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

Cosmology for the Curious - Delia Perlov and Alex Vilenkin ***

In the recently published The Little Book of Black Holes we saw what I thought was pretty much impossible - a good, next level, general audience science title, spanning the gap between a typical popular science book and an introductory textbook, but very much in the style of popular science. Cosmology for the Curious does something similar, but coming from the other direction. This is an introductory textbook, intended for first year physics students, with familiar textbook features like questions to answer at the end of each chapter. Yet by incorporating some history and context, plus taking a more relaxed style in the writing, it's certainly more approachable than a typical textbook.

The first main section, The Big Bang and the Observable Universe not only covers basic big bang cosmology but fills in the basics of special and general relativity, Hubble's law, dark matter, dark energy and more. We then move onto the more speculative (this is cosmology, after all) aspects, brin…

Astrophysics for People in a Hurry – Neil deGrasse Tyson *****

When I reviewed James Binney’s Astrophysics: A Very Short Introduction earlier this year, I observed that the very word ‘astrophysics’ in a book’s title is liable to deter many readers from buying it. As a former astrophysicist myself, I’ve never really understood why it’s considered such a scary word, but that’s the way it is. So I was pleasantly surprised to learn, from Wikipedia, that this new book by Neil deGrasse Tyson ‘topped The New York Times non-fiction bestseller list for four weeks in the middle of 2017’.

Like James Binney, Tyson is a professional astrophysicist with a string of research papers to his name – but he’s also one of America’s top science popularisers, and that’s the hat he’s wearing in this book. While Binney addresses an already-physics-literate audience, Tyson sets his sights on a much wider readership. It’s actually very brave – and honest – of him to give physics such prominent billing; the book could easily have been given a more reader-friendly title such …

Once upon and Algorithm - Martin Erwig ***

I've been itching to start reading this book for some time, as the premise was so intriguing - to inform the reader about computer science and algorithms using stories as analogies to understand the process.

This is exactly what Martin Erwig does, starting (as the cover suggests) with Hansel and Gretel, and then bringing in Sherlock Holmes (and particularly The Hound of the Baskervilles), Indiana Jones, the song 'Over the Rainbow' (more on that in a moment), Groundhog Day, Back to the Future and Harry Potter.

The idea is to show how some aspect of the story - in the case of Hansel and Gretel, laying a trail of stones/breadcrumbs, then attempting to follow them home - can be seen as a kind of algorithm or computation and gradually adding in computing standards, such as searching, queues and lists, loops, recursion and more.

This really would have been a brilliant book if Erwig had got himself a co-author who knew how to write for the public, but sadly the style is mostly heavy…