Time Reborn: From the Crisis in Physics to the Future of the Universe
Man's Greatest Achievement by Nikola Tesla | New York American — July 6, 1930What is time? This deceptively simple question is the single most important problem facing science as we probe more deeply into the fundamentals of the universe. All of the mysteries physicists and cosmologists face—from the Big Bang to the future of the universe, from the puzzles of quantum physics to the unification of forces and particles—come down to the nature of time.The scientific case for time being an illusion is formidable. That is why the consequences of adopting the view that time is real are revolutionary. Lee Smolin, author of the controversial bestseller The Trouble with Physics, argues that a limited notion of time is holding physics back. It’s time for a major revolution in scientific thought. The reality of time could be the key to the next big breakthrough in theoretical physics. What if the laws of physics themselves were not timeless? What if they could evolve? Time Reborn offers a radical new approach to cosmology that embraces the reality of time and opens up a whole new universe of possibilities. There are few ideas that, like our notion of time, shape our thinking about literally everything, with huge implications for physics and beyond. Was Einstein wrong? At least in his understanding of time, Smolin argues, the great theorist of relativity was dead wrong. What is worse, by firmly enshrining his error in scientific orthodoxy, Einstein trapped his successors in insoluble dilemmas as they try to devise timeless laws explaining the origins and structure of the cosmos. How, Smolin asks, can such laws account for the highly improbable set of conditions that triggered the Big Bang jump-starting the universe? How, Smolin further wants to know, can scientists ever empirically test their timeless cosmic hypotheses? With rare conceptual daring, Smolin beckons toward a new perspective for doing cosmological theory, a perspective allowing Leibniz’s principle of sufficient reason to open surprising possibilities. This horizon not only readmits time as a reality; it enshrines time as the reality, the indispensable point of flux allowing everything else, including the laws of matter and energy, to evolve and change. Embracing time as real, Smolin asserts, will allow cosmologists to convert laws once regarded as timeless into the contingent data they need to develop testable new theories of galactic evolution. Contrary to Plato and Einstein, theoretical physicist Smolin (The Trouble with Physics) asserts that ‘not only is time real, but nothing we know or experience gets closer to the heart of nature than the reality of time.’ Though time has always been a quantity to measure, the author explains that in the 17th century, scientists began wondering whether ‘the world is in essence mathematical or it lives in time.’ Newton’s laws of motion made time irrelevant, and ‘Einstein’s two theories of relativity are, at their most basic, theories of time—or, better, timelessness.’ Galileo and Descartes, on the other hand, insisted that time should be regarded as another dimension, and in 1909, mathematician Hermann Minkowski developed the theory of ‘spacetime,’ a feature of the universe shaped by gravity. Smolin asserts that current-day cosmology has hit a wall because physicists refuse to understand that physical laws must ‘evolve in a real time.’ Changing that perspective, he says, will revolutionize everything from string theory to the stock market. Although the distinctions in point of view aren’t always clear, Smolin makes an energetic case for a paradigm shift that could produce mind-boggling changes in the way we experience our world. If the cosmos were empty, space would exist, but there would be no time. So time is inextricably bound up with the material universe, a real phenomenon at the heart of nature. This turns out to be controversial since the great thinkers from Plato to Newton to Einstein taught that time is an illusion that humans must transcend to achieve true understanding. Smolin disagrees, maintaining that embracing its reality is the key to solving the great problems in physics. He makes a case that Newton’s paradigm—knowing the forces acting on any system allows us, following natural laws, to predict its future state—is a fallacy. It works for limited areas and short periods but fails on universal scales. Applying his deep mastery of cosmology, quantum mechanics, general relativity and all the diverse attempts at quantum gravity, in Time Reborn Lee Smolin weaves a convincing and entirely new view of reality. He shows us how contemporary physics eliminates time and argues persuasively that any adequate cosmology rests on making time and ‘now’ fundamental.
When a child is born its sense-organs are brought in contact with the outer world. The waves of sound, heat, and light beat upon its feeble body, its sensitive nerve-fibres quiver, the muscles contract and relax in obedience: a gasp, a breath, and in this act a marvelous little engine, of inconceivable delicacy and complexity of construction, unlike any on earth, is hitched to the wheel-work of the Universe. The little engine labors and grows, performs more and more involved operations, becomes sensitive to ever subtler influences and now there manifests itself in the fully developed being - Man - a desire mysterious, inscrutable and irresistible: to imitate nature, to create, to work himself the wonders he perceives. Inspired in this task he searches, discovers and invents, designs and constructs, and enriches with monuments of beauty, grandeur and awe, the star of his birth. He descends into the bowels of the globe to bring forth its hidden treasures and to unlock its immense imprisoned energies for its use. He invades the dark depths of the ocean and the azure regions of the sky. He peers into the innermost nooks and recesses of molecular structure and lays bare to his gaze worlds infinitely remote. He subdues and puts to his service the fierce, devastating spark of Prometheus, the titanic forces of the waterfall, the wind and the tide. He tames the thundering bolt of Jove and annihilates time and space. He makes the great Sun itself his obedient toiling slave. Such is the power and might that the heavens reverberate and the whole earth trembles by the mere sound of his voice. What has the future in store for this strange being, born of a breath, of perishable tissue, yet immortal, with his powers fearful and divine? What magic will be wrought by him in the end? What is to be his greatest deed, his crowning achievement? Long ago he recognized that all perceptible matter comes from a primary substance, of a tenuity beyond conception and filling all space - the Akasha or luminiferous ether - which is acted upon by the life-giving Prana or creative force, calling into existence, in never ending cycles, all things and phenomena. The primary substance, thrown into infinitesimal whirls of prodigious velocity, becomes gross matter; the force subsiding, the motion ceases and matter disappears, reverting to the primary substance. Can Man control this grandest, most awe-inspiring of all processes in nature? Can he harness her inexhaustible energies to perform all their functions at his bidding, more still - can he so refine his means of control as to put them in operation simply by the force of his will? If he could do this he would have powers almost unlimited and supernatural. At his command, with but a slight effort on his part, old worlds would disappear and new ones of his planning would spring into being. He could fix, solidify and preserve the ethereal shapes of his imagining, the fleeting visions of his dreams. He could express all the creations of his mind, on any scale, in forms concrete and imperishable. He could alter the size of this planet, control its seasons, guide it along any path he might choose through the depths of the Universe. He could make planets collide and produce his suns and stars, his heat and light. He could originate and develop life in all its infinite forms. To create and annihilate material substance, cause it to aggregate in forms according to his desire, would be the supreme manifestation of the power of Man’s mind, his most complete triumph over the physical world, his crowning achievement which would place him beside his Creator and fulfill his ultimate destiny.