The Life of the Cosmos. Lee Smolin. Oxford University Press.

The Life of the Cosmos Book Cover The Life of the Cosmos
Lee Smolin
Oxford University Press
May 1, 1997

We live in the age of a new scientific revolution, one as sweeping and profound as that launched by Copernicus, one that continues to unfold. Beginning at the turn-of-the-century, with the discovery of relativity and quantum mechanics, this second revolution has collapsed the old Newtonian universe. Yet the revolution continues as physicists search for a theory that will unify the quantum with Einstein’s theory of space and time. Now, cosmologist Lee Smolin offers a startling new theory of the universe that is at once elegant, comprehensive, and radically different from anything proposed before.

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.

Smolin’s ideas are based on recent developments in cosmology, quantum theory, relativity and string theory, yet they offer, at the same time, an unprecedented view of how these developments may fit together to form a new theory of cosmology. From this perspective, the lines between the simple and the complex, the fundamental and the emergent, and even between the biological and the physical are redrawn. The result is a framework that illuminates many intractable problems, from the paradoxes of quantum theory and the nature of space and time to the problem of constructing a final theory of physics.

As he argues for this new view, Smolin introduces the reader to recent developments in a wide range of fields, from string theory and quantum gravity to evolutionary theory and the structure of galaxies. He examines the philosophical roots of controversies in the foundations of physics, and shows how they may be transformed 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.”

Lee Smolin writes with an expertise and force of argument that will command attention throughout the world of science. Perhaps most important, however, is the humanity and sharp clarity of his prose, offering access for the lay person to the mind-bending space at the forefront of today’s physics.

Lee Smolin is Professor of Physics at the Center for Gravitational Physics and Geometry at the Pennsylvania State University. His Ph.D. is from Harvard University, after which he did postdoctoral work at the Institute for Advanced Study, the Institute for Theoretical Physics, and the University of Chicago. His main scientific contributions have been to the search for a unification of quantum theory, cosmology, and relativity. He lives in State College, Pennsylvania, and New York City.