bubbles of comparative orderliness


Why is there a universe, not a blank? The Grand Design and Cycles of Time suggest very different answers. Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow make The Grand Design reader-friendly. Its physics and cosmology are enlivened by myth (“In the Mayan legend the Maker, unhappy because there was no one to praise him, decided to create humans”). You’ll find colourful artwork, jokes, a quick history of science, no mathematics. And the book can seem astonishingly open-minded. Even Archbishop Ussher’s view that things began in 4004 BC appears to get considerable respect. Suppose that Ussher’s modern disciples taught that in 4004 BC God created the universe exactly as if it had existed for billions of years, inclusive of fossils in the rocks: Hawking–Mlodinow’s “model-dependent realism” wouldn’t call their teaching mistaken, or its imagined facts “less real” than those you presumably believe in. “Philosophy”, the book declares, “is dead. Philosophy has not kept up with modern developments in science.” The authors then make bold philosophical claims. For example they aren’t attracted by the idea, perhaps it has never occurred to them, that even chess-playing computers “make choices” in a sense. So they theorize that “though we feel that we can choose what we do”, we are in fact “governed by the laws of physics and chemistry”, which at once proves we can’t. Presumably, they hope that after weighing the alternatives we will select their theory without actually choosing it.

more from John Leslie at the TLS here.