Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Soap Bubbles

It was inevitable that I'd be tempted to post on this. I haven’t read all of it yet. I am not going to buy it, because the excerpts I have read are beige to the point of condescension. Stephen Hawking’s "The Grand Design", a search for an answer to the question “How did the universe begin?” has led him to suggest that the creation of our universe and others simply “does not require the intervention of some supernatural being or god.”
How remarkably original.
He writes: “Until the advent of modern physics it was generally thought  except by mystics and the religious that all knowledge of the world could be obtained through direct observation, that things are what they seem, as perceived through our senses. Puleeze. Most of us got this far when we were sixteen. But the spectacular success of modern physics, which is based upon concepts that clash with everyday experience, has shown that that is not the case. The naive view of reality therefore is not compatible with modern physics. To deal with such paradoxes we shall adopt an approach that we call model-dependent realism. Nice soundbite, but it still looks like a Mobius strip to me. It is based on the idea that our brains interpret the input from our sensory organs by making a model of the world.  Quite so. Our ‘model of God’ is as much of a construct as Schrodinger’s Cat. When such a model is successful at explaining events, we tend to attribute to it and to the elements and concepts that constitute it, the quality of reality or absolute truth. But there may be different ways in which one could model the same physical situation, with each employing different fundamental elements and concepts.” Indeed there are. Part of the problem here is that a knowledge of fantastically difficult mathematics does not – and indeed will not – get us, as Einstein put it – any nearer to the Old One. Probably. “If two such physical theories or models accurately predict the same events, one cannot be said to be more real than the other; rather, we are free to use whichever model is most convenient.” As long as such convenience does not challenge an exclusively rational worldview.
He goes on.. “To understand the universe at the deepest level, we need to know not only how the universe behaves, but why". M theory (of many universes, arising from nothing, some of which may be able to spontaneously generate sentience and ‘life’) purports to answer at least some of these questions.”The image of God blowing vast soap bubbles is irresistible.
Chapter One, at least, of “The Grand Design” is clankingly prosaic. Professor Hawking’s mind is, one assumes, so vast that he resorts to trivia to engage his intellectual inferiors, in other words those who will buy his book. “If you think it is hard to get humans to follow traffic laws,” we read, “imagine convincing an asteroid to move along an ellipse.” Pass the bucket. His co-author is Leonard Mlodinow, (not a million miles from Nimoy, or Spock, is it...Tee hee)  a physicist who worked on “Star Trek: The Next Generation.”  As one critic puts it, "the air inside this literary biosphere is not especially pleasant to breathe", rather like a rubber duck developing synergy with a steam engine. 
Setting up religion and science on yet another blind date, which invariably ends up with tears before bedtime, is ultimately futile. Who is he trying to convince? Believers will believe in any case because their reality constructs do not necessarily need rational explanation and the infidels will say "I told you so." As far as juxtaposing religion and science, high walls make for good neighbours.

1 comment:

  1. "clankingly prosaic?" I find it fascinating that with the exception of creation (and "The Old One's involvement) theology is not given to proving scientific discoveries to be false or non-real or any other euphemism for rubbish. Science, on the other hand, certainly as embodied by Hawkings and Dawkins seem exclusively focused on proving theology (and therefore the existence of "The Old One") as false or non-real. Me thinks the man doth protest too much. (With apologies to The Bard)

    Thanks for the review - if I HAD been tempted to fork over the moola for his latest book, I would be cured thanks to you.


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