We live in a timeless reality

Lee SmolinA plea for time

There is an idea of ​​an old man with a long white beard who is introduced to us as the God of Abraham, Isaac and all subsequent sons and daughters - including those who are yet to come. And there is also an idea on which modern science is based and in which the laws of nature have inherited the role of the Abrahamic God - to the extent that they are thought to be equally timeless, unchangeable and eternal. Somewhere in a platonic sky of ideas, these natural laws should exist and just wait for a universe like ours to emerge in order to finally come into force. Both ideas - that of the immortal old man with a bushy beard and that of the timeless law - do not detract from their bizarre charm.

"If we believe that the task of physics is to discover a timeless mathematical equation that is identical to the history of the world, then we believe that the truth about the universe lies outside of the universe."

While Abrahamic monotheism was declared a private matter - at least in the enlightened world - natural science, of all things, which sees itself as a product of this enlightened world, claims, with its quasi-religious conception of eternal and non-temporal natural laws, to be the authority of the a serious theory of reality can be expected.

Time is "real"

The Canadian physicist Lee Smolin wants to put an end to this obvious embarrassment with his new book. It is called in the original "Time reborn - the rebirth of time" and requires physics to take time seriously again, because it is "real".

For almost a hundred years, physics has been faced with the problem of uniting the theory it has of the great with the theory that it has of the small. The theory of relativity and quantum cosmology appear to be inconsistent, which is a serious problem for a discipline for which logical coherence is essential. An important candidate who is trusted to combine both theories has been the string theory for a good thirty years. It is prevalent in American universities - with the restorative consequence that the research system honors orthodox "craftsmen" and not people like Lee Smolin who consider themselves unorthodox "seers". In the past, the physicist himself was one of the adherents of the string theory, but now he sees it as just a gigantic mathematical product. The problem with the mathematical description of nature since Galileo, Leibniz, Newton and Einstein is that the laws are thought to be independent of time, to be always and eternally valid. Meanwhile, Smolin prefers the theory of loop quantum gravity. And, as the physicist believes, this requires a fundamentally new understanding of space and time:

"If we continue to think within the [Newtonian] paradigm, the structure of the world seems to be based on enormous improbabilities - the extreme peculiarity of the selection of laws and initial conditions. The sad conclusion is that the only kind of universe that emerges from the Timeless perspective of Newton's paradigm would seem natural, a dead universe is in equilibrium, which is obviously not the kind of universe we live in. But from the perspective of the reality of time it is perfectly natural for the universe and its fundamental laws are asymmetrical in time and have a strong time arrow, which includes an increase in entropy in isolated systems as well as a continuous growth in structure and complexity. "

Is time really just an illusion?

Current physics does not recognize any ontological givens in the three modes of time, but a kind of illusion that has to do with our status as an observer and the relational structure of space and time. Instead of recognizing the directionality of time, it is reinterpreted as a result of mathematical operations into a four-dimensional block in which all directions are equal and none are distinguished from the others. Past, present and future are equally real and everything that is remains as it was and will be. In other words, the real is the whole story at once.

In this so-called block universe everything occurs, except the human being and what is communicated to him by his experience: that time is a fundamental aspect of reality. As long as physics cannot adequately describe the primacy of the present, the directionality of time and the difference between future and past, its model of reality suffers from a fundamental handicap: it turns time into a mere sequence and shortens it by the becoming of present moments to her creative moment. The block universe model has no heuristic value. It is therefore not a model, but a tool that is used exclusively to manipulate reality. Niels Bohr has already seen that.

"In the timed version that I propose, the universe is a process of incubating new phenomena and organizational states that is constantly renewing itself, evolving into states of increasing complexity and organization. The observational data clearly tell us that the universe with the As time goes on it becomes more interesting. In the early days it was filled with an equilibrium plasma; from that very simple beginning it has grown to tremendous complexity across a wide range of scales - from galaxy clusters to biological molecules. "

For Smolin, the universe does not consist of a block in which all time has melted into one reality, rather it resembles a dynamic network whose nodes are not dissimilar to the rhizomes of Deleuze and Guattari or those of the real Internet. Each point is connected to each other for billions of light years - but not in the sense of an instantaneous transmission, but in the sense that time must pass to get from one point to another. So we move, as it were, in a changeable web of time, which the laws according to which it develops, over time educates himself.

"Rather, the laws of nature arise from within the universe and develop over time with the universe they describe."

A plea for the reality of the time

Lee Smolin takes us on a detailed and illuminating journey through physics in his book, only to make a strong plea to finally recognize the reality of time in physics. The physicist thereby updates a thought that Hegel already represented in his logic, where he speaks of the fact that laws of nature are not laws that existed before nature, but that they only developed in it.

In his 1956 story "One Christmas", the American writer Truman Capote put it with surprising clarity:

"There is only one time."

Lee Smolin: "In the universe of time. Towards a new understanding of the cosmos"
Munich 2014: Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, 416 pages, 24.99 euros