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

Re: Discussion of The Grand Design

Post Number:#16  Postby Prismatic » June 21st, 2012, 7:46 pm

General observations.

0. The claim that philosophy is dead seems overblown and arrogant. The questions listed as belonging to philosophy in the past are not questions philosophy has dealt with for some time.

1. The book covers an enormous range of topics in physics—none in depth. All depend on rather sophisticated mathematics which must be omitted. The entire effort is directed at presenting an intuitive picture of the science involved while at the same time making the case for models which are not at all intuitive.

2. Naturally in a small book covering a vast field in less than 200 pages with many illustrations, much gets left out and much is oversimplified, but this book seemed less informative than many NOVA programs. It's a bit too simple and too brief to a really good job, a sort of hodgepodge of theories.

3. Model-dependent realism is a metaphysical and epistemological concept that needs more serious discussion than it gets in this book. The connection with other philosophical notions such as phenomenology are interesting, but the book never gets beyond simply saying that we have to give up ordinary ways of thinking. An idea this deep needs much more preparation.

4. Feynman's many histories interpretation of quantum mechanics is treated as established science rather than an interpretation or a method and there is no mention of other views of quantum mechanics. There is much speculation on the so-called multiverse that gives the book a "gee-whiz" flavor.

The book has had spectacular reviews—anything Hawking writes gets spectacular reviews—that don't seem fully deserved. A better and more serious book would probably not sell as well and this book looks designed to sell.
Everywhere I have sought peace and never found it except in a corner with a book. —Thomas à Kempis
User avatar
Prismatic
 
Posts: 514 (View: All / In topic)

Joined: April 22nd, 2012, 4:30 pm
Favorite Philosopher: John Stuart Mill

Re: Discussion of The Grand Design



Become a member for less ads

Already a member? Login
 

Re: Discussion of The Grand Design

Post Number:#17  Postby Wowbagger » June 22nd, 2012, 9:34 am

I liked Scott's review, I had a similar impression when I read the book. The claim about philosophy being dead is of course stupid, but the sentiment behind it, for the particular question of how it all started, is exactly right.

I had read other books by Hawking and others on these topics, so I found the book to be lacking debth, but it was nevertheless an interesting read. And I'm intrigued by model-dependent realism, I think I even find it the most plausible view, even though I'm skeptical about the black box example (or something like that, I read the book right when it came out so it was long ago) Hawkings gave, ultimately, there must be *some* explanation to the matter, mustn't there? You can't have two mutually contradicting models that lead to the same prediction. If the blackbox could be further examined, different predictions would have to come into play.
Wowbagger
 
Posts: 651 (View: All / In topic)

Joined: July 19th, 2010, 9:46 am
Favorite Philosopher: Peter Singer _ David Pearce

Re: Discussion of The Grand Design

Post Number:#18  Postby Prismatic » June 23rd, 2012, 3:50 pm

Fhbradley wrote: 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.


I would disagree that the technology derived from science does nothing to show its statements are true. There is a constant mutual reinforcement and/or correction between theory and observation (experiment).

Observation detects patterns and theory explains and extends them and then predicts new observations by which the theory is tested. If a prediction is correct the theory is reinforced; if a prediction is wrong, the theory is adjusted to fit new observations. Advancements in technology can be interpreted as new experiments or observations that verify predictions based on scientific theory. Technological innovations do not work by accident, but because they are deductions from previous rounds of the theory and experiment cycle.

Lasers are an example of the application of quantum mechanics. The idea that a light beam could be created in which photons are in a coherent state with the same frequency and phase comes right out of theory. It was over forty years from the realization that such a device could be possible to its experimental verification, but it's a straight path and now lasers are everywhere.

This kind of thinking—theory reinforced or corrected by observation and experiment—is quite common. Companies adjust business models based on sales experience. Sports teams vary training and lineups based on game experience. Musicians alter their playing after hearing recordings and judging audience reaction. Doctors shift treatments and their theories of physiology and disease following clinical results.

It is much too simple to say that Newtonian physics is wrong. It is an excellent approximation that needs correction only at very, very high speeds and very small distances.
Everywhere I have sought peace and never found it except in a corner with a book. —Thomas à Kempis
User avatar
Prismatic
 
Posts: 514 (View: All / In topic)

Joined: April 22nd, 2012, 4:30 pm
Favorite Philosopher: John Stuart Mill

Re: Discussion of The Grand Design

Post Number:#19  Postby Andlan » June 25th, 2012, 8:17 am

There are only a couple of positives that I can think to say about this book. Firstly, Hawking has some Feynman-like qualities in being able to lucidly express important ideas in physics such as time dilation in special relativity and the double slit experiment. Secondly, model-based realism has a ring of truth about it, although why it is called realism is never fully explained. I did not find this book particularly easy to read, probably because I did not believe from the outset that I was going to be enlightened about our origins.

