Transcript: Lee Smolin on Why Does Science Work? | Jan 24, 2004

Lee Smolin appears in an auditorium with blue curtains behind him. Lee is in his late fifties, with small, oval glasses. He has brown hair and a short beard. He wears a black suit with a black shirt.
Lee stands next to a projector screen that reads, "How does science work?"

Lee Smolin says HOW DOES SCIENCE
ACTUALLY, WORK, OKAY?
SO OF COURSE THERE ARE
PROFESSIONAL PHILOSOPHERS OF
SCIENCE WHO HAVE STUDIED THE
MATTER, AND HERE IS A 1 SLIDE,
3 MINUTE TOUR THROUGH 20th
CENTURY PHILOSOPHY OF SCIENCE,
CONCERNED WITH THE METHODOLOGY
OF SCIENCE, SO TOWARD THE
BEGINNING OF THE 20th CENTURY...
SO THERE WERE ANSWERS IF YOU GO
AND TALK TO THE PHILOSOPHERS,
AND SOME OF US HAD BEEN, FOR
BETTER OR WORSE, HAD ACTUALLY
TAKEN COURSES ON THIS STUFF, SO
WE KNEW IT, SORT OF.

A blue caption appears on the screen with a white light bulb. It reads, "Lee Smolin. Perimeter Institute. Why Does Science Work?"

Lee Smolin continues
SO ORIGINALLY, IN THE EARLY 20th
CENTURY, THERE WAS A SCHOOL IN
VIENNA AND THEN WITH AN
INFLUENCE TO LONDON CALLED
LOGICAL POSITIVISTS, WHO
BELIEVED THAT WHAT MADE AN
ASSERTION, OR LET'S SAY A
SENTENCE, SCIENTIFIC, IS THAT
YOU COULD GIVE A PROCEDURE TO
VERIFY WHETHER IT WAS TRUE OR
NOT.
AND THAT WENT ALONG FOR A WHILE,
AND PEOPLE REALISED...
AND IF PEOPLE LIKE, LATER, ONE
CAN DREAM UP EXAMPLES, BUT IT
DOESN'T WORK, SCIENCE DOESN'T
WORK LIKE THAT.
THEN LATER, POPPER, KARL POPPER,
ALSO A GUY FROM VIENNA WHO MOVED
TO LONDON, TRIED THE OTHER TACK.
KARL POPPER SAID, AND THE REASON
WHY IT DIDN'T WORK IS THAT THE
OLD THING FROM HUME, THAT NO
MATTER HOW MANY TIMES THE SUN
RISES, YOU CAN'T PROVE THE SUN
WILL RISE TOMORROW, SO YOU
CAN'T...
NO MATTER HOW MANY TIME
NEWTONIAN PHYSICS HAD BEEN
CONFIRMED IN THE 19th CENTURY,
THEY COULDN'T EXCLUDE THE
POSSIBILITY THAT IT WAS ONLY
APPROXIMATELY TRUE, AND INDEED
IT WAS, AND LATER WHEN PEOPLE
DID BETTER EXPERIMENTS,
CORRECTIONS TO IT WERE FOUND,
LIKE RELATIVITY AND QUANTUM
THEORY.
SO VERIFICATION IS NOT
SUFFICIENT TO BASE SCIENCE.
ALSO YOU CAN BELIEVE THINGS
WHICH ARE VACUOUS, AND THEY'RE
ALWAYS VERIFIED, AND MANY PEOPLE
DO.

[Audience laughter]

He continues
SO KARL POPPER WHO WANTED TO
DISTINGUISH SCIENCE FROM OTHER
CLAIMS TO TRUTH... HE WAS
PARTICULARLY CONCERNED AT THAT
TIME ABOUT THE FASHION OF
MARXISM IN BRITISH UNIVERSITIES,
SAID, NO, WHAT MAKES SOMETHING
SCIENTIFIC IS THAT THE CLAIMS
CAN BE FALSIFIED, THAT YOU CAN
GIVE A PROCEDURE FOR AN
EXPERIMENT THAT SOMEBODY COULD
REALLY DO, TO SHOW THAT YOUR
ASSERTION IS FALSE.
THEN CAME ALONG KOLN, IN A BOOK
CALLED, "THE STRUCTURE OF
SCIENTIFIC REVOLUTIONS," THAT,
WHEN I WAS IN COLLEGE, WAS ON
THE READING LIST OF EVERY COURSE
IN EVERY SUBJECT, SO IT HAD AN
INFLUENCE... WHO SAID THAT THERE
IS NORMAL SCIENCE THAT FUNCTIONS
BY NORMAL SORT OF ACCUMULATION O
DATA AND INFORMATION AND
CALCULATIONS WHICH APPLY THE
THEORIES TO EXPLAIN THE DATA,
AND THEN THERE'S REVOLUTIONARY
SCIENCE WHICH HAPPENS WHEN
ANOMALIES DEVELOP, AND THE DATA
IS NO LONGER EXPLAINED WELL BY
THE THEORIES, AND THEY BUILD UP,
AND AFTER A WHILE SOMEBODY
DECIDES TO MAKE A REVOLUTION AND
THAT'S HOW SCIENCE WORKS.
THE PROBLEM WITH THAT IS THAT
IT'S REALLY EASY LOOKING BACK IN
HISTORY TO TELL, BUT IT'S REALLY
HARD SAY, TO ASK NOW, ARE WE IN
A REVOLUTIONARY PERIOD OR AN
ORDINARY PERIOD?
THEN, FINALLY CAME ALONG
FEYERABEND, ALSO FROM VIENNA,
PAUL FEYERABEND, WHO BECAME A
SCIENTIST, THEN A SOLDIER, THEN
AN ACTOR, AND THEN A
PHILOSOPHER.
AND KIND OF BROUGHT THE WHOLE
BUSINESS TO AN END BY SAYING,
THERE IS NO SCIENTIFIC METHOD.
AND HE ARGUED STRONGLY AND
CONVINCED MANY PEOPLE THAT, YOU
NAME YOUR SCIENTIFIC METHOD, AND
HE CAN DO TWO THINGS.
HE CAN FIND AN HISTORICAL
INSTANCE WHERE GOOD SCIENTISTS
BROKE THAT RULE, AND YOU CAN SEE
THAT THEY HAD TO, TO MAKE
PROGRESS, AND HE ARGUED, AND
EINSTEIN SAID SOMETHING SIMILAR,
THAT SCIENTISTS ARE
OPPORTUNISTS, THEY DO WHAT THEY
NEED TO DO TO MAKE PROGRESS.
SO THEN WHAT IS IT THAT
SCIENTISTS ARE DOING?
IS IT REALLY IMPOSSIBLE THAT ONE
CAN HAVE KNOWLEDGE?
OKAY, THAT ONE CAN HAVE ASSURED
KNOWLEDGE IF THERE IS NO METHOD?
AND I THINK NOW, MOST
PHILOSOPHERS OF SCIENCE ARE
SOMEWHERE BETWEEN FEYERABEND
AND...
THOUGH MANY OF THEM ARE NOT
COMPLETELY WILLING TO GIVE UP
THE IDEA THAT THERE'S A METHOD.
BUT I'VE NEVER SEEN ANYBODY
CRITICISE A SCIENTIFIC TALK OR
DEVELOPMENT IN METHODOLOGICAL
TERMS, INSIDE SCIENCES.
WE NEVER SAY, "OH, THAT PERSON'S
METHOD IS BAD."
SO I DON'T SEE ANY EVIDENCE THAT
WE'RE USING A METHOD.
SO HOW DOES IT WORK?
WELL I WANT TO SAY ONE THING
HERE, AND THEN I WANT TO MAKE A
PROPOSAL, WHICH IS, AS I SAID, A
NAIVE PROPOSAL.
WHAT I WANT TO SAY IS THAT WHAT
THOSE PHILOSOPHERS ARE DOING,
WHEN I THOUGHT ABOUT IT, SEEMS
TO BE DOOMED TO FAIL, AND THAT
IS THAT THEY'RE TRYING TO INVENT
A METHOD THAT WOULD PROVE THAT
SOME METHOD WOULD WORK TO LEAD
TO KNOWLEDGE IN ANY POSSIBLE
UNIVERSE, BUT IT'S REALLY EASY
TO INVENT POSSIBLE WORLDS,
POSSIBLE UNIVERSES, IN WHICH NO
MATTER WHAT YOU DID, YOUR
KNOWLEDGE WOULDN'T PROGRESS.
SO THE FACT THAT SCIENCE WORKS,
IS NOT JUST ABOUT THE
METHODOLOGY THAT SOME SCIENTISTS
USE, IT'S SOMETHING ABOUT
NATURE.
AND THE ANALOGY, THE METAPHOR
THAT I LIKE HER IS THAT IF SOME
ALIENS CAME DOWN, AND WENT LIKE,
INTO YOUR HOUSE, AND YOU'RE
HERE, THEY COULD STILL LEARN A
LOT ABOUT WHAT YOU'RE LIKE, WHAT
HUMAN BEINGS ARE LIKE, BY
LOOKING AT THE FURNITURE.
SO THE FURNITURE KIND OF TELLS
THEM WHAT PEOPLE ARE LIKE.
AND IN THE SAME WAY, JUST THE
COLLECTION OF WHAT TRICKS WORK,
WHAT METHODS WORK, TELLS US
SOMETHING ABOUT WHAT NATURE IS
LIKE.
THAT IS, SCIENTISTS FIND WAYS TO
FIND TRUTH, WHICH ARE ADAPTED TO
THE PROBLEM AT HAND.
SO HOW DOES IT REALLY WORK?
IS SCIENCE DIFFERENT FROM OTHER
THINGS?
WHY IS IT THAT WE BELIEVE THAT
WE'RE INCREASING OUR KNOWLEDGE?

A blue caption appears on the screen with a white light bulb. It reads, "Lee Smolin. Perimeter Institute. Why Does Science Work?"

