Discussion of The Grand Design

We choose one philosophical book per month to read. Then we discuss it as a group.

Nominate books to be philosophy book of the month.


UPCOMING BOOK

June 2017: The Myth of Sisyphus by Albert Camus


How do you rate The Grand Design?

1 star - poor, recommend against reading it
1
13%
2 stars - fair, okay
3
38%
3 stars - good, recommend it
1
13%
4 stars - excellent, amazing
3
38%
 
Total votes : 8

Discussion of The Grand Design

Post Number:#1  Postby Scott » June 1st, 2012, 10:19 pm

Please use this topic to discuss the June philosophy book of the month, The Grand Design by Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow.

I enjoyed reading this book. My only disappointment was that it wasn't longer and more in depth. Once I picked up this book, I couldn't put it down. That's usually a feeling I have more commonly with fiction. This may be partly because of I am personally fascinated by the universe, cosmology and physics, but more I think it is because of Hawking's excellent writing style. I love the way he inserts a subtle humor into his writing, not just in this book but in his previous ones also.

I realized this turned out to be an interesting pick when right at the beginning of the book the author's write that philosophy is dead. What do you make of that? I disagree in general, but I think the statement has some accuracy in describing why more laymen are interested in theoretical physics and science than philosophy in that the former is providing them with answers and especially more concrete answers than philosophy even for traditionally philosophical questions. Ironically, I think the author's disprove via demonstration their own assertion of the death of philosophy by being in part philosophical when writing their book. Indeed, I think philosophy takes what we learn from science and then expands on it -- contemplates it -- in ways science cannot.

What do you think of model-dependent realism as described by the authors? I think it is very useful for understanding the use and inherent limitations of science, thus creating the perfect philosophical framework in which to discuss and learn about the discoveries of science.

For those new to the ideas of either special relativity and quantum mechanics and the counter-intuitive facts they demonstrate such as time dilation (e.g. that you could theoretically go out on a spaceship at near the speed of light, come back to Earth and find everyone you knew died of old age while you have only aged a few years) and superposition, respectively, what do you think of that? This isn't my first time learning about these things, but I enjoyed the author's excellent explanations that make them easier to understand not only in terms of what the theories say but what the experiments showed and why they lead to the predictions of these theories. I am not expert, but I have a lot of skepticism about the uncertainty principle and the effect of observation in quantum mechanics--because I think think in public these are spun with specific interpretations of quantum mechanics as opposed to just the science itself. I wish the author's would have given more detail to explain the details of this, particularly since the authors seemed certain these were evidence of literal superposition and randomness rather than more traditional effects of interactive measurement.

What do you think of the author's comments on M-Theory? I think M-Thoery has a lot farther to go before it can be the so-called theory of everything, i.e. the theory that unites general relativity with quantum mechanics, than what the authors let on. I can see in terms of book-writing it may have been wiser to leave off on a optimistic note or perhaps there is some other reason for such optimism, but I would have preferred a fairer critique of M-Theory with emphasis not only on its pros and potential but on its cons and current failings.

Anyway what do you think?
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Re: Discussion of The Grand Design

Post Number:#2  Postby A Poster He or I » June 1st, 2012, 11:41 pm

Just wanted to give heads up that I'll be answering your questions, Scott, and writing a review of my own. My copy is still on the way but once it is here, I'll read it promptly. I've read 2 previous Hawking books and enjoyed them both. He is always easy to read, though I do take exception to Hawking's "attitudes" from time to time about what he presents. We'll see how it fares this time around.
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Re: Discussion of The Grand Design

Post Number:#3  Postby Faviobecker » June 5th, 2012, 4:04 pm

Has my previous post been deleted, or did it never make it onto the page?

In any case, my question was how the book discussions work time wise, which I think I've figured out by now. :)

Looking forward to some interesting discussions,

F
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Re: Discussion of The Grand Design

Post Number:#4  Postby Bogie » June 5th, 2012, 6:43 pm

I read it a few months ago and enjoyed it. You mentioned that it was written from the perspective of model-dependent realism which is the reason I read the book. We were discussing cosmology and philosophy in another forum and someone thought based on my views on physics and cosmology that I would find it interesting.

I would certainly agree that model dependent realism allows the modeler to address their unique view of reality, even thought that view may be not be supported fully by known science. Some of us just "need" to have a view of reality in spite of the fact that it is rare that any particular layman's view receives widespread acclaim. We don't do it for acclaim now do we, lol.
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Re: Discussion of The Grand Design

Post Number:#5  Postby Grendel » June 5th, 2012, 11:43 pm

Hawking has been a bit misquoted when he says philosophy is dead. He's actually only saying it's dead in one specific area, explaining the origin of the universe, he says physics can explain that now. He doesn't deny the need of philsophy to explain other things such as politics, ethics and so on.

