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The most fundamental questions about the origins of the universe and of life itself, once the province of philosophy, now occupy the territory where scientists, philosophers, and theologians meet—if only to disagree. In their new book, Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow present the most recent scientific thinking about the mysteries of the universe, in nontechnical language marked by both brilliance and simplicity.
In The Grand Design they explain that according to quantum theory, the cosmos does not have just a single existence or history, but rather that every possible history of the universe exists simultaneously. When applied to the universe as a whole, this idea calls into question the very notion of cause and effect. But the “top-down” approach to cosmology that Hawking and
Mlodinow describe would say that the fact that the past takes no definite form means that we create history by observing it, rather than that history creates us. The authors further explain that we ourselves are the product of quantum fluctuations in the very early universe, and show how quantum theory predicts the “multiverse”—the idea that ours is just one of many universes that appeared spontaneously out of nothing, each with different laws of nature.
Along the way Hawking and Mlodinow question the conventional concept of reality, posing a “model-dependent” theory of reality as the best we can hope to find. And they conclude with a riveting assessment of M-theory, an explanation of the laws governing us and our universe that is currently the only viable candidate for a complete “theory of everything.” If confirmed, they write, it will be the unified theory that Einstein was looking for, and the ultimate triumph of human reason.
A succinct, startling, and lavishly illustrated guide to discoveries that are altering our understanding and threatening some of our most cherished belief systems, The Grand Design is a book that will inform—and provoke—like no other.
From the Trade Paperback edition.
We each exist for but a short time, and in that time explore but a small part of the whole universe. But humans are a curious species. We wonder, we seek answers. Living in this vast world that is by turns kind and cruel, and gazing at the immense heavens above, people have always asked a multitude of questions: How can we understand the world in which we find ourselves? How does the universe behave? What is the nature of reality? Where did all this come from? Did the universe need a creator? Most of us do not spend most of our time worrying about these questions, but almost all of us worry about them some of the time.
Traditionally these are questions for philosophy, but philosophy is dead. Philosophy has not kept up with modern developments in science, particularly physics. Scientists have become the bearers of the torch of discovery in our quest for knowledge. The purpose of this book is to give the answers that are suggested by recent discoveries and theoretical advances. They lead us to a new picture of the universe and our place in it that is very different from the traditional one, and different even from the picture we might have painted just a decade or two ago. Still, the first sketches of the new concept can be traced back almost a century.
According to the traditional conception of the universe, objects move on well-defined paths and have definite histories. We can specify their precise position at each moment in time. Although that account is successful enough for everyday purposes, it was found in the 1920s that this "classical" picture could not account for the seemingly bizarre behavior observed on the atomic and subatomic scales of existence. Instead it was necessary to adopt a different framework, called quantum physics. Quantum theories have turned out to be remarkably accurate at predicting events on those scales, while also reproducing the predictions of the old classical theories when applied to the macroscopic world of daily life. But quantum and classical physics are based on very different conceptions of physical reality.
Quantum theories can be formulated in many different ways, but what is probably the most intuitive description was given by Richard (Dick) Feynman, a colorful character who worked at the California Institute of Technology and played the bongo drums at a strip joint down the road. According to Feynman, a system has not just one history but every possible history. As we seek our answers, we will explain Feynman's approach in detail, and employ it to explore the idea that the universe itself has no single history, nor even an independent existence. That seems like a radical idea, even to many physicists. Indeed, like many notions in today's science, it appears to violate common sense. But common sense is based upon everyday experience, not upon the universe as it is revealed through the marvels of technologies such as those that allow us to gaze deep into the atom or back to the early universe.
Until the advent of modern physics it was generally thought that all knowledge of the world could be obtained through direct observation, that things are what they seem, as perceived through our senses. But the spectacular success of modern physics, which is based upon concepts such as Feynman's 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. It is based on the idea that our brains interpret the input from our sensory organs by making a model of the world. 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. 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.
In the history of science we have discovered a sequence of better and better theories or models, from Plato to the classical theory of Newton to modern quantum theories. It is natural to ask: Will this sequence eventually reach an end point, an ultimate theory of the universe, that will include all forces and predict every observation we can make, or will we continue forever finding better theories, but never one that cannot be improved upon? We do not yet have a definitive answer to this question, but we now have a candidate for the ultimate theory of everything, if indeed one exists, called M- theory. M-theory is the only model that has all the properties we think the final theory ought to have, and it is the theory upon which much of our later discussion is based.
M-theory is not a theory in the usual sense. It is a whole family of different theories, each of which is a good description of observations only in some range of physical situations. It is a bit like a map. As is well known, one cannot show the whole of the earth's surface on a single map. The usual Mercator projection used for maps of the world makes areas appear larger and larger in the far north and south and doesn't cover the North and South Poles. To faithfully map the entire earth, one has to use a collection of
maps, each of which covers a limited region. The maps overlap each other, and where they do, they show the same landscape.