1) "Philosophy is dead". Scientists should be especially circumspect when trying to extrapolate their ideas into the humanities. Contemporary readers are still able to detect an elusive thread of truth running through all great philosophical works, and that, like the great works of art, they certainly have not been superseded by developments in science. Scientists meddling in the humanities often give the impression of never having studied the subjects they are criticising and tend to make 'straw man' arguments. The question 'why are we here?' is supposedly solved by science, but is of much more profound significance than Hawking credits. We feel our lives to have value as well as function and our desire throughout history to find life meaningful cannot be dismissed as lacking any significance. 'Is there a creator?' I have no particular axe to grind in favour of religion, but Hawking hypocritically rehashes ancient philosophical arguments for the non-existence of God, such as "who created God?". Moreover, religions cannot be treated simply as ontologies devoid of all the mythical elements that have inspired some of the greatest products of art and civilisation. Indeed, Weber tells us that science itself was given impetus by Protestantism.

2) Anthropic arguments. Personally, I don't see their significance. It is only strange that the universe has these particular values for the universal constants or that the Earth's orbit has this narrow range of orbital parameters leading to the evolution of humanity if you have some reference point outside the universe to assess it from. We are doing science from the perspective of the human race as we are here and now, so of course the universe appears to us to be evolved to suit us, otherwise we would not be here to do the science.

3) M Theory. I am not sufficiently qualified to give an opinion on this, but one thing it seems possible to say is that 'multiverse' theories are unique in science not only for never having been tested but also for being impossible to test. A far-fetched theory for why the dinosaurs died out at least has the possibility of being tested against palaeontological evidence. Any notions we entertain to make the concept of causality apply beyond possible experience results in unverifiable speculation about a first cause. I agree with Pliny (ancient wisdom that Hawking dismisses) who states the impossibility of measuring the universe or understanding how it arose. To me, 'universe' by definition means everything that exists, so how can there be any reference point outside it from which to measure it? Cosmological physics turns out paradoxes by the dozen. If the universe is expanding, what is it expanding into? What caused the big bang? If we need mathematics to explain this, what makes us so sure we can rely on mathematics? And what about reasoning itself? What is truth? Oh darn it - another philosophical question!
Andlan
 
Posts: 65 (View: All / In topic)

Joined: May 16th, 2012, 9:38 am

Re: Discussion of The Grand Design

Post Number:#20  Postby Too ArtistiK » June 25th, 2012, 6:03 pm

This book sounds amazing truthfully at the same time it seems to have you asking more questions than leaving with more answers. I hope my nearest bookstore has this so I can gather a literary piece from the honorable Stephen Hawking.
User avatar
Too ArtistiK
 
Posts: 23 (View: All / In topic)

Joined: June 1st, 2012, 9:27 pm
Favorite Philosopher: Socrates

Re: Discussion of The Grand Design

Post Number:#21  Postby Prismatic » June 25th, 2012, 6:33 pm

Very nice post and good questions.

Andlan wrote: To me, 'universe' by definition means everything that exists, so how can there be any reference point outside it from which to measure it?


If you take the word universe to include everything that exists, there cannot be anything outside it and whatever measurements you can make have to come from inside. There is another sense of the word and that is everything that exists and can effect events in our observational world. That would allow alternate universes with which our universe could have no connection. And the final sense would be what is encapsulated in the phrase our observational world. In that sense our universe is expanding everytime we build a new and more powerful telescope that can see farther into space.

Andlan wrote: Cosmological physics turns out paradoxes by the dozen. If the universe is expanding, what is it expanding into? What caused the big bang?


Intuition is developed out of everyday events and that makes it hard to imagine an expanding universe that is simply expanding in the sense of all its constituents getting farther apart without at the same time imagining surrounding space into which it expands. However any surrounding space would be part of the universe. The answer to your question is that it is not expanding into anything. It's just expanding. Similarly with the question what caused the big bang. There does not have to be a cause at all, it is just the condition of a singularity at the beginning of time.

Andlan wrote:If we need mathematics to explain this, what makes us so sure we can rely on mathematics? And what about reasoning itself? What is truth? Oh darn it - another philosophical question!


It's not a question of the mathematics being wrong in itself as a question of its not being the right description of cosmology. There is plenty of mathematics available for other descriptions if that becomes necessary when observation shows the current description is not the right one or the best one.
Everywhere I have sought peace and never found it except in a corner with a book. —Thomas à Kempis
User avatar
Prismatic
 
Posts: 514 (View: All / In topic)

Joined: April 22nd, 2012, 4:30 pm
Favorite Philosopher: John Stuart Mill

Re: Discussion of The Grand Design

Post Number:#22  Postby Andlan » June 26th, 2012, 3:37 am

Prismatic wrote:
Andlan wrote: Cosmological physics turns out paradoxes by the dozen. If the universe is expanding, what is it expanding into? What caused the big bang?


