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  • So, about three years ago I was in London,

  • and somebody called Howard Burton came to me and said,

  • I represent a group of people,

  • and we want to start an institute in theoretical physics.

  • We have about 120 million dollars, and we want to do it well.

  • We want to be in the forefront fields,

  • and we want to do it differently.

  • We want to get out of this thing

  • where the young people have all the ideas, and the old people have all the power

  • and decide what science gets done.

  • It took me about 25 seconds to decide that that was a good idea.

  • Three years later, we have the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics

  • in Waterloo, Ontario. It’s the most exciting job I’ve ever had.

  • And it’s the first time I’ve had a job where I’m afraid to go away

  • because of everything that’s going to happen in this week when I’m here.

  • (Laughter)

  • But in any case, what I’m going to do in my little bit of time

  • is take you on a quick tour of some of the things

  • that we talk about and we think about.

  • So, we think a lot about what really makes science work?

  • The first thing that anybody who knows science,

  • and has been around science,

  • is that the stuff you learn in school as a scientific method

  • is wrong. There is no method.

  • On the other hand, somehow we manage to reason together

  • as a community, from incomplete evidence

  • to conclusions that we all agree about.

  • And this is, by the way, something that a democratic society also has to do.

  • So how does it work?

  • Well, my belief is that it works

  • because scientists are a community bound together by an ethics.

  • And here are some of the ethical principles.

  • I’m not going to read them all to you because I’m not in teacher mode.

  • I’m in entertain, amaze mode.

  • (Laughter)

  • But one of the principles is that everybody

  • who is part of the community gets to fight and argue

  • as hard as they can for what they believe.

  • But were all disciplined by the understanding

  • that the only people who are going to decide, you know,

  • whether I’m right or somebody else is right,

  • are the people in our community in the next generation,

  • in 30 and 50 years.

  • So it’s this combination of respect

  • for the tradition and community were in,

  • and rebellion that the community requires to get anywhere,

  • that makes science work.

  • And being in this process of being in a community

  • that reasons from shared evidence to conclusions,

  • I believe, teaches us about democracy.

  • Not only is there a relationship between the ethics of science

  • and the ethics of being a citizen in democracy,

  • but there has been, historically, a relationship

  • between how people think about space and time, and what the cosmos is,

  • and how people think about the society that they live in.

  • And I want to talk about three stages in that evolution.

  • The first science of cosmology that was anything like science

  • was Aristotelian science, and that was hierarchical.

  • The earth is in the center, then there are these crystal spheres,

  • the sun, the moon, the planets and finally the celestial sphere,

  • where the stars are. And everything in this universe has a place.

  • And Aristotle’s law of motion was that everything

  • goes to its natural place, which was of course,

  • the rule of the society that Aristotle lived in,

  • and more importantly, the medieval society that, through Christianity,

  • embraced Aristotle and blessed it.

  • And the idea is that everything is defined.

  • Where something is, is defined with respect to this last sphere,

  • the celestial sphere, outside of which is this eternal,

  • perfect realm, where lives God,

  • who is the ultimate judge of everything.

  • So that is both Aristotelian cosmology,

  • and in a certain sense, medieval society.

  • Now, in the 17th century there was a revolution in thinking about

  • space and time and motion and so forth of Newton.

  • And at the same time there was a revolution in social thought

  • of John Locke and his collaborators.

  • And they were very closely associated.

  • In fact, Newton and Locke were friends.

  • Their way of thinking about space and time and motion on the one hand,

  • and a society on the other hand, were closely related.

  • And let me show you.

  • In a Newtonian universe, there’s no center -- thank you.

  • There are particles and they move around

  • with respect to a fixed, absolute framework of space and time.

  • It’s meaningful to say absolutely where something is in space,

  • because that’s defined, not with respect to say, where other things are,

  • but with respect to this absolute notion of space,

  • which for Newton was God.

  • Now, similarly, in Locke’s society there are individuals

  • who have certain rights, properties in a formal sense,

  • and those are defined with respect to some absolute,

  • abstract notions of rights and justice, and so forth,

  • which are independent of what else has happened in the society.

  • Of who else there is, of the history and so forth.

  • There is also an omniscient observer

  • who knows everything, who is God,

  • who is in a certain sense outside the universe,

  • because he has no role in anything that happens,

  • but is in a certain sense everywhere,

  • because space is just the way that God knows

  • where everything is, according to Newton, OK?

  • So this is the foundations of what’s called, traditionally,

  • liberal political theory and Newtonian physics.

  • Now, in the 20th century we had a revolution

  • that was initiated at the beginning of the 20th century,

  • and which is still going on.

  • It was begun with the invention

  • of relativity theory and quantum theory.

