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The Grand Design by Stephen Hawking
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The Grand Design (original 2010; edition 2012)

by Stephen Hawking, Leonard Mlodinow

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1,586754,597 (3.65)35
Member:Blue_Astral
Title:The Grand Design
Authors:Stephen Hawking
Other authors:Leonard Mlodinow
Info:Bantam (2012), Edition: Reprint, Paperback, 208 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:***
Tags:non-fiction, universe, physics, astronomy, philosophy

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The Grand Design by Stephen Hawking (2010)

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I read this immediately after reading The Universe in a Nutshell (2001). I read Black Holes and Baby Universes a few years ago. I have read Brian Greene's works, so felt rather up-to-date on where quantum physics was at. I found this book to be more accessible than Greene's work, and a more interesting read than Nutshell since Hawking is contemplating theoretical physics' meaning for philosophy. That philosophical bent is a real problem for physics since the scientific method, which Hawking holds favorably in The Grand Design, requires hypothesis testing. For more on these problems, and a large criticism of Hawking I plan to read Lee Smolin's The Trouble with Physics.

The author begins by stating that philosophy has not kept up with science, particularly modern physics. Hawking gives a brief history of science with an emphasis on physics and a look at how philosophy looking at science developed from Aristotle (rejected atoms b/c soulless) to Descartes (believed that the body was machine governed by laws, but the soul was not) to Newton (discovered many laws of the universe but held that God was free to intervene against them).

If there are natural laws, can/does God violate them to perform miracles? That's an important question, as is the question of free will and determinism. Where does free will come from? If physicists nail down a Theory of Everything, will everything be deterministic henceforth?

Hawking writes the laws of (this) universe arose from the big bang, and lengthily establishes what those laws are. But the universe has an infinite number of histories and contingencies. Wrap your head around this:
"the probability amplitude that the universe is now in a particular state is arrived at by adding up the contributions from all the histories that satisfy the no-boundary condition and end in the state in question. In cosmology, in other words, one shouldn't follow the history of the universe from the bottom up because that assumes there's a single history, with a well-defined starting point and evolution. Instead, one should trace the histories from the top down, backward from the present time...The histories that contribute to the Feynman sum don't have an independent existence, but depend on what is being measured. We create history by our observation, rather than our history creating us...histories in which the moon is made of cheese do not contribute to the present state of our universe, though they might contribute to others. That might sound like science fiction, but it isn't."

Hawking explains M-theory, p-branes, and other developments in quantum physics. The last pages of the book are the most important as Hawking contends that M theory explains how a universe can arise from nothing. But it does not lead to determinism in the sense that it would be mathematically impossible to calculate the movements of any one being. So, a theory of everything that is not what Hawking desired to find in Black Holes and Baby Universes.

This book seems much more consequential than Nutshell. I found it more entertaining and thought-provoking throughout. I would very much like to read Lee Smolin's The Trouble with Physics, a critique of Hawking's work. For now, 4 stars out of 5 ( )
1 vote justindtapp | Jun 3, 2015 |
CC and several ILL
  Cheryl_in_CC_NV | Apr 14, 2015 |
Another great book by Hawking. Once again Hawking is able to bring the the the common man the grandest theories in physics so that they are able to understand. ( )
1 vote gopfolk | Mar 4, 2015 |
The Grand Design- Stephen Hawking
Anthropic principle is the philosophical argument that observations of the physical Universe must be compatible with the conscious life that observes it
M-theory is an extension of string theory (supersymmetry ) in which 11 dimensions are identified it is believed that the 11-dimensional theory unites all five string theories , the low-entropy dynamics are known to be supergravity interacting with 2- and 5-dimensional membranes.
The Multiverse (or meta-universe, metaverse/parallel U) is the hypothetical set of multiple possible universes that together comprise everything that exists: the entirety of space, time, matter, and energy as well as the physical laws and constants that describe them.
Gravity is a negetive energy as objects move apart the positive energy needed to balance is stored in the form of mass, thus an universe can form out of nothing.
  pj100pl | Sep 29, 2014 |
So I was in an airport with very little time to spare before my flight, but knowing I had hours of transit yet before I'd be home and I'd just run out of book. The only airport bookstore I found was tiny and the books on the shelvers were all titles I could only imagine reading under extreme duress (or, rather, wouldn't want to be seen reading unless under extreme duress -- I'm such a snob), and I was on my way out of the store, despairing of having anything to entertain myself but my own over-active and troublesome imagination, but especially no shield against strangers and the rest of the world, when I saw the name Stephen Hawking in big, stark letters and I knew I was saved.

