Is the passing of time an illusion? + Cosmology without philosophy

Back from the End of Time (video)

EXCERPT: The passing of time is an illusion. Or so claims physics since Einstein. Yet we tend to think we do experience time passing. There has been no explanation for how the future might already be fixed in the way the present or past might be, or how we are in some sense already dead while we feel alive. Do we need a new account of space-time that aligns physics with our experience? The Panel: Theoretical physicist and winner of the Spinoza Prize Erik Verlinde, Cambridge philosopher Huw Price and Warwick philosopher of science Alison Fernandes investigate time.

MORE (direct video to without intro page):

Why cosmology without philosophy is like a ship without a hull

EXCERPT: What is it with the philosophy-haters in astrophysics and cosmology? From the late Stephen Hawking’s claim that ‘philosophy is dead’, to Steven Weinberg’s chapter-long jeremiad ‘Against Philosophy’ in Dreams of a Final Theory (1992), plenty of physicists and astrophysicists think that philosophy is useless, or at least useless to science. At the same time, Hawking and his co-author Leonard Mlodinow put forward an approach to scientific enquiry called ‘model-dependent realism’ in The Grand Design (2010), while Weinberg’s book argues passionately – and philosophically – against logical positivism and metaphysics. If it’s so useless, why have Hawking and Weinberg – and Neil deGrasse Tyson, Lawrence Krauss and other anti-philosophites – so often engaged in philosophical discourse?

Despite what the haters might think, all areas of science confront questions that can’t be answered within the process of science itself. Whenever scientists examine the best way to test a theory, or wonder how scientific models relate to reality, they’re doing philosophy. But in its unique position as the study of the whole of existence, cosmology in particular is full of philosophical puzzles and positions.

In fact, there’s a philosophical belief hiding at the very heart of cosmology. The cosmological principle states that, on large scales, the Universe is homogeneous (looks the same at all locations) and isotropic (looks the same in all directions). For example, the view from a ship in the middle of the ocean would be isotropic but, when land is in sight, the view is not the same in all directions. The ocean surface itself is homogeneous, perhaps, until you get near the shore.

The cosmological principle is fundamental to our understanding of how the Universe evolved, expanding from a uniform, hot plasma and cooling to form the intricate cosmic web we can now see through our telescopes. To assume homogeneity and isotropy everywhere, one must first average over insignificant, smaller differences, such as whole planets and even galaxies. The cosmological principle is thus a statistical principle: it is true only if you apply it to large-enough scales.

But even then, it might not be true. The Universe need not be homogeneous; Albert Einstein’s theory of gravity works just fine if it isn’t, and gravity causes structures to grow over time, exaggerating tiny initial differences. (Whether these initial differences came from the ‘quantum fluctuations’ of virtual particles popping into and out of existence, or some other – weirder? – theory, is unresolved.)

So scientists are left in a state of hesitant acceptance. The cosmological principle is foundational to how we describe the evolution of the Universe, yet so far we’ve been unable to prove that it’s necessarily true....


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