Lee makes a good attempt to bridge the gap between what Einstein's relativity and quantum theory say about the nature of reality.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Really good. If you are thinking of reading this book ..., 2 July 2014
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Really good. If you are thinking of reading this book then look at 'The Trouble with Physics' also by Lee Smolin.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A radical new view of time., 22 Jan 2014
By 
Brian R. Martin (London, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Time Reborn: From the Crisis in Physics to the Future of the Universe (Hardcover)
The aim of the book is to restore time to its `rightful' place as a `real' quantity in the description of the universe. For most readers, and also most scientists (despite what Smolin says) time is already `real'; we observe its passage daily as things, including ourselves, decay. On the other hand, there is the paradox that although we live `in time' we commonly judge our activities by timeless standards; Smolin gives `truth' and `justice' as examples. In the scientific context, what he means is not that the laws of nature don't contain a time variable, because some of them obviously do, rather the form of the laws themselves are timeless. Newton's laws of motion are the same now as when he discovered them and will remain so indefinitely; that is the assumption on which physical science at present is based. Progress within this framework is made by making improvements to experiments and treating the outcomes as timeless. Smolin starts by reviewing how this has become the orthodox view.

Smolin believes that the orthodox view is an illusion that stems from a common belief (the Newtonian paradigm) which assumes we can predict the future state of any system from its initial conditions and the laws acting on it and, crucially, that this can be extended to the universe as a whole. One consequence of this is that the universe would ultimately reach equilibrium where entropy is maximized and a universe such as ours could occur only briefly as a random fluctuation, which leads to some very weird predictions and essentially renders scientific research pointless. Smolin believes the Newton paradigm is a fallacy, because in practice physics deals with closed systems, and we have to accept that the laws as we know them are approximations. In his view everything can evolve, including the laws of nature. He also believes that the conventional viewpoint has led cosmology into its present dilemmas and that by restoring time, a new cosmological theory might emerge that will satisfy Leibnitz's `principle of sufficient reason', i.e. there has to be a rational answer to any reasonable question that we may ask about why the universe has some particular feature. He shows that such a theory would have no symmetries or conservation laws and the outcome of future experiments would be determined by the collection of past cases. Needless to say, these are very radical ideas, and it will take a lot of evidence to persuade the vast majority of physicsists of their correctness. Although at present there is not a scrap of evidence to support these ideas, one has to admire Smolin for still insisting that any new theory would require experimental verification, contrary to some theorists who, out of frustration one feels at not being able to think of suitable experiments, advocate `following the maths' and going where it leads. Interestingly, Smolin thinks that maths may actually be inhibiting the development of a new cosmological theory.

I am not sure for whom this book was written. The subject is very esoteric, even for particle physics/cosmology, and to understand Smolin's views, which are very unorthodox, requires much concentration and thought. It is certainly not for the fainthearted and cannot really be classified as `popular science'. It is not helped by his repetitive style of writing, some very poor hand-drawn diagrams and his tendency to wander off the point. Having said that, he does make one think about things that are usually taken for granted.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Physics unconstrained, 8 Sep 2013
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There are are a several excellent reviews in Goodreads so I shan't try to duplicate them here.
In spite of the lack of maths, or maybe because of it, it is a very challenging book. Smolin argues that from the Newtonian point of view the fate and course of the Universe is fixed at the moment of the Big Bang, by spatializing the time dimension. No surprises, no innovations. However Smolin's thesis is that time is not an illusion but is real and evolves continuously he allows the laws of physics to evolve and thus the fate of the universe is not yet fixed. But read the book.
I am a tolerably well informed amateur and I thought I was close to uderstanding modern physics, but now I don't think I know anything.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A new, non-mystical, way of thinking about universe by an experienced and expert physicist/cosmologist., 22 Jun 2013
By 
Graham Lyons (Kirkbymoorside UK) - See all my reviews
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The way time is mystified in modern physics and cosmology baffles me. In my view the nature of time is simple. Things move. Agreed? Time is a measurement that compares the movement of one thing, A, to another, B, a reference object that we assume moves in a repetitively regular fashion, e.g. the sun, a pendulum, a caesium atom.

Time is real but dependant. There is a good analogy with temperature or smell. Temperature would not exist if objects never got hotter or colder and neither would smell exist if objects (or bodies!) never released smelly molecules. And time would not exist is nothing moved since time measures movement. Without movement, both practically and philosophically there would not even be a concept of time.

Lee Smolin's book is very clearly written and can be understood by the laywoman. (That's interesting – a lose-lose situation: 'layman' is a sexist word but 'laywoman' has sexist implications, "even a woman can understand the book.") I've read the long introduction and three chapters and I'm hooked. Smolin's career has been at the heart of modern physics and cosmology. In Time Reborn:..., he carefully presents a new paradigm that, if accepted, will do much to sort out the current controversies around the Big Bang, Dark Matter, String Theory and more. But the main reason I like this book is that it is the first popular science book I have read that agrees with me on the nature of time.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Time Reborn OR Death of Maths?, 17 Dec 2013
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This review is from: Time Reborn: From the Crisis in Physics to the Future of the Universe (Hardcover)
Mathematics will continue to be a handmaiden to Science, but she can no longer be Queen"
Beyond all the great chat in this book about Time and bringing it back into being a fundamental part of Physics and Cosmology, there appears, as seen in the quote above, to be a more fundamental message the author is trying to get across and that is that Maths is no longer the Queen but the Handmaiden of Science and indeed that Maths is now inhibiting development of a more complete understanding of Cosmology and all of this comes down to the notion that Maths cannot handle Time. It cannot the author claims handle the fact that in the "real world it is always some particular moment"

As the author himself alludes to Time will tell if he is correct but the strength of argument is certainly there.

His thesis on the Evolution of the Laws of Physics via a sort of natural Selection is Fascinating

The book is not quite as easy reading as a number of these types of popular science books but it is well worth the extra effort.

I do hope he is correct as his Physics sound so much more Fun than where we are headed at the moment
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