The Grand Design by Stephen Hawking

The Grand Design

THE FIRST MAJOR WORK IN NEARLY A DECADE BY ONE OF THE WORLD’S GREAT THINKERS—A MARVELOUSLY CONCISE BOOK WITH NEW ANSWERS TO THE ULTIMATE QUESTIONS OF LIFE When and how did the universe begin? Why are we here? Why is there something rather than nothing? What is the nature of reality? Why are the laws of nature so finely tuned as to allow for the existence of beings like our...

Title:The Grand Design
Author:
Rating:
ISBN:0553805371
Edition Language:English
Format Type:Hardcover
Number of Pages:199 pages

The Grand Design Reviews

  • Cindy
    Jul 30, 2010

    It's a funny thing being a cosmologist in the greater Los Angeles area. Back when I was a partying single graduate student, I'd frequently hit the town for some fun. Inevitably I'd meet someone, strike up a conversation, and they might ask me what I did for a living.

    "Oh, I'm a cosmologist."

    "Cosmetologist? Cool, do you do make-up for movies?"

    "Um...not unless rouge is a component of dark matter." (ba-da-bum)

    "..."

    "I make detectors and use them to study the origins and geometry of our universe."

    "

    It's a funny thing being a cosmologist in the greater Los Angeles area. Back when I was a partying single graduate student, I'd frequently hit the town for some fun. Inevitably I'd meet someone, strike up a conversation, and they might ask me what I did for a living.

    "Oh, I'm a cosmologist."

    "Cosmetologist? Cool, do you do make-up for movies?"

    "Um...not unless rouge is a component of dark matter." (ba-da-bum)

    "..."

    "I make detectors and use them to study the origins and geometry of our universe."

    "Uh. No way. You ever work in movies?"

    I discovered after a few years of this that it was much easier and simpler to tell people I was Mary Poppins at Disneyland. Without exception, folks believed me, made a joke and moved on. The physics thing just cause wrinkled faces, and very odd non-sequiturs. Once I had a guy tell me all about a distant cousin who studied shrimp in the Netherlands. Frequently I'd get the physicist = physician mix-up. Luckily no one ever showed me their rash. Oh well, such is the life of the lonely, misunderstood cosmologist.

    Why am I telling you about all my misadventures in life? Oh yeah, to let you know that my background is observational cosmology. (I.e. making devices, detectors, instruments and doing experiments in labs, in Antarctica and on space-born projects.) I'm not a theorist, and most definitely not into string theory/membrane theory/M-theory. That stuff isn't even touched upon in most graduate programs. It's esoteric, wicked complicated, and honestly still in a very nascent stage.

    So, I'm not qualified to comment on M-theory being THE answer to The Grand Design as Hawking and Mlodinow so insistently propose. The question then becomes did they sell me on the idea. I dunno... maybe? It was all so very glossed over, overwhelmed by all the history and background needed to give the reader an appropriate framework. Then when they finally game to the climax of the story, where all the previous information should coalesce, M-theory barely got much of an explanation or treatment at all.

    I got the impression they wanted to push this Grand Idea, a wrap-up of all previous ideas, made with sweeping statements and generalizations to get press. Plus, if it turns out to work and be right, they can point to this very thin book and say "A-ha!" That's why I removed a star.

    Now, if you are looking to learn more about the science of the universe this is just the book for you. They do an excellent job explaining aspects of special relativity, general relativity, particle physics, early-universe physics, even my favorite field, the CMB. (Which maddeningly they call the CMBR, a very outdated term, and refer to the fluctuations as being in the microwave regime, even though they are sub-millimeter radiation! Grrr!) They even throw in a ton of historical context, which helps the reader understand the difficulties of the field and the constantly evolving nature of science.

    The science is great, you will learn a ton. Really. The writing is clear in that no-nonsense style Hawking is so famous for. Unfortunately in a few areas the explanations get really muddled to the point of incomprehensibility, and I suspect that might be Mlodinow's doing, since those muddled spots fall in his particular area of expertise. One would expect a research scientist in the field (even if she's a lowly experimentalist) should be able to breeze through all their scientific lessons. I found the string theory section to be really tough-going, with pretty poorly thought out examples. But it is a very esoteric field, and maybe there just aren't easy ways to help lay-folks visualize the 11-dimensional space and the vibrating membranes?