I read the book a couple of years ago, the only major thought I can remember having was "Model Dependant Realism" isn't that what postmodernism has been saying for the last half century and scientists criticising?

Marxists when they adopt a post modern analyses prefix the word Marism with the word 'post' as in Post-Marixism, however architects when they make a post-modern building prefix it with the word 'postmodern' as in Post-Modern Architecture. So the only real debate on this book left me pondering was whether we call Mr Hawking a Post-Scientist or a Post-Modern Scientist?

Oh, yes coming to the conclusion, 'model dependant realism' in a book that claims philosophy dead, LOL.
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Re: Discussion of The Grand Design

Post Number:#6  Postby Fhbradley » June 6th, 2012, 11:34 pm

The problem with physicists is that they talk about philosophy without knowing a thing about it. So their conceptions of philosophy are very misguided. The fact is, most of them don't even know elementary logic (which is why I am hesitant to accept their much more substantial claims about the nature of the universe). For example, Lawrence Krauss criticized the traditional syllogism

All men are mortal

Socrates is a man

Therefore, Socrates is mortal

by saying "What happens if we find a man that is not mortal?" or something to that extent. Implying that, if a man that wasn't mortal was found, it would invalidate logic. Problem is, he confuses the validity of an argument with its soundness. He doesn't realize that he's not criticizing logic, but the first premise. If we found out all men aren't mortal, it doesn't invalidate logic, but it only shows that our premise was false. In fact, we can get rid of the whole "problem" by explaining that logic is merely the manipulation of symbols according to axioms and rules.

-- Updated June 6th, 2012, 10:35 pm to add the following --

Grendel wrote: So the only real debate on this book left me pondering was whether we call Mr Hawking a Post-Scientist or a Post-Modern Scientist?

Oh, yes coming to the conclusion, 'model dependant realism' in a book that claims philosophy dead, LOL.


It's quite amusing, isn't it? Philosophy is dead, but here's our philosophical of science!

-- Updated June 6th, 2012, 10:47 pm to add the following --

Scott wrote: I disagree in general, but I think the statement has some accuracy in describing why more laymen are interested in theoretical physics and science than philosophy in that the former is providing them with answers and especially more concrete answers than philosophy even for traditionally philosophical questions. Ironically, I think the author's disprove via demonstration their own assertion of the death of philosophy by being in part philosophical when writing their book. Indeed, I think philosophy takes what we learn from science and then expands on it -- contemplates it -- in ways science cannot.



Laymen accept the statements of science much more than the statements of philosophy because they don't understand how science works. For example, I don't think must understand that the notion of subatomic particles and so on are just postulations to explain phenomenon. And since they explain the phenomenon well, they are said to "exist". But that's all. No one has ever physically observed one. In fact, it's impossible! Science is much more theoretical than it is made out to the public, and I'm sure one reason why people so easily accept science is that it has provided us with so much technology. However, science's ability to provide us with technology does nothing to show that its statements are true. For instance, we got to the moon by using Newtonian physics, yet Newtonian physics is said to be wrong.

Also, laymen don't accept the statements of philosophy because they don't know what the statements of philosophy are! As a philosophy major, I'm continually asked, "What is philosophy anyway?" When most think of philosophy, they think of solely Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. They don't know that there's such a thing as contemporary philosophy.
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Re: Discussion of The Grand Design

Post Number:#7  Postby Grendel » June 7th, 2012, 1:30 am

Fhbradley wrote:The problem with physicists is that they talk about philosophy without knowing a thing about it.


When philosophers talk about science they tend to have this self realisation that they don't know too much about it, are most likely talking bollox, so are very tentative when they approach it. Scientists on the other hand seem to have no self awareness of how little they know about philosophy and most likely talking bollox, so leap in feet first believing they are making they greatest incites since Nietzsche.
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Re: Discussion of The Grand Design

Post Number:#8  Postby Nicholas » June 8th, 2012, 4:41 pm

I am curious as to how Hawking posits that Physics has explained the origins of the Universe? It would be awesome if it can...
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Re: Discussion of The Grand Design

Post Number:#9  Postby Jackwhitlocke_005 » June 8th, 2012, 6:41 pm

Yes, recall Hawking writing something about having shown how God was unnecessary because the universe had a beginning but was still "eternal" or something. Can someone please explain this?
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Re: Discussion of The Grand Design

Post Number:#10  Postby Grendel » June 9th, 2012, 3:13 am

I believe it's the quantum physics theory something indeed did come from nothing. So no need for philosophy to speculate about the beginnings of the universe and no need for god to create it. Science explains everything.

http://www.newscientist.com/blogs/nstv/ ... thing.html
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Re: Discussion of The Grand Design

Post Number:#11  Postby A Poster He or I » June 10th, 2012, 12:42 pm

Yes, recall Hawking writing something about having shown how God was unnecessary because the universe had a beginning but was still "eternal" or something. Can someone please explain this?