Lee Smolin continues
SO I WOULD ARGUE...
I'M GOING TO MAKE A PROPOSAL,
WHICH PEOPLE MAY CRITICISE, BUT
I WANT TO CHARACTERISE WHAT IT
IS THAT WE SCIENTISTS DO.
WHAT WE DO IS WE GET
INFORMATION, DATA, OBSERVATIONS,
AND THAT IS ALWAYS INCOMPLETE.
AND WE ARGUE AND TALK AMONGST
OURSELVES, AND FIGHT...
MOST OF WHAT WE DO, MOST OF WHAT
WE SPEND OUR TIME DOING, IS IN
SOME SORT OF RITUALISED FIGHTING
WITH OTHER PEOPLE IN THE
COMMUNITY, PROPOSING IDEAS,
TRYING TO KILL THEM, UNTIL WE
FIND THINGS THAT WE CAN'T KILL,
THAT WE HAVE TO COME TO
CONSENSUS ABOUT.
SO WE GO FROM INCOMPLETE
INFORMATION, TO SHARED, BUT
CONSENSUAL CONCLUSIONS.
OKAY, HOW DO WE DO THAT?
SO I WANT TO ARGUE THAT THE
REASON WHY WE DO THAT HAS TO BE
PUT DOWN, IN THE END, TO ETHICS,
TO A SENSE OF ETHICS, AND IT
ALSO HAS TO BE PUT DOWN TO THE
FACT THAT WE SCIENTISTS DON'T
WORK ALONE, WE WORK IN
COMMUNITIES.
SO I WOULD LIKE TO DEFINE A KIND
OF COMMUNITY THAT I LIKE TO CALL
AN ETHICAL COMMUNITY, AS A
COMMUNITY THAT IS HELD TOGETHER
BY SOME SET OF ETHICS THAT THE
MEMBERS ASPIRE TO.
SO WHAT ARE THE ETHICS?
FIRST, WE AGREE IN GOOD FAITH,
AND THAT, FOR ME, IS AN
IMPORTANT WORD, AND I LEARNED IT
FROM SOMEONE I'LL BE TALKING
ABOUT AT THE END OF THE TALK, TO
WORK IN GOOD FAITH WITH EACH
OTHER, TO ARGUE FROM SHARED
EVIDENCE, TO SHARED CONCLUSIONS.
AND JUST THAT IS AN ETHICAL
STATEMENT.
WE AGREE TO WORK TOGETHER FROM
SHARED EVIDENCE, TO SHARED
CONCLUSIONS.
WE AGREE TO HONESTLY REPORT THE
RESULTS OF WHAT WE OBSERVE AND
WHAT WE DO AND WHAT WE
CALCULATE, EVEN IF IT GOES
AGAINST OUR PRECONCEPTIONS.
NOW HUMAN BEINGS ARE REALLY GOOD
AT ARGUING FROM INCOMPLETE
INFORMATION, DRAWING CONCLUSIONS
FROM INCOMPLETE INFORMATION.
THAT'S WHAT WE DO.
AND IT MEANS WE OFTEN SUCCEED,
AND WE'RE NO LONGER HANGING
AROUND IN THE SAVANNAHS OR
WHEREVER, SO WE'VE SUCCEEDED
QUITE A BIT.
BUT IT ALSO MEANS THAT WE HAVE A
TENDENCY TO FOOL OURSELVES, AND
FOOL EACH OTHER, WHICH WE DO
REALLY EASILY.
AND SCIENCE, AS A COMMUNITY, HAS
RESPONDED TO OUR PROPENSITY TO
FOOL OURSELVES BY DEVELOPING
TOOLS TO CHECK FOR ERROR.
SO THESE METHODS FOR FINDING
ERROR HAVE BEEN DEVELOPED BY
TRIAL AND ERROR OVER DECADES, IN
SOME CASES OVER CENTURIES, AND
WHAT YOU NEED TO DO TO BECOME A
MEMBER OF A SCIENTIFIC
COMMUNITY, IS LEARN THE CRAFT OF
THOSE TOOLS TO DETECT ERROR.
AND PART OF BECOMING A SCIENTIST
IS AGREEING THAT I WILL LEARN
THAT CRAFT AND I WILL DO IT AS
WELL AS I CAN, AND WHEN YOU DO,
YOU'RE JUDGED BY OTHER PEOPLE
WHO KNOW IT, ON THE QUALITY OF
YOUR WORK.
IF YOUR WORK IS CONVINCING, THEY
YOU CAN BE ACCEPTED INTO THE
COMMUNITY OF SCIENTISTS.
AND WHAT CONVINCING IS LARGELY
ABOUT, IN MOST SCIENCES, FOR
MOST OF THE TIME, IS CRAFT, IS
YOUR ABILITY TO FIND ERROR IN
YOUR OWN WORK, IN OTHER PEOPLE'S
WORK.
NOW, ONCE YOU'RE THERE, THERE'S
A KIND OF BUILT IN CONFLICT, OR
BUILT IN CONTRAST BETWEEN 2
ATTITUDES THAT GOVERN A
SCIENTIST IN THEIR RELATION TO
THE COMMUNITY THAT THEY BECOME A
PART OF.
ONE IS, REBELLION.
EVERY SCIENTIST...
IF YOU'RE GOING TO DO SCIENCE
AND SPEND ALL THAT TIME AND
EFFORT, YOU HAVE TO BELIEVE YOU
CAN DO BETTER ON YOUR SUBJECT
THAN THE PEOPLE WHO HAVE ALREADY
BEEN THERE.
YOU HAVE TO BELIEVE YOU CAN DO
BETTER THAN YOUR TEACHERS,
OTHERWISE WHY BOTHER?
DO SOMETHING ELSE.
SO THERE IS AN ACT, THERE IS AN
INTERNAL REBELLION.
YOU HAVE TO BELIEVE YOU CAN
PROGRESS WHERE OTHER PEOPLE HAVE
FAILED TO PROGRESS.
AT THE SAME TIME, THAT'S
BALANCED BY A SENSE OF RESPECT
THAT NO MATTER HOW GOOD YOU
THINK YOU ARE, OR DON'T THINK
YOU ARE.
NO MATTER HOW MUCH YOU BELIEVE
IN WHAT YOU'VE DONE, YOU ACCEPT
THE FACT THAT THE JUDGES OF
WHETHER YOU'VE DONE GOOD OR NOT,
ARE FIRST, EVERYONE ELSE IN YOUR
COMMUNITY, AND YOU HAVE TO
RESPECT THAT, AND SECOND, THE
REAL JUDGES ARE NOT JUST THE
PEOPLE IN YOUR COMMUNITY, BUT
THE PEOPLE IN YOUR COMMUNITY IN
50 YEARS, WHEN THEY WRITE THE
TEXTBOOKS.
YOUR RESULT WILL EITHER BE IN
THE TEXTBOOKS OR NOT, AND YOU
HAVE...
YOU MAY HAVE, AND THERE ARE A
LOT OF POWER GAMES THAT
SCIENTISTS AND ACADEMICS PLAY,
THEY TRY TO MANIPULATE, MAKE
THEIR THING MORE IMPORTANT, BUT
OVER A SPAN OF 50 YEARS, IF YOUR
WORK IS NOT RIGHT, AND A
CONSENSUS DOESN'T DEVELOP THAT
IT'S REALLY ABOUT NATURE, THEN
IT WON'T BE IN THE TEXTBOOKS NO
MATTER HOW FAMOUS OR POWERFUL
YOU ARE.
SO THAT'S HOW I THINK SCIENCE
WORKS.
AND THE LAST POINT IS THAT WE
AGREE THAT WHEN THERE ARE
QUESTIONS OF INTEREST ON WHICH
WE HAVEN'T ACHIEVED A CONSENSUS,
WE AGREE TO KEEP AN OPEN MIND.
NOW I THINK THAT THOSE ETHICS
ARE RELATED TO WHAT MAKES A
HEALTHY DEMOCRATIC SOCIETY
WORKS.

The images changes to a shot of the projection screen. It reads, "Henche: Doing science teaches us how to be citizens of a democracy."

A blue caption appears on the screen with a white light bulb. It reads, "Lee Smolin. Perimeter Institute. Why Does Science Work?"

