Monday, October 5, 2015

Singular Universe and the Reality of Time (SURT) notes part 1

Notes and quotes from The Singular Universe and the Reality of Time by Roberto Mangabeira Unger and Lee Smolin, 2015

The nature and scope of this work

To think of the universe as a whole . . . we soon reach the limits of what we know and even of what we can ever hope to know. We press science to the point at which it passes into philosophy and philosophy to the point at which it easily deceives itsolf into claiming powers that it lacks.
Yet we cannot cast this topic aside. . . . we should not seek to escape it because no one can develop and defend ideas about parts of natural reality without making assumptions, even if they remain inexplicit, about nature as a whole. . . . Part of the task is to determine what science has actually found out about the world from the metaphysical commitments for which the findings of science are often mistaken.
I certainly get tired of interacting with critics of God and religion who are expert at pointing out the mistaken metaphysical commitments of religious people (usually incorrectly as applied to me), but view their own understanding as assumption free, or as nearly so as to not matter. I find some glee in the barbs of Unger and Smolin toward these people from the perspective of physics and philosophy.
[regarding the reality of time] By implying the mutability of the laws of nature, the idea of the inclusive reality of time contradicts a dominant interpretation of what the physics and cosmology of the last hundred years teach us about the workings of nature.
Physics and cosmology have assumed an invariant background of time (even if it is somewhat relative), but this is about to go. We're about to see any simple kind of determinism disappear. That makes me happy.
[This work] seeks to distinguish what we in fact know--the hard empirical residue of scientific discovery--from the lens of assumptions through which we are accustomed to see the larger significance of these factual findings.
Smolin and others have been inspiring me to do this with my religion for several years now. It's quite the journey.
It will sometimes happen that no fundamental progress can be achieved in science without dissolving this marriage between the empirical residue and the philosophical gloss. Once the marriage is dissolved, it becomes possible to see the discoveries of science with new eyes. It is never possible, however, to do so without changing some of our beliefs about how nature works.
I'm attempting to separate the experience of God and of the world from the theological gloss. As noted, it can't be done without changing some of our beliefs about how God works.

There are two philosophies followed by Unger and Smolin:
. . . the relational approach to nature and the priority of being over becoming. . . . The case for them here lies in the insights that they together make possible.
In theology, following these philosophies has led me to a new conception of God that I think gives insights on Gods, the meaning of life, the nature and purpose of revelation, free will, universalism and exclusivism, and other significant theological topics. Yet it is a battle to have the ideas heard after more than a century of an unchanging God being the dominant view in Mormon thought. Notwithstanding a changing God seeming to have been the view of Brigham and Joseph.
Timeless versions of relational space-time leave inexplicable basic features of nature such as the choice of laws and of initial conditions. . . . The result may be to substitute a mystical notion for a scientific program by invoking an external force or entity that produces becoming in an otherwise passive universe.
The timeless God of the gaps can live in these features forever without fear of being disturbed or deposed. There will always be room for the First Great Cause, the Prime Mover. But such a being is both protected and curtailed by this position.

They propose a new natural philosophy, "temporal naturalism". Natural philosophy is needed to inspire and enhance normal science to engender revolutionary science.
It is an effort that can succeed because the mind is what it is. We can always see and discover more than any set of methods and presuppositions, in any discipline, can prospectively. Vision exceeds method, and reshapes the practice and discourse, according to its needs.
I want visionary religion in a church that has largely been practicing normal religion for more than a century.
Cosmology is not just one more specialized science. It is the study of the universe as a whole, beyond which, for science [and for Mormonism], there lies nothing.
All our ideas about parts of nature will be influenced, whether knowingly or not, by our assumptions about the whole universe.
I'm trying hard to make the influence of my assumptions knowing.

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