It's what Hawking describes as the "no boundary" condition to the universe. It essentially bypasses the Big Bang itself while still allowing for the expansion and all of the expansion's effects that the Big Bang predicts. If I remember correctly, the mathematics involves the use of "imaginary time" which is the dimension of time modelled by imaginary numbers (numbers derived from the square-roots of negative numbers). He went into it in one of his previous books and The Grand Design mentions it in much briefer fashion. Not quite as bizarre as it sounds, given that imaginary numbers are very useful in quantum mechanics, a theory that works spectacularly well in practical terms.

I've just finished The Grand Design and will post my thoughts later. For now, I'll just note that I pretty much agree with all the viewpoints posted so far.

-- Updated Sun Jun 10, 2012 12:50 pm to add the following --

Okay, I'll review the book by answering Scott's post:

I realized this turned out to be an interesting pick when right at the beginning of the book the author's write that philosophy is dead. What do you make of that? I disagree in general, but I think the statement has some accuracy in describing why more laymen are interested in theoretical physics and science than philosophy in that the former is providing them with answers and especially more concrete answers than philosophy even for traditionally philosophical questions. Ironically, I think the author's disprove via demonstration their own assertion of the death of philosophy by being in part philosophical when writing their book. Indeed, I think philosophy takes what we learn from science and then expands on it -- contemplates it -- in ways science cannot.

I agree. The fact that Hawking makes the statement categorically on page 1, and has no further comment, is richly ironic given the arguments of the book owe much of their coherence to specific philosophical ways of looking at science. Yet the point has validity in that philosophy is no longer taught in any general curriculum so science ends up appearing authoritative since laymen are often unaware of the roots and grounding for science.

What do you think of model-dependent realism as described by the authors? I think it is very useful for understanding the use and inherent limitations of science, thus creating the perfect philosophical framework in which to discuss and learn about the discoveries of science.

Model-dependent realism is the most valuable lesson this book has to teach, in my opinion. Unfortunately, his arguments for it are weakened by being very one-sided. He should have devoted a page to its antithesis--an objective realism--and knocked some holes in it to show how model-dependent realism stands up where objective realism fails.

Regarding the name "model-dependent realism," my philosophical puritanism chafes at the use of the word "realism" in this label. Traditionally realism means something very specific in philosophy and most saliently in the philosophy of science. To preface it with the words "model-dependent" strikes me as just short of an oxymoron. Hawking states categorically in Chapter 3: "Model-dependent realism short-circuits...argument and discussion between the realist and anti-realist schools of thought." No it doesn't! I want to scream. Model-dependent realism is clearly a form of anti-realism! Yet I end up only sighing instead of screaming, because Hawking does his job of explaining exactly what he means, and with his caveats, it makes sense. Unfortunately by not acknowledging the philosophical fact that it is anti-realism, he ends up confusing the reader later on into thinking Hawking's conclusions must be ontologically real.

In previous books, Hawking had called himself a Positivist, so now with his "philosophy is dead" declaration I kept an eye out for any potential hypocrisy. Sure enough, in Chapter 3, Hawking argues that model-dependent realism "solves" the meaning of existence by avoiding it. The example he uses to showcase this is instead nothing but a showcase for pure Positivist hubris, utterly failing to support Hawking's claim, with Hawking apparently unable to see this failure through his unwitting Positivist-colored glasses. Hawking's editor owed it to the reader to get Hawking to just pull the entire paragraph which serves no purpose.

...I am not expert, but I have a lot of skepticism about the uncertainty principle and the effect of observation in quantum mechanics--because I think think in public these are spun with specific interpretations of quantum mechanics as opposed to just the science itself. I wish the author's would have given more detail to explain the details of this, particularly since the authors seemed certain these were evidence of literal superposition and randomness rather than more traditional effects of interactive measurement.

This has always been my biggest complaint about Hawking's books, and it is in full evidence here: Hawking's credulity about what he presents. What I mean is that Hawking is writing this book for laypeople so the need to abstract mathematically-formalized theory into non-mathematical verbal illustrations that non-scientists can understand is obviously necessary, and to accomplish it means drastically simplifying concepts so that in many cases, only the gist of the theory remains. This is unavoidable if we laypeople are to appreciate physics. But Hawking makes very little effort to remind us that his statements are bound to a model: an ad hoc model whose legitimacy is in its utility, not its realism. By failing to qualify his statements, the reader ends up believing that the model's components are ontologically real. This is unfortunate.

