Beyond the Dynamical Universe: Unifying Block Universe Physics and Time as Experienced

Theoretical physics and foundations of physics have not made much progress in the last few decades. Whether we are talking about unifying general relativity and quantum field theory (quantum gravity), explaining so-called dark energy and dark matter (cosmology), or the interpretation and implications of quantum mechanics and relativity, there is no consensus in sight. In addition, both enterprises are deeply puzzled about various facets of time including above all, time as experienced. The authors argue that, across the board, this impasse is the result of the “dynamical universe paradigm,” the idea that reality is fundamentally made up of physical entities that evolve in time from some initial state according to dynamical laws. 

Thus, in the dynamical universe, the initial conditions plus the dynamical laws explain everything else going exclusively forward in time. In cosmology, for example, the initial conditions reside in the Big Bang and the dynamical law is supplied by general relativity. Accordingly, the present state of the universe is explained exclusively by its past. This book offers a completely new paradigm (called Relational Blockworld), whereby the past, present and future co-determine each other via “adynamical global constraints,” such as the least action principle. Accordingly, the future is just as important for explaining the present as is the past. Most of the book is devoted to showing how Relational Blockworld resolves many of the current conundrums of both theoretical physics and foundations of physics, including the mystery of time as experienced and how that experience relates to the block universe.

Review

This book is likely to become a crucial resource for future scientific revolutions, despite (or due to) its daring speculative proposals. Indeed, it offers no less than a complete redefinition of science and explanation, abandoning causality in favor of global consistency. By involving consciousness from the outset, instead of vainly wondering what is its “material cause”, it paves the way to a truly complete view of the world. No aspect of “what there is” is left aside in this comprehensive book that synergizes physics with philosophy, our knowledge of nature with our knowledge of ourselves. (Michel Bitbol, CNRS/ENS, Archives Husserl)

Einstein was worried about the exclusion of the ‘now’ from physics. Perhaps one should worry less. After reading this book an idea deeply grounded in physics emerges: complementary to our subjective experience, ‘presence’ and ‘passage of time’ are universal and fundamental properties of reality. (Marc Wittmann, Institute for Frontiers Areas of Psychology and Mental Health)

This important book drives a well-crafted stake through the heart of the dynamical view of time. The dogma that physics doesn’t need philosophy is another welcome casualty. (Huw Price, University of Cambridge)

This book presents a fascinating scientifically informed original metaphysics of nature sure to provoke discussion. And with the price of admission you get a set of wonderfully clear introductions to the cutting edge of modern physics. (William Seager, University of Toronto Scarborough)

From relativity and quantum mechanics to consciousness, Silberstein, Stuckey, and McDevitt, take us on an exciting cutting-edge tour of one of the greatest mysteries in science: the nature of time. (Dean Buonomano, University of California, Los Angeles)

A tour-de-force on physics and philosophy by a philosopher, a physicist, and a mathematician, Beyond the Dynamical Universe is a bold attempt to do away with the standard explanatory paradigm in physics and replace it with a form of blockworld adynamical explanation that might have been inspired by the heptapods in the movie Arrival. Itâs a revolutionary proposal, with consequences for the nature of time and our perception of time, worked out in some detail in separate threads for the non-expert, the philosopher of physics, and the physicist. Well worth a serious read, the book succeeds in being both provocative and instructive on many levels. (Jeffrey Bub, University of Maryland)

This book is innovative in form and content. The form ― a physicist, a philosopher and a mathematician contributing parallel and interrelated threads on the same topicâis an exemplary model of interdisciplinarity in the foundations of physics. The content ― an adynamical, atemporal approach to solving the long-standing conceptual puzzles about quantum mechanics ― is a radical departure from standard modes of physical explanation, and one that just might give us genuine insight into the nature of the quantum world. (Peter Lewis, Department of Philosophy, Dartmouth College, USA)

The book is an original and far-reaching attempt to bridge the gap between the physical image of time, presupposing a static view of a universe given in block, and our dynamical experience of passage, based on our perception of events coming into being in succession. To the extent that the essential task of philosophy is to achieve a unified view of the physical universe and of our place in it, this book is an absolute must for scientists and laypeople alike. You simply cannot put it down. (Mauro Dorato, University of Roma Tre, Italy)

About the Author

Michael David Silberstein is Full Professor of Philosophy at Elizabethtown College, a founding member of the Cognitive Science program at the College and permanent Adjunct in the Philosophy Department at the University of Maryland, College Park, where he is also a faculty member in the Foundations of Physics Program and a Fellow on the Committee for Philosophy and the Sciences. His primary research interests are foundations of physics, foundations of cognitive science, foundations of complexity theory and consciousness studies respectively. He is especially interested in how these branches of philosophy and science bear on more general questions of reduction, emergence and explanation. Mark Stuckey is a professor of physics at Elizabethtown College where he teaches an array of physics courses to include general relativity and quantum mechanics. He has published in the areas of relativistic cosmology, dark matter, dark energy, quantum gravity, and foundations of physics. Timothy McDevitt is a professor of mathematics at Elizabethtown College where he teaches a variety of math courses. His research is highly interdisciplinary and he has published in applied mechanics, numerical analysis, physics, education, and medicine.

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