    Speaking of clear teaching examples, the book is filled with ways to help the reader visualize some very hard concepts. Gravity affects space-time like having a rubber sheet for your pool table, then pulling down on one spot right in the middle. The balls will curve around the area in much the same way that objects do near-ish black holes. The "strings" in string theory are described to be like a straw, with a surface space, but curled up on itself. However, from very far away a straw looks like a 2-dimensional line.

    And yet a few of their examples obviously fall short, which I suppose all stand-ins for the real thing will eventually do. The one that really stood out like a a sore thumb was the balloon-as-expanding-universe. Their illustration looks like someone could take a marker and draw little galaxies on a balloon. Then as the balloon is filled with more air and expands, all galaxies will move away from each other independently. The first trouble is that the galaxies, if drawn on, would expand themselves, which doesn't actually happen. (The mass and hence gravity of galaxies is a stronger force than the expansion of the universe.) In the text, it's made clear that the galaxies have to be treated as points on the balloon, but the graphic is a bit misleading. Secondly, the obvious question to the balloon is: Okay, the balloon expands into our 3-dimensional space, so what is the universe expanding into? They certainly touch on the answer later, but never refer back to our balloon. What a shame.

    At any rate, here's my advice: Believe their grand M-theory answer or don't, I don't think it matters as long as you have learned a few things about our scientific understanding of the universe along the way.

    Since I made fun of "The Industry" suitors I encountered around Los Angeles, I should relate a tale of the foolish physicists. Create a supersymmetry of courtship mishaps or something. I was at a party on campus, which was completely populated by science grad students, and maybe a few random stray people. I met a guy, he seemed nice enough, so we chatted about motorcycles for a while. He asked me what I studied, so I very jokingly told him I was a Theoretical Cosmetologist, and a student at the neighboring university (which has many, many more women). Ridiculous, right? The guy fell for it hook, line and sinker, and wanted to know more details of this theoretical cosmetology. So I told him all about color theory, combining it with an understanding of personality traits, and the effect of shadowing on first-impressions. Meanwhile, my co-workers stood behind him, trying to hold in their laughter. It was mean, but he

    me!

    If you ever meet me in person, only believe about 63% of what I say. The rest is a joke. And that's a scientifically proven fact.

  • Kemper
    Sep 12, 2010

    When this book was released, I was reading a story about it on-line, and the headline said something like: “Stephen Hawking Says There Is No God”. Then I made the critical mistake of looking at the user comments under the story. It was the usual collection of badly spelled notes from ignorant asshats who tried to say that stupid science didn’t know nuthin’ or that it was all Obama’s fault.

    But one in particular caught my eye. It was by someone who undoubtedly dabbles in both neurosurgery and roc

    When this book was released, I was reading a story about it on-line, and the headline said something like: “Stephen Hawking Says There Is No God”. Then I made the critical mistake of looking at the user comments under the story. It was the usual collection of badly spelled notes from ignorant asshats who tried to say that stupid science didn’t know nuthin’ or that it was all Obama’s fault.

    But one in particular caught my eye. It was by someone who undoubtedly dabbles in both neurosurgery and rocket science in his-or-her spare time, and it said something along the lines of: “THAT”S WHYY STEVN HAWKENS IS IN WHEEELCHAR!!!!!! BCAUSE HE DON”T BELIVE IN GOD!! JEBUS IS PUNSINGHING HIM!!!”

    Which got me thinking about why anyone would expect a guy who has suffered from ALS and been confined to a wheelchair for most of his life to believe in God? Among the many people who have just cause to question that a loving God is waiting in heaven to dish them out a heaping plate of Sky Cake, I’d think that Stephen Hawking would be one of them.

    It’s that kind of thinking that Hawking and Mlodinow take on here. Some people will point out the odds against any kind of life existing on Earth and say that God must have set it all in motion and made this place just for us and that it’s proof of an intelligent creator. Or you listen to a scientist like Hawking who points out that there’s whole multiverses where life doesn’t exist and that the only reason we know how lucky we are is that we exist to appreciate how lucky we are. Basing the idea that there must be some kind of intelligent creator simply because we’re here is bad science.

    And that’s Hawking’s point. This isn’t an anti-God book, it’s a pro-science and pro-critical thinking book. Hawking does a nice job in the early chapters of giving a brief overview of the development of the scientific method and how beliefs in mysterious beings have been incorporated into theories and then debunked over the centuries. Then he lays out the flaws in the models that insist that there has to be some kind of creator being in the mix.

