Dr Irengbam Mohendra Singh
This piece is a simplified excerpt from Lee Smolin’s highly philosophical and scientific book, “The life of the cosmos” published in 1997. I read his book with 346 pages in small prints in 2012 and shelved it as it was hard going, packed with information that needed references.
I’ve only come to terms with his theory as I’ve been studying New physics on my background knowledge of Darwinian evolution. In my view, since scientists don’t know whether our Universe is finite or infinite, it’s desired that it has some sort of family planning, if we human beings wish to continue to live happily ever after.
His Epilogue on cosmological evolution surmises different versions of cosmological natural selection in beautiful English prose, well punctuated and in perfect syntax, unlike in science writings. His view on “fecund baby universes” born of innumerable Black Holes, is simply food for thought. He foresees that cosmological natural selection should predict the density of protons and neutrons as high as possible, and this will give rise to more stars, and hence more black holes. And in the end, the universe will either collapse or become rapidly dilute.
His futuristic albeit pessimistic prediction of the future of our Universe, though rather macabre, is overwhelming. He begins his book in Prologue/Revolutions, drawing on the legend of Copernicus to his theory of cosmological evolution: “Nicolaus Copernicus received the first copy of his first and only book [Revolutions of the Sphere] as he lay dying in the tower of the castle in northern Germany. In his book, Copernicus expounded the idea that the Sun, and not the Earth, was at the centre of the Universe. The legend of the Copernicus, and the revolution that followed, has served – more than any other episode – to define and explain science, its power and its role in European, and now world.”
In his Epilogue/Evolutions, he speaks of an uncertain new world: “Whatever else we share, we are all children of the twentieth century – this most surprising, most violent, and most hopeful times, this time when more humans were killed by violence than in all of previous history, but in which for the first time art, politics, science, popular culture, and commerce became international, and in which, for the first time, it has become possible to meet anywhere, in any city, airport, train compartment, or campground people who view themselves as inhabitants of a planet, and not only a country, region, or city. Surely this uncertain time is a moment of transition, from which humanity, if it emerges, will emerge slowly to a new world; not a utopia, certainly, but perhaps a world infinitely more varied, more interesting, and, Yes more hopeful, than that sterile dream could have ever been.”
Professor Smolin was born in 1955 in New York, educated at Hampshire College and Harvard University. He is an American theoretical physicist. His research interest also includes cosmology. Smolin is non-religious, believing that “there never was a God, no pilot who made the world by imposing order on chaos and who remains outside, watching and proscribing.”
Smolin is more a philosopher than a physicist. He is like the German Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche of the 19th century, who stunned his students by declaring that “God is Dead,” and said “Europe no longer needed God as the source for all morality, value, or order in the universe; philosophy and science were capable of doing that for us.” He is currently Professor of physics at the centre for Gravitational physics and Geometry at the Pennsylvania State University and is a leading contributor to the search for unification of quantum theory, cosmology, and relativity.
Professor Smolin gives a traditional view of Darwin’s evolution and natural selection, to draw to his hypothesis of a fecund universes for the future of fundamental physics. As I am a Darwinian, I find his logic applied to the life of our universe profoundly invigorating. After all, it is accepted in scientific circles that living things come from inanimate chemicals, and everything in the universe including our universe itself, is made of the same atomic chemicals, moving beyond the notion of a creator God.
His theory is brand-new and quite different from anyone else. He draws reference in his opening, to the Copernicus revolution, and introduces as a tale of a kid who grew up on dreams of revolutionising society, sublimated them into dreams of scientific revolution, but then came to believe that the underlying structure of our world is to be found in the logic of evolution.
He touches on everything, on everybody, such as quantum mechanics, the Big bang, Black Holes, Newton, Einstein, Hawking and Penrose. He explains how complex is the emergence of life on earth. His hypothesis – “Fecund universes theory” applies the principle of Darwin’s natural selection theory to the birth of universes. Like the biological evolution he believes, rather philosophises that our Universe will give birth to baby universes from our fecund universe as so many Black Holes collapse and other baby universes coming out at the other ends, inheriting fundamental physical laws and constants of the parent universe.
As in Darwin’s biological evolution, mutations might occur during the birth process, giving rise to a variety of dissimilar universes due to natural selection, though lacking Darwinian selective pressure. The theory further postulates that an ‘unfit’ universe with ‘unsuccessful’ parameters will reach heat-death before being able to reproduce. Although the hypothesis drew many controversies and debates, it still remains a viable hypothesis.
He also opposes the “anthropic principle” [the philosophical argument that observations of the physical universe must be compatible with that conscious life that observes it], which he claims, cannot help us to do science. “The anthropic principle cannot yield any falsifiable predictions, and therefore cannot be a part of science,” adding that “It is a vestige of the old metaphysics, whose prominence shows, more than anything else, the power of the nostalgia for the absolute. But, at the same time, the anthropic principle has until now played a useful role in the development of cosmology.” He argues that it is time to give it up.
Smolin does not believe that quantum mechanics is a “final theory”. He said “I have studied most of them in depth and thought hard about them, and in the end I still can’t make real sense of quantum theory.” I agree with him that with my basic knowledge of modern physics, Einstein’s theory of gravity sticks in my craw. And he does offer a startling new theory of the universe – an evolutionary theory.
The underlying idea of Smolin’s science cum philosophical theory is like Darwin’s, in that he predicts what the future holds for future generation in the Life of the Cosmos. He writes: “ The underlying structure of the world is to be found in the logic of evolution.” He continued “Today’s physicists have overturned Newton’s view of the universe, yet they continue to cling to an understanding of reality not unlike Newton’s own – as a clock, an intricate mechanism, governed by laws which are mathematical and eternally true. He argues that the laws of nature we observe may be in part the result of a process of natural selection which took place before the big bang.”
Smolin’s ideas are one up on Einstein as Einstein’s were over Newton. They are based on recent developments in cosmology, quantum theory, relativity and string theory. Using these theories he developed his theory of cosmology that results into a framework that tries to explain the paradoxes of Einstein’s quantum theory and the nature of space and time. In his argument he brings out recent advances in cosmological science, such as string theory, quantum gravity, the nature of space and time to more recent evolutionary theory of the structure of galaxies.
He finishes his book: “very far in the future, after all the stars have burnt out and all matter has been fused to heavy elements, it may not be easy to find ways to keep warm. Perhaps it may not impossible that in this situation the universe will be populated by creatures that have learnt to make black holes. If there are enough of them that, the black holes they make outnumber those made by stars, this could provide the selective advantages needed for life.” Further, “There is nothing behind it, no absolute or platonic world to transcend to. All there is of Nature is what is around us. All we have of natural law is a world that has made itself.”
Smolin’s discussion came to a remarkable conclusion: “Anyone who has ever had a dispute with a friend or lover knows that there must be something about the notion that a single observer can have a complete and objective description of a whole universe. In life, as in quantum cosmology, the reason for this may not be in the difficulty of gaining knowledge of others; the root of the problem may lie in the impossibility of seeing ourselves completely and objectively.”
It may be that Professor Lee Smolin will only be judged like Copernicus, in 2 to 3 hundred years’ time, especially as astrophysicists at the present moment, know only that the Black Holes exist but they can’t see them ie they don’t know much about them.
(The writer is based in the UK. Email:[email protected] Website: www.drimsingh.co.uk)
Dr Irengbam Mohendra Singh