Saturday, May 4, 2013

Time Reborn

"Cavity from a tree memorable from my childhood, 
now long deceased but still evolving"   
CC Jean Stimmell: 1/17/13

The thesis of a newly published book, Time Reborn: From the Crisis in Physics to the Future of the Universe, is very exciting to a postmodernist like me. I believe that most of what we believe are not ultimate truths but human truths: we each view our world through our own unique lens: grounded in our own culture and historical time and place, in combination with biological predispositions and unique human experiences – even scientists aren't exempt.
We are like the story about the three blind men, each feeling a different part of an elephant. Not being able to see the big picture, one blind man feels the elephant’s trunk and thinks it is a hose; the second blind man feels the elephant’s leg and thinks it is a trunk of a tree, while the third blind man feels the elephant’s tail and thinks it is a rope.
Most of life is socially constructed based on our culture and actual experiences.  I have long believed that science is no different. Yes, scientists make hypotheses and conduct painstaking experiences based on the actual facts, but in the end they are no different than the three blind men. For instance, if your hypothesis is that the trunk of a tree is big and round and scaly, then, based on the facts, an elephant’s leg, taken in isolation, is indeed a tree.
Lee Smolin, who wrote Time Reborn, is a well-known physicist who used to hold the conventional view that the goal of science is to work toward discovering the-really-real: eternal and timeless laws of the universe which can be expressed in elegant, succinct mathematical equations.
Well, Mr. Smolin has changed his mind. Science has undergone fundamental paradigm shifts in the past, and now he is calling for another major shift. He believes science went off-track four centuries ago when scientists, starting with Descartes and Galileo, first introduced mathematics into physics resulting in a new dominant paradigm.
 From that point forward, laws of physics were presumed to be mathematical laws, timeless and eternal: the end result is that time itself has been given short shrift: Scientists have ignored “the seemingly most essential aspect of our existence in the world – its presentation to us as a succession of present moments.” [i]
This scientific paradigm extends through Einstein and still reigns today assuming, against all common sense, that the past, present, and future all exist, but without direction or flow. Nothing in this picture of the universe explains how one instant leads to the next.
Smolin's new book breaks new ground by asserting that, in fact, time does flow and is so fundamental that it is linked to the evolution of the universe as a whole. He posits that there is “a single rate at which time flows,” a rate that is the same throughout the universe. He stresses that this isn’t a refutation of Einstein’s theory, just a reformulation. But it brings a big payoff: “Time has been rediscovered.” [ii]
This has many ramifications.
One provocative possibility, according to Smolin, is that the nature of time may change how we think about ourselves because it may be connected to another fundamental attribute we have never been able to fully grasp: the nature of consciousness.
 Smolin’s theory, if true, has many other far reaching consequences. It would be a paradigm shift far greater in magnitude than the discovery that the world is round, not flat.
All our belief systems would have to radically change if everything is evolving in real time, even the cosmos and the laws that govern it. Scientists would have to stop their quest for the Holy Grail of eternal, timeless truth. And religions would have to adapt to Supreme Beings who are no longer timeless and eternal, but evolving like the rest of us.
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