Skip to main content

Lee Smolin – Four Way Interview

Lee Smolin is one of our foremost theoretical physicists and a rare thinker, as deeply involved in the philosophy of science as in its theoretical detail and cultural resonance. He is able both to confront and propose solutions for a way out of what he sees is a current impasse in theoretical thinking and to continue to posit radical new theories about the fabric of the universe. He has made important contributions to the search for quantum gravity. Since 2001 he has been a founding faculty member at Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Toronto. His books include Life of the Cosmos (1997), Three Roads to Quantum Gravity (2001) and The Trouble with Physics (2001). Lee’s latest book is Time Reborn – From the Crisis of Physics to the Future of the Universe.
Why science?
Let me answer with the lyrics to a song Science is Real by the rock band They Might be Giants
I like the stories
About angels, unicorns and elves
Now I like those stories
As much as anybody else
But when I’m seeking knowledge
Either simple or abstract
The facts are with science
The facts are with science
A scientific theory
Isn’t just a hunch or guess
It’s more like a question
That’s been put through a lot of tests
And when a theory emerges
Consistent with the facts
The proof is with science
The truth is with science
–They Might be Giants
Why this book? (Time Reborn)
Three reasons:
1) To present an argument based on science for the reality of the present moment and for the necessity that everything-even the laws of nature-evolve in time.
2) To explain why the opposite belief-that time is an illusion-has so powerfully influenced the thinking of scientists and philosophers and to explain why it is an illusion.
3) To explore its implications for science and for us as human beings.
What’s next?
To develop and test new hypotheses for cosmology based on the idea that time is real and laws evolve.
What’s exciting you at the moment?
The possibility of explaining why everyday phenomena are irreversible in time while the laws of physics are reversible, without having to refer to unlikely hypotheses like the improbability of the early conditions of our universe.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

The Art of Statistics - David Spiegelhalter *****

Statistics have a huge impact on us - we are bombarded with them in the news, they are essential to medical trials, fundamental science, some court cases and far more. Yet statistics is also a subject than many struggle to deal with (especially when the coupled subject of probability rears its head). Most of us just aren't equipped to understand what we're being told, or to question it when the statistics are dodgy. What David Spiegelhalter does here is provide a very thorough introductory grounding in statistics without making use of mathematical formulae*. And it's remarkable.

What will probably surprise some who have some training in statistics, particularly if (like mine) it's on the old side, is that probability doesn't come into the book until page 205. Spiegelhalter argues that as probability is the hardest aspect for us to get an intuitive feel for, this makes a lot of sense - and I think he's right. That doesn't mean that he doesn't cover all …

The Case Against Reality - Donald Hoffman ***

It's not exactly news that our perception of the world around us can be a misleading confection of the brain, rather than a precise picture of reality - everything from optical illusions to the apparent motion of video confirms this - but professor of cognitive science Donald Hoffman goes far beyond this. He wants us to believe that spacetime and the objects in it are not real: that they only exist when we perceive them. It's not that he believes everything to be totally illusory, but suggests that the whole framework of the physical world is a construction of our minds.

To ease us into this viewpoint, Hoffman gives the example of the Necker cube - the clever two-dimensional drawing apparently of a cube which can be seen in two totally different orientations. Calling these orientations 'Cube A and Cube B' he remarks that our changing perceptions suggest that 'neither Cube A nor Cube B is there when no one looks, and there is no objective cube that exists unobserve…

The Body - Bill Bryson ****

I am a huge fan of Bill Bryson's travel books - he is a superb storyteller, and in the best parts of his science writing, this ability to provide fascinating facts and intriguing tales shines through.

After taking on the whole of science in his first book, here he focuses in on the physiology, anatomy and diseases of the human body. Bryson does so with his usual light, approachable style, peppering the plethora of facts (and 'don't know's - it's amazing how much we still don't know about the workings of the body) with the little nuggets you can't help but share and stories of some of the odd and, frankly, horrifying goings on in the history of medicine.

So, for example, Bryson throws in 'The chin is unique to humans and no one knows why we have one.' He speculates that it might be just that we 'find a good chin dashing' and quotes a Harvard professor as saying 'Testing this last hypothesis is especially difficult, but the reader is encoura…