“Physics was invented by people who happened to be very religious. Newton is one example. For him the laws of nature and their mathematical representations were synonymous with knowing the thoughts of God: Space was the sensorium of God and true time was the time in which God experienced the world and made things in the world.”
Conversation with Lee Smolin.
Your Cosmological Natural Selection hypothesis suggests that the laws of nature change in time. How can that be possible?
There are two kinds of explanations as to why some system is one way rather than another way. One is that it has to be that way because there’s some fundamental principle that makes it so. In fact, my generation was raised to find the unique set of laws which would satisfy the principles of relativity and quantum mechanics. We thought we would find a unique answer. But now we know that there are many, many different possible laws compatible with the principles of nature. The only other way in science that things get explained in a way that leads to testable hypotheses is if there’s some dynamical process acting in time, which makes the world come out the way it did.
What does that mean for our understanding of time?
The standard view in physics is that time isn’t fundamental, and that it emerges as an illusion out of the action of the laws. But if the laws evolve, that can’t be the case; time has to be more fundamental. If laws can change in time, then I take that almost as a definition of time being real. The arguments that Einstein and other people give for time being an illusion assume that the laws of nature never change. If they do change, the case that time is an illusion falls apart. It means that time is more fundamental than the laws of nature.
Newton was revolutionary in part because he applied a timeless set of laws to the whole universe. Was he wrong to do so?
Physics was invented by people who happened to be very religious. Newton is one example. For him the laws of nature and their mathematical representations were synonymous with knowing the thoughts of God: Space was the sensorium of God and true time was the time in which God experienced the world and made things in the world. And Newton’s style of doing physics works perfectly when you apply it to a small part of the universe, say something going on in a laboratory. But when you take Newton’s style of doing physics and apply it to the universe as a whole, you implicitly assume that there is something outside the universe making things happen inside the universe, the same way there’s something outside the laboratory system making things happen in the laboratory. What I think has happened is that even physicists who have no religious faith or commitment have gotten sucked into a form of explanation which has a religious underpinning, by which I mean it requires pointing to something outside the universe in order to give a complete explanation. Many people who think of themselves as atheists do this habitually. In my view, it makes them think sloppy thoughts about cosmology. When it comes to extending science to the universe as a whole, you have to think differently than applying science to a laboratory system.
Posted By F. Sheikh