M-theory is similar. The different theories in the M-theory family may look very different, but they can all be regarded as aspects of the same underlying theory. They are versions of the theory that are applicable only in limited ranges-for example, when certain quantities such as energy are small. Like the overlapping maps in a Mercator projection, where the ranges of different versions overlap, they predict the same phenomena. But just as there is no flat map that is a good representation of the earth's entire surface, there is no single theory that is a good representation of observations in all situations.
We will describe how M-theory may offer answers to the question of creation. According to M-theory, ours is not the only universe. Instead, M-theory predicts that a great many universes were created out of nothing. Their creation does not require the intervention of some supernatural being or god. Rather, these multiple universes arise naturally from physical law. They are a prediction of science. Each universe has many possible histories and many possible states at later times, that is, at times like the present, long after their creation. Most of these states will be quite unlike the universe we observe and quite unsuitable for the existence of any form of life. Only a very few would allow creatures like us to exist. Thus our presence selects out from this vast array only those universes that are compatible with our existence. Although we are puny and insignificant on the scale of the cosmos, this makes us in a sense the lords of creation.
To understand the universe at the deepest level, we need to know not only how the universe behaves, but why.
Why is there something rather than nothing?
Why do we exist?
Why this particular set of laws and not some other?
This is the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything. We shall attempt to answer it in this book. Unlike the answer given in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, ours won't be simply "42."
The Rule of Law
Skoll the wolf who shall scare the Moon
Till he flies to the Wood-of-Woe:
Hati the wolf, Hridvitnir's kin,
Who shall pursue the sun.
-"Grimnismal," The Elder Edda
n Viking mythology, Skoll and Hati chase the sun and the moon. When the wolves catch either one, there is an eclipse. When this happens, the people on earth rush to rescue the sun or moon by making as much noise as they can in hopes of scaring off the wolves. There are similar myths in other cultures. But after a time people must have noticed that the sun and moon soon emerged from the eclipse regardless of whether they ran around screaming and banging on things. After a time they must also have noticed that the eclipses didn't just happen at random: They occurred in regular patterns that repeated themselves. These patterns were most obvious for eclipses of the moon and enabled the ancient Babylonians to predict lunar eclipses fairly accurately even though they didn't realize that they were caused by the earth blocking the light of the sun. Eclipses of the sun were more difficult to predict because they are visible only in a corridor on the earth about 30 miles wide. Still, once grasped, the patterns made it clear the eclipses were not dependent on the arbitrary whims of supernatural beings, but rather governed by laws.
Despite some early success predicting the motion of celestial bodies, most events in nature appeared to our ancestors to be impossible to predict. Volcanoes, earthquakes, storms, pestilences, and ingrown toenails all seemed to occur without obvious cause or pattern. In ancient times it was natural to ascribe the violent acts of nature to a pantheon of mischievous or malevolent deities. Calamities were often taken as a sign that we had somehow offended the gods. For example, in about 4800 bc the Mount Mazama volcano in Oregon erupted, raining rock and burning ash for years, and leading to the many years of rainfall that eventually filled the volcanic crater today called Crater Lake. The Klamath Indians of Oregon have a legend that faithfully matches every geologic detail of the event but adds a bit of drama by portraying a human as the cause of the catastrophe. The human capacity for guilt is such that people can always find ways to blame themselves. As the legend goes, Llao, the chief of the Below World, falls in love with the beautiful human daughter of a Klamath chief. She spurns him, and in revenge Llao tries to destroy the Klamath with fire. Luckily, according to the legend, Skell, the chief of the Above World, pities the humans and does battle with his underworld counterpart. Eventually Llao, injured, falls back inside Mount Mazama, leaving a huge hole, the crater that eventually filled with water.
Ignorance of nature's ways led people in ancient times to invent gods to lord it over every aspect of human life. There were gods of love and war; of the sun, earth, and sky; of the oceans and rivers; of rain and thunderstorms; even of earthquakes and volcanoes. When the gods were pleased, mankind was treated to good weather, peace, and freedom from natural disaster and disease. When they were displeased, there came drought, war, pestilence, and epidemics. Since the connection of cause and effect in nature was invisible to their eyes, these gods appeared inscrutable, and people at their mercy. But with Thales of Miletus (ca. 624 bc-
ca. 546 bc) about 2,600 years ago, that began to change. The idea arose that nature follows consistent principles that could be deciphered. And so began the long process of replacing the notion of the reign of gods with the concept of a universe that is governed by laws of nature, and created according to a blueprint we could someday learn to read.
