Friday, September 24, 2010

More on Hawking's Grand Design (and Penrose)

In the few weeks since my previous post on Hawking's book, more has emerged on the "The Grand Design." 

This is rather belated, so let me rewind a bit.

In the early days of the book's first reviews, some of my physicist and mathematician colleagues (not necessarily Christians or theists) expressed unreserved dismay at the reported content -- such as the espousal of subjective "theory-dependent-realism."  Some said they doubted they would buy the book even to quench their curiosity. These were remarks that I found encouraging.

Of course, Hawking, the self-described "positivist,"  is wrong on all the big philosophical counts -- though he may be correct on some technical details of a mathematical variety. But without a doubt, his physical monism has no capacity to explain "why we exist," as he has stated.  And by "we" that must include all of human experience. His theory explains nothing of human existence or experience. His hubris goes even further when he states that with M-theory philosophy is dead.  With that remark, and with his adherence to the self contradictory philosophy of logical positivism, I'm certain that philosophy is, without a doubt, dead to him.

There was formerly a day and time when physicists showed a little more sobriety in regards to their profession and realized, and openly stated, that physics only deals with physical theories.  Even today, Roger Penrose, though no friend of theism, correctly speaks of the theory as a theory of the physical universe.  (More below). Years ago,  Eugene Wigner also generally spoke of physics as the study of inanimate matter.  Not Hawking, however!  He asserts that M-theory is the reason why animate beings, such as "us," exists.  

Some of the further details (an excerpt can be found here) that have emerged is that Hawking now espouses the absurd concept of theory-dependent-reality -- as if there could be such a thing as any abstract theory, period, in a purely material reality. That an abstract theory could be legislative of physical laws (which are the only laws that exist in Hawking's universe) is absurd.  A universe ruled by nothing but random quantum processes cannot produce rational beings, such as us, who regulate our reasoning by way of immaterial laws of thought (logic) and thereby produce abstract physical theories such as M-theory -- whether true or not.

Other Reviews
I have read a few customer reviews on various book sites, and agree with those who have described the book as a typical shallow popularization of physics. 

For a pure physical objection to Hawking's views, we have the review of Roger Penrose. Penrose's review avoids discussion of the more pure philosophical aspects of the book. I have always found Penrose to be a bit more sober among contemporary physicists -- though his "Platonistic" pluralism is just as absurd as material monism.  (Though we might say Penrose is an inconsistent materialist.) You can read Penrose's physics critique here: Penrose's Review

So despite Penrose's insightful critique of Hawking, we have the following:

On the one hand, we have the absurd and incoherent monism of Hawking that accounts for nothing.  And on the other hand,  we have the multiple unrelated realities of Penrose's neo-Platonism that posits a mysterious plurality of impersonal, co-eternal and co-ultimate realities of physical matter, mind, and "Platonic" mathematics --a plurality more incoherent than the polytheism of pagan Greece and Rome.  Of course, positing such co-eternal things solves the "which came first" problem, but the cure is worse than the disease of monism.  Atheistic pluralism is incoherent, arbitrary and incomplete. And, we should add that conspicuously absent from both Hawking's monism and Penrose's pluralist metaphysics is ethics.