Is Time More Than an Illusion

The title of this article is something that I have always felt was true, but never put it into words. As a sort of want to be philosopher or at the very least interested in many of the ideas that the philosophical school of thought brings to the table, I have often thought that while physics is very important, as is philosophy, what is most fascinating is where those two schools of thought intersect. That is where you get into some very deep and abstract thinking, and that is what I love to do.

For the most part the article does not really get into the intersection of philosophy and physics, as the title states, which was disappointing, but mostly talks about the theories of physicist Lee Smolin. I had not heard of Lee or any of his theories, sorry Lee, but after reading the article I was quite intrigued to learn more about what he had to say. I asked him if he would do a quick interview, but at the time of writing this I had not heard back from him.

Lee’s theory is that instead of time being an allusion, as I think most physicists in the field think or believe, he says that time is real and that the laws of physics are what change as time moves on.

The standard view in physics is that time isn’t fundamental, and that it emerges as an illusion out of the action of the laws. But if the laws evolve, that can’t be the case; time has to be more fundamental. If laws can change in time, then I take that almost as a definition of time being real. The arguments that Einstein and other people give for time being an illusion assume that the laws of nature never change. If they do change, the case that time is an illusion falls apart. It means that time is more fundamental than the laws of nature.

From what I understand this line of thinking basically goes against what everyone else in the field is saying. I have always found the idea of time very fascinating as something that seems so basic we humans have a very difficult time explaining when it comes to the universe. Recently I have read from a few different sources that because of the vastness of the universe and the multi-verse, it is very possible that there are many different laws of physics that govern different parts of the universe. What I would like to understand is how this idea factors into what Lee is saying, if at all.

I am going to assume that Lee did not take this idea into account when coming up with his theory. So if that is the case then I would like to understand how this can be tested as a theory. Do we have evidence of a physical law or set of laws that have changed over time? I am not aware of any but I am also not an expert. I will say that when looking at some of the principles out there and how they developed, or how we think they developed it seems very reasonable that given enough time that even small variations could occur.

On the other hand because of the very slim margin for error when it comes to the rise of intelligent life, I am not so sure that even a very small change in a fundamental law or property would not have very drastic effects on our universe. For that reason I am not totally 100% bought in to Lee’s theory. While I think it makes sense, and maybe I am totally missing the point, I think that even these small changes would and could be very dangerous to life in general and just intelligent life. Now, this could be an answer to the Fermi Paradox, but that is a whole other argument to get in to.

What is even more confusing is that perhaps both theories are correct. Maybe physical laws are changing and time is more fundamental, just in our universe or galaxy for that matter. Maybe his theory is correct, but our universe has found an equilibrium and the laws have not changed and will not change for billions of years. But in other universes perhaps they are less stable for whatever reason and this theory is correct. I would love to talk to him and ask him a few questions. Maybe I am totally missing his point, but I would be interested to see what he has to say about his theory and the evolution of intelligent life. To me it would seem that the two would breakdown and could not be compatible. I would think that a universe would need set and stable physical laws for intelligent life to arise. But what is not clarified is how often these changes happen. If they are on extremely large time scales, which I assume they would be, then this could be another way where his theory could be true. As we know it takes quite a long time for any life to arise, if it takes an equally long time for any physical law to change then that might satisfy both sides of the equation.

The universe is infinitely massive and if you throw in the multi-verse then that is multiplied infinitely again. What is very crazy to think about is the many different theories out there that we use to try and explain our world, or what we observe. I have this small feeling that all of these theories are true in some aspect or reality. If these pocket universes exist, and it looks like they may, then it is very reasonable to think they would probably have different laws from what we observe in our own universe. As is almost always the case, the truth is going to be more strange then any fiction or theory we could come up with.


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