Just for background, without the influence of Stephen Hawking, I might not have a master's degree in physics. Really. I count four main influences (other than my parents) in my choice of a physics degree. The other three were teachers/professors. A boy who was enamored of me once sent me a copy of A Brief History of Time. It was a really good gift. Probably the best gift I ever got from a boyfriend before I met my husband, who buys me bookshelves. (I just checked, because I couldn't remember, and the book wasn't inscribed. That boy was kind of an idiot.)

This is a book of grand ideas on the nature of the universe -- that tries to establish an understanding of the scientific theories on the most basic and fundamental questions underlying the universe. So, you know, big. From grand unified theories to the big bang to string theory, with multi-verses, alternate histories, and the probability of a Chinese pope along the way. It goes about explaining all this with humor, some fabulous illustrations, and Hawking's trademark straight-forwardness, which assures that "all of this is understandable."

That said, I had my usual complaint about this book that I have about all science books written for a lay audience. That is, my understanding is always deepened when I can see the math. It's just how my brain works. Most lay readers, however, are terrified of equations, so it will remain a problem for me. It only really bothered me in the section on Feynman's sum over histories -- something never really covered in any of my classes, but which I'd like to understand better. Time to get myself a textbook?

I would say there is no better place to look for a small, easy-to-understand (but intelligent!) book on the current scientific understanding of the history and structure of the universe, were it not for the recent (maybe) discovery of the Higgs boson -- there's not so much on elementary particles here. Still recommended, anyway. ( )
1 vote greeniezona | Sep 20, 2014 |
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It is all entertaining stuff, skilfully assembled and described in a fairly droll manner. The wave-particle duality of particles is described as being as foreign as drinking a chunk of sandstone, for example. The book is also commendably brief and by and large illuminating about the complexities of modern cosmology.
 
It is all entertaining stuff, skilfully assembled and described in a fairly droll manner. The wave-particle duality of particles is described as being as foreign as drinking a chunk of sandstone, for example. The book is also commendably brief and by and large illuminating about the complexities of modern cosmology.

So read it to understand the universe. But if it is God you are after, my advice is to steer clear.
 
The real news about “The Grand Design,” however, isn’t Mr. Hawking’s supposed jettisoning of God, information that will surprise no one who has followed his work closely. The real news about “The Grand Design” is how disappointingly tinny and inelegant it is. The spare and earnest voice that Mr. Hawking employed with such appeal in “A Brief History of Time” has been replaced here by one that is alternately condescending, as if he were Mr. Rogers explaining rain clouds to toddlers, and impenetrable.
 

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Mlodinow, Leonardsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
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Book description
In the last thirty years of his life Albert Einstein searched for a unified theory - a theory which could describe all the forces of nature in a single framework. But the time was not right for such a discovery in Einstein's day. Neither was the time right when, in 1988, Professor Stephen Hawking wrote A Brief History of Time in which he took us on a journey through classical physics, Einstein's theory of relativity, quantum physics and string theory in order to explain the universe that we live in. He concluded, like Einstein, that science may soon arrive at the long sought after 'Theory of Everything'. In this ground-breaking new work, Professor Hawking and renowned science writer Leonard Mlodinow have drawn on forty years of Hawking's own research and a recent series of extraordinary astronomical observations and theoretical breakthroughs to reveal an original and controversial theory. They convincingly argue that scientific obsession with formulating a single new model may be misplaced, and that, instead, by synthesising existing theories we may discover the key to finally understanding the universe's deepest mysteries. Written with the clarity and lively style for which Hawking is famous, The Grand Design is an account of Hawking's quest to fuse these different strands of scientific theory. It examines the differences between past and future, explains the nature of reality and asks an all-important question: How far can we go in our search for understanding and knowledge?
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Along with Caltech physicist Mlodinow (The Drunkard's Walk), University of Cambridge cosmologist Hawking (A Brief History of Time)deftly mixes cutting-edge physics to answer three key questions--Why is there something rather than nothing? Why do we exist? Why this particular set of laws and not some other?--and explains that scientists are approaching what is called "M-theory," a collection of overlapping theories (including string theory) that fill in many (but not all) the blank spots in quantum physics; this collection is known as the "Grand Unified Field Theories."… (more)

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