Book Review: Time Reborn

Article written: 31 May , 2013
Updated: 23 Dec , 2015

Time Reborn: From the Crisis of Physics to the Future of the Universe is one of those books intended to provoke discussion. Right from the first pages, author Lee Smolin — a Canadian theoretical physicist who also teaches philosophy — puts forward a position: time is real, and not an illusion of the human experience (as other physicists try to argue).

Smolin, in fact, uses that concept of time as a basis for human free will. If time is real, he writes, this is the result: “Novelty is real. We can create, with our imagination, outcomes not computable from knowledge of the present.”

Physics as philosophy. A powerful statement to make in the opening parts of the book.  The only challenge is understanding the rest of it.

Smolin advertises his book as open to the general reader who has no background in physics or mathematics, promising that there aren’t even equations to worry about. He also breaks up the involved explanations with wry observations of fatherhood, or by bringing up anecdotes from his past.

Artist concept of Gravity Probe B orbiting the Earth to measure space-time, a four-dimensional description of the universe including height, width, length, and time.  Image credit: NASA

Artist concept of Gravity Probe B orbiting the Earth to measure space-time, a four-dimensional description of the universe including height, width, length, and time. Image credit: NASA

It works, but you need to be patient. Theoretical physics is so far outside of the everyday that at times it took me (with education focusing on journalism and space policy, admittedly) two or three readings of the same passage to understand what was going on.

But as I took my time, a whole world opened up to me.

I found myself understanding more about Einstein’s special and general relativity than I did in readings during high school and university. The book also made me think differently about cosmology (the nature of the universe), especially in relation to biological laws.

While the book is enjoyable, it is probably best not to read it in isolation as it is a positional one — a book that gathers information scientifically and analytically, to be sure, but one that does not have a neutral point of view to the conclusions.

We’d recommend picking up other books such as the classic A Brief History of Time (by physicist Stephen Hawking) to learn more about the universe, and how other scientists see time work.

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5 Responses

  1. Coacervate says

    How would you compare/contrast it to A BHoT?

  2. Jihm says

    Groan! I’m sorry that I signed up to enter the give-away before learning what the book is about.

  3. Andrew Jaremko says

    CBC Radio’s Quirks and Quarks has an interview with Dr. Smolin about the book at . You can hear Dr. Smolin’s lecture at .

  4. Gorka Eleizalde says

    I will read it… Time (self opinion) is one of the great inductions of matter in this 4D universe that we can sense. Thank you!

  5. Prism2Spectrum says

    – “[T]ime is real, and not an illusion of the human experience…” If some physicists assert time is not revolving measures through, rotating units within, the energy-matter Universe – expanding-out future horizon, winding-down past beginning, no wonder physics may be fallen into “crisis”.

    Pardon my mechanical, clockwork train of thought.

    – “[W]e can create, with our imagination, outcomes…” If meaning understood: Man is a creator. Humans, conscious of intellect, imagine, dream, envision. From intelligent mind (through gifted hand), experiment, design and build.

    Over Planet of wealth, by intelligent dominion, he supremely stands. Above his Homeworld, and teeming animal kingdom, the dreamer Man. From Earth “subdued”, he reaches for the stars, the maker man. On the anvil of imagination, he hammers-out new works, from matter old (elements diverse, compounds marvelous, vast of potential). Harnessing a Planet’s flowing powers, employing its regulating forces (channeled by law), he fashions and molds—inspired by the brilliance, genius, and beauty, evident in “Nature” all around: in reflections of engineering (bio-mimicry, fe), and aesthetics seen in creations, order-bound.

    – Value in reaching-out to the general public (like me) with a Physics book plain, from encoded equations free, and indecipherable mathematical expressions clear: Non-technically heavy, but hopefully, not Sesame Street light. For some laymen, one can obscure the awesome reality, the other, diminishes its splendor of majesty.

    – So, wonderland of physics opens a strange, hidden World. But, are some physicists getting in the way of understanding what they are discovering there, with wrong-premised concepts, and off-center hypothesizes? Ideas cast too rigid(?), inadequate to lens the Cosmic formation, fail to capture the essence of its fundamental nature, clarify the force(s) upholding its fabric properties?

    Can change of lens-alignment-view, bring an object of study to clarity true?

    Physics may “understand” segments of the “machine’s” fine-piece mechanics. But if observers are viewing it from a wrong perspective…? print design, power-function, working-purpose; how originally built, why it operates as it does, and to what purpose it increases; for what end does it move with space through time, etc., could it fail to see what may be evident to mind?

    Faintly seen, might physicists be gazing over an edge into an “alternate reality”, perplexing in cosmic effect, puzzling in atomic motion? From the physicist’s level of time-dimension existence, judging newly unveiled aspects, as very “strange”. Detections of a parallel existence, outside the finite spacial cabinetry of inner temporal movements, neither confined by its dimensions, nor subject to its recurrent rotations? The very existence of any such higher-plane, timeless “reality”, unrealized, perceived in glimmers only? Hard to grasp, seen from space-matter domain, “unreal” from clockwork planes.

    Territory outside the geographic map of mainstream Physics; stretching beyond its phasing borders of what Physics are willing to entertain, seriously conceive? An “alternate” realm which faintly reflected in LHC, subtly mirrored by HST? – Radiance of energy, matter in motion? Space in time, passage of force? Fabric of Space, folds of time; Subatomic properties, behavior of galaxies; Age of existence, history of man? ….

    Matter’s elusive(?) properties, flows of gravity, wave surges s of energy. Ripples in Space, tides of time: Unifying threads of thematic line, left untied, beyond scope of mind, in fixed lens of eye?

    The support-foundation concept of the cosmic geometry, may need revolutionary change.

    – Physics in “crisis”?

    Might quantum physics afford a small window to something huge? Could the Cosmic edifice present a stately door to a greater existence?

    Could Eternity beckon from afar, through Temporal Veils near; infinity from on high, behind Material Curtains nigh (ethereally suspended in Atomic Chambers, darkly draped around Celestial Halls)?

    – “To everything … a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven:” For Earth in Space, and Universe of Time. _________________________________________________

    Time, time,
    Rolls the hills along,
    Makes the stars go round
    To the sky’s bright song.

    Time, Time,
    Stirs the endless sea, ….
    [Circles World in motion:
    Turns seasons of life,
    for all to see.]. – Ed Ames _________

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