  • And merging them together to make the final quantum theory

  • of space and time and gravity, is the culmination of that,

  • something that’s going on right now.

  • And in this universe there’s nothing fixed and absolute. Zilch, OK.

  • This universe is described by being a network of relationships.

  • Space is just one aspect, so there’s no meaning to say

  • absolutely where something is.

  • There’s only where it is relative to everything else that is.

  • And this network of relations is ever-evolving.

  • So we call it a relational universe.

  • All properties of things are about these kinds of relationships.

  • And also, if youre embedded in such a network of relationships,

  • your view of the world has to do with what information

  • comes to you through the network of relations.

  • And there’s no place for an omniscient observer

  • or an outside intelligence knowing everything and making everything.

  • So this is general relativity, this is quantum theory.

  • This is also, if you talk to legal scholars,

  • the foundations of new ideas in legal thought.

  • Theyre thinking about the same things.

  • And not only that, they make the analogy

  • to relativity theory and cosmology often.

  • So there’s an interesting discussion going on there.

  • This last view of cosmology is called the relational view.

  • So the main slogan here is that there’s nothing outside the universe,

  • which means that there’s no place

  • to put an explanation for something outside.

  • So in such a relational universe,

  • if you come upon something that’s ordered and structured,

  • like this device here, or that device there,

  • or something beautiful, like all the living things,

  • all of you guys in the room --

  • "guys" in physics, by the way, is a generic term: men and women.

  • (Laughter)

  • Then you want to know, youre a person,

  • you want to know how is it made.

  • And in a relational universe the only possible explanation was, somehow it made itself.

  • There must be mechanisms of self-organization

  • inside the universe that make things.

  • Because there’s no place to put a maker outside,

  • as there was in the Aristotelian and the Newtonian universe.

  • So in a relational universe we must have processes of self-organization.

  • Now, Darwin taught us that there are processes of self-organization

  • that suffice to explain all of us and everything we see.

  • So it works. But not only that,

  • if you think about how natural selection works,

  • then it turns out that natural selection

  • would only make sense in such a relational universe.

  • That is, natural selection works on properties,

  • like fitness, which are about relationships

  • of some species to some other species.

  • Darwin wouldn’t make sense in an Aristotelian universe,

  • and wouldn’t really make sense in a Newtonian universe.

  • So a theory of biology based on natural selection

  • requires a relational notion of

  • what are the properties of biological systems.

  • And if you push that all the way down, really,

  • it makes the best sense in a relational universe

  • where all properties are relational.

  • Now, not only that, but Einstein taught us

  • that gravity is the result of the world being relational.

  • If it wasn’t for gravity, there wouldn’t be life,

  • because gravity causes stars to form and live for a very long time,

  • keeping pieces of the world, like the surface of the Earth,

  • out of thermal equilibrium for billions of years so life can evolve.

  • In the 20th century,

  • we saw the independent development of two big themes in science.

  • In the biological sciences, they explored

  • the implications of the notion that order and complexity

  • and structure arise in a self-organized way.

  • That was the triumph of Neo-Darwinism and so forth.

  • And slowly, that idea is leaking out to the cognitive sciences,

  • the human sciences, economics, et cetera.

  • At the same time, we physicists

  • have been busy trying to make sense of

  • and build on and integrate the discoveries

  • of quantum theory and relativity.

  • And what weve been working out is the implications, really,

  • of the idea that the universe is made up of relations.

  • 21st-century science is going to be driven

  • by the integration of these two ideas:

  • the triumph of relational ways of thinking

  • about the world, on the one hand,

  • and self-organization or Darwinian ways of thinking about the world,

  • on the other hand.

  • And also, is that in the 21st century

  • our thinking about space and time and cosmology,

  • and our thinking about society are both going to continue to evolve.

  • And what theyre evolving towards is the union

  • of these two big ideas, Darwinism and relationalism.

  • Now, if you think about democracy from this perspective,

  • a new pluralistic notion of democracy would be one that recognizes

  • that there are many different interests, many different agendas,

  • many different individuals, many different points of view.

  • Each one is incomplete, because youre embedded

  • in a network of relationships.

  • Any actor in a democracy is embedded

  • in a network of relationships.

  • And you understand some things better than other things,

  • and because of that there’s a continual jostling

  • and give and take, which is politics.

  • And politics is, in the ideal sense,

  • the way in which we continually address

  • our network of relations in order to achieve

  • a better life and a better society.

  • And I also think that science will never go away and --

  • I’m finishing on this line.

  • (Laughter)

  • In fact, I’m finished. Science will never go away.

So, about three years ago I was in London,

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B1 US TED relational universe cosmology society theory

【TED】Lee Smolin: How science is like democracy

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    Jali posted on 2017/06/13
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