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Lee Smolin

Lee Smolin (born 1955 in New York City) is an American theoretical physicist, a researcher at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics, and an adjunct professor of physics at the University of Waterloo.

Smolin is best known for devising several different approaches to quantum gravity, in particular loop quantum gravity. He advocates that the two primary approaches to quantum gravity, loop quantum gravity and string theory, can be reconciled as different aspects of the same underlying theory. His research interests also include cosmology, elementary particle theory, the foundations of quantum mechanics, and theoretical biology.

Smolin's most famous suggestion may be his theory of fecund universes, also known as cosmological natural selection, which attempts to apply principles of biological evolution to cosmology, suggesting that universes evolve in favor of the production of black holes. Leonard Susskind who now promotes a similar string theory landscape, stated:

"I'm not sure why Smolin's idea didn't attract much attention. I actually think it deserved far more than it got.
He writes many articles for the popular media, often promoting loop quantum gravity and criticizing the strength of support for string theory in the physics community.

Smolin also points out that string theory landscape is not Popper falsifiable if other worlds are not observable. There are then only two ways out: traversable wormholes connecting the different parallel worlds and "signal nonlocality", as described by Antony Valentini, a scientist at the Perimeter Institute.

Fecund Universes

The fecund universes theory (also called cosmological natural selection theory) of cosmology advanced by Lee Smolin suggests that the rules of biology apply on the grandest scales, and is often referred to as "cosmological natural selection". Smolin summarized the idea in a book aimed at a lay audience called The Life of the Cosmos (ISBN 0-19-510837-X).

The theory surmises that a collapsing black hole causes the emergence of a new universe on the "other side", whose fundamental constant parameters (speed of light, Planck length and so forth) may differ slightly from those of the universe where the black hole collapsed. Each universe therefore gives rise to as many new universes as it has black holes. Thus the theory contains the evolutionary ideas of "reproduction" and "mutation" of universes, but has no direct analogue of natural selection. However, given any universe that can produce black holes that successfully spawn new universes, it is possible that some number of those universes will reach heat death with unsuccessful parameters. So, in a sense, fecundity cosmological natural selection is one where universes could die off before successfully reproducing, just as any biological being can die without having children.

The Trouble with Physics

Smolin's 2006 book, The Trouble with Physics, is broadly concerned with the role of controversy and diversity of approaches in the ethics and process of science. It is strongly critical of string theory and of its prominence in contemporary theoretical physics. He suggests both that there appear to be serious deficiencies in string theory and that string theory has an unhealthy near-monopoly in US fundamental physics, and that a diversity of approaches is needed. It argues that more attention should instead be paid to loop quantum gravity, an approach to quantum gravity devised by Smolin.

The claims, many of which are controversial, that the book make include:

  • that string theory makes no new testable predictions
  • that there is no coherent mathematical formulation of string theory
  • that it has not been mathematically proven to be finite
  • that the proposal of a landscape of up to 10500 string vacuum solutions is tantamount to abandoning accepted science:

The scenario of many unobserved universes plays the same logical role as the scenario of an intelligent designer. Each provides an untestable hypothesis that, if true, makes something improbable seem quite probable.

The book also focuses on the difficulties faced by current efforts at theories of unification of physics and approaches to quantum gravity.

The publication of The Trouble with Physics generated much controversy and debate about the merits of string theory, and the book was criticised by some leading physicists including string theorists Joseph Polchinski and Luboš Motl.

However, Smolin was recently named as #21 on Foreign Policy Magazine's list of Top 100 Public Intellectuals.


Smolin has expressed the opinion that quantum mechanics is not a "final theory".

I am convinced that quantum mechanics is not a final theory. I believe this because I have never encountered an interpretation of the present formulation of quantum mechanics that makes sense to me. I have studied most of them in depth and thought hard about them, and in the end I still can't make real sense of quantum theory as it stands.

Personal life

Smolin was educated at Hampshire College and studied with noted physicist Herb Bernstein. He received his Ph.D from Harvard University. His mother is the playwright Pauline Smolin, while his father Michael Smolin is an environmental and process engineer. His brother, David M. Smolin, is a professor in the Cumberland School of Law in Birmingham, Alabama. He is married to Dina Graser, a communications lawyer in Toronto.

Books by Smolin

The following books are relatively non-technical, and can be appreciated by those who are not physicists.


External links

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