Concept Exchange Society


Wednesday, July 8, 1998 6:30 pm

At Glenn Johnston's House.

Presentation: Steven Bell

"The Life of The Cosmos"

Pre-Meeting Notice:

Writes Steven:

Smolin, Lee The Life of the Cosmos, New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.

To introduce this book, I'll just quote from the liner:

In The Life of the Cosmos, Smolin cuts the Gordian knot of cosmology with a simple, powerful idea: "The underlying structure of our world," he writes, "is to be found in the logic of evolution." Today's physicists have overturned Newton's view of the universe, yet they continue to cling to an understanding of reality not unlike Newton's own -- as a clock, an intricate mechanism, governed by laws which are mathematical and eternally true. Smolin argues that the laws of nature we observe may be, in part, the result of a process of natural selection which took place before the big bang.

... based on recent developments in cosmology, quantum theory, relativity and string theory, ... unprecedented view of how these developments may fit together....

... as science moves toward understanding the universe as an interrelated, self-constructed entity, within which life and complexity have a natural place, and in which "the occurrence of novelty, indeed the perpetual birth of novelty, can be understood."


Present were Glenn, Roberto, Steve, Meredyth and M.

Steve had kindly prepared a summary sheet on his topic book and sent me a copy for posting. Here it is.

The thesis of the book is stunning. That species of universes are ever evolving like species in biological evolution. I deduce from Steve's report that the analogue of DNA are black holes! Types (species) of universes that spawn many offspring universes will thrive. Since new universes issue from black holes those with greater black hole production will dominate. And these are the very kind needed to support life. We inhabit one such universe.

A very imaginative thesis. But it seems too full of logical holes to me. I don't think the thesis will survive.

Here, in my view, is one such logical hole. According to Steve, Smolin asks himself: "What is the probability that the parameters of the universe - the fundamental constants of physics - have just the values necessary for life to arise?" Smolin calculates this as 10-229. But, it seems to me that Smolin's probability measures nothing about the universe. It measures only our current state of ignorance. If further research showed the constants to be related to each other or, say, to the value of pi then there is no probability at all that they are something other than what they are! Smolin's calculation would be like assigning probabilities for different mathematics upon adjustment of values for pi! Or equivalently, adjusting the value of the number 2 on the basis of probability.

Smolin, right or wrong, we were privileged to have Steve's generous and thought provoking presentation. It was a particularly stimulating evening.

July 1998
Marvin Chester

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© m chester 1998 Occidental CA