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Physics: Can the laws of physics evolve?


A friend writes to say that in “The unique universe” (PhysicsWorld.com, 2 June 2009), Toronto-based cosmologist Lee Smolin attempts to develop a different view of time that allows him the laws of physics tp evolve in time. My friend wonders, “Presumably this is an alternative way of addressing the design challenge of fine tuning?”

Here’s the essay’s At a Glance:

Against the timeless multiverse

– Many cosmologists today believe that we live in a timeless multiverse – a universe where ours is just one of an ensemble of universes, and where time does not exist

– The timeless multiverse, however, presents a lot of problems. Our laws of physics are no longer determinable from experiment and it is unclear what the connection is between fundamental and effective laws

– Furthermore, theories that do not posit time to be a fundamental property fail to reproduce the space-time that we are familiar with

– Many of these puzzles can be avoided if we adopt a different set of principles that postulates that there is only one universe and that time is a fundamental property of nature. This scenario also opens the way to the possibility that the laws of physics evolve in time.

Well, some people go to a lot of trouble to evade the implications of fine tuning of the universe (= design).

Here is what I wrote about Lee Smolin’s work in By Design or by Chance?:

New Universes Sprout Only in Black Holes?

Cosmologist Lee Smolin is a bit more conservative than Tegmark. He speculates that new universes might erupt—but not just anywhere that a particle goes one way rather than the other. Perhaps only in the middles of cosmic black holes. The new universes are disconnected from our universe, because the laws of physics break down in black holes. That is why we don’t know about them.

Smolin believes that the eruption of new universes in black holes follows the principles of Darwinism (natural selection). He explains:

“It seemed to me that the only principle powerful enough to explain the high degree of organization of our universe—compared to a universe with the particles and forces chosen randomly—was natural selection itself. The question then became: Could there be any mechanism by which natural selection could work on the scale of the whole universe?”

In other words, natural selection (the outcome of law acting on chance), lurking in a black hole, organizes a complex universe, excruciatingly fine-tuned for life. Smolin does not claim that the black hole spouts millions of them. Alternatively, he is attracted to the idea that the universe organizes itself:

“I believe more in the general idea that there must be mechanisms of self-organization involved in the selection of the parameters of the laws of nature than I do in this particular mechanism, which is only the first one I was able to invent. ”

All these universes popping up in the clouds in our coffee, in the torment of a black hole, in the futility of an escaped balloon—their existence guarantees that our universe is a product of chance. If only they would exist . . . if only they would exist . . . (pp. 34-35)

Here are some more fine tuning stories:

Astronomer vs. pop science TV

Materialism strikes back: We create the universe, not God

The universe has hallmarks of desgn: And what can anyone do about it?

Like clouds in our coffee, all these other universes

Major media, imagining themselves sober, think there are many universes, not just double vision

The Big Bang exploded; seriously, is there room for reasonable skepticism about the Big Bang?

Could God live in an infinite sea of universes? It depends.

Will the cosmic multiverse landscape ensure the triumph of intelligent design?

Now, remind me again why we need multiverse theory in the first place?

Multiverse theory: Replacing the big fix with the sure thing?

