Is the universe ultimately made of time or of timeless numbers? In a review of Unger and Smolin’s The Singular Universe and the Reality of Time, Bryan Appleyard discusses the “superstitions and allegories” of science, especially physics. “If, as Unger and Smolin insist, time is real and not simply an aspect of space or of our perceptions, then the laws of physics begin to look even less solid. If everything is subject to time and, therefore, change, then these laws can evolve. They suggest the idea that these laws are eternally fixed is a supersition caused by mathematics – all the insights of maths are timeless and maths is only a human creation. In fact, two of the greatest physicists of all time – Richard Feynman and Paul Dirac – both accepted the possibility that the laws of physics evolve through time. Yet eternal, immutable physical laws, somehow detached from our physical universe, remain one of the primary superstitions of our age.”
Why can’t the world’s greatest minds solve the mystery of consciousness? First-rate review of competing ideas about what makes human beings more than complex robots. “It would be poetic – albeit deeply frustrating – were it ultimately to prove that the one thing the human mind is incapable of comprehending is itself. An answer must be out there somewhere. And finding it matters: indeed, one could argue that nothing else could ever matter more – since anything at all that matters, in life, only does so as a consequence of its impact on conscious brains. Yet there’s no reason to assume that our brains will be adequate vessels for the voyage towards that answer. Nor that, were we to stumble on a solution to the Hard Problem, on some distant shore where neuroscience meets philosophy, we would even recognise that we’d found it.” Highly recommended. Clear, thorough.
David Brooks uses Ursula Le Guin’s short story “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” to raise questions about social contract theory, utilitarianism’s greatest happiness principle, and deontology’s respect for human dignity.
Philosophies such as Stoicism and Epircureanism promise that you can render yourself invulnerable to the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. But in “Against Invulnerability” Todd May asks whether we really want to be invulnerable. “But for those who choose to remain vulnerable, life is not and cannot be undergone as anything other than a fraught trajectory, one hedged about by an inescapable contingency, and one that is likely to leave scars alongside its joys. And for most of us, most of the time, we would not want it to be any other way.”
According to Lary Wallace, Stoicism is eminently understandable but is grotesquely misunderstood. It’s misunderstood even by great philosophers like Nietzsche. It’s typically thought to be about remaining impassive. But in fact Stoicism promises “lasting transcendence and imperturbable tranquility.” It’s one of the best mind hacks ever.