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A radical new view of time.,
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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.