Wednesday, June 19, 2013

On reading Lee Smolin's Time Reborn and thinking about the interactions between biology and physics

Having read the book, and a few reviews, I find myself particularly surprised by the disconnect between what (at least theoretical) physicists are concerned about and what I understand to be the concerns of most scientists, and perhaps most educated citizens.  

It seems rather too obvious that we live in the universe we live in, and that is (apparently) the only universe that we know with any certainty to exist.  

If other universes exist but are inaccessible to study, it is a waste of time (scientifically) to think about them. What does "fine tuning" initial conditions mean unless there is direct evidence that alternatives are actually possible? 

Perhaps I think this way because my prosaic mind is engaged by the real rather than the imaginary.  Such digressions are found everywhere in Smolin's book (and it writing of other physics popularizers), but they seem more like empty and pointless philosophizing, not science

This can be see in speculation of the universe and life.  As far as we know life, and intelligent life, is unique to earth, and arose only once; so speculation and generalization about the implications of life elsewhere in the universe seems premature at best (and descends into magical thinking at its worst.  

That said, it is imaginable that actual evidence of life outside the earth could be found and that would be a truly revolutionary discovery.  

As a snippy aside, there does not appear to be much understanding about how evolution works (and its basis on reproduction) and some of the digressions into the chemical seem incorrect.  All atoms do attract one another (through London Dispersion Forces / van der Waals interactions) and molecular systems are structured at the microscopic level (which gives rise to various entropic drivers)(see Chapter 17).   

Aside from that, there is just too much "wishful disembodied thinking" which, outside of silly science fiction, is neither interesting or compelling.