qatsi (qatsi) wrote,

A lot of un-learning to do

Book Review: The Grand Design, by Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow
LJ's feeble search facility failed to locate my post on reading A Brief History of Time, so I had to browse for likely candidates in the calendar; unfortunate as I couldn't remember when I last read it.

Anyhow, I haven't felt the need to read any of Hawking's other books, but this caught my attention partly for the blaze of publicity about Hawking's changing views on God and partly because it is jointly authored by Leonard Mlodinow, whose book Euclid's Window I read some time before I began posting reviews here but which I highly recommend.

It does seem that between them, they have found a pretty good non-technical way of discussing the leading cosmological questions of the day. I don't think there is anything here that wouldn't be comprehensible to an enquiring mind, though obviously some of the ideas are rather odd, and there is a folksy style to some of the writing that doesn't always appeal to me. (Sidney Harris' cartoons, on the other hand, generally hit the nail on the head.) The current thesis is a reconsideration of whether there is a "theory of everything", and ducks out by saying that instead there may be several theories which cover everything between them, and agree with each other in the areas that they overlap (quantum mechanics and general relativity, of course, do not together satisfy this last point). The model-dependent realism of M-theory seems distinctly empirical, unsatisfying, anti-Platonic, and yet (if it fits all observations) undeniable.

Throughout all this, the authors have summarised various creation myths. These don't really form part of the main story but they are used to tie in to some scientific ideas, which are often demonstrated to be unlikely in one sense, yet almost certain to happen somewhere and at some time on the scale of the Universe - or the Multiverse. In A Brief History of Time, Hawking seemed to leave the door open on the question of God; this time, it's fairly plain that a supernatural Creator would be unnecessary and inelegant. But The Grand Design does begin by saying that philosophy is dead, yet ends without answering the philosophical questions about reality. What you see is what you get.
Tags: books, science
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