This is not a review or criticism of The Grand Design. It is an examination of a modern ideal I keep running across. I haven’t read all of The Grand Design yet (therefore I will not attempt to review the book here), but have it on my reading list and look forward to reading more than the sample chapters I have come across so far. Yet, from the reviews and the little I have read, I have some concerns over the central premise and methodology behind the book and its larger implications to modern scientific thought. I am already fairly well-versed in the theories it attempts to utilize as answers to the big questions (namely M-Theory), even if my understanding is fairly rudimentary. I do pay attention to recent advances in physics. Modern advances in our understanding of quantum physics do not worry me at all.
So, let me jump into the issue that worries me. Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow declare in the opening chapters that “philosophy is dead.” This, itself, is a philosophic statement. Therefore, philosophy cannot be “dead.” The fact that this is written in a book attempting to explain the how and why of existence itself combined with the fact that this book is a huge seller achieving a ton of press while stirring debate proves that philosophy is very much alive and well. In fact, the attention this book is receiving and the debates surrounding it lead me to postulate that philosophy is actually thriving.
I think the thought behind this statement may have been better stated as “philosophy is changing” or something along those lines. It is true that advances in science may yield new forms of philosophy as has always been the case. Looking at our history, one can see that philosophy and science go hand in hand and feed off one other; an advance in one will yield a shift in the other. So how can an advance in science kill philosophy? Philosophy itself, as defined by Merriam-Webster is “the most basic beliefs, concepts, and attitudes of an individual or group.” According to another definition it is a “pursuit of wisdom.” As long as people are reading science books which attempt to answer the basic questions of “How?” and “Why?” by going beyond the observable and into the theoretical, then the topic of discussion itself is ultimately a kind of philosophy. Why does the main thesis of this science book contain the assumption that modern science and philosophy cannot coexist? There may be alternative universes per String Theory, etc., but if so, we currently lack the mechanisms, technology, or mathematic ability to definitively observe these alternative universes in action. It is still theory, and utilizing it as a theory that explains our “most basic beliefs” based on our “pursuit of wisdom” is ultimately making this science a form of philosophy. Not that there’s anything wrong with that! I’m just saying…
And as a disclaimer, yes, I am a Christian. I note this because some readers may see that in my various profiles and think this fact motivated my brief little essay. I must be close-minded, after all. But, really, I’m not! Or at least I try not to be. That’s just where my “pursuit of wisdom” inside the universe of my own head and heart led me based on my own personal observations. I won’t go into all the details here, but it was actually my study of astronomy and quantum mechanics that partially led me back towards a strong belief in God.
Let me just say that I don’t think M-Theory discredits God. There still must be some catalyst somewhere, somehow, sometime. There are no direct observations to show that something can come from nothing. Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle allows for virtual particles, but this principle itself, by its very nature is unobservable, it is just an educated and mathematically logical “best guess” based on mathematical theories which are constantly changing, evolving, and contradicting one another at times, and therefore more philosophic than scientific per definition (you know, that whole “pursuit of wisdom” definition once again). I’m not discrediting these thoughts, equations, or theories, by any means (honestly, I see many of them as completely plausible), but I am simply noting science requires direct observation for any theory to move beyond the world of theory and into the realm of truth. In fact, I believe that just because something isn’t currently observable based on our limited perspective and ability to observe at the subatomic or on a larger, universal level does not mean it isn’t true. Plus, if we live in a single universe within an infinitely larger multiverse capable of producing and utilizing virtual particles, if M-Theory is right and we are just one universe among many with an infinite number of possibilities – which would mean that all possibilities are possible – than the existence of a creator (whom I, among many others, refer to as God) must be included among those infinite possibilities.
Once again, even when diverting towards the theological (which it is my understanding the authors of the book do, at least to a small extent), we are brought back to a mode of philosophy. If philosophy in general and the branch of philosophy we label theology as modes of thought have truly been killed by science, why do so many scientists keep attacking them? At this point, can it be said science is just desecrating corpses? What’s the point?
Other than as a cheap way to draw attention to oneself, I simply do not see the value in attacking one mode of thought to champion another. That’s what bothers me. The way I see it, all disciplines of thought are worth examining while we work together towards a larger understanding of the complex and mysterious universe surrounding us.
Now that I’ve said all that, I’ll try to get my hands on a copy of the book and give it a more proper review in the next few months. I’ll come back and revisit this entry to see if my understanding is any different afterwards.