Viewed on the timeline of human history, scientific inquiry is a very new endeavor. Our species, Homo sapiens, originated in sub-Saharan Africa around 200,000 bc. Written language dates back only to about 7000 bc, the product of societies centered around the cultivation of grain. (Some of the oldest written inscriptions concern the daily ration of beer allowed to each citizen.) The earliest written records from the great civilization of ancient Greece date back to the ninth century bc, but the height of that civilization, the "classical period," came several hundred years later, beginning a little before 500 bc. According to Aristotle (384 bc-322 bc), it was around that time that Thales first developed the idea that the world can be understood, that the complex happenings around us could be reduced to simpler principles and explained without resorting to mythical or theological explanations.
Thales is credited with the first prediction of a solar eclipse in 585 bc, though the great precision of his prediction was probably a lucky guess. He was a shadowy figure who left behind no writings of his own. His home was one of the intellectual centers in a region called Ionia, which was colonized by the Greeks and exerted an influence that eventually reached from Turkey as far west as Italy. Ionian science was an endeavor marked by a strong interest in uncovering fundamental laws to explain natural phenomena, a tremendous milestone in the history of human ideas. Their approach was rational and in many cases led to conclusions surprisingly similar to what our more sophisticated methods have led us to believe today. It represented a grand beginning. But over the centuries much of Ionian science would be forgotten-only to be rediscovered or reinvented, sometimes more than once.
According to legend, the first mathematical formulation of what we might today call a law of nature dates back to an Ionian named Pythagoras (ca. 580 bc-ca. 490 bc), famous for the theorem named after him: that the square of the hypotenuse (longest side) of a right triangle equals the sum of the squares of the other two sides. Pythagoras is said to have discovered the numerical relationship between the length of the strings used in musical instruments and the harmonic combinations of the sounds. In today's language we would describe that relationship by saying that the frequency-the number of vibrations per second-of a string vibrating under fixed tension is inversely proportional to the length of the string. From the practical point of view, this explains why shorter guitar strings produce a higher pitch than longer ones. Pythagoras probably did not really discover this-he also did not discover the theorem that bears his name- but there is evidence that some relation between string length and pitch was known in his day. If so, one could call that simple mathematical formula the first instance of what we now know as theoretical physics.
From the Hardcover edition.
List of Chapter Titles:
1. The Mystery of Being
2. The Rule of Law
3. What is Reality?
4. Alternative Histories
5. The Theory of Everything
6. Choosing Our Universe
7. The Apparent Miracle
8. The Grand Design
Excerpted from The Grand Design by Stephen Hawking Copyright © 2010 by Stephen Hawking. Excerpted by permission of Bantam, a division of Random House, Inc.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Posted September 3, 2010
I realize that most theists will try to debunk this as much as they can before ever actually ever reading this book but I want to make a few things clear before they start.
I don't think this book will claim there is no chance at god at all, it will simply debunk the argument that "something" had to create the universe, and that something must be God. He will simply be arguing, no, actually what we know now in science (or at least what we think) shows that you don't need a god to start the big bang or to explain anything else that would require God's existence.
I think his argument will simply be not that there is no god, for there could be one even if it wasn't required we have one, rather he will be making the case that god isn't needed to explain the universe.
56 out of 75 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 19, 2010
I Also Recommend:
This is, by far, Hawkings best prose showing yet. Well written and well argued, this book sets out his most recent thoughts on how the universe began in a comprehensive manner. For such a short book (Roughly 110 pages) there is a lot to take in. But it's presented in a way that the layman can understand it.
22 out of 25 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 15, 2010
I don't have the words to adequately describe Mr Hawking's book -- or any other of his books. I do know that I am in awe of everything he writes.
He doesn't throw ideas out -- he proves them. I've never had such a positive and emotional reaction reading anything by anyone else other than him.
15 out of 29 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 3, 2010
Posted September 9, 2010
I enjoy the reference to the Hitchhikers Guide to the galaxy. Not "42" for the meaning of life and every thing. Even it tried to Get rid of God. But, God can take care of Him/Her self. But that is another topic. Science is for on going exploring, to reason out and rethinking the galaxy's unknown. Let the debate start and all will learn.
9 out of 20 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 15, 2011
To pick up a book by Stephen Hawkings, a reader probably already has an interest in science, and in the universe in particular. For someone like me, a high school physics and math teacher and a student of space science my entire life, I found this book to merely repeat much of the material on a "Theory of Everything" that I have read elsewhere. Unlike other books I have read, I felt like, for the derogatory "general" reader to which this book refers as its audience, it does a paultry job of explaning the theories on which the authors' new assertion are based. I was even more disappointed to discover that the only new material I read in this book constituted only 10 out of a 180 pages (and I feel I am being generous in giving the authors that many). In those 10 pages, much of what the authors discussed I have read in Scientific American articles.
The authors also spend an inordinate amount of time bashing religion. This is unnecessary in a science book and degrades from the validity of the authors' message. If the science is good, it will address the religious asssertions without wasting ink- for the mere 180 pages in this book, I would have preferred more science and less atheist propaganda.
