Hawking’s “Grand Design”
In his 1988 book “A Brief History of Time,” the British physicist Stephen Hawking, speaking of a yet-to-be-achieved grand unified theory of physics which he hoped would succeed in uniting the law of gravity with quantum mechanics, we will have achieved “the ultimate triumph of human reason—for then we should know the mind of God.” This was the same goal that Albert Einstein also sought, but without success, partly because, in the estimation of many, he refused to recognize the validity of the theory of quantum mechanics.
Apparently now, 22 years later, Hawking thinks we have almost reached that goal, for according to his most recent book “The Grand Design” (co-authored with Leonard Mlodinow), the authors conclude, in a quotation already being repeated around the world, that:
“Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist… It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue torch paper and set the universe going” (page 180).
First, I think it is important to note, that Hawking is not necessarily saying that there is no God. Instead, unlike Newton who thought it must be God who keeps the planets in place despite the eccentricity of their orbits, Hawking and Mlodinow quote the French astronomer, Laplace, who reportedly told Napoleon that we “no longer need that hypothesis.” Of course, this could be true, just as Darwin’s theory has eliminated the need for a direct hands-on divine intervention to account for the evolution of humanity. But what hypothesis can the authors use to explain why there is something that can evolve rather than nothing to begin with? And where did that “law of gravity” come from?
Here Hawking and Mlodinow appeal first to the theory of quantum mechanics and the fact that, on the subatomic scale, both the exact speed and location of a particle cannot be measured simultaneously and to the extent one is determined, the other remains elusive. As a result, the so-called ”laws” of nature, which measure larger quantities, are more like statistical averages, as if we were to describe gravity by saying “What goes up will eventually come down – at least 99% of the time.”
But from this now generally accepted “Uncertainty Principle,” first formulated by Werner Heisenberg, they then move on to Richard Feynman’s idea that to explain this quantum weirdness we must assume that each moving particle is simultaneously everywhere until our own mind fixes its position out of a virtual infinity of possibilities. Then, “string theory,” which now holds that there are at least eleven dimensions to everything – although we can only see four of them (three of space and one of time in our universe) eventually somehow brings the authors to the conclusion that just maybe there might also actually be a virtual infinity (at least 10 followed by 500 more zeros) of other universes!
So how can we know this? Admittedly, we can’t, but this is only because we can’t see these other universes since we all (some 6.7 billion of us?) have chosen to live in this one. This so-called “choice” is, in turn, explained by a surprising defense of the “Strong Anthropic Principle,” the idea that the (oops – I mean our) universe is expressly designed to produce intelligent life such as ours – an idea rejected by many scientists a couple of decades ago as being too overtly theological. But Hawking and Mlodonow instead have recycled this idea by turning it on its head -- designating not God but ourselves as the designers.
Given all this surmising, I found it instructive to start counting the number of times that the authors used such words as “believe” and “belief” (or even sometimes “hope”) not just to ridicule ancient religious ideas, but even in place of “proved” or “proof” to describe these apparent leaps of logic, even while they began their book (on page 5) by declaring philosophy to be dead. Instead, what we seem to have here is a sample of their own philosophizing, which at this point, at least to me, resembles a kind of modified philosophical idealism or even a collective solipsism where, although it seems to presume the existence of some kind of vague energy (a quasi-divine “Force” like in Star Wars ?), only takes on its more concrete form and behavior as a result of the human mind. Maybe, upon second reading, I’ll discover if “The Grand Design” really does exist anywhere but in the authors’ or even our own heads.
R W Kropf 9/24/2010 Hawking’s Design.doc 10-09-24.html