Apr. 7th, 2017

Time Reborn

Apr. 7th, 2017 01:39 pm
chickenfeet: (Default)
 I just finished reading Lee Smolin's Time Reborn.  It's a tough piece of writing that, like earlier Smolin works, argues that contemporary particle physics and cosmology are largely barking up the wrong tree.  It's a view that Roger Penrose also holds for different reasons.  This time the argument, crudely reduced, is that the methods of "physics in a box" cannot logically or realistically be transfered to a theory of the universe as a whole.  "Physics in a box" assumes independent observation and measurement of time and space.  Clearly at the scale of the universe there can be no such independent observation etc.  He then argues that the route forward is to reintroduce a heuristic view of time as we experience it (as opposed to the time invariance of Newton, Einstein, Maxwell and the Standard Model).  It's a clever blend of physics and metaphysics and he is a very, very smart person so maybe he has a point.  Then for reasons I don't fully grasp he goes off on a tangent into economics where he really hasn't done his homework.  He correctly points out that all the insights that the use of advanced mathematics have provided have been largely ignored by academic economists (though not by hedge funds) and then keeps drawing parallels with physics.  This drives me nuts.  Having spent umpteen chapters arguing about how, physically and metaphysically, a universe can have laws; whether universal for all time or not, he completely misses the point that economies are not ruled by extrinsic laws.  They are created and shaped by the decisions of the actors within them.  The "laws" can be changed by legislation or other government action.  The "initial conditions" of an economy are determined by things like trade rules and decisions on what lies in the public and what in the private sector.  It's as if Parliament or Congress could decide on the strength of gravity or the mass of the electron.  He just doesn't get this.  He seems to think the "Economy" is like the "Cosmos" and is just waiting for clever people like him to discover how it really works.  Would somebody please buy him the "Dummies Guide to Marxism" (not that I think Marx got everything right but he did realise that economics and politics are inextricably intertwined).  It's not just a case of finding a new class of Philosopher Economists who believe in evidence based decision making.  Gah!

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