- Hardcover: 208 pages
- Publisher: Bantam (September 7, 2010)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0553805371
- ISBN-13: 978-0553805376
- Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 0.8 x 9.3 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars See all reviews (919 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #149,641 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Grand Design
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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
There tends to be long paragraphs of very complex material that isn't explained to the greatest potential, and that's after me re-reading some passages multiple times in order to get it.
Also, I don't think it would do a good job of convincing any religious person of forgoing the Genesis version of creation. The points the authors make on how the universe can be explained by what we know about physics alone are usually very good, but comprise a sentence or two at the end of a very long chapter. At that time I get the "Ah Ha!" moment, but since I didn't understand the material well enough, I don't retain the knowledge once I start on the next chapter. Those looking for reasons to brush this book off as science mumbo-jumbo could do so easily.
A positive is that I did get some good insight into the word of quantum physics, and I will be better prepared to understand material like this in the future.
At $14, it's one of the more expensive e-books I've bought and I can't really say it was worth it. Instead, if your interested in an easy-to-read book on things like this, and more, I highly recommend reading the book I mentioned above:
I read and very much enjoyed Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time and The Universe in a Nutshell although have not come across any of L. Mlodinow's several popular books on physics and quantum physics.
This book is very different from the previous two Hawking books and several other readings on cosmology, all of which attempt to familiarize the lay audience with the intricate principles of modern physics, i.e. the theory of general relativity (GR), quantum mechanics (QM), various flavors of string theory complete with M-theory, and multiverses. Here, most of this knowledge is taken for granted at least on an elementary level. The authors focus instead on the philosophical aspects of the immense new knowledge that has been gained since Maxwell's formalization of electro-magnetism and Einstein's concept of space-time fabric. Ancient philosophers, legends of various religious worldviews, and respectful dispute with creationist beliefs make their appearances throughout the engaging narration. On the way to the "theory of everything," that in the writers' opinion seems to be the hard-to-swallow concept of M-theory with its 10 spatial dimensions, we meet a few modern principles of acquiring knowledge. One of them is the "top down approach" which makes conclusions about the past based on the present using probability calculations instead of describing universal history as a linear event with a fixed beginning and predetermined outcome. Another is the "anthropic principle" which uses the very existence of humans as an argument in the interpretation of the Universe.
The story we are presented with is an unapologetic utilization of the still poorly understood and even less readily imaginable principles of quantum mechanics. According to this worldview, our very existence is due to nothing else but quantum fluctuation in the primordial Universe, when its size was in the range of the Planck length (length of 10 to the negative 35 meters). In the randomness of temperature variations of multiple (10 to the 500!?) imaginable early universes one had just the right conditions, i.e. temperature differences, to be able to form clumps of material, the birthplace of present day galaxies, following the inflation. In fact the small but well documented temperature variation in the cosmic microwave background radiation is thought to be the thumbprint of this primordial quantum fluctuation.
It seems to me that by the time galaxies formed, the laws of GR that apparently govern today's cosmos on a grand scale, overshadowed the principles of QM that dominated the "baby" Universe. Although this "changing of the guards" of the physical laws from QM to GR clearly had to be a continuum, until today even the smartest minds among us have not been able to find a theory that can describe a smooth transition between the two. QM and GR simply do not seem to coexist very well together: using QM laws, the GR equations invariably result in infinite results, the mathematical equivalence of "garbage." The book however ends on a positive note: M-theory.
Although M-theory itself, like all other major concepts of physics in this fairly short book, is only briefly presented, the authors leave little doubt about their current conviction that the theory is a major candidate for Einstein's unfulfilled dream, the unified theory. To illustrate what the real meaning of a "unified theory" may be, the authors discuss the Game of Life in full seven pages. The essence of the game is to build various structures based on three simple basic laws. These structures - one may look at them as multiverses - will evolve very differently despite the uniformity of the three rules depending on the initial conditions, i.e. how one places the two building blocks (life or death) on the checkered board at the beginning of the game. In the process, various formations are produced that seem to follow certain rules (think of the laws of thermodynamics, Newton's three laws of motion, etc.) while the underlying three basic rules never change.
Of course, M-theory is not without controversies due to the mathematical complexities required to model it and the extremely small size of strings that are thought to be the theory's building blocks. In fact, the energy necessary to dissect matter to the infinitesimal size of strings and thus make them observable seems to be unattainable. Viewed in this way, the difference between a supernatural creator (God) and M-theory seems to be almost negligible at first glimpse. Although the authors don't explicitly get tangled in the emotional battle between spirituality and materialism, they provide sufficient circumstantial evidence in the form of reproducible observational data to make a strong intellectual argument that God is not necessary to answer mankind's ever recurring questions: `Why do we exist? Why is there something rather than nothing?' and the one question for which you have to be a physicist to ask: "Why this particular set of laws and not some other?"
The book is a well-narrated, mostly enjoyable read even for a lay person like myself - someone not involved in the field of physics in any way. I think however that without a basic understanding of GR and QM much of the book's main premises will fly over a potential reader's head. The two books by Hawking mentioned at the beginning of this review will certainly be sufficient to appreciate the magical world revealed in The Grand Design: the world of theoretical physics and cosmology hidden from most of us who grew up on Euclidean geometry and Newtonian physics.
There were only very few places where I felt a touch of too much technicality - e.g. "renormalization" -, or not sufficient clarity - e.g. brief references to "super symmetry", or the Feynman diagrams. Many of the pictures were intuitive and helpful, although I wish a few of them had more detailed captions - e.g. the figure of Quarks or the Triple Alpha Process. The cartoons were sufficiently witty to contribute to the overall entertaining mood of the book.
I would recommend the book to all those interested in cosmology and particle physics, but most of all to those tickled by a natural scientific approach to life's great philosophical questions and the unquenchable thirst of humans to acquire knowledge.