Saturday, July 16, 2016

Smolin and Unger Get It Spectacularly Wrong

Physicist Lee Smolin of the Perimeter Institute has been saying for some years tht physics and cosmology are in crisis. The standard models are highly successful as far as they go, but they don’t go far enough, and for decades, there’s been a frustrating failure of all attempts to go beyond them. Sabine Hossenfelder agrees. In a post for Fortune, she writes:

During my professional career, all I have seen is failure. A failure, that is, of particle physicists to uncover a more powerful mathematical framework that improves upon the theories we already have. Yes, failure is part of science – it’s frustrating, but not worrisome. What worries me much more is our failure to learn from those failures. Rather than trying something new, we’ve been trying the same thing over and over again, expecting different results.
In a desperate effort to break this logjam, Lee Smolin has teamed up with philosopher Roberto Unger to develop a new natural philosophy, which they describe in a new book, The Singular Universe and the Reality of Time, published by Cambridge University Press. Now, a physicist has to be desperate to fall back on philosophy. That’s like stepping into quicksand looking for solid footing. In the end, they don’t even agree completely with each other. They do agree, however, on three central ideas:

1. There is only one universe.

2. Time is inclusively real. It does not emerge from any other aspect of reality and it applies to everything—nothing in nature lasts forever.

3. Mathematics is selectively real.

On the second point they are completely wrong. As I explained here, ultimate reality is atemporal and time emerges from it. Ultimate reality is a thought—a thought that thinks itself and is therefore conscious. We call it consciousness or existence, which are logically equivalent in their atemporal aspects. Yes, this thought lasts forever.

Smolin and Unger go on to declare that mind is emergent. In this they agree with most physicists and philosophers who study what is called the “mind-body” problem or the “hard problem of consciousness,” which John Horgan explains at Scientific American’s Cross-Check means “how matter creates mind.” Wrong again! As I’ve explained many times on this blog, mind creates matter, not the other way around. Philosophers like to sneer at this position as “idealism,” which they gave up on long ago, failing to see that reality has two complementary aspects, temporal and atemporal.

Philosophers abhor contradictions or paradoxes. They don’t realize that ultimate reality is self-creating and therefore logically self-referential, which inevitably leads to paradoxes. The Danish physicist Neils Bohr found that this just means that nature has two aspects, that is, itcan be seen in two different ways, and as long as both aspects cannot be seen at the same time by the same observer, there is no contradiction. He called this complementarity. Neither physicists nor philosophers can expect to make significant progress unless they take it seriously.