Guru Magazine - - CONTENTS -

Ross Harper plunges into Lee Smolin’s new book, Time Re­born – a mind-bend­ing tome that ad­dresses some heavy philo­soph­i­cal is­sues. But does it make for a tri­umph in pop­u­lar science writ­ing, or an un­read­able mud­dle?

Author: Lee Smolin Pub­lisher: Allen Lane (23 April 2013) Price: £12.80, $19.07 (Avail­able from Ama­zon UK/USA; eBook ver­sions avail­able) Rat­ing:

Now and then, we all come across a book that makes an im­pres­sion on us. How­ever, rarely do we get caught up in whether we came across it now or then. In Time Re­born, Lee Smolin neatly blends phi­los­o­phy and science to pro­vide a de­tailed ac­count of time, and the mul­ti­ple cases for and against its re­al­ity. He ar­gues that time is not an il­lu­sion, but real, and is es­sen­tial to us un­der­stand­ing the fun­da­men­tal laws of na­ture. Smolin writes for a gen­eral au­di­ence, skill­fully con­dens­ing com­plex sci­en­tific con­cepts into bite-size pieces, with­out dis­tort­ing them be­yond the point of ac­cu­racy – a big achieve­ment for such a tricky sub­ject. How­ever, while the book is ac­ces­si­ble to read­ers from any back­ground, you’ll need a cer­tain level of aca­demic in­ter­est to get through the more physics-heavy chap­ters. But don’t let that put you off. For a book that ad­vo­cates the im­por­tance of time, it is con­ve­niently struc­tured, mov­ing chrono­log­i­cally from the an­cient Greeks, through Galileo, all the way up to the physi­cists of to­day. Smolin be­gins by mak­ing us aware of the cur­rent sci­en­tific con­sen­sus – that our per­cep­tion of time is an il­lu­sion. He then takes us on a voy­age through his­tory, where we hear how space and time can be uni­fied into a sin­gle ‘fab­ric’ of ‘space-time’ (of which the time el­e­ment is just an­other di­men­sion – on top of the three di­men­sions in which we see the world around us). This de­stroys any ab­so­lute no­tion of time, and leads to even big­ger claims that there is no real dis­tinc­tion be­tween past, present, and fu­ture. From there, things only get more out­ra­geous. I reached for the pil­low dur­ing the dis­turbingly rea­son­able sug­ges­tion that our uni­verse is in per­pet­ual flux be­tween dif­fer­ent mo­ments in his­tory. If this is the case, ev­ery­thing that will ever hap­pen is al­ready mapped out; we are si­mul­ta­ne­ously care­free chil­dren and de­crepit se­niors – and both are equally real! When the uni­verse ‘adopts’ a mo­ment in which we ex­ist, we gain the il­lu­sion of time pass­ing from the last mo­ment we re­mem­ber. But it’s all a trick of the mind be­cause the Big Bang – or a cat­a­logue of al­ter­na­tive mo­ments in his­tory – may have hap­pened in be­tween. Wait... what? Just when our minds be­gin melt­ing away like some­thing out of a Sal­vador Dali paint­ing, Smolin in­ter­venes. By point­ing out ar­eas of physics that re­main con­flicted, he calls for time’s res­cue. He as­serts that time should be cen­tral in a new univer­sal ‘the­ory of ev­ery­thing’. He then poses a con­tro­ver­sial idea whereby the laws of na­ture are not time­less and set in stone, but evolve over time. Ac­cord­ing to this idea, there ex­ist mul­ti­ple uni­verses that ‘re­pro­duce’ through black holes, each ‘ child’ op­er­at­ing un­der a slightly dif­fer­ent set of laws. The most vir­ile uni­verses are those with the most black holes, cre­at­ing a com­pet­i­tive sys­tem where a uni­verse will out-per­form oth­ers if its laws favour the cre­ation of black holes. Smolin’s sce­nario flips up­side-down what physi­cists be­lieve, mak­ing time fun­da­men­tally real and leav­ing ev­ery­thing else to ex­ist within it. Laws of na­ture are not fixed, but ever-chang­ing. He sum­marises this most pow­er­fully in the state­ment, “E may equal mc squared now, but that was not al­ways the case”. Take that Ein­stein! For me, Time Re­born was an emo­tional jour­ney. First, my per­cep­tion of the world crum­bled around me; then, I be­came lost in the void; and fi­nally, ev­ery­thing was re­stored in a cu­ri­ous new con­text. The book is packed full of in­for­ma­tion and will give any reader a well-rounded knowl­edge of the field. It is an ab­so­lute must-read for the philo­soph­i­cally in­clined, and aca­dem­i­cally in­ter­ested – but with a strong warn­ing to any­body who al­ready has dif­fi­culty sleep­ing at night.

Ross Harper re­cently grad­u­ated from Cam­bridge Univer­sity hav­ing stud­ied Bi­o­log­i­cal Nat­u­ral Sciences. He spent the last year run­ning his some­what un­con­ven­tional ad­ver­tis­ing busi­ness,

BuyMyFace.com, and is now try­ing his hand at app de­vel­op­ment with his new com­pany, Wrig­gle Ltd. No mat­ter what crazy scheme he’s cur­rently work­ing on, Ross makes sure to de­vote a bit of time to keep­ing with the lat­est in science news. Feel free to say ‘hi’ to Ross on Twit­ter (@ refharper).

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