Lee Smolin says AND I'M NOT GOING TO PUSH THAT,
THAT MUCH IN THIS TALK, BUT IT'S
PART, I THINK, OF WHAT SCIENCE
IS.
IT'S NOT JUST ACCIDENTAL THAT
SCIENCE WAS DEVELOPED BY THE
GREEKS, WHO ALSO HAD THIS NOTION
OF DEMOCRACY, AND THAT
DEMOCRATUS WAS ACTUALLY A
SCIENTIST, WHO ACTUALLY WAS A
DEVELOPER OF THE IDEA THAT THERE
ARE ATOMS.
AND IT'S NOT AN ACCIDENT THAT
THE ENLIGHTENMENT, WHERE PEOPLE
LIKE LOCKE, AND THE FRENCH
REVOLUTION AND THOMAS JEFFERSON
DEVELOPED THE IDEA OF LIBERAL
DEMOCRACY, THAT THOSE PEOPLE
WORKED IN THE WAKE OF A
SCIENTIFIC REVOLUTION, WHICH HAD
GONE ON FINALLY LEADING TO
NEWTON'S "PRINCIPIA."
I THINK THERE'S A RELATIONSHIP
BETWEEN SCIENCE AND DEMOCRACY.
I'M MUCH TOO UNEDUCATED AND
NAIVE TO MAKE THE ARGUMENT AS A
SCHOLAR, BUT I JUST WANT TO
POINT OUT, AND I WILL POINT OUT,
IN THE COURSE OF THESE TALKS, A
COUPLE OF RELATIONS.
AND ONE OF THEM IS THAT SOME OF
THE THINGS THAT I SAID ARE THE
ETHICS OF A SCIENTIFIC
COMMUNITY, ARE NECESSARY ALSO
FOR A HEALTHY DEMOCRATIC SOCIETY
TO WORK, BECAUSE WE HAVE TO ALL
AGREE TO WORK TOGETHER WITHOUT
VIOLENCE, LESS COMPLETELY AND
LESS PERFECTLY, CERTAINLY THAT
SCIENTIFIC COMMUNITIES, BUT TO
COME TO SOME AGREEMENT WHERE
THERE IS INITIALLY DISAGREEMENT,
BUT WHERE THERE IS SHARED
EVIDENCE.
NOW, A KEY POINT IS THAT
SCIENTIFIC COMMUNITIES ARE ALSO
OPEN TO THE FUTURE IN WAYS THAT
OTHER COMMUNITIES ARE NOT.
AND I USE THE NAME IMAGINATIVE
COMMUNITY FOR THAT.
WE BELIEVE THAT PEOPLE WILL KNOW
MORE IN THE FUTURE, EVEN THAN WE
CAN KNOW FROM OUR BEST EFFORTS.
AND WE INCORPORATE A STRUCTURE
THAT LEAVES OPEN ALL THE
OPPORTUNITIES FOR PEOPLE TO COME
ALONG AND DO BETTER.
AND I BELIEVE THAT THAT'S ALSO
IMPORTANT FOR POLITICS, BECAUSE
PEOPLE USED TO THINK OF POLITICS
IN TERMS OF STRUGGLE, YOU KNOW,
FIGHTS, CLASS WARFARE AND THEN
REVOLUTION, AND THAT DIDN'T
WORK.
WE HAVE TO FIND A WAY TO RESOLVE
CONFLICTS BETWEEN GROUPS IN
SOCIETY WITHOUT HAVING VIOLENT
ERUPTIONS AND REVOLUTIONS AND SO
FORTH, AND SOME OF THAT MIGHT BE
HELPED BY ADOPTING THE POINT OF
VIEW THAT THE FUTURE IS OPEN,
AND THE PEOPLE WHO COME ALONG
WILL ALWAYS FIND BETTER WAYS TO
DO THINGS THAN WE DO.
SO THAT'S REALLY WHAT I JUST
SAID THERE, OKAY.
A THIRD AND LAST FEATURE OF A
SCIENTIFIC COMMUNITY IS THAT
IT'S PLURALISTIC.
SCIENCE MAY HAVE STARTED IN A
PARTICULAR WEIRD CULTURE A FEW
HUNDRED YEARS AGO, BUT SCIENCE
IS NOW A TOTALLY INTERNATIONAL
ENDEAVOUR AND ANY INTERNATIONAL
SCIENTIFIC INSTITUTION, LIKE
PERIMETER, HAS PEOPLE FROM ALL
OVER THE WORLD, AND WE WORK
TOGETHER PLURALISTICALLY.
SO THE HUMANISTS LIKE TO SAY
LOTS OF THINGS ABOUT
MULTICULTURALISM AND DIVERSITY
AND SO FORTH, AND WE ARE LIVING
IT AND PRACTISING IT ALL THE
TIME.
AND I'D LIKE...
I DON'T HAVE TIME HERE TO GO
INTO IT, BUT I LIKE THE METAPHOR
OF... THERE'S A WRITER PICO
IYER, WHO TALKS ABOUT GLOBAL
SOULS, COMMUNITIES OF GLOBAL
SOULS WHICH ARE PEOPLE WHO COME
FROM ALL OVER THE WORLD AND DO
THINGS LIKE SCIENCE AND ART AND
BUSINESS, AND HIGH TECH, AND
FINANCE, AND COME TOGETHER IN
THE DIFFERENT CITIES OF THE
WORLD, IN A KIND OF GROWING
INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY, WHICH
IS REALLY THE EDGE OF PROGRESS
IN SO MANY OF THE DIFFERENT
FIELDS.
AND SCIENCE IS PART OF THAT AND
AT PERIMETER, WE FEEL PART OF
THAT.
OKAY, NOW, THAT'S WHAT I THINK
SCIENCE IS, AND THAT'S ONE OF
THE REASONS I THINK SCIENCE IS
IMPORTANT.
BECAUSE IT MIGHT BE...
NOT ONLY DOES IT GET US
KNOWLEDGE FROM WHICH WE GET
PROGRESS, AND ULTIMATELY
TECHNOLOGY, AND ULTIMATELY A
SENSE OF WHO WE ARE IN THE
UNIVERSE, BUT AS A KIND OF MODEL
FOR HOW PEOPLE CAN WORK TOGETHER
IN A WAY THAT'S OPEN AND
PLURALISTIC, AND FUTURE
ORIENTED.
BUT I THINK THAT THERE'S ANOTHER
RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN SCIENCE AND
DEMOCRACY, AND HERE I'M GOING
WAY OUT ON A LIMB.
SO BE READY TO CATCH ME, OKAY?
AND THE IDEA IS...
AND THIS IS NOT MY IDEA, THANK
GOD, OR I WOULDN'T HAVE THE
COURAGE TO SAY THIS, THIS IS
FROM REAL SCHOLARS AND
HISTORIANS, THAT THEY NOTE A
PARALLEL BETWEEN THE EVOLUTION
OF IDEAS ABOUT SOCIETY, AND THE
EVOLUTION OF IDEAS ABOUT SPACE
AND TIME.
AND THEY...
SCHOLARS HAVE DISCUSSED A LOT, 2
STAGES IN THAT EVOLUTION, AND
I'M GOING TO DISCUSS 3 STAGES.
SO THERE USED TO BE SOMETHING
CALLED THE HIERARCHICAL
UNIVERSE, AND I'LL TALK ABOUT
THE SCIENCE, AND THEN I'LL TALK
ABOUT THE SOCIETY.
IN THE HIERARCHICAL UNIVERSE,
EVERYTHING HAD ITS PLACE.
THIS WAS THE UNIVERSE OF
ARISTOTLE AND PTOLEMY AND THEIR
FOLLOWERS, AND BY THE WAY, THIS
WAS NOT TO BE MADE FUN OF, THIS
WAS SCIENCE.
AND USING THIS STUFF, FOR
EXAMPLE, YOU COULD MAKE 1 PART
IN 1,000 PREDICTIONS AS TO WHERE
ALL THE PLANETS THE MOON AND THE
SUN WOULD BE IN THE SKY, AND IT
WAS USED FOR MORE THAN 1,000
YEARS THAT WAY.
SO THEIR VIEW OF THE UNIVERSE
WAS THAT THERE WAS A PERFECT
REALM WHERE LIVED ETERNITY, GOD,
THE ANGELS, HEAVEN AND SO FORTH.
AND JUST WITHIN THAT PERFECT
REALM, WAS A SPHERE WHICH WAS
MADE OUT OF PERFECT, ETERNAL,
UNCHANGING MATERIAL CALLED
QUINTESSENCE, WHICH ROTATED.

A blue caption appears on the screen with a white light bulb. It reads, "Lee Smolin. Perimeter Institute. Why Does Science Work?"

He continues
AND IT HAD HOLES IN IT TO LET IN
LIGHT FROM HEAVEN, WHICH WERE
THE STARS THAT WE SEE WHEN WE
LOOK UP.
AND THEN THERE WAS A SERIES OF
CRYSTAL SPHERES INSIDE THAT,
INTERLOCKING INSIDE THAT, AND A
COMPLICATED NETWORK OF GEARS AND
LEVERS AND SO FORTH, SUCH THAT
WHEN GOD OR THE ANGELS ROTATED
THE OUTER SPHERE, THE OTHER ONES
ALL ROTATED AT DIFFERENT RATES,
AND AT DIFFERENT ANGLES TO EACH
OTHER.
AND ALL THIS WAS SET UP, AND
THEY KNEW THE ENGINEERING.
AND THE DIFFERENT PLANETS, THE
MOON AND THE SUN, LIVED ON THESE
SPHERES.
NOW IN THE CENTRE WAS THE EARTH,
AND THERE WAS DEFINITELY A SENSE
OF HIERARCHY THAT THE EARTH WAS
AN IMPERFECT REALM WHERE THERE
WAS CHANGE.
THERE WAS NO CHANGE ABOVE THE
SPHERE OF THE EARTH, BUT THERE
WAS CHANGE AT THE SPHERE OF THE
EARTH.
AND CHANGE, FOR THEM, WAS DECAY
ONLY, BECAUSE THEY HAD NEVER
HEARD OF DARWIN OR EVOLUTION.
SO FOR THEM, CHANGE MEANT DECAY
AND THERE WAS A CONTRAST IN
THEIR WORLD BETWEEN THE LOWLY
EARTHLY WORLD WHERE THINGS
DECAYED, AND THE ETERNAL
UPSTAIRS.
NOW THEIR SOCIETY LOOKED A LOT
LIKE THAT AS WELL IN SOME
CONCEPTUAL TERMS.
THERE WAS THIS PERFECT, ETERNAL
REALM OF GOD AND THE ANGELS,
UNDER THAT THE POPE AND THE
BISHOPS AND SO FORTH, AND UNDER
THAT, A HIERARCHY GOING DOWN THE
KINGS, THE PRINCES AND SO FORTH,
GOING DOWN TO THE ORDINARY
PEOPLE BECOMING LESS PERFECT AS
YOU WENT DOWN.
NOW THIS WAS OVERTHROWN IN BOTH
SENSES.
IN FACT THE WORD REVOLUTION
COMES FROM THE PERIOD WHEN THIS
WAS OVERTHROWN.
BECAUSE COPERNICUS TITLED HIS
BOOK, "THE REVOLUTION..."
SOMETHING...
"THE REVOLUTION OF THE SPHERES."
AND WHEN IT WAS OVERTHROWN, BY
THE WAY, IT WAS OVERTHROWN
BECAUSE TYCO BRI, AMONG OTHER
REASONS, OBSERVED A COMET WHICH,
BY ITS MOTIONS WOULD HAVE HAD TO
GO CRASHING THROUGH ALL THOSE
CRYSTAL SPHERES ON ITS WAY.
AND IT WAS REPLACED, AFTER A
REVOLUTIONARY PERIOD OF 140
YEARS, ROUGHLY, FROM COPERNICUS'
BOOK IN 1540, TO...
NEWTON'S BOOK IN 1687, I
BELIEVE, NEWTON'S "PRINCIPIA,"
AND IN THE NEW UNIVERSE, WHICH
I'LL CALL HERE, STRETCHING IT,
THE LIBERAL NEWTONIAN UNIVERSE,
THINGS WERE VERY DIFFERENT.
THERE'S NO LONGER A CONTRAST
BETWEEN...
THERE'S NO LONGER A HIERARCHY.
THERE'S NO LONGER A CONTRAST
BETWEEN UPPER AND LOWER, THERE'S
A...
THE REALM OF PERFECTION AND
ETERNITY HAS BECOME PROPERTIES
OF SPACE ITSELF.
THERE IS THIS ABSOLUTE SPACE, AS
NEWTON CALLED IT, WHICH FILLS
EVERYTHING, AND IS EVERYWHERE,
AND TIME MOVES ON IN A PERFECT
SUCCESSION, AND THESE THINGS
EXIST WHETHER OR NOT THERE'S
ANYTHING ELSE IN THE UNIVERSE OR
WHETHER OR NOT ANYTHING HAPPENS
IN THE UNIVERSE.
THERE'S A PERFECT ABSOLUTE
SPACE, AND PERFECT ABSOLUTE
TIME.
THEN THINGS COME IN, PARTICLES,
ATOMS, AND THEY HAVE PROPERTIES
AND ALL OF THEIR PROPERTIES ARE
DEFINED WITH RESPECT TO SPACE
AND TIME, LIKE POSITION, MOTION,
ACCELERATION, AND SO ON... ALL
THE THINGS THAT YOU LEARNED
ABOUT IN NEWTONIAN PHYSICS, ARE
DEFINED, YOU MIGHT HAVE
WONDERED, WHAT DO THOSE THINGS
MEAN?
WELL THEY'RE ALL DEFINED REALLY
WITH RESPECT TO THIS CONJECTURED
THING OF ABSOLUTE SPACE.
AND WHAT'S INTERESTING IS THAT A
PARTICLE, AN ATOM IN THIS WORLD,
HAS THE SAME PROPERTIES WHETHER
IT'S THE ONLY THING IN THE
UNIVERSE, OR WHETHER IT'S IN A
HUGE UNIVERSE OF LIKE, 10 TO THE
80 ATOMS, WHICH IS WHAT WE THINK
WE LIVE IN.
SO THERE'S NO EFFECT OF THE
DIFFERENT THINGS ON EACH OTHER.
THEY ALL GET THEIR PROPERTIES
FROM THIS PERFECT ABSOLUTE
SPACE.
NOW JOHN LOCKE, WHO WAS ONE OF
THE FRAMERS OF THE MODERN NOTION
OF LIBERAL DEMOCRACY, WAS A
CONTEMPORARY OF NEWTON,
SOMETHING OF A FRIEND OF HIS.
THEY TALKED, AND LOCKE READ HIM,
AND OTHER PEOPLE AT THE TIME,
INVOLVED IN THE POLITICAL
REVOLUTIONS AT THE TIME READ
NEWTON.
AND OVER THE NEXT CENTURY INTO
THE FRENCH REVOLUTION, THE
AMERICAN REVOLUTION, AND THEY
CONSTRUCTED, AND THIS IS NOTED
BY SCHOLARS, SOCIETIES OR
NOTIONS OF SOCIETIES THAT WERE
VERY NEWTONIAN IN A CERTAIN WAY.
RATHER THAN ABSOLUTE SPACE AND
ABSOLUTE TIME, THEY HAD A NOTION
OF ABSOLUTE RIGHTS AND AN
ABSOLUTE SENSE OF JUSTICE, WHICH
FOR THEM, CAME FROM GOD, AT
LEAST FOR SOME OF THEM, CAME
FROM GOT.
AND ACTUALLY, NEWTON'S ABSOLUTE
SPACE AND TIME CAME FROM GOD,
TOO, IF YOU READ NEWTON.
AND THE DUTIES OF A CITIZEN, THE
RIGHTS OF A CITIZEN, WHETHER
SOMETHING WAS JUST OR UNJUST,
WAS ALSO DEFINED WITH RESPECT TO
THIS ABSOLUTE BACKGROUND NOTION,
AND HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH
HISTORY.
YOU HAD THE SAME RIGHTS IN
PRINCIPLE, WHETHER YOU WERE
LIVING ON AN ISLAND WITH 3
PEOPLE OR WHETHER YOU WERE
LIVING IN A MODERN SOCIETY OF A
BILLION PEOPLE.
SO THERE IS AN ANALOGY THERE.
AND I DON'T WANT TO PUSH IT TOO
HARD, AND IT'S NOT MY ANALOGY,
BUT IT'S BEEN NOTED, AND I THINK
IT'S WORTH A LITTLE THOUGHT.
YOU CAN'T PUSH IT TOO FAR.
I THINK IF YOU START TO ASK,
LIKE, WHICH CAME FIRST OR WHO
INFLUENCED WHO, YOU'RE PROBABLY
TAKING IT TOO SERIOUSLY, BUT
IT'S STILL INTERESTING TO NOTE.
NOW, THIS ALSO WAS OVERTHROWN,
AT LEAST THE SCIENTIFIC SIDE WAS
OVERTHROWN.
IT WAS OVERTHROWN IN THE EARLY
20th CENTURY, IN THE START OF A
REVOLUTION WHICH WAS BEGUN BY
THE DISCOVERIES THAT LED TO
QUANTUM THEORY AND RELATIVITY
AND THAT REVOLUTION, TO
OVERTHROW NEWTONIAN PHYSICS AND
REPLACE IT WITH A COMPREHENSIVE
PHYSICAL THEORY IS STILL GOING
ON.