What do you think of the author's comments on M-Theory? I think M-Thoery has a lot farther to go before it can be the so-called theory of everything, i.e. the theory that unites general relativity with quantum mechanics, than what the authors let on. I can see in terms of book-writing it may have been wiser to leave off on a optimistic note or perhaps there is some other reason for such optimism, but I would have preferred a fairer critique of M-Theory with emphasis not only on its pros and potential but on its cons and current failings.

I agree. I am personally disappointed the Hawking has bought into M-theory. However, I'm not surprised. In a way, his sellout to M-theory is the best example of his own commitment to a philosophy of "model-dependent realism." My disappointment lies in how Hawking feels he can cover his bases by letting the reader know that M-theory is still unproven, while rationalizing its utility. That's not enough. He owes it to the reader to be intellectually honest and tell them that M-theory is purely speculative despite the elegance of its mathematics.

In effect, M-theory represents the "down side" of model-dependent realism: the temptation to merely support the model instead of seeing the model's flaws as the driving force for finding evermore comprehensive models, preferably ones that can be tested (unlike M-theory). If we abandon science's testability requirement, as M-theorists all seem to want us to do, then we truly will have created postmodern science as Grendal suggested. I don't see any evidence that this would be a good thing.

Anyway what do you think?

I am also personally disappointed to see Hawking has bought into anthropic reasoning, thoroughly overrating it as a tool for scientific inquiry. He spends a surprisingly large number of pages defending anthropic reasoning, providing numerous examples, while merely iterating its tenets instead of providing any new insights. I had no trouble at all countering everyone of his claims of significance for anthropic reasoning to my personal satisfaction without even having to pause for contemplation.

In the final analysis, Hawking has used an anti-realist rationale for scientific inquiry as a basis for interpreting the combination of M-Theory with the Anthropic Principle to be a justification for believing in Multiverse theory. To me, he only succeeds in demonstrating that Multiverse theory is a sufficient condition for current cosmological theory, not a necessary condition, while at the same time failing the testability requirements of traditional empirical science.
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Re: Discussion of The Grand Design

Post Number:#12  Postby Bermudj » June 13th, 2012, 6:49 am

Scott wrote:Please use this topic to discuss the June philosophy book of the month, The Grand Design by Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow.

I am way behind on all of this, and not yet been able to read the book. Could you tell me; does Hawking states that the hardest problem to solve is the one where you do not know what you are looking for to solve the problem?
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Re: Discussion of The Grand Design

Post Number:#13  Postby Ignostic Morgan » June 14th, 2012, 6:58 pm

Can anyone compare it to Krauss's new book on the topic? Rudiger Vaas's anthology and Steinhardt and Trulock's wouldd be aother worthy books to discuss also
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Re: Discussion of The Grand Design

Post Number:#14  Postby Too ArtistiK » June 15th, 2012, 3:07 pm

What is the price of this work of literature? I really admire Stephen Hawking's will and ambition to be a great figure in human history.
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Re: Discussion of The Grand Design

Post Number:#15  Postby Rickoshay76 » June 21st, 2012, 4:41 pm

Faviobecker wrote:Has my previous post been deleted, or did it never make it onto the page?

In any case, my question was how the book discussions work time wise, which I think I've figured out by now. :)

Looking forward to some interesting discussions,

F


Man is who and what he is because he had the right kind of survival characteristics in his dangerous environment, and a lot of luck.

-- Updated June 21st, 2012, 5:11 pm to add the following --

Grendel wrote:Hawking has been a bit misquoted when he says philosophy is dead. He's actually only saying it's dead in one specific area, explaining the origin of the universe, he says physics can explain that now. He doesn't deny the need of philsophy to explain other things such as politics, ethics and so on.

I read the book a couple of years ago, the only major thought I can remember having was "Model Dependant Realism" isn't that what postmodernism has been saying for the last half century and scientists criticising?

Marxists when they adopt a post modern analyses prefix the word Marism with the word 'post' as in Post-Marixism, however architects when they make a post-modern building prefix it with the word 'postmodern' as in Post-Modern Architecture. So the only real debate on this book left me pondering was whether we call Mr Hawking a Post-Scientist or a Post-Modern Scientist?

Oh, yes coming to the conclusion, 'model dependant realism' in a book that claims philosophy dead, LOL.


Philosophy and Hawking theories are alike in many ways. Neither can be physically demonstrated --- only talked about or read about.

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