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The Grand Design
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The Amazon Book Review
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Stephen Hawking on The Grand Design
How can we understand the world in which we find ourselves? Over twenty years ago I wrote A Brief History of Time, to try to explain where the universe came from, and where it is going. But that book left some important questions unanswered. Why is there a universe--why is there something rather than nothing? Why do we exist? Why are the laws of nature what they are? Did the universe need a designer and creator?
It was Einstein’s dream to discover the grand design of the universe, a single theory that explains everything. However, physicists in Einstein’s day hadn’t made enough progress in understanding the forces of nature for that to be a realistic goal. And by the time I had begun writing A Brief History of Time, there were still several key advances that had not yet been made that would prevent us from fulfilling Einstein’s dream. But in recent years the development of M-theory, the top-down approach to cosmology, and new observations such as those made by satellites like NASA’s COBE and WMAP, have brought us closer than ever to that single theory, and to being able to answer those deepest of questions. And so Leonard Mlodinow and I set out to write a sequel to A Brief History of Time to attempt to answer the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe and Everything. The result is The Grand Design, the product of our four-year effort.
In The Grand Design we explain why, 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. We question the conventional concept of reality, posing instead a "model-dependent" theory of reality. We discuss how the laws of our particular universe are extraordinarily finely tuned so as to allow for our existence, and show why 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. And we assess M-Theory, an explanation of the laws governing the multiverse, and the only viable candidate for a complete "theory of everything." As we promise in our opening chapter, unlike the answer to the Ultimate Question of Life given in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, the answer we provide in The Grand Design is not, simply, "42."
(Photo © Philip Waterson, LBIPP, LRPS)
From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. The three central questions of philosophy and science: Why is there something rather than nothing? Why do we exist? Why this particular set of laws and not some other? No one can make a discussion of such matters as compulsively readable as the celebrated University of Cambridge cosmologist Hawking (A Brief History of Time). Along with Caltech physicist Mlodinow (The Drunkard's Walk), Hawking deftly mixes cutting-edge physics to answer those key questions. For instance, why do we exist? Earth occupies a "Goldilocks Zone" in space: just the perfect distance from a not-too-hot star, with just the right elements to allow life to evolve. On a larger scale, in order to explain the universe, the authors write, "we need to know not only how the universe behaves, but why." While no single theory exists yet, scientists are approaching that goal with what is called "M-theory," a collection of overlapping theories (including string theory) that fill in many (but not all) the blank spots in quantum physics; this collection is known as the "Grand Unified Field Theories." This may all finally explain the mystery of the universe's creation without recourse to a divine creator. This is an amazingly concise, clear, and intriguing overview of where we stand when it comes to divining the secrets of the universe. 41 color illus. throughout, 7 b&w cartoons.
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Top customer reviews
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You've probably already heard about this book in the news for one reason only. This is the book where Hawkings, perhaps the most famous scientist of our era, supposedly comes out and declares himself Pope of the Atheists and that Science has proven God does not exist. Christians can safely put away their crucifixes. Not once does Hawkings say God does not exist, or that God didn't create the universe. He makes no truth claims whatsoever about gods and other supernatural beings. This is a book about physics first and foremost, and most of the text is devoted to the latest developments in "M-Theory", one of the leading candidates to be the Theory of Everything. The issue of religion doesn't come up much at all until the final chapter. Here's the quote where Hawkings (and talented co-author Leonard Mlodinow) come closest to taking a position:
"It is reasonable to ask who or what created the universe, but if the answer is God, then the question has merely been deflected to that of who created God. In this view it is accepted that some entity exists that needs no creator, and that entity is called God. This is known as the first-cause argument for the existence of God. We claim, however, that it is possible to answer these questions purely within the realm of science, and without invoking any divine beings." (page 172)
I'll let you form your own opinion; you probably already have one.
Beyond that supposed scandal story, the book is an engaging and interesting read. I give only four stars, however, because it is sometimes a bit too light for my taste. At only 181 pages, I got through it in a couple of sittings. It also goes a bit too far, in my opinion, in terms of simplifying the science for popular consumption. But if you are interested at all in the Big Questions of Life the Universe and Everything, it's hard to find a 181-page book that covers the topic better.
One of my favorite chapters of the book was the one in which he describes "The Game of Life", which is a very interesting simulation created a while back. The Game of Life demonstrates how narrow our science may be in trying to discover the fundamental laws of the universe. In fact, it almost depressed me to think that we are so limited by our human perception in trying to discover these fundamental laws.
Some negatives about the book include that it took too long to really get into the interesting questions. The first third or half of the book is mainly a history of science lesson. Since I already knew most of this stuff, I didn't get anything new out of it. But I suppose it might be a good introduction for someone who doesn't know or has forgotten the progression of science through the centuries. Also, this book does offer an idea of how the universe may have been created out of nothing, but I didn't feel like the idea was very well explained. The final lead-up to the hypothesis of the creation of something out of nothing is hasty, and not well connected to previous explanations.