A blue caption appears on the screen with a white light bulb. It reads, "Lee Smolin. Perimeter Institute. Why Does Science Work?"

Lee Smolin says AND IN FACT, THAT'S WHAT MANY OF
US AT PERIMETER SPEND OUT TIME
DOING, THAT'S WHAT WE'RE HERE
FOR, IS TO COMPLETE THAT
REVOLUTION.
IT'S TAKING A LONG TIME, BUT
AFTER ALL, THE ONE FROM
COPERNICUS TO NEWTON TOOK 140
YEARS, SO WE PROBABLY HAVE
ANOTHER 40 OR SO YEARS TO GO
OURSELVES ON THAT SCALE.
BUT HERE IS WHAT...
HOW THE BASIC CONCEPTS IN
RELATIVITY, SAY IN EINSTEIN'S
THEORY OF GENERAL RELATIVITY,
DIFFER FROM THE CONCEPTS IN
NEWTONIAN PHYSICS.
THERE IS NO MORE ANY ABSOLUTE
SPACE OR TIME.
INSTEAD, THERE'S A NETWORK OF
RELATIONSHIPS.
YOU CANNOT TALK ABOUT WHERE
SOMETHING IS ABSOLUTELY, YOU CAN
ONLY TALK ABOUT WHERE IT IS
RELATIVE TO OTHER THINGS THAT
ARE HAPPENING IN THE UNIVERSE.
SO ANYTHING IS NO LONGER DEFINED
WITH RESPECT TO SOME ABSOLUTE
BACKGROUND WHICH NOBODY COULD
DISCOVER ANYWAY.
THINGS ARE DEFINED ONLY WITH
RESPECT TO OTHER THINGS.
THIS IS WHY THE PICTURE IS
CALLED RELATIONAL.
ALL PROPERTIES OF THINGS ARE
ABOUT RELATIONSHIPS BETWEEN THEM
AND OTHER THINGS IN THE WORLD,
AND ALL THOSE PROPERTIES EVOLVE
IN TIME.
NOW ALSO A DIFFERENCE, IS THAT
THERE IS NO LONGER AN IDEA THAT
WHEN WE DESCRIBE IN OUR
EQUATIONS WHAT'S HAPPENING IN
THE UNIVERSE, WE'RE DOING IT AS
IF FROM SOME VIEWPOINT OUTSIDE
THE UNIVERSE, WHICH CAN JUST
OMNISCIENTLY SEE EVERYTHING
THAT'S HAPPENING.
INSTEAD, WE GRAPPLE, AND WE
ARGUE ABOUT THAT A LOT AT
PERIMETER, WE GRAPPLE WITH THE
FACT THAT AN OBSERVER IS INSIDE
THE UNIVERSE, AND HAS ACCESS
ONLY TO A RESTRICTED SET OF
INFORMATION THAT COMES TO US
THROUGH LIGHT AND RADIATION FROM
OTHER PLACES.
NOW THIS CHARACTERISES
RELATIVITY, IT CHARACTERISES
SOME VIEWPOINTS ABOUT QUANTUM
PHYSICS ALTHOUGH THERE ARE STILL
SOME PEOPLE WHO ARE NOSTALGIC
FOR THE ABSOLUTE WHO TRY TO
RECAST QUANTUM THEORY AS THOUGH
THE OLD PICTURE WAS TRUE.
AND ALSO, I'LL CLAIM IN A LITTLE
WHILE, THE SAME THING CAN BE
SAID ABOUT CERTAIN WRITERS,
CERTAIN POLITICAL THEORISTS,
AMONG THEM A MOVEMENT CALLED
CRITICAL LEGAL STUDIES, BUT I'LL
COME TO THAT.
NOW BEFORE I COME TO THE LEGAL
THEORY, I WANT TO GO BACK TO
WHERE I AM ON FIRM GROUND, MY
OWN TRAINING, AND SAY WE'RE NOT
KIDDING ABOUT THIS.
FUNDAMENTAL PHYSICS IS REALLY
ABOUT NETWORKS OF RELATIONSHIPS
AND THEIR EVOLUTION.
AND AT LEAST IN ONE APPROACH TO
QUANTUM GRAVITY, WHICH I THINK
IS THE BEST ONE, PERSONALLY, BUT
NOT EVERYONE WILL AGREE, BLUE
QUANTUM GRAVITY... EXACTLY WHAT
WE'RE DEALING WITH IS NETWORKS
OF RELATIONSHIPS AND THEIR
EVOLUTIONS.
AND THESE ARE PICTURES.
ONE IS A PICTURE OF A QUANTUM
SPACE TIME, AND THE OTHER IS A
PICTURE OF A QUANTUM BLACK HOLE.

The image changes to the projection screen. It reads, "Fundamental physics is about networks and their evolution." Below are two pictures. One shows a triangular prism with line segments intersecting in the middle. A caption below it reads, "Quantum space-time." The other picture shows a sphere with line segments entering its surface area. A caption below it reads, "Quantum black hole."

