The Singular Universe and the Reality of Time

The Singular Universe and the Reality of Time
Hardcover edition
Author Lee Smolin and Roberto Mangabeira Unger
Country United States
Language English
Subject Physics, cosmology, philosophy of time
Genre Non-fiction
Publication date
December 8, 2014
Media type Print
Pages 566 pp.
ISBN 978-1107074064
Preceded by Time Reborn (by Smolin)
The Religion of the Future
(by Unger)'

The Singular Universe and the Reality of Time: A Proposal in Natural Philosophy is a non-fiction book by the American theoretical physicist Lee Smolin and the Brazilian philosopher Roberto Mangabeira Unger. The book was initially published by Cambridge University Press on December 8, 2014.[1][2][3]


The book discusses a number of philosophical and physical ideas on the true role of time in the Universe. The text is roughly divided into two halves, the first one written by Unger, and the second by Smolin, both developing the same themes in different ways, with Smolin being more focused on the physics.[4]


You might expect a book co-authored by Smolin and Unger to be an exchange about science and human values—something, perhaps, in the region of the 1930 dialogue between Einstein and the polymath Rabindranath Tagore. But The Singular Universe and the Reality of Time is not that kind of thing: it is a big and daunting book, harder to read than recent works by either author. The first section, by Unger, includes among other things an exploration of the global, irreversible and continuous attributes of time, followed by an analysis of proto-ontological assumptions. The second section, by Smolin, contains an approach to solving the meta-law dilemma, outlining linear cyclic models, branching models and branching cyclic cosmologies before it dives into cosmological natural selection, pluralistic cosmological scenarios and the principle of precedence.

The Guardian[5]

I found the long section by Unger rather hard going and not very rewarding... Smolin gives a discussion of mathematics itself which I think few mathematicians would recognize

- Peter Woit[6]


-I. II. P. 53

A revisionist reading of the history of physics would seek inspiration for a historical way of 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.

- I. I. P. 9

According to this view, the laws, symmetries, and supposed constants change together with the phenomena. Causal connections are, on this view, a primitive feature of nature.

- I. IV. P. 193

Third, and most importantly, general relativity must be reformulated without the addition of the Riemannian spacetime conception, the disposition to spatialize time, or the block-universe view, none of which are vindicated by the empirical and experimental evidence adduced in favor of general relativity. The metaphysical gloss must be lifted from the empirical theory, with the result of suggesting a redirection of the agenda of cosmology.

- I. III. P. 100

Two parts of nature belong to the same universe if they share any event in their causal past, even if they have subsequently become causally disjoint. It is the network of causal relations viewed backward into the past that determines the scope of causal communion and thus the separate existence of a universe.

- I. VI. P. 345

What results is a view that recognizes the unmatched powers and the unique perspective of mathematics. It nevertheless repudiates the Pythagorean claim, made on behalf of mathematics for at least twenty-six hundred years, that mathematical insight represents a shortcut to eternal truth about incorruptible objects. It sees mathematical reasoning as inquiry into the world -- the only world that there is, the world of time and fuzzy distinction -- only at one step of remove.

- II. IV. P. 420

A global preferred time would have to be relational, in that it would be determined by the dynamics and state of the universe as a whole. It would thus not be determinable in terms of information local to any observer. Such a relational local time could then be consistent with the relativity of simultaneity holding locally in regions of spacetime. There is a precedent for such a relational, dynamically determined global time in the Barbour-Bertotti model. This raises the question of whether general relativity can be formulated as a theory with a preferred dynamically determined global time. The answer is yes; this is shown by the existence of a formulation of general relativity as a theory defined on a fixed three-surface which evolves in a global time coordinate. This formulation, called shape dynamics, shares with general relativity diffeomorphism invariance on the three-dimensional spacelike surfaces but replaces the many-fingered time invariance on the three-dimensional spacelike surfaces with a new local gauge invariance which is invariant under local three-dimensional conformal transformations. These transformations however are restricted to preserve the volume of the universe. The spatial volume then becomes an observable and can be used as a time parameter.

- P. xvi

Only when we understand becoming from the perspective of relational time can we subject it to a dynamics that is internal to the universe. Only then can we lay it open to explanation by the methods of science.

- I. II. P. 74

We must reestablish the indispensable link, in social and historical study, between insight into the actual and exploration of the adjacent possible. On this basis, we must exercise the prerogative of the programmatic imagination: the vision of alternatives, connected by intermediate steps to the here and now, especially alternative institutional forms of democracy, markets, and free civil societies.

See also


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