Hawking/Mlodinow's "The Grand Design": Quick Reaction

Tue 14 September 2010

I read the new book "The Grand Design" by Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow yesterday (it's a short book and if you're comfortable with the differences between "the Universe," "the visible Universe," and "the Metaverse" it's easy-enough going). The book is getting a lot of press for its repeated assertion that the Universe as we know it (and 10\^500 universes we don't and can't experience) can come into existence without the aid of a Creator/God.

Those who read "A Brief History of Time" will know that Hawking asserts that the question "What happened before the Big Bang?" is ill-formed -- that our intuitive sense of time is misleading. In this book, Hawking takes on another intuitive argument for God: "Why is there something rather than nothing?"

Hawking's answer is "Well, there's a whole bunch of somethings," -- apparently 10\^500 Universes or thereabouts. In other words, the "many worlds" interpretation of quantum mechanics. Personally, I'm quite comfortable with that (that the Uni-/ Meta-verse is even more beyond our intuitions of scale has been the trend for several hundred years...), but Hawking/Mlodinow do a good job of giving an overview of the "summing over histories" techniques that fit the evidence and which are, actually, most intuitively explained by the "many worlds" interpretation.

Hawking then gives a brief but appealing metaphor for the spontaneous creation of our Universe from quantum evanescence -- that, it appears, is his "No Assembly Required" moment as far as God is concerned. He briefly (too briefly, I think) talks about the requirement for a narrow entropic realm in Universes that support life. He does a good job addressing both weak and strong anthropic principles.

The theory (or, apparently more correctly, family of theories) that Hawking supports is called "M-Theory." He asserts that M-Theory is testable (although it's not intuitive that it is, and he doesn't make it clear how that is so).

But he also says "M-Theory is the only model that has all the properties we think the final theory ought to have," (Kindle Location 74) and "M-theory is the only candidate for a complete theory of the universe." (Kindle loc 1826) [Emphasis added].

So even if we posit that M-Theory is correct, we've only punted the problem back 10\^500 Universes: "Why M-Theory?" It's hard for me to think that anyone who currently believes in a transcendent purpose is going to be swayed by additional universes, no matter how many zeroes it takes to count them!