“On Being Canadian” Considers the Big Questions

“On Being Canadian” Considers the Big Questions


Dr. Lee Smolin discuss time, physics and the choices we make 

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Lee Smolin, theoretical physicist, author and co-founder of the Waterloo’s Perimeter Institute, was the keynote speaker at this year’s On Being Canadian lecture. Smolin explained the problems of a “timeless” universe. Photo by Vanessa Tigananelli

On Friday Nov. 8, the River Run Centre held its eleventh annual “On Being Canadian” lecture. “A Science of Time; A Time for Science,” was presented by keynote speaker and Canadian physicist, Lee Smolin, and was organized by the Eramosa Institute.

Other special guests included University of Guelph’s own Dr. Karen Houle, of the department of Philosophy, and music by Ambre McLean, and Lauren Mann and the Fairly Odd Folk.

The lecture provided a unique forum for diverse individuals to engage in intellectual conversation and share ideas about humanity’s place in the world. The discussion allowed for people, both in and outside of academia, to engage with innovative ideas and civic leaders.

“The Lecture is about creating a dialogue to inform ourselves about issues so we can make choices,” said Community Coordinator Taylor Moran. “Lee Smolin plays a big role in science in Canada, big enough to be a strong voice to lead these discussions.”

While focusing on the effects of science in culture, thinking about climate change, and searching for meaning in science and democracy, this deliberately open-ended conversation allowed people and ideas to encounter one another in an open forum.

In addition to reading excerpts of her poetry, Karen Houle (author of Ballast, 2000, and During, 2008) gave a presentation on “attitudinal affirmation versus constructed response.” She explained that creating and attaining the right kind of “shelter,” whether emotional or structural, is integral to the process of developing ideas and composing literary work.

Considered one of the world’s pre-eminent theoretical physicists, Lee Smolin is a founding faculty member at the Perimeter Physics in Waterloo, and a philosopher and author. Smolin’s most recent book, Time Reborn, contemplates how people think about and organize their lives, and challenges the pervasive idea that time is but an illusion.

Combining contemporary physics with cosmology, Smolin suggested that the implications of thinking in time allowed for both a “pluralistic adventure” and “multiple identities.” His thought-provoking perspective tied in work he had done in quantum mechanics, loop quantum gravity, theoretical biology and deformed special relativity.

Prior to the reception, a question and answer period gave audience members an opportunity to ask Smolin burning mega-questions. One person asked: “How many infinities are there?” to which Smolin replied, “…each infinity gets bigger than the preceding infinity.” Another asked: “Do we live in a democracy?” to which Smolin conceded that the democracy we live in is “highly imperfect,” asking rhetorically, “Do our beliefs not help get the organization of society more perfect?”

Smolin added that our “conflicts must be constructive” for the Canadian experiment in pluralistic democracy to continue.