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Wednesday, 11 February 2015 16:45

Travelogue and Physics.

La Gomera, perhaps the least visited of the Canary Islands, failed to provide the desired wintersun break due to fairly persistent cloud cover for the last week, I’m glad I took a warm jacket. Nevertheless the island does provide plenty of spectacular scenery, some serious walking opportunities around its precipitous valleys, soaring volcanic peaks and high altitude cloud-forests, and a warm-ish habitat for various species of German. About half of them seemed to consist of middle aged temporary visitors intent on rigorous exercise programs and the other half consisted of hippies living there long term. In the absence of any other sort of night life, the hippies entertained the visitors with music and fire juggling around the waterfront cafes in the evenings. We passed a German Enlightenment centre up one of the valleys but it all looked a bit too rigorous for my taste and casual visits were strictly Verboten in case it disturbed their precious vibes.

Whilst away I gave Smolin and Unger’s new book ‘The Singular Universe and the Reality of Time: A Proposal in Natural Philosophy’, a thorough study. Unger kicks off the first half of the book with a long, heavy, rather joyless and difficult to read philosophical diatribe on why we should regard time as real, the universe as singular, the laws of the universe as evolving, and mathematics as merely a tool rather than as some sort of absolute superior Platonic reality.

After that, Smolin’s part of the book came as a welcome relief. He makes much the same arguments but supports them with plenty of scientific examples and some witty bits; I particularly enjoyed the idea of the road back to reality (a dig at Penrose methinks). Plainly both cosmology and quantum physics have got themselves into a bit of a mess because the ‘mathematical objects’ they now employ (general relativity and string theory) have vastly more possible solutions than the universe appears to exhibit, and even the solutions that do appear partly applicable to the observed universe seem shot through with inexplicable arbitrary constants or they imply absurd initial conditions. In short, the idea of a Grand Unified Theory of Everything, as dreamed of by physicists of the Penrose-Hawking era, seems a very long way off now. Hooray then, lots more to do.

Concerning how to do it, both authors advocate a return to the principles of Natural Philosophy which underlie the best science, don’t accept anything until you have decent empirical and observational evidence, one might even quip Nullus in Mathematica, don’t accept purely mathematical constructions and extrapolations alone, they may embody false assumptions.

Smolin dismissed the singularities implied by the big bang theory as absurd, although he still seems to adhere to the expanding universe idea. Interestingly he makes a case for the evolution of the laws of nature, they may change with time, however he carefully doesn’t mention Morphic Fields, even though he has very similar ideas.

 

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