Intuition is developed out of everyday events and that makes it hard to imagine an expanding universe that is simply expanding in the sense of all its constituents getting farther apart without at the same time imagining surrounding space into which it expands. However any surrounding space would be part of the universe. The answer to your question is that it is not expanding into anything. It's just expanding. Similarly with the question what caused the big bang. There does not have to be a cause at all, it is just the condition of a singularity at the beginning of time.

Thanks Prismatic. It strikes me that cosmology gets into trouble when it treats the universe as a 'thing' that can be encompassed by our thought i.e. metaphysics. I have no objection to the big bang as singularity, because this is epistemology and stays rooted in our mathematical conceptions. Similarly, nobody can deny Hubble's discovery that most of the galaxies are moving away from us; but only an object can 'expand' and this linguistic slight of hand tends to go unnoticed. Once we start to think of a balloon we get into trouble because a balloon consists of a membrane, for which there is no cosmological equivalent. Similarly, the big bang and multiverses should be seen for what they are - creation myths originating from a deep-seated desire amongst positivist physicists such as Hawking to have a 'theory of everything', in which they can substitute physics for metaphysics, and hence remove the observer(us) from the picture.
Andlan
 
Posts: 65 (View: All / In topic)

Joined: May 16th, 2012, 9:38 am

Re: Discussion of The Grand Design

Post Number:#23  Postby Prismatic » June 26th, 2012, 6:48 pm

Andlan wrote: Thanks Prismatic. It strikes me that cosmology gets into trouble when it treats the universe as a 'thing' that can be encompassed by our thought i.e. metaphysics. I have no objection to the big bang as singularity, because this is epistemology and stays rooted in our mathematical conceptions. Similarly, nobody can deny Hubble's discovery that most of the galaxies are moving away from us; but only an object can 'expand' and this linguistic slight of hand tends to go unnoticed. Once we start to think of a balloon we get into trouble because a balloon consists of a membrane, for which there is no cosmological equivalent. Similarly, the big bang and multiverses should be seen for what they are - creation myths originating from a deep-seated desire amongst positivist physicists such as Hawking to have a 'theory of everything', in which they can substitute physics for metaphysics, and hence remove the observer(us) from the picture.


It seems to me the authors of this book have gone far beyond what has been and can be observed. It is one thing for a theoretical physicist to hypothesize what the structure of the universe might be and another to present those hypotheses as the settled answers to hard questions when experimental verification is still quite incomplete.
Everywhere I have sought peace and never found it except in a corner with a book. —Thomas à Kempis
User avatar
Prismatic
 
Posts: 514 (View: All / In topic)

Joined: April 22nd, 2012, 4:30 pm
Favorite Philosopher: John Stuart Mill

Re: Discussion of The Grand Design

Post Number:#24  Postby Jklint » June 30th, 2012, 6:05 pm

I've read only one boot by Hawking and it wasn't this one. I also wasn't impressed with the writing. It always seemed to me it is more a matter of trying to capitalize on the very lucrative side effects of reputation and physical condition.

Regarding the expansion of the universe it is easy to imagine - and imagine only at this time - that it may be due to the gravitational pull of other universes in proximity, if "proximity" is the right word. If space itself is infinite then any one universe would be an infinitesimal within it...which doesn't make sense. Recall the pre Hubble era. Our galaxy was the universe. Who knows if the same paradigm doesn't extend itself further.
Jklint
 
Posts: 1171 (View: All / In topic)

Joined: February 23rd, 2012, 3:06 am

Re: Discussion of The Grand Design

Post Number:#25  Postby Prismatic » June 30th, 2012, 6:10 pm

Jklint wrote: Regarding the expansion of the universe it is easy to imagine - and imagine only at this time - that it may be due to the gravitational pull of other universes in proximity, if "proximity" is the right word.


The notion of universe is usually taken to include anything which can effect the one we're in.
Everywhere I have sought peace and never found it except in a corner with a book. —Thomas à Kempis
User avatar
Prismatic
 
Posts: 514 (View: All / In topic)

Joined: April 22nd, 2012, 4:30 pm
Favorite Philosopher: John Stuart Mill

Re: Discussion of The Grand Design

Post Number:#26  Postby Jklint » June 30th, 2012, 8:07 pm

Prismatic wrote:
Jklint wrote: Regarding the expansion of the universe it is easy to imagine - and imagine only at this time - that it may be due to the gravitational pull of other universes in proximity, if "proximity" is the right word.


The notion of universe is usually taken to include anything which can effect the one we're in.


