The Singular Universe and the Reality of Time: A Proposal in Natural Philosophy
Roberto Mangabeira Unger, Lee Smolin
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Cosmology is in crisis. The more we discover, the more puzzling the universe appears to be. How and why are the laws of nature what they are? A philosopher and a physicist, world-renowned for their radical ideas in their fields, argue for a revolution. To keep cosmology scientific, we must replace the old view in which the universe is governed by immutable laws by a new one in which laws evolve. Then we can hope to explain them. The revolution that Roberto Mangabeira Unger and Lee Smolin propose relies on three central ideas. There is only one universe at a time. Time is real: everything in the structure and regularities of nature changes sooner or later. Mathematics, which has trouble with time, is not the oracle of nature and the prophet of science; it is simply a tool with great power and immense limitations. The argument is readily accessible to non-scientists as well as to the physicists and cosmologists whom it challenges.
causal explanation: to explain why things are what they are, not just to show how they are possible, or susceptible to mathematical representation, among many other things that no one has seen or even could see. Instead of trying to show how the possible becomes actual, such a way of thinking rests content with the discovery that the actual can be brought under the aegis of ideas that are also compatible with a vast array of states of nature that no one has ever or could ever observe. Together
thinking about the universe in the line that begins in thermodynamics before Maxwell, continues in thermodynamics after him, and leads to the contemporary study of cosmological difﬁculties such as the so-called horizon and ﬂatness problems. It is a recessive strand in the past of physics that could become dominant in its future. In that strand, time is not accessory to space. Events are not time symmetrical. The historical character of natural reality is not an accidental or peculiar feature of
powerfully evoked in the work of Karl Marx as well as in many other currents of classical social theory, failed to develop into such a broader account of social structures as frozen politics. It was stopped from such an evolution by its juxtaposition, in the work of Marx and others, with ideas that limited its reach and compromised its 2 t h e c o n t e x t a n d c o n s e q u e n c e s o f t h e a r g u m e n t 71 force. These compromises were the illusions of false necessity. Three such
empirical and experimental discovery, and to do so, tentatively and suggestively, without passing, as science normally must, through an intermediate stage of systematic theory. Natural philosophy, as we here view and practice it, is not natural science. Neither, however, is it what the philosophy of science has largely become: a commentary on scientiﬁc ideas, delivered from the distance of analytic self-restraint and unencumbered by any intention to intervene in the agenda of a particular
conditions just are what they are. They are a primitive feature of nature. They cannot be inferred from anything else. Then the regularities of nature are like surprising singular events, except that what is not only surprising and singular but also beyond the reach of further explanation is the universe itself. Science then presents the apparent disorder of the universe under the semblance of regularities. This representation, however, only postpones the confrontation with brute factitiousness.