Finished Unger & Smolin. Having breezed through Roberto Unger’s 2/3, Lee Smolin’s 1/3 was tougher going. As advertised, this is not “popular science” writing and Smolin drops into the mathematical, symbolic and technical weeds of several aspects of many different theories in physics from quanta and string-theories to cosmogeny itself, and he does it in very clipped highlights, referring to published works of his own (and others) for details.
Maths itself is of course one of the target topics – it’s own evolution (evocation) within our models of the cosmos and its history. Much of the agenda is to propose new directions for research in physics given a radically simpler metaphysics – see my previous summary here – lines of experimentation especially open to falsifiability. The summaries and conclusions are clear and positive for science. Scientists must resist their knee-jerk to run screaming from the metaphysical proposals.
Like Unger, Smolin also spends a good deal of time on the cosmological fallacies and the “problem of the meta-laws”. As I said previously I don’t see meta-laws as a problem per se. Clearly having introduced them, the task is to explain them, but that’s “problematic” only if you see them simply as laws at another level operating on the erstwhile “laws” – ie just a shift in the problem to another set of “laws” outside time and the cosmos – nothing gained explanatorily. Obviously meta-laws are not law-like as we know them; they need to be seen as different principles or forms of causal explanation. For me it’s their meta-ness not their law-ness that is no-brainer significant – recursive, meta upon meta upon … and orthogonal to … the things we generally think of as laws. Different animals altogether. No simple language can yet exist to do justice to their explanation – they’re novel as far as common sense physics is concerned. Anyway, time will tell.
The other pleasant surprise from Smolin is the very brief chapter 7 on the consequences of the new metaphysics for consciousness et al. Perceptions – qualia – are the most certain realities we know, and they’re given a proper place as moments within the real flow of cosmological time. Yes, time is real, so qualia, and consciousness, and free-will, and the creativity of genuine novelty can all be real too. Hallelujah. A much needed injection of common sense into so-called science of consciousness.
I’m going to have to investigate more of Smolin and how he fits with accepted “authority” within physics and the philosophy of science. Suggestions on further reading much appreciated.
Unger & Smolin is a recommended read for anyone interested enough to wade through the philosophical and scientific technicalities, and a compulsory read for any scientists bumping up against the gaps and mysteries in the standard models of accepted physics.
[Post Note : From Bryan Appleyard’s review :
It’s important because it is not just about physics …
It is about the way we live now
and the world view we have been sold as “scientific”.
Science is currently selling us a pup. And “scientific” in scare quotes – what I tend to brand as scientistic. Interesting, last time I commented on Appleyard.]
[Post Note : Related from Joel Achenbach in the Washington Post on why science is hard to believe (via Sabine Hossenfelder) :
Scientists can be as dogmatic as anyone else … For some [scientists], the tribe is more important than the truth; for the best scientists, the truth is more important than the tribe.
Scientists can be as PC as anyone else.]
[Post Note : Another physicist (Nobel-prize-winning) Brian Josephson I’ve been following, I see also published on “Law Without Law” (after Wheeler). Semantics more fundamental than the physical. Fascinating.]
[Post Note : Noted this A C Grayling piece on Smolin’s trouble with physics from 2007.]