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The Grand Design

The Grand Design

3.8 735
by Stephen Hawking, Leonard Mlodinow, Steve West (Narrated by)

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In this major new work, Stephen Hawking looks to the laws of nature and physics for the answers to the ultimate questions. Here in one brilliantly succinct volume is the accumulative wisdom of a lifetime of thinking about the questions that were once addressed by philosophy, but are now the province of science.

How could the universe be created out of


In this major new work, Stephen Hawking looks to the laws of nature and physics for the answers to the ultimate questions. Here in one brilliantly succinct volume is the accumulative wisdom of a lifetime of thinking about the questions that were once addressed by philosophy, but are now the province of science.

How could the universe be created out of nothing? Why are we here? Do we have free will? 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? According to Hawking, we are very close to an understanding not just of the workings of our universe but of its very existence.

Lavishly illustrated throughout, with 49 pieces of four-color art.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Physicists Hawking (www.hawking.org.uk) and Mlodinow (Feynman's Rainbow), who last collaborated on A Briefer History of Time (2005), here embark on a journey to explore the origins of the universe and of life itself, presenting a collection of overlapping theories to help "fill in the blanks" of quantum physics and the theory of relativity. But though they use humor and draw on everyday experiences to which lay audiences can relate, this is not leisurely listening material; at times, it can be tough going. Thankfully, actor/narrator Steve West does an admirable job of keeping listeners focused and moving ahead. Sure to inspire, provoke, and anger audiences—perhaps even all three at the same time—this scholarly title is recommended as demand warrants. [The Bantam hc, which published in September, was a New York Times best seller.—Ed.]—Emma Duncan, Brampton Lib., Ont.
James Trefil
I've waited a long time for this book. It gets into the deepest questions of modern cosmology without a single equation. The reader will be able to get through it without bogging down in a lot of technical detail and will, I hope, have his or her appetite whetted for books with a deeper technical content.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
Hawking, the renowned Cambridge mathematician, teams up with Mlodinow, a physicist at Caltech, for a brief introduction to "the grand design" of the universe. If this project seems ambitious for a four and a half–hour audio production, it is; however, even general readers will be able to follow along as the authors guide us through M-theories, quantum mechanics, general and special relativity, and other mind-blowing cosmological discoveries of the last century. The goal of all these journeys through the history of science is to answer some basic questions: why is there a universe in the first place? What other universes may in fact be possible, given Richard Feynman's theory of multiple histories? The audio version of this book is simple and scaled down. Despite an engaging and capable performance by West End stage actor Steve West, some listeners might long for more content—diagrams or video tracks to accompany and augment the lecture. A Bantam hardcover. (Sept.)
From the Publisher
“The authors bring together an anecdotal clarity that is something of a first for the genre. . . . Making science like this interesting is not all that hard; making it accessible is the real trick, one that The Grand Design pulls off.”—Time

“In this short and sprightly book, Messrs. Hawking and Mlodinow take the reader through a whirlwind tour of fundamental physics and cosmology.”—The Wall Street Journal
“Fascinating . . . a wealth of ideas [that] leave us with a clearer understanding of modern physics in all its invigorating complexity.”—Los Angeles Times
“Groundbreaking.”—The Washington Post

Product Details

Random House Audio Publishing Group
Publication date:

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

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.

Meet the Author

STEPHEN HAWKING is Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge and the author of several books for the general reader, including the worldwide publishing phenomenon A Brief History of Time and its more accessible version, published in 2005: A Briefer History of Time (written with Leonard Mlodinow); The Universe in a Nutshell; The Illustrated A Brief History of Time; and the essay collection Black Holes and Baby Universes. Physicist LEONARD MLODINOW, who teaches at Caltech, is most recently the author of the bestselling and widely praised The Drunkard's Walk as well as Euclid's Window and Feynman's Rainbow.

Brief Biography

Cambridge, England
Date of Birth:
January 8, 1942
Place of Birth:
Oxford, England

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The Grand Design 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 735 reviews.
CoryLuLu More than 1 year ago
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.
wookietim More than 1 year ago
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. Highly recommended!
NMW630 More than 1 year ago
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.
pakman777 More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
qubit More than 1 year ago
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.
Kel14 More than 1 year ago
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."
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I am a huge Hawking fan so it pains me to say this but this book reminds me of a high school term paper thrown together after midnight before having to turn it in the next morning- VERY SHALLOW even for the general audience. It just has the feel of a superficial rush job. It just skates over important concepts that deserve to be treated with respect. And it just ends abruptly after 107 pages. If I hadn't suddenly run into the glossary at the end I wouldn't have known I was near the end. Sorry DR.s Try again
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A retread of ideas covered much better and more entertaining in his other books. Library card stuff if you just gotta read it.
SheilaDeeth More than 1 year ago
Science can be truly beautiful, and every once in a while there's a science book that's beautiful too. Stephen Hawking's popular science books usually fall into that category, with gorgeous illustrations, in pictures and words, highlighting the wonders and mysteries of our world. The Grand Design reminds readers of those four pre-requisites of good scientific theory-it should be elegant, it should rely on as few unproven assumptions as possible, it should agree with and explain all existing observations, and it should make predictions about future observations that can prove or disprove the theory. The theory of gravity, for example, moves forward from Aristotle to Newton to Einstein as different experiments yield new results. The text is easy to read and complex concepts are nicely balanced with wryly humorous asides. Repetition of the authors' point of view that God is not "necessary" to explain the world might offend some religious readers, but the authors also point out that none of their explanations is "necessary," and all the models we use to explain reality depend in the end on our own point of view. The fish in a spherical bowl doesn't see straight lines as we do and might explain life very differently, but if the model works the fish will be happy. I enjoyed learning about two very different scientific views-the deterministic science of initial conditions and well-defined results, and the probabilistic approach that's needed for wave-particle theories and the Grand Design. At last I know where "eleven dimensions" comes from, and at last I have a clearer view of how waves can be particles-there's a great illustration of soccer balls being kicked at a two-slitted screen. Free-will, psychology and stellar evolution all take their place in a thoroughly fascinating read. I still believe in God and attribute the final (and grandest) design to Him, but I really enjoyed this journey through the wonders of modern science. Disclosure: I got this book for Christmas-only took half a year to get around to reading it.
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RobertVelez More than 1 year ago
Tries to open your mind and for the most part does a good job at it. This is the kind of text that might strike as complex for the average (non-scientist) reader yet The Grand Design explains things in such a way that is more easily digestible while also using images and diagrams along the way to help illustrate the topics.
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