Hawking’s Grand Design

  quantum physics – meaning of life – the mind of God                 by Tim McKamey  

Grand Design

     Stephen Hawking, in his book and TV series The Grand Design (co-written with Leonard Mlodinow, Bantam Books, 2010) claims that Philosophy is dead and that quantum physics and science in general is the place to find explanations for all things. OK as far as that goes for some things I suppose. But in a way I find his thinking (genius that he is) surprisingly linear. I know, I can hear you thinking…how can a mere folksinger as myself have anything critical to say about one of the most perceptive minds in our time? All I can say in my defense is, I am carrying on the age-old tradition of folksingers to rally against anything they have a mind to.

      Hawking and Mlodinow cite the example of the Game of Life computer simulation developed by John Conway in 1970 and how using a few simple very basic rules, a whole complex ecosystem of life-like forms including reproduction can develop when one sets the rules in motion (and has billions of squares on their grid to play out all the permutations). From there Hawking claims that Descartes had it right when he said that Mind is simply generated from the physical body and the brain, nothing more. I say nay, nay.

     This is exclusive bottom-up thinking and does not take into consideration the possibility that something might also be feeding Mind from above, from a greater reality outside or transcending that of our physical awareness.  I rather choose to believe in a dynamic interplay of bottom-up and top-down, similar to the theosophical idea of two interpenetrating triangles with Spirit descending into Matter and Matter evolving into Spirit.


     I am willing to concede that this “other”, “outer” or “transcendent” reality may in time be explained with a broader understanding of physical-ness. But this is not a foregone conclusion. While our reality “in here” may differ greatly from a larger reality “out there”, ours may be but a subset of the larger. Following this train of thought it is unlikely the ultimate definition of such a thing will resemble in any way the physical world as we know it today. It is more likely to be explained in terms of energy, vibration and frequency. Is energy physical? Does E=mc2, and if so, how does this alter our understanding of what we today consider to be physical reality? We could be as far removed from the “truth” of the matter today as Neolithic hunter/gatherers were from understanding how a television set operates.

     Philosophical arguments appear to get hung up on this dichotomy between an ultimate or objective reality and subjective experience. I do not think it is an either/or proposition but rather a constant ongoing interchange between two poles.

     I highly recommend the reader peruse Hawking’s excellent book or the TV series, The Grand Design and judge for themselves. It does contains useful thought experiments and clearly aids in the development of critical thinking skills such as the discussions on the brain-in-a-vat Simulation Theories, the Game of Life, and our concept of Free Will. But from my own personal point of view, his overall conclusions seem to fall short of being satisfactory. I find his theory of how he came to choose to be a theoretical physicist rather than a doctor particularly far-fetched based on his discussion of free will, chance and relativity as he presents it. At one moment he is the consummate scientist, while the next he lapses into “what-ifs” that border on new-age speculation. He seems to contradict his own original suggestion that philosophy is dead as he certainly is philosophizing at this point.

    In Part Two of the TV series The Grand Design, Hawking does a good job of presenting Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity and subsequent quantum notions that have spun off from there since. He is in his element here and these concepts are highly useful for expanding our understanding and thinking “outside the box”. But his overall reliance on science alone providing all the answers belies his prejudice in a material basis for reality. This contradicts his own sentiments from earlier statements he has made such as how scientists are able to peer into the mind of God, an idea not unfamiliar to many scientists such as Nobel laureate Leon Lederman and author Paul Davies. Stephen Hawking’s actual statement in an earlier book, Black Holes, Baby Universes and Other Essays (1993) was,

“If we do discover a complete theory, it should in time be understandable in broad principle by everyone, not just a few scientists. Then we shall all, philosophers, scientists, and just ordinary people, be able to take part in the discussion of the question of why it is that we and the universe exist. If we find the answer to that, it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason — for then we would know the mind of God.”

     He said that in the draft version of this book he nearly cut that last sentence, but to do so would probably have cut his sales in half. In another book, A Brief History of Time (1988), he said,

“The whole history of science has been the gradual realization that events do not happen in an arbitrary manner, but that they reflect a certain underlying order, which may or may not be divinely inspired.”

     Like Einstein, Hawking is not beyond accepting something as difficult to comprehend as God actually existing, though certainly far beyond the storybook “personal” God of fundamentalist notions. But he appears to be attempting to “know the mind of God” in the way one might know the mechanistic rules that apply to the movement of billiard balls.   To wish to discover this theory of everything, is rather like thinking we might ever know all there is to know about God, which cannot possibly happen if we accept the ancient adage that God is beyond knowing.  We might always draw closer to knowing God, but by very definition, God is ultimately unknowable, which is why he appears to Moses as a burning bush, a blinding light, not perceptible to ordinary vision.

quantum string theory

   The final few minutes of The Grand Design is particularly engaging where Hawking discusses string theory, M-theory and multiple universes. But again, he appears to be out-thinking his original premise that philosophy is dead. For these are not proven theories, but very intriguing sound possibilities about the nature of everything from sub-atomic particles like quarks and gluons to the cosmic expanses of time and space. His illustration of the harmonics involved in string theory is especially inviting to the musical minded cosmologist.

M-Theory is depicted in the artwork below by Asher Bilu (2010), constructed with acrylic, plywood, string, wooden blocks and masonite and described further below by the artist as based on the concept of M-Theory as described in Brian Greene’s Book The Fabric of the Cosmos. (see Asher Bilu’s Artwork at REDJADE YUAN IN’s Blog)


“The fundamental constituents of matter have been pondered since scientific thought began. The Greeks believed it was the atom, which sufficed for over 200 years, until smaller building blocks – protons, electrons etc. – were discovered, and in 1964, the quark was proposed. In the 1980’s, string theory, a mathematical representation where particles are thought of as strings of vibrating energy, led to five different, seemingly unconnected theories, until the 1990’s when M-Theory unified them. Edward Whitten, who first suggested M-Theory in 1995 did not specify what the M stood for, himself suggesting ‘magic’, ‘mystery’, or ‘matrix’, and others have suggested ‘membrane’, ‘mother’ or ‘master’, even ‘missing’ or ‘murky’. M-Theory is not complete, and is still controversial.”

     There is no doubt that this is fertile ground for investigating how music heals through vibration and the nature of interpenetrating fields of energy. Hawking helps us understand quarks and other subatomic particles as something possibly other than simply material objects like sub-atomic ping-pong balls. We begin to see that such “particles” which often behave more like waves, and their interactions, are more like the nexus where multiple strings intersect, constantly in flux, winking in and out of existence.

 NOT THIS:                                                                                                                                                      BUT MORE LIKE THIS:

                                                                                              This certainly may reveal some of the workings of God. But that is not the same as “truly knowing the mind of God.” Scientists and philosophers seem to be drawn to “ultimates” or “objective truths”. I am happy for kernels of truth and simple tunes that bring a moving body to rest.

                                                                                   – Tim McKamey, January, 2014

Fractal Artwork from www.enchgallery.com

One comment

  1. I know its an old post but one time I layed down really fast after yoga. I went into layers after layers of consciousness until everything went black. When my spiritual eyes became accustumed to the dark, I noticed golden strings attaching in various shapes, but mainly triangles. I always think these dimensions are not perceptable because we are not sensitive enough. Our instruments are even less so. The next generation will have to get rid of radio, TV, and other emfs to experience this and set the world back on the path of sharing rather than of possession. Only then will we learn what the ancients already discovered.

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