Revisiting Time Reborn

I’ve just finished with Time Reborn. I wasn’t expecting to be converted to Smolin’s proposition that time is real rather than constructed. I enjoyed the book, and he provided a solid foundational understanding of the conventional scientific perspective (circa 2013, when the book was published).

I understand that Smolin is a professional physicist with a PhD and his grasp of the fundamentals is solid, and I am a peripheral scientist at best. I fully grant that I may be on the left of the Dunning-Kruger curve and making rookie mistakes.

The biggest contention I have is that he insists that everything needs to have a reason, citing Leibnitz. His argument is based on the question of why is our universe so perfectly structured, that it would be improbable to have happened purely by chance.

Whilst I agree that everything has a cause, reasons are an artifice imposed by humans. In practice, where reasons don’t exist, we make them up. This is how we get false theories and gods. Smolin does discuss false theories of the past and attempts to claim that the prevailing theories occupy this space whilst his theory should replace it.

Any universe created without the ability to sustain life would not have us asking why it did not support life.

My reaction is that it just is. Whether Roger Penrose is correct in saying that the universe is continually recreated and destroyed, rinse and repeat, the reason the universe is constructed in such an (improbably) ordered fashion that can sustain life is that there is no reason. Any universe created without the ability to sustain life would not have us asking why it did not support life. It does. We are here to question, and so we do. End of story.

We can make up all sorts of stories, whether through science, religion, or some other origin myth. None of them is provable. As Smolin notes, this is a one-time event. If it is destroyed, so are we and our memories. If life is sustainable in a future—or even parallel—configuration, we’re sent back to start where we can fabricate new stories.

Perhaps in another universe, it will be configured so differently that some other sort of life is created, perhaps this life will not be DNA-based and be anaerobic? Who knows?

It seems that he has an interest in reserving a place for human agency, which has little room for movement in current scientific models. His model provides this room. Moreover, he further thinks that even in current models, human agency should be injected into the models. I suppose he is not familiar with Keynes’ animal spirits.

For some reason, he decided to devote the final chapter to the hard problem of consciousness. This was a particularly hot topic around that time, so he didn’t want to miss the boat. The long and the short of it, he didn’t think the qualia-consciousness answer would be found through physics—though he reserved that there was a non-zero probability that it could be. He posits this as an existential, experiential challenge, and science is not designed to address such affairs.

How come why? What for?

Video: Why? – “What for?” or “How Come?” — Daniel Dennett

As a rule, I don’t have much faith in humans. It would be apparent if you read some of my posts. I find most people to be akin to vapid sports fans: Hooray for my team—whether that team is political party or persuasion, science, religion, and whatever. Not a lot of critical thinking or reasoning. I believe Geuss mentioned that most people are just trying to make it to the next day and acquire more stuff—at least more stuff than the neighbour. Social media is a turn for the worse. Luckily and thankfully, there are exceptions to this rule.

Engaging in a CS Peirce forum that I was invited to because of some interactions I had in a postmodern forum, I asked for the source of a Peirce claim made by another Lee Smolin.

When you explain a system by referencing the laws, that’s not the end of the explanation; you have to—we must explain how the laws came to be and why there are these laws and not other laws.

Lee Smolin on CS Peirce

At 8:43, Smolin cites Peirce by saying ‘that when you explain a system by referencing the laws, that’s not the end of the explanation; you have to—we must explain how the laws came to be and why there are these laws and not other laws—and he goes on to say this is 1893…’

Video: Are the laws of the universe immutable and unchanging?

Not being a direct quote, I was experiencing difficulty finding the source of the citation, so I asked in the Peirce group. As I am wont to do, I added that I didn’t buy into the assertion, but if I could find the source I could gather more context.

I don’t buy into the assertion that in describing a system one needs to provide an origin story, so I was hoping to discover context to determine whether it’s Smolin or Peirce to have an issue with.

I was given a citation that didn’t happen to be accurate,

A second member chimed in that of course one needs an ‘original state’, so I clarified that it was not the original state that I held issue with. It was the narrative behind it—the story of the origin, not the origin itself.

He responded, ‘That’s Deacon!’ More precisely, the response was as follows:

YES!!!!!!! That’s Deacon!!!!

I’m not even schooled in Peirce, and now I’m getting his classmates.

To my origin clarification, I also added this bit:

I feel that ‘reasons’ or ‘whys’ are less important than ‘how’. In fact, I feel that ‘why’ is often used in English as a synonym to ‘how’ in many contexts.

So when asks ‘Why are you late?’ they are really asking ‘How it is that you’ve arrived late?’ or ‘How come you’re late?’ Why feels like a metaphysical stand-in for how.

…to which he responds with the top clip by Dan Dennett making my same point a decade ago—or I suppose that I am making his same point a decade later.

It seems that I’m late to the party yet again. This is becoming a trend.