Hawking, Stephen. The Grand Design

The Grand Design - Front Cover

The Grand Design is a book written by Stephen Hawking and co-authored by Leonard Mlodinow. This is an interesting and highly recommend book that everyone should get. If you are a beginner, you may not understand the Hawking Universe and therefore you should get all of his previous books and read them first to prepare you for this one.

In this book, Professor Hawking highlights some very interesting ideas building upon the concept of the Big Bang and the creation of the Universe. Therefore, all those living in his Universe will be interested as it affects their fate.

In his previous book he proves that time is linear by using the chronology hypothesis: that since people from the future have not already visited us then it is likely that time is linear. I had the exact same thought back in 1990, as I am sure almost everyone must have had at some point watching Star Trek.

There are many counter arguments to that: 1. Perhaps people from the future will be clever enough not to pollute the time line and cause paradoxes. Obviously, they would know that if they caused a paradox, it could have an adverse impact upon their own future. Therefore, they may use cloaking technology allowing them to walk amongst us and observe without interacting.

2. Perhaps humankind will destroy itself before reaching a point in evolution where it could break the light speed barrier. Knowing how full of anger and prejudice humans can be this is the more likely scenario... Therefore not having seen people from the future could be a big indication, that humankind has already destroyed itself at some point in the future... We will call this Peter's doom chronology hypothesis :-)

Since the planet has already been destroyed in the future this has already happened and impossible to stop because it has all been programmed into the laws of physics. A chain of events have already started that will inexorably lead to the annihilation of Earth.

If one could avert the destruction of Earth, it would cause a paradox. A paradox is a physical contradiction that would have to exist. As Einstein once said that in such a scenario, the Universe would have to disappear because a contradiction cannot physically exist. This is the equivalent of God saying that if you are not going to play by the rules I have set then I will take my marbles and go home.

As you can see the chronology, condition has some obvious flaws. However, it is an interesting idea nonetheless. The idea of a linear time in one direction is of course nice as it fits in with Genesis. In Genesis, God creates the Universe [a starting point] and destroys it with Armageddon [ending point]. However, it locks god out of his own creation!

Down here, I make the rules. Down here, I am God

After reading the book, it occurred to me that there appears to be some problems with linear time because then, souls can move only forwards in time to the ending of the Universe! Surely if there is one place you would want to go, it would be to the beginning of time at the point of creation. After all this is where the big party is. Unfortunately, the professor has firmly shut and locked all the doors. He does not want anyone partying in his Universe! :-) Oh well! I will just have to limp to the end of eternity and hope someone is waiting for me there. :-)

A quasi-cyclic time is a little bit more complicated but it gives God the front door to access his creation if he so chooses. Moreover, the souls can move forwards and backwards in a time of their choosing, which is much nicer. You can see your loved ones again.

Nobody knows for sure what happens at the point when the Universe is a singularity. Since the laws of physics break down at this point you can prove pretty much anything you wanted to. Nevertheless, this then begs another question. If I remember my religion correctly, God created the world in 7 days, and according to Thomas Aquinas, he ruled it with eternal laws. However, since the laws of Physics breakdown at the singularity they cannot be eternal now can they?

Perhaps God uses a robust set of eternal laws for himself and another inferior set for creating the Universe. Perhaps he is keeping the good stuff for himself :-) and passing on the reject faulty bits that only work for a short while to us. It certainly makes sense why my life is as it is. Remind me to launch a letter of protest to God... :-)

The Universe is not big enough for the both of us

In this book, it appears to me that Dr Hawking has no need for God in his Universe. It is just not big enough for the both and he gives God his marching orders, which is very bold of him, and I liked that. He makes his arguments using similar ideas to the Laplacian theory, which I thought, was very interesting.

With divine intervention eliminated - i.e. God firmly locked out of his house, Hawking then goes on to show that the evolution of the Universe is a mechanistic process of which you are a small cogwheel. It reminded me of The Matrix, which is an interesting idea worth considering. We could all be just characters in a re-run recording of a show that God is watching for his amusement.

This of course implies that there is no free will, which makes life utterly pointless. So the next time you decide to have a couple of colas and the wife objects just tell her that according to the professor the Universe has already decided that you are going to drink them. :-)

I thought the best part of the book was putting Conway’s hypothesis forward, that if a system is highly complex, it can give the illusion of creation. I have always thought that Conway needed revising, because complexity does not prove anything either way. Surely, design and structure imply creation. If I put a microbe on the surface of a silicon chip, could it tell if the complex structure was natural or created?

Certainly, the Universe is highly complex. However, I think the Professor forgot to spot one simple observation that I made when I was 12. If God created the Universe, then he also created the solar system, then why did he create nine planets and place life on only one? Surely, that is a bad design and a waste of resources. He could have designed it better with only one planet at the correct distance from the Sun. Bearing this in mind, Hawking might actually be onto something here.

He concludes the book with an excellent assessment of M-theory. The M theory is the only best candidate for the theory of everything which Einstein was looking for.

In theoretical Physics, the M-theory is a front extension to the string theory. It is an 11 dimensional theory consisting of seven higher dimensions and four common dimensions. It unites all the current string theories and supersedes them. The last bit of work I remember reading was by Ashok Sen, a brilliant Indian Physicist, who made a remarkable breakthrough with the strong-weak coupling forces, called S-duality and his wonderful work on the open string tachyon - the idea of rolling tachyons...

I was hoping there would be more about the M-theory in the book but perhaps it will be in the next one. In conclusion, as you can see, it was great fun to read this book, and I will look forward to buying the next one.

Gods Division Algorithm

Perhaps life is a bunch of extremely difficult tests, and anyone who does not live up to pass it ends up in the black hole for recycling. I wonder, is there an equation for that?


TitleThe Grand Design
AuthorStephen Hawking & Leonard Mlodinow
PublisherBantam (18 Aug 2011)
Copyright HolderStephen Hawking
Last Page256
AvailabilityAmazon and all good online bookstores