    Even though Hawking does his best to dumb down the quantum physics that he claims proves his point and provides lots of handy pictures and graphics to help out the math and science challenged like me, it’s not exactly light reading. It’s short at 181 pages, and that helps, but while I’m fascinated by this kind of stuff, I’m also stupid enough that I had to read over some sections a couple of times before I thought I had a handle on it.

    It’s enlightening and a nice overview of both the scientific method and quantum physics, but unfortunately, I can’t see any of the people who should read this actually picking it up.

  • Marvin
    Jan 28, 2011

    Stephen Hawking is smarter than I am. That's no big feat because two of my cats are smarter than I am. The other cat is a certifiable idiot. But Hawking is way smarter than I am.

    is Hawking's explanation, more or less, about why the universe is the way it is. The answer comes down to M-theory which is more of a combining of explanations than one single unifying theory. Many reviewers seem to think Hawking is saying there is no God but he really seems to be stating that God is i

    Stephen Hawking is smarter than I am. That's no big feat because two of my cats are smarter than I am. The other cat is a certifiable idiot. But Hawking is way smarter than I am.

    is Hawking's explanation, more or less, about why the universe is the way it is. The answer comes down to M-theory which is more of a combining of explanations than one single unifying theory. Many reviewers seem to think Hawking is saying there is no God but he really seems to be stating that God is irrelevant. The real question is did we come from something or nothing. The beginning of an answer involves an understanding of quantum physics and multiverses that Hawking put as well into laymen's term as we can hope for. I don't pretend to understand everything in this book. I'm still contemplating why the world needs hairballs. But I did immensely enjoy reading this short book and can honestly say I understand a little bit more.

  • Jafar
    Jul 13, 2011

    I have a feeling that the publishing industry is milking Stephen Hawking. There was a time when we had a dashing physicist named Richard Feynman who used LSD and played banjo in a strip club. The naked pole dancers didn’t distract him from formulating quantum electrodynamics. He was quite a genius, and he was all over the place with his talks and popular books. But he’s dead. Now Stephen Hawking seems to be the coolest physicist around. He’s paralyzed and wheelchair-bound, and he speaks through

    I have a feeling that the publishing industry is milking Stephen Hawking. There was a time when we had a dashing physicist named Richard Feynman who used LSD and played banjo in a strip club. The naked pole dancers didn’t distract him from formulating quantum electrodynamics. He was quite a genius, and he was all over the place with his talks and popular books. But he’s dead. Now Stephen Hawking seems to be the coolest physicist around. He’s paralyzed and wheelchair-bound, and he speaks through a voice synthesizer by twitching a tiny working cheek muscle against a screen to pick up a displayed word. How cool is that! So he’s become quite a celebrity, and he fully deserves it. The public is fascinated with him. But that doesn’t mean a whole lot for the quality of his books. I’ve read better pop-physics books than this one. Besides, I didn’t see anything new here.

    This book got more publicity because it’s supposed to take on the question of God. It’s no secret that the great biologists and physicists tend to be atheists. That’s a very telling fact. But having acknowledged that, I don’t see a point in a physicist trying to “disprove” God through physics. Upon being asked by Napoleon where God fits in his physics, Laplace is reported to having said: “Sire, I have not needed that hypothesis.” Science, by definition, does not and cannot use the God hypothesis. I don’t see why it should get into the business of rejecting that hypothesis. Those who are inclined to reject God can point to the findings of biology and cosmology for support. But that is quite different from a physicist setting out to refute God based on physics.

    As for the God-rejecting physics – it can be summarized in two points: 1) While no individual physical object can appear out of nothing, an entire universe can. This is because the sum-total of the energy in the universe is zero. 2) There are almost an infinite number of universes popping out of nothing into existence. One of them, like the one where we live, can, by mere chance, have the right properties (laws and constants of physics) for the emergence of starts and planets and eventually life. The book goes into explaining the physics behind these two claims. Unless you’re a physicist as good as Hawking, there’s nothing you can say about his physics.

  • Riku Sayuj
    Sep 19, 2011

    In the first chapter Hawking says that his aim is to provide an answer to "Life, Universe and Everything" and goes on to assure us that his answer will not merely be "42". After just completing the last chapter, I think I still prefer "42".