He continues
AND I WON'T EXPLAIN WHAT THEY
ARE, ACTUALLY, FOTINNI TALKED
ABOUT THESE, SORT OF 6 MONTHS
AGO, AND THEY'VE CHANGED SOME
SINCE THEN, BUT WE UNDERSTAND
THE BLACK HOLES BETTER, AND WE
UNDERSTAND A FEW THINGS BETTER,
BUT BASICALLY, IT'S THE PICTURE
THAT SHE PRESENTED.
AND I JUST WANT TO SAY THAT IT
FITS IN TO THE WHOLE GENERAL
PICTURE, AND THAT'S WHY I
LEARNED ABOUT ALL THIS.
I MEAN I WORKED FROM HERE
BACKWARDS TO THE PHILOSOPHY AND
THE BIG VIEWPOINT AND
EVERYTHING, BECAUSE I WONDERED,
WHAT THE HELL, WHY ARE WE COMING
UP WITH THESE GRAPHS WITH
NUMBERS ON THEM?
NOW ONE OF THE THINGS THAT I
DISCOVERED, AND THEN I HAD TO
LEARN ACTUALLY HOW TO THINK
ABOUT THE SUBJECT THAT I'D
SPECIALISED IN, RELATIVITY
THEORY, WHICH HAD NOT REALLY
BEEN EXPLAINED TO ME IN SCHOOL,
HOW REALLY TO THINK ABOUT IT IN
THE RIGHT WAY, AND THE RIGHT WAY
IS IN TERMS OF NETWORKS OF
RELATIONSHIPS.
NOW AS ALSO WE BEGAN TRYING TO
UNDERSTAND WHAT WE WERE DOING
WITH BLUE QUANTUM GRAVITY, WE
BEGAN TO INTERACT WITH
MATHEMATICIANS, AMONG THEM,
LEWIS CRANE WHO'S HERE, WHO
BEGAN TO TEACH US THAT THE RIGHT
WAY TO THINK ABOUT THE
MATHEMATICS WE WERE USING, WAS
NOT IN THE WAY WE'D BEEN TAUGHT
IN SCHOOL, WHICH IS IN TERMS OF
EVERYTHING IS A SET, AND
EVERYTHING IS DEFINED IN TERMS
OF SETS, BUT IN TERMS OF
CATEGORY THEORY.
AND CATEGORY THEORY IS REALLY
ABOUT HOW TO THINK ABOUT
MATHEMATICS AS SYSTEMS OF
RELATIONSHIPS.
AND EVEN LOGIC, IT TURNS OUT, WE
DISCOVERED, HAS EVOLVED IN THIS
DIRECTION, AND THIS WAS
SOMETHING THAT REALLY FOTINNI
BROUGHT INTO PHYSICS, IS THE
IDEA THAT THERE WERE LOGICS
WHICH HAD BEEN DEVELOPED EARLY
IN THE 20th CENTURY, CALLED
INTUITIONISTIC LOGICS THAT ARE
APPROPRIATE FOR AN OBSERVER
SITTING IN THE MIDST OF A
SYSTEM.
AT LEAST, MAYBE I'VE
MISUNDERSTOOD, BUT THAT'S WHAT I
UNDERSTOOD... IN THE MIDST OF A
SYSTEM.
AND THESE LOGICS, FOR EXAMPLE,
DON'T HAVE THE PRINCIPLE OF THE
EXCLUDED MIDDLE.
BECAUSE IF YOU'RE IN THE MIDST
OF THE UNIVERSE, AND YOU ONLY
HAVE INCOMPLETE INFORMATION, YOU
CAN'T TEST WHETHER A PROPOSITION
IS TRUE OR FALSE.
THE ANSWER MIGHT BE, YOU CAN'T
KNOW YET, YOU'LL KNOW POSSIBLY
IN THE FUTURE, AND POSSIBLY NOT.

A blue caption appears on the screen with a white light bulb. It reads, "Lee Smolin. Perimeter Institute. Why Does Science Work?"

Lee Smolin continues
AND IT TURNS OUT THAT THE
LOGICIANS AND THE MATHEMATICIANS
HAVE DEVELOPED IDEAS AND
FRAMEWORKS FOR MATHEMATICS THAT
GO ALL THE WAY TO THE
FOUNDATIONS OF MATHEMATICS TO
DEVELOP THIS IDEA THAT THE
OBSERVER HAS INCOMPLETE
INFORMATION, THAT TRUE VALUES
ARE JUDGED, NOT WITH RESPECT TO
SOME ABSOLUTELY VIEWPOINT
OUTSIDE THE UNIVERSE, BUT WITH
RESPECT TO EMBEDDED, EMBODIED
OBSERVERS INSIDE THE UNIVERSE
WHO ARE LEARNING MORE AS TIME
GOES ON.
AND THIS LED ALSO TO A KIND OF
PROGRAM TO REFORMULATE PHYSICS,
WHICH IS NOW CALLED RELATIONAL
QUANTUM THEORY, AND I'M JUST
THROWING THESE THINGS OUT.
I COULD SPEND THE WHOLE TALK ON
SOME OF THESE THINGS, AND I'M
GOING TO STRAY JUST OUTSIDE MY
EXPERTISE IN A MINUTE, BUT JUST
TO SHOW YOU THAT THESE THINGS
REALLY HAVE BEEN MEANINGFUL,
HAVE REALLY HAD AN EFFECT, FIRST
LEWIS CRANE, THEN CARLA RIVELLI,
THEN FOTINNI, FOUND WAYS TO
FORMULATE AN IDEA CALLED
RELATIONAL QUANTUM THEORY, IN
WHICH THE QUANTUM THEORY IS
EXPLICITLY FORMULATED FOR
OBSERVERS WHO ARE INSIDE THE
UNIVERSE AND HAVE INCOMPLETE
INFORMATION THAT CHANGES IN
TIME, COMING FROM THEIR
RELATIONSHIPS WITH THE REST OF
THE UNIVERSE.
SO THIS IS REAL STUFF.
IN OTHER WORDS, WHEN WE SAY
THERE'S A REVOLUTION IN PROGRESS
WITH THE OLD NEWTONIAN WAY OF
THINKING ABOUT THE WORLD AS A
SYSTEM OF PARTICLES WITH
PROPERTIES DESCRIBED WITH
RESPECT TO AN ABSOLUTE
BACKGROUND, IS GONE, AND AN
EVOLVING NETWORK OF
RELATIONSHIPS HAS REPLACED IT,
WE MEAN IT.
THAT'S WHAT WE'RE DOING.

The image changes to the projector screen. It reads, "Relationalism is not relativism."