Are Smolin (and Peirce) putting the cart before the horse? I was intrigued by this quote from Smolin, as well as his citation of C. S. Peirce:
Laws are regularities that we discover hold for very long stretches of time, but there is no reason for laws to be true timelessly — indeed, there is no way to make sense of that notion. This opens the door to the possibility that laws evolve in time, which is an idea that has been on the table ever since the great American logician Charles Sanders Peirce wrote in 1891 that
“To suppose universal laws of nature capable of being apprehended by the mind and yet having no reason for their special forms, but standing inexplicable and irrational, is hardly a justifiable position. Uniformities are precisely the sort of facts that need to be accounted for. Law is par excellence the thing that wants a reason. Now the only possible way of accounting for the laws of nature, and for uniformity in general, is to suppose them results of evolution.
(Emphases mine - VJT.)
Now, laws that change over time I can get used to. But the notion that evolution can explain law is radically mistaken. Evolution requires the occurrence of laws of some sort - otherwise selection could not occur. As Jaron Lanier has argued in this discussion at http://www.edge.org/discourse/smolin_natselection.html:
The program of finding an evolutionary reduction of the arbitrariness of cosmology is vulnerable, however, to falling into an infinite regress. There would have to have been some proto-cosmology analogous to the primordial soup that launched life, and then the question would be whether THAT had evolved. (This is not a problem for biology, since biology doesn't have to explain its origin from a void, only from chemicals.) Is it possible to pose ultimately simple, non arbitrary, initial conditions that could give rise to an evolution of physical universes?
And as Dr. Richard Dawkins noted in the same discussion at http://www.edge.org/discourse/smolin_natselection.html:
Note that any Darwinian theory depends upon the prior existence of the strong phenomenon of heredity. There have to be self replicating entities (in a population of such entities) that spawn daughter entities more like themselves than the general population. This appears to be true of the Smolin model of Darwinian universes.
I'd say Smolin still has some explaining to do. vjtorley
"If God touches and changes the universe, how?" What a silly question. All one has to do is look behind the green curtain. jerry
If the cosmological 'evolution' proves to be a popular hypothesis, it wont have any effect on the ToE, they are just pointing out (as has been said many times before), that through progressive mutations through many generations, interesting variations arise, which is the basis for biological evolution. Equating a 'generation' to something created inside a black hole, provides the mechanism for 'universal evolution' Nnoel
If they can evolve that that shows that evolution requires an explanation out side of the laws of physics- that is to say that necessity is no longer a claim evolution that lean on. In this case a higher explanation like ID would be required for evolution to design form and complexity- especially specified complexity- certainly randomness without the laws of physics to guide to cannot produce anyhting of any complexity - even if you had all the natural selection in teh world acting. Frost122585
Nak and Trib If God touches and changes the universe, how? MOSTELY - because their is a Reason for it all after all-Prophesying and bringing to pass a Redeemer to fulfill that purpose - then and pretty soon - out with the old (this one) in with the New. Oh yes - a Big change is coming, but what the hay - we have important time consuming work to do the prove the proven. alan
God created the universe, but doesn’t change it? That sounds to me like the TE position . . . Nakashima-san, OTOH,maybe He just quit after the 6th day :-) Anyway, I don't have a problem with the TEs. It's the TEs that have a problem with us. tribune7
Mr Tribune7, God created the universe, but doesn't change it? That sounds to me like the TE position that has come in for much criticism here at UD. Nakashima
If God touches and changes the universe, how? I don't think God changes the universe -- in fact, it seems the universe is on a schedule that isn't going to change. What God can change is people and how people set priorities. But people have to let God change them. tribune7
Mr Alan, That is quite understandable. I think that what a lot of materialist minded people are interested in is the interface between what is above and different, and nature itself. If God touches and changes the universe, how? Nakashima
"Our laws of physics are no longer determinable from experiment and it is unclear what the connection is between fundamental and effective laws" I think this provides a great insight into the natural mind and the "nature" of God. By nature, we CAN NOT understand or resolve its ultimate "nature" or characteristic. We Cause and Effect folks try to purvey to materialists / darwinists etc. that God is "Above" Nature.... there can not be a "resolution" to the being of the universe - no unifying theory of everything by using nature exclusively. The Maker of the universe is of necessity "different" - and more "different" than imaginable. So if you are discussing these things with a natural mind, bring up what Smolin writes - lets call it the "Smolin Stretch" alan
Many cosmologists today believe that we live in a timeless multiverse - a universe where ours is just one of an ensemble of universes, and where time does not exist I wonder what happens when the figure out that Christianity has always held the view that there will be other "verses", realms etc. in which time does not exist and the laws of physics don't apply? tribune7

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