  • Manny
    Jul 27, 2012

    Look John look!

    See the pop science bestseller.

    See the glossy paper.

    See the large font.

    See the wide margins.

    See the world-famous physicist.

    See the ghostwriter.

    See the double slit experiment!

    Maybe you have seen it before.

    But you can never see the double slit experiment too many times.

    See the theory of everything.

    It is free of infinities.

    Probably.

    Anyway, never mind that.

    See the quantum multiverse!

    See the strong anthropic principle.

    See them explain the mystery of being.

    They are science.

    They make pre

    Look John look!

    See the pop science bestseller.

    See the glossy paper.

    See the large font.

    See the wide margins.

    See the world-famous physicist.

    See the ghostwriter.

    See the double slit experiment!

    Maybe you have seen it before.

    But you can never see the double slit experiment too many times.

    See the theory of everything.

    It is free of infinities.

    Probably.

    Anyway, never mind that.

    See the quantum multiverse!

    See the strong anthropic principle.

    See them explain the mystery of being.

    They are science.

    They make predictions.

    What are the predictions?

    We don't have space for that.

    But here's another glossy picture.

    See God!

    We don't need God.

    Science has made Him irrelevant.

    Why is God laughing?

    I don't know.

    I guess He just found something funny.

  • James
    Jul 18, 2013

    Note: I'm a physicist, so my experience reading this was colored by my training.

    Hawking and Mlodinow begin by declaring, on the very first page, that "philosophy is dead," and that modern science alone must carry our search for knowledge into the future. Several pages later, they launch into a purely philosophical discussion on the nature of reality and discovery. Dead, indeed. In my opinion, this accurately colors the entire book, and if you can't stomach this kind of hard-and-fast science for

    Note: I'm a physicist, so my experience reading this was colored by my training.

    Hawking and Mlodinow begin by declaring, on the very first page, that "philosophy is dead," and that modern science alone must carry our search for knowledge into the future. Several pages later, they launch into a purely philosophical discussion on the nature of reality and discovery. Dead, indeed. In my opinion, this accurately colors the entire book, and if you can't stomach this kind of hard-and-fast science for the layman, turn back now, here be dragons.

    The authors quickly (but sufficiently) review the history of scientific discovery from roughly the Ionians to Newton, to give the reader a context on the history of scientific philosophy and discovery. After this, they slow down to cover the subject material contained in what a physicist calls "modern physics," roughly the period 1800-present. This is about the time I started really noticing the liberties taken in the simplification of explanations, and basic factual mistakes. I jotted down a few notes on these, which I've tacked on the end of my review, as the actual text has no references or a published list of errata (none that I can find, anyhow) for a diligent reader to check against. As an aside, some of these errors sent me to the acknowledgments section, where I was somewhat perturbed to see that only ONE other physicist was thanked for reading and helping shape the book. This does not necessary mean he was the only one to have done so, but I found it disconcerting all the same. The last half-dozen sci-fi books I've read have had more scrutiny by scientific eyes than this book.

    After establishing the models developed by modern physics (quantum mechanics and quantum field theories at large, QED and electroweak unification, QCD, special/general relativity, and a few other notable points), the text turns to a discussion of cosmology. There are some points of merit here, notably the explanation of the cosmic microwave background, and what it means to look at the CMBR and see anisotropy, but only a little bit. The thought-stimulating bits of the text largely lie in this section of the book: One note I jotted down was a reminder to look into whether the anisotropy of the universe can be considered a form of symmetry breaking.

    After this whirlwind history of modern physics, the last few chapters dive into the nitty-gritty details of trying to answer some of the "big questions." Things like "why are we here?" Very light on science, very heavy on philosophy, again in contrast to the opening of the book. A lot of textual real estate is donated to considering the question of whether the universe in which we live is "fine tuned" for us (the "strong" anthropic principle). The facts presented (e.g. the sensitivity of stellar fusion and heavy element generation to "small" changes fundamental constants) are interesting, the discussion much less so. An example:

    The authors claim (p. 160) "change the universe just a bit, and the conditions for our existence disappear!" On the surface, this appears to be a reasonable statement. They even quantify it; a change of 0.5% in the strength of the strong force, or a change of 4% in the strength electric (Coulomb) force, would destroy nearly all the carbon and oxygen (generally, if not universally, accepted in astrobiology as prerequisites for what we would recognize as life) in the universe's stars. However, to call this an example of a "little" change in the universe based only on these values is, in my opinion, a completely unsupported assertion. My technical understanding of cosmology is limited, but in the framework Hawking and Mlodinow present, the typical "drift" in these parameters could be several orders of magnitude less (or more!) than the values the authors have chosen. If there is a quantitative basis for their argument, it should have been presented here. I suspect that there is instead no basis.