Lee Smolin continues NOW,
A VERY IMPORTANT THING TO
SAY, IS THAT WHEN I TALK ABOUT
RELATIONALISM, I'M NOT TALKING
ABOUT RELATIVISM.
RELATIVISM IS A PHILOSOPHICAL
IDEA WHICH HAS BEEN UNFORTUNATELY
QUITE DOMINANT IN SOME
SOPHISTICATED FORMS IN THE
HUMANITIES THE LAST 2 OR 3
DECADES, WHICH SAYS, OKAY, IF
THERE'S NO ABSOLUTE FRAME OF
REFERENCE, NO ABSOLUTES WITH
RESPECT TO WHICH TRUTH AND
FALSITY, RIGHT AND WRONG IS
DEFINED, THEN ALL POINTS OF VIEW
ARE EQUALLY VALID.
AND YOU HAVE THESE MOVEMENTS,
YOU KNOW, DECONSTRUCTIONISM,
ETC, POST MODERNISM, WHICH I
THINK, AND NOW I'M WAY OUT ON A
LIMB, FALL INTO A TRAP OF GOING
FROM THE COLLAPSE OF THE
NEWTONIAN PICTURE, TO A TOTAL
RELATIVISM IN WHICH ANY POINT OF
VIEW IS VALID.
AND YOU CAN'T SAY ANY MORE, IN
SOME SEGMENTS OF THE ECONOMY,
THAT SOMETHING IS TRUE, WITHOUT
PEOPLE THINKING THAT YOU'RE
STUPID AND NAIVE.
AND YOU CAN'T SAY IN MANY ART
SCHOOLS ANY MORE, THAT SOMETHING
IS BEAUTIFUL, WITHOUT PEOPLE
THINKING THAT YOU'RE NAIVE.
WELL I'M GOING TO BE NAIVE.
I SAID I WAS GOING TO BE NAIVE.
THIS IS PART OF WHAT THIS TALK
IS ABOUT, IS AN ESSAY ABOUT WHY
WE CAN STILL BE NAIVE, AND WE
CAN STILL BELIEVE IN TRUTH AND
BEAUTY, OKAY?
AND ALSO THE RELATIVIST POINT OF
VIEW HAS BEEN EXPRESSED IN A
MOVEMENT CALLED THE SOCIOLOGY,
OR THE SOCIOLOGICAL SCHOOL OF
SCIENCE, COMING FROM EDINBURGH
AND OTHER PLACES, IN WHICH THEY
ARGUE THAT IF THERE'S NO
ABSOLUTE METHOD IN SCIENCE THAT
LEADS TO TRUTH, THEN SCIENCE IS
JUST POLITICS.
IT'S ALL JUST SOCIOLOGY AND
POWER RELATIONS.
AND IT DOESN'T LEAD TO TRUTH.
AND THESE ARE WHOLE SERIOUS
SCHOOLS OF THOUGHT, WHERE IF YOU
GO TO THEIR CONFERENCES AND YOU
SAY, "I THINK WHAT WE'RE DOING
IS FINDING MORE AND MORE TRUTH,"
THEY SAY, "MY GOD, ANOTHER
STUPID SCIENTIST WHO HAS NO IDEA
WHAT HE'S DOING."
OKAY, SO THIS RELATIVISM IS A
SERIOUS ISSUE IN THE ECONOMY
NOW, BUT WHAT I'M TALKING ABOUT
IS NOT RELATIVISM, IT'S
RELATIONALISM AND IT'S AN
ANTIDOTE IN A SENSE TO IT.
IN RELATIONALISM, AND HERE'S
WHERE I TIE TO MY FIRST THING
ABOUT HOW SCIENCE WORKS, ALL
POINTS OF VIEW ARE NOT EQUALLY
VALID.
TO BE TAKEN SERIOUSLY, YOU HAVE
TO ADOPT AN ETHICS WHICH MEANS
THAT YOU TAKE OTHER PEOPLE
SERIOUSLY AS WELL, AND IN WHICH
YOU HAVE A COMMITMENT TO BE
HONEST, TO ACT IN GOOD FAITH, TO
ARGUE FROM SHARED EVIDENCE, AND
TO PRACTISE YOUR BEST CRAFT,
YOUR BEST TECHNIQUE TO AVOID
ERRORS WHILE YOU DO THAT.
AND THERE'S A COMMITMENT THAT
WHETHER YOU LIKE IT OR NOT, WHEN
THE LOGIC LEADS YOU FROM
EVIDENCE TO A CONCLUSION, YOU
HAVE TO BITE IT, AND SAY, "YES,
STRING THEORY REALLY DOES HAVE
THAT PROPERTY.
THERE REALLY ARE BLACK HOLES, OH
MY GOD."
EVEN IF YOU DON'T FEEL LIKE IT.
AND I BELIEVE THAT THIS IS PART
OF THE REASON THAT SCIENCE
PROGRESSES, IN SPITE OF THE FACT
THAT WE CAN'T FALL BACK ON
ABSOLUTE TRUTH, AND METHODS THAT
LEAD TO ABSOLUTE TRUTH.
NOW, WHAT ABOUT SOCIAL THEORY?
I WAS TALKING TO SOME FRIENDS,
AND JUST BECAUSE THEY WERE
FRIENDS, NOT FOR ANY OTHER
REASON.
SOME OF THE FRIENDS WERE LEGAL
THEORISTS, AND POLITICAL
THEORISTS.
AND THEY SAID, "GEE, WHAT YOU'RE
TALKING ABOUT SOUNDS A LOT LIKE
WHAT WE'RE TALKING ABOUT."
SO HERE, FOR EXAMPLE, I'LL JUST
GIVE SOME QUOTES.
AND HERE IS A SOCIAL THEORIST
CALLED ROBERTO UNGER, HE'S A
PROFESSOR OF LAW AT HARVARD, AND
SAID TO BE THE LEADING
FORMULATOR OF THE CRITICAL LEGAL
STUDIES MOVEMENT, WHICH IS AN
IMPORTANT MOVEMENT, AND I HATE
IT WHEN PEOPLE READ
TRANSPARENCIES, BUT I'LL READ
SOME OF IT.
HE SAYS, "YOU CAN TRACE--."
AND IT'S INTERESTING, IN A BOOK
CALLED "SOCIAL THEORY," HE'S
WRITING ABOUT PHYSICS AND
COSMOLOGY.
HE SAYS, "YOU CAN TRACE
PROPERTIES OF THE PRESENT
UNIVERSE BACK TO PROPERTIES IT
MUST HAVE HAD AT THE BEGINNING."
THAT'S WHAT WE DO IN COSMOLOGY.
"BUT YOU CANNOT SHOW THAT THESE
ARE THE ONLY PROPERTIES THAT THE UNIVERSE
MIGHT HAVE HAD…EARLIER OR LATER UNIVERSE
MIGHT HAVE HAD ENTIRELY DIFFERENT LAWS…
TO STATE THE LAWS OF NATURE IS NOT
TO DESCRIBE OR EXPLAIN ALL
POSSIBLE HISTORIES OF ALL POSSIBLE UNIVERSES.
ONLY A RELATIVE DISTINCTION EXISTS BETWEEN
LAW LIKE EXPLANATION
AND NARRATION OF A ONE TIME
HISTORICAL SEQUENCE."
AND THAT, FOR THOSE OF US THAT
THINK ABOUT COSMOLOGY, THAT
STRIKES A CHORD.
SOME OF THOSE ARE OUR ISSUES.
HE'S ACTUALLY WRITING...
EVERY TIME HE SAYS UNIVERSE, HE
MEANS A SOCIETY.
HE'S ACTUALLY WRITING ABOUT
SOCIAL THEORY, BUT I DIDN'T
TRANSLATE, HE USES OUR WORDS.
HE SAYS...
SO HE'S ARGUING MUCH MORE
POLEMICALLY THAN ANY OF US
SCIENTISTS WOULD ARGUE, AND HE
HAS TO ARGUE MORE POLEMICALLY
BECAUSE ALL THEY HAVE IS WORDS.
WHEREAS WE HAVE MATH AND
EXPERIMENTS, SO THAT WE CAN
ARGUE QUIETLY AND STILL BE
RIGHT.
THEY JUST HAVE TO BE REALLY GOOD
WITH WORDS.
BUT HE IS BETTER WITH WORDS THAN
WE ARE, AND WHAT HE'S SAYING IS,
THERE NO LONGER ARE FIXED
CONCEPTIONS OF NECESSITY,
CONTINGENCY AND POSSIBILITY.
THESE THINGS EVOLVE, AND THAT'S
WHAT AN UNDERSTANDING OF SOCIETY
IS ABOUT.
IF YOU THINK HE'S JUST A NUT,
WELL HE'S NOT A NUT.
HE'S AN IMPORTANT GUY IN HIS
WORLD.
HERE'S ANOTHER ONE.
DRUCILA CORNELL IN A PROFESSOR
OF LAW AT RUTGERS, AND I DON'T
KNOW WHAT THAT WORD MEANS, BUT
AUTOPIESIS IS A THEORY ABOUT HOW
SOCIETY WORKS, OKAY?
"THE CENTRAL THESIS OF THIS
THEORY IS THAT LEGAL
PROPOSITIONS OR NORMS MUST BE
UNDERSTOOD WITHIN A SELF-
GENERATED SYSTEM OF
COMMUNICATION"...
I HATE THE WAY SOME OF THESE
PEOPLE WRITE.
BUT YOU START TO SEE WHAT SHE'S
TALKING ABOUT?.".. WHICH BOTH DEFINE THE
RELATIONS WITH THE OUTSIDE
ENVIRONMENT, AND PROVIDE ITSELF
WITH ITS OWN MECHANISMS OF
JUSTIFICATION.
THE VERY DISTINCTION BETWEEN THE
SYSTEM AND ITS ENVIRONMENT MEANS
THERE IS AN INEVITABLE
TEMPORISATION OF THE SYSTEM."
SHE'S TALKING ABOUT HOW A NOTION
OF TIME EMERGES WHEN YOU DIVIDE
A SYSTEM FROM TALKING ABOUT ITS
WHOLE TO TALKING ABOUT ITS
PARTS.
AND THAT'S SOMETHING AGAIN, THAT
WE IN QUANTUM GRAVITY AND
COSMOLOGY KNOW ABOUT... THAT
IDEA.
AND THEN, THROUGH THESE PEOPLE,
I WAS HONOURED TO MEET JACQUES
DERIDAS, WHO I HAD TRIED TO READ
AND FAILED.
AND I HEARD HIM GIVE A TALK.
AND THE ONLY THING HE EVER SAID,
OR AT LEAST THAT I EVER READ, OR
THAT HE SAID THAT I UNDERSTOOD,
WAS THIS.
"IT IS ALWAYS AN I WHO SAYS WE."
BUT AGAIN, HE IS SAYING THAT AN
OBSERVER IS EMBEDDED IN THE
SYSTEM.
YOU CAN'T STAND OUTSIDE THE
SYSTEM AND SPEAK FOR IT.
OKAY, SO DOES IT WORK?
I'M NOT GOING TO PROVE THAT
THERE'S A RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN
IDEAS IN PHYSICS AND IDEAS IN
SOCIAL THEORY, BUT THERE'S A
SUGGESTION OF A RESONANCE.
AND SOME SOCIAL THEORISTS AND
SOME SCIENTISTS HAVE FUN TALKING
TOGETHER.
ALTHOUGH I SHOULD TELL A STORY
THAT I WAS VERY HONOURED TO MEET
ROBERTO UNGER WHEN I WENT TO
HARVARD IN NOVEMBER, I THINK IT
WAS.
AND I HAD A CONVERSATION WITH
HIM, AND WE TALKED FOR HOURS.
AND HE SAID, "GEE, I'D REALLY
LIKE TO CONTINUE THIS.
DO YOU KNOW IF THERE ARE ANY
SCIENTISTS AT HARVARD WHO I
MIGHT TALK TO ABOUT THIS?"
AND I SAID, "YES, YOU COULD GO
TO THE PHYSICS DEPARTMENT, THERE
ARE GOOD PEOPLE THERE."
AND HE SAID, "WHERE'S THE
PHYSICS DEPARTMENT?"
AND TO APPRECIATE IT, YOU HAVE
TO KNOW THAT THE LAW SCHOOL IS
HERE, THE LAW SCHOOL QUAD IS
HERE, AND THE PHYSICS DEPARTMENT
IS HERE, AND HE'S BEEN THERE FOR
30 YEARS.

[Audience laughter]

Lee Smolin continues
AND THAT'S WHY THERE'S A PROBLEM
WITH THE ECONOMY.
OKAY, NOW...
NOW WHAT ABOUT POST MODERNISM?
BY THE WAY, NONE OF THE
PROFESSORS I KNOW IN THE PHYSICS
DEPARTMENT AT HARVARD HAD HEARD
OF HIM, DESPITE THE FACT THAT
HE'S WORLD FAMOUS IN HIS WORLD.
WHAT ABOUT POST MODERNISM?
I THOUGHT IT WOULD BE
INTERESTING TO CONFRONT THE
STUFF ABOUT POST MODERNISM AND
RELATIVISM.
I FOUND IT IMPOSSIBLE TO
ACTUALLY HAVE VERY MANY USEFUL
CONVERSATIONS WITH PEOPLE IN THE
HUMANITIES EXPOUNDING THEM,
THERE WAS TOO MUCH OF A GAP OF
CULTURE AND LANGUAGE.
AND...
BUT I DID FIND PEOPLE WHO I
COULD TALK TO ABOUT THESE THINGS
WHO WERE IN VISUAL ARTS, AND MY
SENSE IS THAT, YOU KNOW, C.P.
SNOW, A LONG TIME AGO, TALKED
ABOUT THE 2 CULTURE DIVIDE IN
THE ACADEMY BETWEEN THE
SCIENTISTS AND THE ARTISTS, AND
MY SENSE IS THAT THERE IS A
SPLIT, BUT THE SPLIT IS NOT...
THE SPLIT HAS SCIENTISTS AND
VISUAL ARTISTS, AND PEOPLE WHO
WORK WITH LAW AND SOCIETY, LEGAL
THEORISTS ON ONE SIDE.
ON THE OTHER SIDE, ARE SCHOLARS,
AND THE DIFFERENCE IS...
AND THIS IS NOT TO SAY THAT ONE
IS LESS VALUABLE THAN THE OTHER,
THEY'RE BOTH VALUABLE, BUT
SCHOLARS WORK WITH TEXTS.
THEY TAKE TEXTS AND THEY
INTERPRET TEXTS.
AND THEY BELIEVE, THE MOST
AMBITIOUS OF THEM, THAT
EVERYTHING IS A TEXT, THAT
NATURE IS A TEXT, THAT A PIECE
OF ART IS A TEXT, AND THAT'S
WHEN WE GET TO CLASH, WHEN THEY
TRY TO SAY THAT OUR STUFF IS
TEXT.
BUT THAT'S WHAT THEY DO, THEY
TAKE TEXTS, AND THEY LIVE IN A
WORLD OF INTERPRETATION, THE
FANCY WORD FOR THAT IS
HERMANOIDICS, I THINK.
AND THOSE OF US ON THE OTHER
SIDE, WE DON'T WORK WITH TEXTS,
WE WORK WITH OUR HANDS.
WE CONFRONT NATURE, AND WE HAVE
THOSE TOOLS THAT I SPOKE ABOUT,
WITH WHICH WE CONFRONT NATURE.
AND I THINK THAT THERE'S AN
INTERESTING ANALOGY AND
COMMONALITY.
SCIENCE AND ART ARE VERY
DIFFERENT THINGS.
I'M NOT REMOTELY SAYING THEY'RE
THE SAME IN ANY WAY, OTHER THAN
A FEW WAYS THAT I'LL SAY, BUT I
THINK THERE'S A COMMONALITY THAT
SCIENCE, ART, VISUAL ART,
ENGINEERING, OTHER...
ARCHITECTURE, ANY OTHER ACTIVITY
SHARE, WHERE WHAT WE DO IS
TESTED AGAINST NATURE, IT'S
TESTED AGAINST REAL STUFF AND
REAL MATERIALS, AND WE CAN FAIL.
AND WE'RE DEEPLY CONSCIOUS THAT
WE'RE ALWAYS...
IF WE'RE DOING GOOD STUFF, WE'RE
ALWAYS PRETTY CLOSE TO FAILING.
AND A NAME FOR THIS, THAT
SOMEBODY DREAMED UP, IS
SOMETHING TO ANSWER TO C.P.
SNOW, CALLED THE THIRD CULTURE,
WHICH ENCOMPASSES SCIENTISTS,
ARTISTS, DIGIRATI ARE PEOPLE WHO
WORK WITH HIGH TECH,
ENGINEERING, COMPUTERS AND
EVERYWHERE.
THIS IS ACCORDING TO JOHN
BROCKMAN, WHO'S SORT OF IN ONE
WORLD.