SAVE YOURSELF SOME TIME: BUY THE SEPTEMBER 2010 ISSUE OF SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN AND READ THE AUTHORS' ASSERTIONS. Unless you're a science teacher who could use some of the additional illustrations in class, the book isn't worth the money. A better book for pictures is Hawking's "The Illustrated Universe in a Nutshell."
8 out of 17 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 14, 2010
The diagrams and illustrations in this book are unreadable on the Nook, even with type increased to extra large. This inhibits our understanding of the complex principles explained and detracts from the beauty of the book. I don't know if this is inherent in the Nook format or just a problem with this book, but this is one to purchase on paper.
8 out of 11 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 30, 2010
If you've ever wanted to understand more about all there is, this is the book to have. Set aside some time and go through it, at least once.
8 out of 12 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 5, 2010
It would be nice if eminent scientists would stop misusing the word "nothing". When the authors of this book use that word, they must mean a special kind of nothing that has potential universes hidden in it. But wait - if nothing exists then there is no "it", no "then", no potential for anything, no laws of gravity or any laws at all, nothing to fluctuate or change states. Saying the universe spontaneously arose out of nothing doesn't answer anything because the idea is based on a bad assumption - namely that "nothing" really means a little "something" - just enough something that lets us ignore the real problem and get on with our theories. This kind of thinking has been in physics and cosmology books for years, and it doesn't seem to be getting any better.
7 out of 23 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 3, 2010
Good, thought-provoking read, even if it is not the "philosophy killing" argument that the authors claim it to be. Part of the fun of reading it, though, is the sheer audacity displayed as the authors build their argument. Compelling.
6 out of 7 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 29, 2010
Looking forward to reading the book. However, this gem from the synopsis caught my eye:
What is the "Grand Design" that made it possible for us to have found a home in the one universe, out of zillions, where human life is possible?
Is the synopsis writer serious? Perhaps he would also like to pose such deep thoughts as how extraordinarily lucky that desert animals live in deserts while fish live in water, because otherwise they would both die. How lucky that snow happens only in cold areas. How does water know to flow through river beds rather than atop mountains.
Perhaps the deep thinking should be left to Hawking.
6 out of 51 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 7, 2011
Ignore the naysayers who have obviously not even read the book. This book in no way attempts to "disprove" anything or "attack" religion. In fact Hawking clearly states that "neither [a God-created or big bang-created] model can be said to be more real than the other". Instead, he simply states the obvious fact that science must follow the scientific method, accepting or rejecting theories as necessary based on sound scientific method, reason, and proven fact. The current accepted model, he explains, is simply the best one we have, which most accurately predicts and explains observable phenomena. The laws of physics cannot and will not change, no matter how much some would like them to, and no matter how much faith one has in their own model of life, the universe, and everything. Hawking uses simple, clear language to describe physical laws and scientific method, giving many examples of how an open-minded, unbiased approach to science is the only approach which will allow us to someday find the truth of the whys and hows of our existence. Free of heavy scientific jargon and complex mathematical proofs, The Grand Design is written as a way to explain physical laws and theories to those who are not familiar with the world of science, and it does so very well. A must read for anyone interested interested in seeking an answer to life's great questions.
5 out of 6 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 9, 2011
Very thought provoking book for the general reader. Having no formal education in advanced mathematics or physics I appreciate the lack of complex mathematical equations in this book. The concepts are presented in a way that is relatively easy to understand although you may have to read parts of the book more than once to get it! Prior to purchasing this book I had heard that its main purpose was to disprove the existence of God. I'm not sure how one proves or disproves the existence of God and in any event that's not what the book is about. My advice is to buy the book and read it. It will expand your intellect at least a little, maybe alot!
4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 17, 2010
Posted September 13, 2010
The Grand Design was the poorest quality hardcover book I have ever purchased. As soon as I began to look at the book the binding came apart. I'm returning the hardcover and waiting for the paperback edition to come out to see if it's made any better.
4 out of 20 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 24, 2010
I am not a physicist, I can't proclaim that I understood all of the reasoning. For sure we are far away of understanding the grand design today as much as we were a century ago
3 out of 6 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 15, 2010
As usual, Stephen Hawking brings one of the most confusing and difficult subjects into focus for the layperson. He touches on just the right amount of history to whet your appetite for more while keeping on you on the subject and on course to the end of the book.
Although I found it a pleasurable read, it was mostly a quick overview of the last centuries' discoveries in physics and cosmology. The point of the book showing that the universe didn't need an "intelligent designer" is somewhat overblown. And anyway, if someone needs to believe in an intelligent designer, they will, no matter what Stephen says.
3 out of 6 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 2, 2010
Posted December 29, 2011
Posted December 18, 2010