Silberstein, Stuckey, McDevitt publish “End of the Mechanical Universe”
After 20-plus years of research published in dozens of journals and garnering numerous awards and accolades including a recent honorable mention in the prestigious Gravity Research Foundation Awards for Essays on Gravitation, Elizabethtown College’s Michael Silberstein, professor of philosophy; Mark Stuckey, professor of physics; and Tim McDevitt, professor of mathematics, have secured a contract with Oxford University Press for their book, “End of the Mechanical Universe”.
Publication of the book, due in 2017, said Silberstein, is a major milestone in an intellectual adventure that began in 1994 when he came to Elizabethtown College, met Stuckey, and the two began delving into the mysteries of quantum physics and relativity, including the ultimate mystery about how to unify those two theories.
The universe seems to conspire to give us the next leg up in a way that can’t really be explained causally.”
Early in the process, the professors were joined by philosophy and physics student Michael Cifone ’02 and by colleague McDevitt. Cifone and McDevitt, Silberstein said, have made invaluable contributions to the research. After graduation from Elizabethtown College, Cifone went on to earn his doctoral degree in philosophy of physics from University of Maryland College Park in 2009; he has continued with his own line of research.
“End of the Mechanical Universe,” noted Silberstein, addresses “the most profound challenge for fundamental physics in the next 100 years” per American theoretical physicist, mathematician and a Nobel laureate Frank Wilczek. One that has been recognized since the days of Isaac Newton. The challenge, wrote Wilczek in “Physics in 100 Years,” is to ascend from the “ant’s-eye view of human consciousness, which senses a succession of events in time,” which is also called the mechanical universe, to the “God’s-eye view of reality comprehended as a whole.” Stuckey, Silberstein and McDevitt’s approach to this “God’s-eye” or “block universe” physics is called Relational Blockworld.
Although founded in formulas and theoretical physics, Silberstein said that the team’s work has an oddly “fairy tale-like quality.”
“The universe seems to conspire to give us the next leg up in a way that can’t really be explained causally,” Silberstein said. “People come along at the exact moment at which we need them, maybe because the future demands it.”
The three primary authors agree that none of them could do this work without the other. As Stuckey said, this research trinity is “more than the sum of its parts.” With support from the College Silberstein and Stuckey have worked with a variety of students over the years on various aspects of this project. They look forward to working with others in the future and are eager to use their book in the College’s new interdisciplinary studies course Foundations of Physics IC 203.