I don't know how this corresponds to what I wrote. I probably expressed myself badly. But thanks anyways for the reply.
Jklint
 
Posts: 1171 (View: All / In topic)

Joined: February 23rd, 2012, 3:06 am

Re: Discussion of The Grand Design

Post Number:#27  Postby Prismatic » June 30th, 2012, 8:16 pm

Jklint wrote:
Prismatic wrote:
Jklint wrote: Regarding the expansion of the universe it is easy to imagine - and imagine only at this time - that it may be due to the gravitational pull of other universes in proximity, if "proximity" is the right word.


The notion of universe is usually taken to include anything which can effect the one we're in.


I don't know how this corresponds to what I wrote. I probably expressed myself badly. But thanks anyways for the reply.


If another universe could exert a gravitation pull on our universe, then it would have to be included in our universe.
Everywhere I have sought peace and never found it except in a corner with a book. —Thomas à Kempis
User avatar
Prismatic
 
Posts: 514 (View: All / In topic)

Joined: April 22nd, 2012, 4:30 pm
Favorite Philosopher: John Stuart Mill

Re: Discussion of The Grand Design

Post Number:#28  Postby Jklint » June 30th, 2012, 11:51 pm

Wouldn't this be the equivalent of saying the if our galaxy exerted a gravitational force on another galaxy, which it certainly does, it would, by the same logic, have to be included in our galaxy which obviously is not the case? The only difference here, it seems to me, is one of magnitude.
Jklint
 
Posts: 1171 (View: All / In topic)

Joined: February 23rd, 2012, 3:06 am

Re: Discussion of The Grand Design

Post Number:#29  Postby Prismatic » July 1st, 2012, 12:03 am

Jklint wrote:Wouldn't this be the equivalent of saying the if our galaxy exerted a gravitational force on another galaxy, which it certainly does, it would, by the same logic, have to be included in our galaxy which obviously is not the case? The only difference here, it seems to me, is one of magnitude.


No, it's not just a question of magnitude, but of definition. By some definitions the universe includes everything that is, but those who accept the possibility of multiple universes usually specify that they are disjoint and have no physical interactions at all. The universe by most definitions includes everything with which we have any physical contact, all that we can see with telescopes of various kinds, and all that can exert a gravitational force on us. Our galaxy is simply the physical cluster of stars and planets in our local portion of the universe and clearly does not include everything that we can see or which can exert a physical force on us.
Everywhere I have sought peace and never found it except in a corner with a book. —Thomas à Kempis
User avatar
Prismatic
 
Posts: 514 (View: All / In topic)

Joined: April 22nd, 2012, 4:30 pm
Favorite Philosopher: John Stuart Mill

Re: Discussion of The Grand Design

Post Number:#30  Postby Jklint » July 1st, 2012, 2:21 am

When unknows and speculations are considered definitions become less absolute and more relative. You've actually given a demonstration of that in terms of "by some definitions, by most definitions", when defining the universe. But these definitions don't incorporate other possibilities those that would seem excessively strange but are nevertheless speculated upon. For example this statement:

The universe by most definitions includes everything with which we have any physical contact, all that we can see with telescopes of various kinds, and all that can exert a gravitational force on us. Our galaxy is simply the physical cluster of stars and planets in our local portion of the universe and clearly does not include everything that we can see or which can exert a physical force on us


This view has been the one most acknowledged. But by defintion it conveys very little information if the possibility of a multiverse is considered. I've watched a program on cosmology a few months ago where the existence of other universes was given much credence by some and less so by others. The upshot of this story is this. When first encountering the idea of multiverse the thought occurred that the gravitational pull of other universes might explain not so much the expansion as much as the acceleration of expansion of ours. After all, acceleration requires force and there had to be something which caused it. I didn't give it any credence thinking it was more imagination than science and easily discounted until one of the cosmologists said that she was working on precisely that theory.

The point is however you look at it whether this "hypothesis" is right or not the definition of universe changes because the gravitational force which causes expansion would no-longer be included in our universe by your definition. Anyways, much more can be said and speculated upon for instance that each such universe could gravitationally act as if were a single black hole the collective gravitational pull of one universe. But again, these speculations are like playing chess without rules. Probably not worth the effort.
Jklint
 
Posts: 1171 (View: All / In topic)

Joined: February 23rd, 2012, 3:06 am

PreviousNext

Return to Philosophy Book of the Month Club

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 2 guests

Philosophy Trophies

Most Active Members
by posts made in lasts 30 days

Avatar Member Name Recent Posts
Greta 162
Fooloso4 116
Renee 107
Ormond 97
Felix 90

Last updated January 6, 2017, 6:28 pm EST

Most Active Book of the Month Participants
by book of the month posts

Avatar Member Name BOTM Posts
Scott 147
Spectrum 23
Belinda 23
whitetrshsoldier 20
Josefina1110 19
Last updated January 6, 2017, 6:28 pm EST