Time Reborn: From the Crisis in Physics to the Future of the Universe

LEE SMOLIN has made influential contributions to the search for a unification of physics. He is a founding faculty member of the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics. His previous books include The Trouble with Physics, The Life of the Cosmos, and Three Roads to Quantum Gravity.
Customer review from the Amazon Vine™ Program

I was very excited when I ordered this book. The idea that the laws of nature may be time dependent has been debated by every generation of physicists since Isaac Newton. It is a romantic idea full of potential surprises, ripe for exciting new theories. It has not caught on, not because physicists shy away from it, but because experimental evidence is not there. (Every physicist, including myself, is very much intrigued by the possibility of time dependent physical laws, but we have not been able to make a fully scientific theory out of it (yet.)) In fact as of today, we don’t have a shred of irrefutable experimental evidence that the laws of physics or any of the physical constants have changed since the first few seconds of big bang more than 13 billion years ago. (And we have no reliable idea how the universe was before the first few seconds.) Even so, I was still jazzed up about it. I did not expect to read about a full theory, but some coherent sketch of how it may work out. Unfortunately, the book fell way short of my expectations. This is not a scientific book; in fact it is not even a philosophical book. It is a book in which the author preaches the laymen from his high pulpit, stating his own pet theories and speculations as if they are facts, or at least as if they are likely to be true even though they have not been supported by any evidence yet.

I diligently read chapter after chapter expecting a high synthesis of ideas eventually. It never came. But it was much worse than that when I realized that the author was leading up to a type of “hidden variables” interpretation of Quantum Mechanics (QM). If you don’t know what that term means, don’t worry about it, it is just physics jargon for theories that try to replace QM by deterministic approaches that avoid the probabilistic interpretation of it. Based on personal philosophy and even religion, countless people (many of them very prominent physicists themselves) objected to the standard probabilistic interpretation of QM in the last 90 years. Hundreds of alternative deterministic approaches were proposed to replace QM. These theories are termed “hidden variable theories.” The better ones actually reproduce most of the predictions of QM. But no hidden variable theory has ever produced identical results to QM for all test cases. When the differences arose in predictions, the experiments backed the predictions by QM irrefutably. As of today, there is not one single hidden variable theory that produces the same results as QM for all experiments. It may yet happen some day, but based on how hard some of the smartest people on Earth have tried and failed for 90 years (including most notably Albert Einstein) to make hidden variable theories work, the prospects are rather dim.

As if that was not bad enough, in the last few chapters the author rejects the concept of “identical particles” in QM. He states explicitly that every electron in the universe is different and distinguishable from every other electron. He gives an easy example of an electron on Earth and another one on the Moon, because they have extremely well localized positions in space far away from each other. He never talks about obvious counter examples. Consider the two electrons of the helium atom in the ground state for instance. These two electrons sit on top of each other with opposite spins. Any experiment which tries to measure which electron is spin-up and which one is spin down in the helium atom fails, confirming the experimental prediction of QM that you get the wrong answer if you do not treat the electrons as indistinguishable. The experiment confirms that the two electrons have opposite spins, but there is no way to tell which is which. This is not because our experimental set up is faulty or inaccurate. It is because of a fundamental property of Nature itself.

The last three chapters of the book could easily be called religious. It goes way beyond scientific speculation, and into the realm of religious dogma, asserting how the Universe should be because we (he) want(s) it to be that way for personal reasons. I could not recommend this book, especially if you do not know much physics, in which case you might get a really distorted view.

And this excerpt from a friendly review.
A somewhat irrelevant gripe I have with the book is over a philosophical disagreement in the epilogue. Smolin defends a form of dualism (the idea in philosophy of mind that the subjective experience or “qualia” we have are different than the brain processes that produce them) called property dualism (distinct from Cartesian or “substance dualism” which is the idea that there is an immaterial mind controlling the body). He doesn’t really go in depth as to why he thinks property dualism is the case, but does mention David Chalmers. I have training in neuropsychology and philosophy, so these sorts of mind issues are something I spend a great deal of time thinking about. My answer to that can be found in the books Consciousness Explained by Dan Dennett and A Universe of Consciousness by Gerald Edelman. I only mention this so that those who read the epilogue and would like to read more on the topic can have some literature to read the opposite conjecture. However, it’s just a minor disagreement over something in the epilogue and it in no way subtracts from the quality of the book.

More: http://www.amazon.com/Time-Reborn-Crisis-Physics-Universe/dp/0547511728/ref=cm_cr_pr_product_top


About basicrulesoflife

Year 1935. Interests: Contemporary society problems, quality of life, happiness, understanding and changing ourselves - everything based on scientific evidence.
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