In the beginning

Cosmology attempts to understand the origin and structure of everything. Where is cosmology headed today? Ross Anderson asks: “Cosmology has been on a long, hot streak, racking up one imaginative and scientific triumph after another. Is it over?” From ancient Greece to the modern world, philosophy played a big part in developing conceptions of the cosmos. “To create a cosmos, a story that encompasses the origins and ultimate fate of all that is, you have to leave established science behind. You have to face down the cold void of the unknown. Philosophers are always in a dogfight to prove their utility to society, but this is something they do well.” And if the physicists working on cosmology today are facing a creative crisis, philosophical methods and distinctions may help. Indeed, Paul Steinhardt, the director of the Princeton Center for Theoretical Sciences, says, “I wish the philosophers would get involved.”

Time v. math

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.”