and vanish into one another
according to necessity...
in conformity with the order of time.
-- Anaximander, On Nature
favorite book is called The Life of
the Cosmos. Originally published in 1997, it details physicist Lee Smolin's ideas about cosmological
natural selection, a mind-expanding intellectual panorama depicting the
universe itself as a manifestation of deep laws that trigger self-organization
at literally all scales. Beyond physics' usual fundamental forces and
constants, Smolin's natural laws suggest that even the cosmos itself emerges
from -- and resembles, though not exactly-- its predecessors.
Inspiring for reasons that are as poetic as they are scientific, Smolin's thinking bridges physics, biology, and even philosophy. With his latest book, Time Reborn (hardcover | Kindle edition), Smolin suggests a radical reconception of the nature of time. With his trademark sincere and curious reverence for nature, Smolin kindly entertained a few questions for Omnivoracious readers.
***How do you think about conveying
your ideas to readers not instinctively drawn to science?
Everyone is interested in the question of what time is because how you
think about time affects everything we think about our own lives. Are our
futures determined already? Are our experiences of willing, choosing,
imagining, and inventing all illusions because the future is already written? Or
are they true and real and in fact deep hints as to the nature of reality? Is
it already fixed what kind of life my child will have or how bad global warming
will be, or does what we choose to do really matter? These are the questions my
book addresses, and I offer a hopeful answer explained in a way that all can
In a chapter called "The
Future of Time," you write, "Mathematics is a great tool, but the ultimate
governing language of science is language." What do you mean by this?
Science is about nature. It is very concrete. We use ordinary
language to express its hypotheses and observations. As Neils Bohr said,
science is a part of ordinary language we use to communicate our observations
of nature to each other. Numbers come into observations but the world is
not made of numbers.
What motivated your decision to join the Perimeter Institute after
working at more established university research centers?
Many established academic institutions are to one degree or another
dysfunctional. They are hard places to introduce new ideas or
critiques. The best way to innovate the setting for academic science is to
start new institutes. When the founders of the Perimeter Instituteoffered
me the chance to be one of its first faculty members, I recognized that this
was an unparalleled, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. How many scientists get
the chance to contribute to shaping a major scientific institute? Like my
friends, I am enormously proud of what we have achieved. Being part of the
founding of something is also great fun.
You've published regularly both in peer-reviewed science journals and for a popular audience. Do the differences in the intended audiences color how you think about the ideas you put forward?
They are both essential parts of my scientific life. The scientific journals
are the appropriate place for reports of progress in research (although they
have as such been to some extent superseded by an online archive, arxiv.org). I
use the books to think deeply and critically about the philosophical issues I
find are blocking progress in the scientific fields I care about. Each informs
Could you give an example?
One of the great unexplained mysteries of science is why time appears
so directional, in that almost everything we do and experience is irreversible. This is a mystery because the laws of
physics themselves, as we now understand them, would allow all the processes
that could be gotten by running time backwards. So why does this hardly ever
happen? While writing Time Reborn, I
explained this question for the general reader, and this made me vividly
realize the extent to which we don't yet have a good answer. The process of
writing each book has changed my thinking in a way that resulted in a
change of direction of my research. And without the research there would be
nothing to write the books about.
To learn more about Time Reborn,
Browse Time Reborn Lee Smolin's other books at Amazon's Lee Smolin Page.
Lee Smolin's TED Talk: "On Science and