    Another point of particular interest in this section was the claim that the sum of masses of the quarks that make up a proton (2 ups, 1 down) is very nearly the value that maximizes the number of stable nuclei that can be constructed. On this, I cannot give an entirely educated opinion (my own study of QCD is extremely limited). If true, this is in my opinion the single strongest argument for a "fine-tuned" universe contained in this book. Unless there is some reason to think that the maximum number of nuclei is a preferred configuration of the universe (I can't think of one myself, as it is of more chemical than cosmological significance), then the fact that our universe lives so "close" to this configuration is an unusual coincidence.

    - If you want to learn about string theory, find another book. I recommend some of Brian Greene's work - particularly "The Elegant Universe", which is written in a similar style, but substantially longer and better, with unique thought experiments and examples (unlike the familiar cliches and talking points Hawking and Mlodinow fall back on).

    - If you want to learn about quantum mechanics, find another book; preferably one which does not confuse the phase of a wave and its phasor representation, a mistake any student who has taken an introductory mechanics or electronics course should be able to recognize. I don't have a particular recommendation, but the book by Greene mentioned above covers a good deal of this in working towards discussing string theory.

    - If you want to learn about relativity, find another book. All you'll find here are the same hum-drum analogies, and a frightening number of factual mistakes (e.g. the authors suggest time dilation's effect is too small at "normal" speeds to extend your lifespan. They have forgotten that the body is a self-conscious reference frame, so that NO relativistic hijinks will ever let you extend your lifespan as you perceive it). I very much recommend George Gamow's "Mr. Tompkins in Wunderland," which uses analogy and example to illustrate a point, not to avoid it.

    - If you are looking for a book that has just a pinch of scientific philosophy, this book MIGHT be it. I do not consider this book to be effective at explaining any single aspect of scientific discovery, although it manages to name-drop most of the important topics.

    In writing what has been a pretty harsh review, I mean no disrespect to Dr.'s Hawking and Mlodinow, who are both worthy of the high praise they have been given for their work. But I have come to learn that being an excellent scientist does not by any means make one an effective teacher or public outreach figure. In this case, I think the unfamiliar reader will come away from this text more confused than enlightened. I would not really recommend it to someone unfamiliar with the basic framework of a physics class or two. What content of merit there is will be otherwise lost.

    Here are the notes I jotted down while reading "The Grand Design," along with references to the pages that sparked them.

    p. 77: Adding PHASES is dramatically different from adding PHASORS. Conflation of algebraic and geometric representations of vectors.

    p. 88: Absolutely false assertion that macroscopic objects are electrically neutral! Counterexamples: static electricity in clouds (lightning), or even just shuffling one's feet on a carpet; aurora borealis/australis. A comparison of force scales would be far more effective. An example I use with my students: the electric force between two Earths at ~10C apiece (on the order of the net charge of Earth including the van Allen Belts) versus the force between two alpha particles. Gravity dominates by several orders of magnitude in the latter case.

    p. 91: Human eye response and solar power spectrum appear to peak at the same spot if plotted in wavelength, but this comparison is misleading. The eye responds to frequencies (Energy = hf), NOT wavelengths (which may vary in different media!); The excitation energy is what matters and this is invariant for a photon regardless of the specific speed of light in a material. If you plot eye response and solar power density as a function of frequency, the apparently serendipitous overlap of peaks is nowhere to be seen. [A more complete treatment of this common mistake by James Overduin was published in Am. J. Phys. in 2002, and the technically inclined reader can review it here:

    ]

    p. 98-99: Although time dilation does affect biological processes, you would not get any extra years out of it. You'd just live longer in someone else's reference frame. In your own reference frame (which you can't escape because you ARE it!), your lifespan would be unchanged. Your perceived lifetime would be exactly the same. It has nothing to do with the effect being small at everyday speeds. Even at 99% the speed of light, you would still perceive yourself living ~80 years.

    p. 120: The photo is actually a combination of the Crab Nebula and the "Pillars of Creation" in the Eagle Nebula, photographically edited to fit with the Golden Spiral motif shown at the beginning of each chapter. Not a scientific detail, but a shame that someone felt it necessary to "enhance" the true beauty of nature to fit their aesthetics.

