The Persistence of Memory
Is time real, or is it the ultimate illusion? Most physicists would say the latter, but Lee Smolin challenges this orthodoxy in his new book, Time Reborn (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, April 2013), which he discussed here Wednesday (24 April) at the Rubin Museum of Art. In a conversation with Duke University neuroscientist Warren Meck, theoretical physicist Smolin, who works at Canada‘s Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics, argued for the controversial idea that time is real, saying, “Time is paramount, and the experience we all have of reality being in the present moment isn’t an illusion, but the deepest clue we have to the fundamental nature of reality”. [Album: The World's Most Beautiful Equations]
Smolin said that he hadn’t come to this concept lightly. He started out thinking, as most physicists do, that time is subjective and illusory. According to Albert Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity, time is just another dimension in space, traversable in either direction, and our human perception of moments passing steadily and sequentially is all in our heads. Over time, though, Smolin became convinced not only that time was real, but that this notion could be the key to understanding the laws of nature, noting, “If laws are outside of time, then they’re inexplicable. If law just simply is, there’s no explanation. If we want to understand law… then, law must evolve, law must change, law must be subject to time. Law then emerges from time and is subject to time rather than the reverse”.
Smolin admitted there are objections to this idea, especially what he calls “the meta-law dilemma“, If physical laws are subject to time, and evolve over time, then, there must be some larger law that guides their evolution. However, wouldn’t this law, then, have to be beyond time, to determine how the other laws change with time? Other physicists have cited this objection in reaction to Smolin’s work. Columbia University physicist Peter Woit wrote on his blog Not Even Wrong, “The problem I see with the argument for laws that evolve in time is one that you yourself identify in the book… what you call the ‘meta-laws dilemma’. You speculate a bit in the book on ways to resolve this, but I don’t see a convincing answer to the criticism that whatever explanation you come up with for what determines how laws evolve, I’m free to characterise that as just another law”.
Smolin admitted this is currently a sticking point, but maintained that there are possible solutions. At the Rubin event, he stated, “I believe you can resolve the meta-law dilemma. I think the direction of 21st-century cosmology will depend on the right way to resolve the meta-law dilemma”. Smolin and Meck discussed the consequences of his idea, including what it means for our understanding of human consciousness and free will. One implication of the idea that time is an illusion is the notion that the future is just as decided as the past. Smolin observed, “If I think the future’s already written, then, the things that are most valuable about being human are illusions along with time. We still aspire to make choices in life. That’s a precious part of our humanity. If the real metaphysical picture is that there are just atoms moving in the void, then nothing’s ever new, and nothing’s ever surprising… it’s just the rearrangement of atoms. There’s a loss of responsibility as well as a loss of human dignity“.
26 April 2013
Smolin admitted there are objections to this idea, especially what he calls “the meta-law dilemma”, If physical laws are subject to time, and evolve over time, then, there must be some larger law that guides their evolution. However, wouldn’t this law, then, have to be beyond time, to determine how the other laws change with time?
This is why there’s no contradiction at all between evolution and theology. Indeed, if we take the implications of this to its logical conclusion, it means that evolution isn’t merely a hypothesis… it’s FACT. Without evolution, there’s no need for “some larger law that guides evolution”. That is, “wouldn’t this law, then, have to be beyond time, to determine how the other laws change with time?” The world isn’t 10,000-years-old and dinos didn’t live at the same time as humans did. Evolution is the greatest memorial of God’s presence amongst us… not its refutation.
Besides that, if time isn’t real, NOTHING’S real, EVERYTHING’S illusory. Note well that such anarchy is at the heart of so-called libertarianism, the regnant philosophy of the American Right. If one is a committed Leftist, one can’t believe in the submission that time is relative, for if one posits such, one argues that there are no objective laws. If you argue thusly, the Spencerian Law of the Jungle rules and “the race goes to the swiftest”. Interestingly, this means that the members of the Religious Right who’re taking Libertarians as their allies are taking an adder and placing it on their breasts without any consideration of the consequence or of the damages it causes to others. To be a believer or to be a Libertarian are diametrically-opposite stances… you can’t combine them without doing violence to one or the other.
Time is real; nature’s laws are objective, and God’s in his heaven. This divinely-ordained objectivity and verity are the sure foundations of social justice and social equity. Interestingly, does that mean that a Leftist MUST be a believer? Now, that’s an interesting meditation, no? I do believe that the corollary’s true… to be on the Right implies Radical Unbelief. Radical Economic Freedom implies an almost-complete absence of outside regulation (that’s why one must be wary of arguments using “freedom” as a basis)… which Marxism denies, by the way (for central to its credo is the idea that objective laws exist outside of and independently of human thought).
That’s why we can have nothing to do with those who argue for deregulation and an anarchic social order based on wealth and power. It flies against EVERYTHING that being a believer means. Look at the rightwing Russian Orthodox clique in Washington DC… they hobnob with libertarians who’ve nothing in common with anything held dear by believers. What are they? Are they libertarians? Are they believers? I’d say that the evidence shows that they’re the former… and we have some housecleaning to do, nicht wahr?
Kaufft nicht bei Potapov und Paffhausen.