A blue caption appears on the screen with a white light bulb. It reads, "Lee Smolin. Perimeter Institute. Why Does Science Work?"

Lee Smolin continues
SO, I FINALLY, BY TALKING TO
ARTISTS, LEARNED SOMETHING ABOUT
WHAT POST MODERNISM WAS, AND I'M
HARPING ON POST MODERNISM.
SOMEBODY HERE MIGHT THINK TOO
MUCH, BECAUSE I THINK THAT
POSTMODERNISM IS AN IMPORTANT
INTELLECTUAL IDEA, WHICH HAS
CAPTIVATED MANY PEOPLE, AND I
THINK IT'S A MISTAKE.
AND I THINK...
WHY I THINK IT'S A MISTAKE WILL
COME OUT IN THIS LAST PART.
AND I THINK IT'S RELATED TO MY
NOTIONS OF WHY SCIENCE IS
RELATED TO DEMOCRACY.
SO THIS IS AN ARTIST, SAINT
CLAIR CEMMEN, AND THIS IS WHEN I
LEARNED ABOUT POST MODERNISM.
HE SAID, "IF THE PURPOSE OF
MODERNISM IN ART WAS TO BURN THE
OLD CLASSICAL HOUSE DOWN, ALL
THAT POST MODERNISM HAS BEEN
DOING IS PLAYING WITH THE LITTLE
CHARRED PIECES THAT ARE LEFT,
WHICH IS A PRETTY PUERILE THING
TO BE DOING, CONSIDERING THAT
WINTER IS COMING."
AND SAINT CLAIR IS ORIGINALLY
BRAZILIAN, EDUCATED AT BEAUX
ARTS IN PARIS, AND HE'S WORKED
IN NEW YORK FOR ALMOST 20 YEARS,
AND HERE IS JUST SOME OF HIS
WORK, AND HE IS SOMEBODY WHO IS,
HIMSELF, AS ARE THE ARTISTS I'M
GOING TO SHOW HERE...
THE REASON I'M GOING TO SHOW
THEM, I FORGOT TO SAY THAT,
SORRY, IS THAT THESE ARE ARTISTS
WHO ARE DEEPLY INTERESTED IN
SCIENCE.
AND WHOSE WORK IS TO SOME
EXTENT, INVOLVES ENGAGEMENT WITH
SCIENCE.
AND I'LL JUST...
THERE'S NOT MUCH TO SAY ABOUT
THEM, THIS IS AN ENGAGEMENT WITH
SOMETHING ELSE...UHM...
BUT THERE'S A VERY...
THERE'S A LOT OF PLAYING HERE,
AND PLAYING WITH MATERIALS, BUT
THERE'S ALSO A SORT OF MORAL
THING HAPPENING HERE.

On the projector screen, a black figurine leans against a makeshift wooden ledge. The image changes to a chair facing a mirror.

Lee Smolin continues
IT SAYS CHAIR ON THAT... CHAIR,
ON THE LITTLE PIECE OF PAPER.
UHM... FOR WHAT IT'S WORTH.
ONE THING, WHEN I FIRST MET THIS
GUY, I THOUGHT WE WERE GOING TO
HAVE THIS INTELLECTUAL
CONVERSATION ABOUT YOU KNOW,
HISTORY AND SCIENCE AND ART AND
PHILOSOPHY AND ALL THESE THINGS,
AND IT WAS GOING TO GO OVER MY
HEAD, BUT YOU KNOW, MAYBE I
COULD IMPRESS HIM BY RELATIVITY
THEORY AND ALL THAT STUFF.

[Audience laughter]

Lee Smolin continues
AND WHAT ENDED UP HAPPENING, IS,
WE DIDN'T TALK ABOUT ANY OF THAT
AT ALL, WE TALKED ABOUT
MATERIALS.
HE WANTED TO KNOW, HOW DO YOU
ACTUALLY DO A CALCULATION, HOW
DO YOU GUYS THINK?
HOW DO YOU THINK ABOUT A 4 OR 5
DIMENSIONAL SPACE... NOT CAN
YOU, BUT WHAT TOOLS WOULD YOU
USE TO THINK ABOUT IT?
WHAT TOOLS WOULD YOU USE TO
THINK ABOUT TOPOLOGY, WHICH HE'D
HEARD OF.
AND HE TOLD ME ABOUT THE
PROPERTIES OF MARBLE, AND ABOUT
HOW HE WENT TO DIFFERENT PLACES
IN SERBIA AND CHINA TO FIND
CERTAIN KINDS OF MARBLE, BECAUSE
HE WAS JUST STARTING TO DO
MARBLE.
I WAS JUST STARTING TO DO STRING
THEORY FOR WHAT IT'S WORTH.
HE WAS JUST STARTING TO DO
MARBLE.
AND SO WE WERE EACH GETTING INTO
NEW MATERIAL, SO TO SPEAK.
AND HE WAS TALKING ABOUT JUST
HOW THE SCAFFOLDS WORK, AND HOW
YOU FIND GOOD MARBLE, AND HOW
THE TOOLS WORK, AND EVENTUALLY
HE STARTED MAKING THINGS IN
MARBLE.
NOW, AND ONE OF THE THINGS WE
TALKED ABOUT...
ONE OF THE THINGS HE SAID, IS
THAT, IN THE LIGHT OF
POSTMODERNISM, THE MOST
DIFFICULT THING, THE HARDEST
THING FOR AN ARTIST IN THIS
PERIOD AFTER POSTMODERNISM, IS
TO MAKE A MOTHER AND CHILD
WITHOUT IRONY, WITHOUT BIG
QUOTATION MARKS AROUND IT.
NOW WE DIDN'T HAVE MUCH TO SAY
ABOUT SCIENCE, AND ART, BUT
HERE'S JUST ANOTHER QUOTE BEFORE
I GO ON TO SOMEBODY ELSE, OF
SAINT CLAIR, TO ENSURE THAT ART
AND SCIENCE ARE VERY DIFFERENT,
AND HERE'S JUST ONE TAKE ON THE
DIFFERENCE.
"BOTH ART AND SCIENCE STRIVE FOR
UNIVERSAL KNOWLEDGE, BUT NOT OF
THE SAME KIND.
IN SCIENCE ONE WORKS TO EXTRACT
UNIVERSALS FROM PARTICULAR--."
AND THAT IS WHAT WE DO.
"IN ART," AT LEAST THE TYPE OF
ART THAT HE DOES, "WE BEGIN FROM
PARTICULARS AND GO TO EVEN MORE
PARTICULARS.
IN THAT PROCESS, UNIVERSAL
KNOWLEDGE IS EXTRACTED FROM A
PROCESS THAT IS ALREADY
KNOWLEDGE."
THAT IS THE WHOLE THING IS PART
OF HUMAN CULTURE, THAT PEOPLE DO
THAT TO BEGIN WITH.

Now, the projector shows a white slab of marble laying on the ground.

Lee Smolin continues
THIS IS A SCULPTOR AGAIN, WHO
DOES WORK MOSTLY IN MARBLE,
ELIZABETH TURQUE, WHO, FROM
CALIFORNIA, NEW YORK,
WASHINGTON, SO THAT'S CALLED,
"WATER," AND AGAIN, FOR ME, WHAT
I LEARNED FROM VISITING THESE
PEOPLE'S STUDIOS, WAS THAT WHAT
THEY DO IS REALLY BORING, JUST
LIKE WHAT I DO IS REALLY BORING.
I MEAN, MOST OF WHAT I DO...
THERE IS ALL THE ARGUING AND THE
TALK ABOUT BIG THINGS LIKE WHAT
IS AN OBSERVER AND WHAT IS
OBSERVABLE, AND HOW DO WE...
WHAT IS TIME.
BUT MOST OF THE TIME, WE ARE
ACTUALLY SITTING IN THERE, BY
OURSELVES OR WITH SOMEBODY, IF
IT CAN HELP, TRYING TO DO A
CALCULATION, AND THAT'S ALL WE
DO, THAT'S 90 PERCENT OF IT.
WE JUST TRY TO DO CALCULATIONS,
AND WE MAKE LOTS OF MISTAKES,
AND WE THINK ABOUT IT WRONG, AND
WE HAVE TO DO IT AGAIN AND AGAIN
AND AGAIN AND AGAIN.
FEINMAN SAID THAT HE WASN'T A
GENIUS, HE WAS JUST SOMEBODY WHO
HAD THE PATIENCE TO MAKE ALL THE
POSSIBLE MISTAKES.

A blue caption appears on the screen with a white light bulb. It reads, "Lee Smolin. Perimeter Institute. Why Does Science Work?"

Lee Smolin says AND WHAT I FOUND IS THAT ARTISTS
WORK THE SAME WAY.
THEY ARE JUST...
WHEN YOU TRY TO CARVE THAT OUT
OF A BLOCK OF MARBLE, OR THAT,
WHAT IT'S ALL ABOUT IS HUNDREDS
OF HOURS, BY HAND, OF HARD WORK
BY HAND, IN WHICH YOU'RE TRYING
TO MAKE SOMETHING BEAUTIFUL AND
YOU'RE ALWAYS IN DANGER OF
MAKING A MISTAKE.
OKAY, ALL OF THIS IS MARBLE, IT
WAS CARVED FROM MARBLE.