    There are other notes, but they are the reminders I have mentioned in the main body above.

    I haven't said very many nice things about this book, but I'll close this ramble of a review by saying that for all its faults, the print quality in this text sets it apart. Every page is in "color" (usually only the section title at the top, but occasionally illustrations), and the paper is thick and glossy. In that tactile sense if no other, it was nice to read.

  • Mohamed al-Jamri
    Feb 09, 2016

    أثير الكثير من الكلام حول هذا الكتاب قبل وبعد صدوره خاصة وأن أحد الكاتبين هو العالم البريطاني الشهير ستيفن هوكنج وأيضًا بسبب التساؤلات الوجودية التي يطرحها

    يبدأ الكتاب بسرد تاريخ العلم، فيقول أن البشر في البداية استعانوا بالأساطير والقوى الخارقة لتفسير الظواهر الطبيعية ومن ثم في القرن السادس قبل الميلاد ظهر لنا مجموعة من المفكرين الإغريق من مدرسة إيونية قاموا بمحاولة الخروج بتفسيرات مادية للظواهر الطبيعية من دون الرجوع للآلهة كعامل مفسر. على رأس هؤلاء كان طاليس الذي قيل أنه تنبأ بكسوف للشمس وجاء

    أثير الكثير من الكلام حول هذا الكتاب قبل وبعد صدوره خاصة وأن أحد الكاتبين هو العالم البريطاني الشهير ستيفن هوكنج وأيضًا بسبب التساؤلات الوجودية التي يطرحها

    يبدأ الكتاب بسرد تاريخ العلم، فيقول أن البشر في البداية استعانوا بالأساطير والقوى الخارقة لتفسير الظواهر الطبيعية ومن ثم في القرن السادس قبل الميلاد ظهر لنا مجموعة من المفكرين الإغريق من مدرسة إيونية قاموا بمحاولة الخروج بتفسيرات مادية للظواهر الطبيعية من دون الرجوع للآلهة كعامل مفسر. على رأس هؤلاء كان طاليس الذي قيل أنه تنبأ بكسوف للشمس وجاء من بعده أناكسامندر، أمبيديكليس، ديموقرطس، اسطرخص وغيرهم. يذكر أيضًا فيثاغورث وكيف أنه على الأرجح ليس مكتشف النظرية الرياضية الشهيرة المسماة على إسمه، ولكن الكتاب لا يذكر أن أصل كثير من المبدائ الرياضية والفلكية يعود لحضارات بلاد ما بين النهرين ويكتفي بذكر الحضارة الإغريقية كمهد للعلوم. في الحقبة التالية يختفي العلم المادي بشكل كبير قبل أن يعود مع الثورة العلمية على يد جاليليو وكيبلر ونيوتن. مجدداً ليس هناك ذكر لحقبة مهمة وهي الحقبة العلمية الإسلامية.

    يقترح الكتاب نظرة جديدة للواقع يسميها "الواقعية المعتمدة على النموذج" والتي تقول أننا لا يمكن أن نصل للحقيقة المحضة ولكن يمكننا تصور نماذج تتوافق مع التجارب وكل نموذج يوافق التجربة يعبر عن الحقيقة، فالحقيقة كخريطة للكرة الأرضية لا يمكن الإحاطة بها بدقة باستخدام خريطة واحدة وإلا حدثت اختلالات وإن كانت بسيطة ولذلك تستخدم عدة خرائط متخصصة تصف كل جزء منها وهذه الخرائط الصغيرة تتقاطع فيما بينها لتعطينا صورة كلية للأرض.

