Re: The Next Century's Great Discovery

Damien Broderick (
Tue, 29 Jul 1997 12:07:28 +0000

Anders, in common with many people, suggests a mature theory of complexity
as the next big step. One mighty leap beyond that has been proposed by
Prof Lee Smolin in his new book THE LIFE OF THE COSMOS. I've only just
started reading this book - which I've been awaiting eagerly for some years
- and find to my surprise that Smolin argues for what one might dub an
`evolutionary nomics' or `general Darwinian nomothetics'. This is the
notion that fundamental physical and informational `laws' (can't really
avoid scare quotes in such a discussion) are not eternal, Platonic,
existent-even-prior-to-the-Big-Bang, but emergent. I knew that Smolin
favoured the view that these laws, dimensionless constants, etc, get
remixed with each new budded universe, but I didn't quite expect to find
him arguing that they mutate and evolve *within* a history.

Some quotes:

` thing I want to communicate... doubt whether the foundations of the
world are indeed to be grasped *solely* by the discovery of a perfect and
eternal mathematical law... we are beginning to see evidence of an
alternative view... [fundamental order and regularity] might have arisen...
through a process of self-organisation, by means of which the world has
evolved over time to become intricately structured... I myself rejected
such ideas when I first encountered them.' (p. 15)

`...I hope to convince the reader that the desire to understand the world
in terms of a naive and radical atomism in which elementary particles carry
forever fixed properties, independent of the history or shape of the
universe, perpetuates a now archaic view of the world.' (p. 18)

Of course he's not talking talking about the phase changes and uncouplings
at symmetry breaking or anything so simple.

I have to say that this perspective troubles me deeply. It smacks of what
I call `black holism'. But Smolin is one of the smart cookies, and I'm
looking forward to the rest of his book once I get off the phone...

Damien Broderick