Tag Archives: Lee Smolin

Converting to Time A Lesson from Theoretical Physics

by Nicole Roccas

“I used to believe in the essential unreality of time,” wrote theoretical physicist Lee Smolin in the introduction to his somewhat controversial work Time Reborn: From the Crisis in Physics to the Future of the Universe.

The book traces what I like to refer to as Smolin’s conversion to time. Like many in his field, Smolin spent much of his career in the realm of abstraction, analyzing phenomena through the lens of theories and formulas so far removed from the actual texture of lived reality that temporality—perhaps the most given element of our universe—had become illusory, nonexistent:

“Time is the most pervasive aspect of our everyday experience. Everything we think, feel, or do reminds us of its existence. We perceive the world as a flow of moments that make up our life. But physicists and philosophers alike have long told us . . . that time is the ultimate illusion.” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013, xii)

How has mainstream physics come to regard time as an illusion? Over the long centuries of the Newtonian paradigm (and more recently relativity and quantum mechanics), theoretical formulas—the lifeblood of physics—have become more real to physicists than the world they seek to describe, a world in which something as tiny as an untimely dust particle colliding with a spacecraft can render even the best theories tragically irrelevant. Continue reading