Lee clicks through pictures of ornate marble work. He stops on a picture that shows a woman whose body is painted with the U.S. flag. she wears a red bandana. A dog sits between her legs. Two bulls are fighting beside her.

Lee Smolin continues
AND FINALLY, THIS IS RAY SMITH,
WHO...
AND BY THE WAY, ALL OF THESE,
THE THEME I MENTIONED BEFORE OF
GLOBAL SOULS, ALL OF THESE ARE
PEOPLE WHOSE LIVES AND WORK HAVE
TAKEN THEM ALL AROUND THE
PLANET.
RAY SMITH, DESPITE THE NAME, IS
A JEWISH MEXICAN.

[Audience laughter]

Lee Smolin continues
WHO GREW UP PARTLY NEAR THE
TEXAS BORDER AND PARTLY IN
MEXICO CITY.

The image on the projector screen changes to a man riding a horse on a brown landscape. Two other men are riding horses in the background. In the foreground sit two large white dogs with brown furred-heads. A caption beneath reads, "Ray Smith. Reindas. 2000."

Lee Smolin continues
AND YOU CAN SEE THE WAY THESE
ARE SOMEHOW BOTH ART THAT HAS TO
DO WITH, "THE CONTEMPORARY
WORLD," AND THE MEXICAN WORLD.
OKAY, SO WHAT IS MY POINT?
ARTISTS, LIKE SCIENTISTS, HAVE
LEARNED SOMETHING PRECIOUS, AND
THAT IS HOW TO DISCOVER THINGS
THAT ARE NEW, THAT HAVE NEVER
BEEN DISCOVERED BEFORE, AND
WE'VE LEARNED IT'S NOT EASY.
MOST OF THE TIME WHEN YOU
DISCOVER SOMETHING NEW, WHEN YOU
THINK YOU'VE DISCOVERED
SOMETHING NEW, IT'S EITHER NOT
NEW, OR THE NEXT DAY YOU REALISE
IT'S REALLY STUPID.

[Audience laughter]

Lee Smolin continues
SO THE FEW CHANCES WE HAVE TO
DISCOVER SOMETHING NEW AND
BEAUTIFUL, ARE IMPORTANT.
THERE'S A SORT OF SPACE WHEN
WE'RE USING THESE TOOLS THAT OUR
TRADITIONS TEACH US, AND WE'RE
PUSHING THEM SO FAR THAT THERE'S
A KIND OF SURPRISE THAT STARTS
TO HAPPEN.
WE DON'T KNOW IF THE SURPRISE IS
WHAT WE'RE DOING, OR NATURE
KICKING BACK, AND THAT'S THE
SPACE WHERE WE DISCOVER THINGS.
AND BECAUSE THAT'S AN ETHICAL
THING, PUSHING AS HARD AS YOU
CAN BECAUSE YOU WANT TO MAKE
SOMETHING NEW, AND BEAUTIFUL, OR
BECAUSE YOU WANT TO DISCOVER
SOMETHING NEW AND TRUE, THAT'S
AN ETHICAL PRECEPT, AND THAT'S
WHY I THINK THAT THE PRACTICE OF
SCIENCE IS GROUNDED IN ETHICS.
THAT'S MY POINT, AND THAT'S WHY
I COMPARE TO ART.
ANOTHER POINT, WE, I THINK MANY
OF US, ALL OF THE PEOPLE I
MENTIONED THE ARTISTS, THE
SOCIAL THEORISTS, LIVE IN THIS
RELATIONAL UNIVERSE.
THERE'S WHAT WE'RE THINKING
ABOUT, HOW WE THINK ABOUT THE
WORLD IS SYSTEMS OF RELATIONS.
AND THOSE ARTISTS, LIKE OTHER
ARTISTS ARE READING ALL THE
BOOKS THAT PHYSICISTS AND
MATHEMATICIANS, BIOLOGISTS ARE
WRITING, BECAUSE THEY WANT TO
LIVE CONCEPTUALLY WHERE THE
FUTURE IS.
ALL OF THIS IS ABOUT FINDING THE
FUTURE AND I REALLY THINK THAT
THAT'S A THEME OF LATE...
IT MAY DIE, IT MAY TURN OUT THAT
WAS A LATE 20th CENTURY THEME,
AND IT'S DEAD, AND EVERYBODY
WENT BACK TO THE ABSOLUTE WORLD,
THANK GOD.
BUT I THINK THAT'S THE THEME
THAT CHARACTERISES, BY MY
EXPERIENCE, BOTH SOME OF THE
THINGS GOING ON IN PHYSICS AND
SOCIAL THEORY AND ART, AND I'VE
TRIED TO SHOW THAT.
AND FINALLY, HOW WE SEE WHAT WE
DO, I THINK IS MORE AND MORE,
AND THIS IS NOT ANYTHING AGAINST
THE INDIVIDUAL, THIS IN FACT
ENHANCES THE INDIVIDUAL, THAT WE
WORK IN COMMUNITIES WHICH ARE
ETHICAL, IMAGINATIVE AND
PLURALISTIC, AND OUR RESPONSE
AND OUR RELATIONSHIP WITH THOSE
COMMUNITIES IS ALWAYS
SIMULTANEOUSLY REBELLION AND
RESPECT.
NOW FROM THAT FRAMEWORK, ONE CAN
BE NAIVE.
BEAUTY AND TRUTH ARE NO LESS
REAL, FOR NOT BEING ANCHORED IN
SOME NEWTONIAN ABSOLUTE
BACKGROUND, OR PLATONIC SOME
ETERNAL WORLD OF TRUE THINGS, OR
JUST THINGS.
OUR SITUATION IS THAT WE'RE
LIMITED BY BEING OBSERVERS IN A
NATURAL WORLD, AND LIMITED THAT
WAY, IT'S REALLY AN ETHICAL
CHOICE THAT WE SEARCH FOR TRUTH
AND BEAUTY AND JUSTICE, AND WE...
THE ETHICAL COMMITMENT THAT WE
MAKE IS NOT JUST TO OURSELVES.
IT'S IN EVERY CASE, TO A
COMMUNITY OF PEOPLE WE WORK
WITH, THAT WE BOTH CHALLENGE,
AND THEY CHALLENGE US AND KEEP
US HONEST.
SO I THINK THAT FROM THIS POINT
OF VIEW, AND WHAT I'M TRYING TO
SAY, IF YOU LIKE, IS THAT THE
NOTION I BEGAN WITH OF A
SCIENTIFIC COMMUNITY AS AN
ETHICAL COMMUNITY, AN
IMAGINATIVE COMMUNITY, IS A
SYSTEM THEMSELVES OF A NETWORK
OF RELATIONS, SO HOW WE'RE
THINKING ABOUT OUR COMMUNITIES
IS AGAIN MIRRORING HOW WE'RE
THINKING ABOUT NATURE, BOTH,
OKAY?
AND FROM THIS POINT OF VIEW,
EVEN AFTER POSTMODERNISM AND ALL
THE RELATIVISM, WE BELIEVE IN
PROGRESS, TRUTH AND BEAUTY...
AND NOVELTY.
AND THAT ONE CAN BELIEVE IN
PROGRESS AND BELIEVE THAT THERE
WILL BE PROGRESS WITHOUT HAVING
TO BELIEVE THAT THE PROGRESS
REPRESENTS REMEMBERING, AS PLATO
THOUGHT, SOME ABSOLUTE ETERNAL
TRUTH.
THERE CAN BE GENUINE NOVELTY AND
GENUINE SURPRISE AND STILL
PROGRESS.
NOW, TO SUM UP... WHERE'S MY
LITTLE CURSOR THERE?
I HAVE A POEM, OR IT WASN'T A
POEM WHEN IT STARTED, BUT
HUMANISTS DO THIS AND I SAW
SOMEBODY DO THIS SO I TOOK A
PIECE OF "TEXT," AND I MADE IT
INTO A "POEM," OKAY?
WHICH I THINK SUMMARISES THE
WHOLE THEME.
SO IT SAYS, "THIS
INTERCONNECTION--."
I'LL TELL YOU AT THE END WHO IT
WAS.
"THIS INTERCONNECTION OR (OR ACCOMODATION)
OF ALL CREATED THINGS TO EACH OTHER,
BRINGS IT ABOUT THAT
EACH SIMPLE SUBTANCE
HAS RELATIONS THAT EXPRESS
ALL THE OTHERS,
AND CONSEQUENTLY,
THAT EACH SIMPLE SUBSTANCE
IS A PERPETUAL,
LIVING MIRROR OF THE UNIVERSE.
JUST AS THE SAME CITY
VIEWED FROM DIFFERENT DIRECTIONS
APPEARS ENTIRELY DIFFERENT
AND, AS IT WERE, MULTIPLIED PERSPECTIVELY,
IN JUST THE SAME WAY
IT HAPPENS THAT,
BECAUSE OF THE
INFINITE MULTITUDE OF SIMPLE SUBSTANCES,
THERE ARE, AS IT WERE,
JUST AS MANY DIFFERENT UNIVERISES,
WHICH ARE,
NEVERTHLESS,
ONLY PERSPECTIVES OF A
SINGLE ONE."
AND THIS IS A WAY OF OBTAINING
AS MUCH VARIETY AS POSSIBLE, BUT
WITH THE GREATEST ORDER
POSSIBLE.

A blue caption appears on the screen with a white light bulb. It reads, "Lee Smolin. Perimeter Institute. Why Does Science Work?"

He continues
THAT IS, IT IS THE WAY OF
OBTAINING AS MUCH PERFECTION AS
POSSIBLE, AND THAT WAS WRITTEN
IN ABOUT 1600...
I'M SORRY ABOUT 1700, BY
LEIBNITZ, WHO WAS A GREAT
MATHEMATICIAN, PHYSICIST AND
PHILOSOPHER WHO WAS AN OPPONENT
OF NEWTON, AND WHO MANY OF US
THINK OF AS KING OF THE PATRON
SAINT OF THE IDEA THAT SPACE AND
TIME ARE NOTHING BUT NETWORKS OF
RELATIONSHIPS, AND I THINK THAT
THERE IS THE SEED OF AT LEAST
THE IDEAS AND THE TENDENCIES IN
OUR OWN WORK IN SPACE AND TIME
AND QUANTUM THEORY THAT I FIND
MOST EXCITING.
SO THANK YOU.

Watch: Lee Smolin on Why Does Science Work?