In sharp contrast with the classic slobbering review at Time of string theorist Brian Greene’s new book, Until the End of Time: Mind, Matter, and Our Search for Meaning in an Evolving Universe (Penguin 2020), the Nature reviewer is not impressed. (Kiddos, that was back when Time Magazine mattered, as did newsprint in general.) By contrast, Philip Ball appears appropriately skeptical:
Brian Greene’s Until the End of Time sits within a tradition of grand, synoptic visions of the Universe, rooted in physics, that feels (to this British reader) distinctively American. Halfway through, I realized why. With its scepticism of religion but openness to humanistic wonder, awe of nature, celebration of the individual and recognition of the power of physical law, the narrative has a strong whiff of transcendentalism. There is an echo of philosopher Henry David Thoreau in Greene’s account of lying out at night, enraptured by the aurora borealis. And essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson’s declaration that the “sublime laws play indifferently through atoms and galaxies” could almost be this book’s epigraph.Philip Ball, “From Big Bang to cosmic bounce: an astronomical journey through space and time” at Nature
Right. It’s a shlock religion. If you’re an adult who likes jawbreakers and plastic shark toys, check it out. Otherwise, note this:
When it comes to human behaviour — creativity, art, story, religion — Greene places a reductive faith in evolutionary psychology. He is probably right to say that many of our complex behaviours are underpinned by rather basic adaptive impulses, but he doesn’t adequately acknowledge how culture shapes them. For instance, he supports psychologist Steven Pinker’s notorious description of music as “auditory cheesecake”. This posits that music is enjoyable because it piggybacks on capacities that evolved for other reasons, such as the ability to separate our auditory experience into comprehensible chunks. This might or might not be true, but to appreciate what music really means, we need to consider its cultural, historical and social specifics, and not just attribute it to “our ancient adaptive sensitivity to sounds with elevated information content”.Philip Ball, “From Big Bang to cosmic bounce: an astronomical journey through space and time” at Nature
But that amounts to saying that an aggressive application of Darwinism does not provide serious answers to the human condition, which amounts in turn to saying that… string theory, Darwinism, etc., are not the big ansewr to conundrums that baffle science.
See also: String Theory as a philosophy of life – Time’s reviewer laps it up. Some reviewers almost make us forget that string theory was supposed to be science, not religion. Get a load of this review of string theorist Brian Greene’s new book, Until the End of Time: Mind, Matter, and Our Search for Meaning in an Evolving Universe (Penguin 2020)
“The evolutionary psychologist knows why you vote — and shop, and tip at restaurants”
Post-modern physics: String theory gets over the need for evidence