    يتطرق الكتاب بعد ذلك للنظرية النسبية والفيزياء الكمية ويبين خصائصهما التي تبدو مخالفة للمنطق في البداية كالتباطؤ الزماني في النسبية وفي الفيزياء الكمية تصرف الالكترونات كجسيمات تارة وموجات تارة أخرى حسب وضع تجربة الشقين وكذلك مبدأ الريبة لهايزنبيرج. من ثم يشرح عدم إمكانية التوفيق بين القوى الأساسية الأربع المعروفة في الطبيعة وهي الجاذبية والكهرومغناطيسية والنووية القوية والنووية الضعيفة، حيث وبالرغم من النجاح في توحيد القوى الثلاث الأخيرة مع الفيزياء الكمية فقد فشلت جميع المحاولات لحد الآن في توحيد الجاذبية معها.

    وهنا يطرح الكتاب نظرية إم الناتجة عن توحيد نظريات الأوتار الفائقة الخمس مع البعد الحادي عشر. يقترح الكتاب أن هذه النظرية من الممكن (خطين تحت كلمة من الممكن) أن توحد لنا القوى الأساسية الأربع بالإضافة إلى تفسير التوافق الدقيق للكون. يطرح الكتاب التوافق الدقيق للكون ويطرح المبدأ الأنثربولوجي والأكوان المتعددة كتفسير آخر له غير وجود خالق وعلى عكس الكثير مما ذكر عن الكتاب، فهو لا ينفي وجود الخالق بل يقول أن العلم وبالتحديد نظرية إم من الممكن أن توفر تفسير مادي شامل للكون من دون الحاجة للاستعانة بالخالق في ذلك. عندما تم الضغط على هوكنج في احدى المقابلات بعد نشر الكتاب ذكر أنه لا يؤمن بوجود اله وهو في هذا يتفق مع واينبيرغ في مقولته "العلم لا يجعل الإيمان بالله مستحيلا، بل يجعل عدم الإيمان به ممكنا". يذكر أن التوافق الدقيق للكون والثوابت الكونية هو أحد أكثر الأدلة الحديثة المؤيدة لوجود خالق وقد أطلق عليه جيري كوين في كتابه "الإيمان في قبال الحقائق" اللاهوتية الطبيعية الحديثة عطفًا على اللاهوتية الطبيعية التي كانت منتشرة قبل نظرية التطور.

    أول ما أثار انتباهي هو أن الكتاب يذكر في أوائل صفحاته أن الفلسفة ماتت ولم يعد لها مكان. هذا الانتقاد للفلسفة تكرر لدى عدد من الفيزيائيين البارزين من ضمنهم ستيفين واينبيرج وريتشارد فاينمان (كلاهما حاصلان على نوبل في الفيزياء) بالرغم أنهم يستخدمون الكثير من الأفكار الفلسفية كإمكانية الدحض مثلا، بل يتم ذلك في هذا الكتاب ذاته في طرح الواقعية المعتمدة على النموذج وفي مواضع أخرى. يقول فيلسوف العلم جيفري كاسير (والذي يقدم كورسًا مجانيًا عن فلسفة العلم) أن العلم لا يمكن أن يخلو من الفلسفة، كما لا تخلو لعبة البيسبول من قوانين الفيزياء. من الأصح حسب وجهة نظري القول بأن الفلسفة لا بد أن تأخذ الاكتشافات العلمية في الاعتبار وإلا أصبحت ميتة فعلاً، مثلاً كل فلسفة تأخذ بالخلق المباشر بدلًا عن نظرية التطور فلسفة ميتة وفي المقابل لا بد للعلماء من الالمام ببعض الفلسفة لتجنب الوقوع في المغالطات الفلسفية مع العلم أن وظيفة الفلسفة ليست اكتشاف الحقائق الطبيعية في الكون.

    يؤخذ على الكتاب أيضًا تقديمه نظرية إم كالنظرية الوحيدة القادرة على توحيد القوى الأربع في حين أنه لا توجد تجارب تؤيدها لحد الآن وما ذكر من تجارب في الكتاب تؤيد الفيزياء الكمية في حد ذاتها وليس هذا التفسير المعين لها، ولكنها ليست غير قابلة للتجريب من ناحية مبدئية (وهذا يجنبها الوقوع في العلم الزائف حسب فلسفة كارل بوبر) بل لا توجد طريقة يمكن تجريبها بها لحد الآن.

    في الغالب الكتاب سهل الفهم نسبيًا ولكنه ليس بسلاسة كتاب هوكنج الأول، "تاريخ موجز للزمان" وهو في ما عدا الانتقادات التي ذكرتها رائع ويستحق القراءة.


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