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In his new book "The Grand Design", Steven Hawkings provides his most current views on the universe, reality, and God.
Hawkings starts out by describing his views on the nature of reality. He adopts a view of reality that he calls "model-dependent realism". That is, our brains interpret the input from our senses by making a model of the outside world. That model is useful to us to the extent that is matches with our observations and experiences. According to model-dependent realism, it is pointless to ask whether a model is real, only whether the model is useful. Likewise, physicists can construct more than one model of the world which matches observations, and neither model can be said to be more real than the other. For example, quantum physics posits that light is both a wave and a particle. Both are true.
Hawkings explains several of his conclusions in the book, and some are startling:
The ultimate theory of everything is "M-theory".
Our universe is not unique, but one of many universes (the multiverse).
The laws of our particular universe, (e.g., gravity, electromagnetism, thermodynamics) are not unique. Other universes could exist having a completely different set of natural laws. M-theory describes the laws that apply to all universes.
Our universe has eleven dimensions. Except for the three spatial dimensions, and time, the other dimensions are curled up and hidden from view.
Our universe began with the big bang, but speaking about what happened before the big bang is as meaningless as asking what is south of the south pole. Just as the point called the south pole is only an arbitrary designation, as the physical laws operate exactly the same at the south pole as they do anywhere else, so is the time when the universe began no more significant than any other point in time. Time and the spatial dimensions are not distinguished in mathematics. The equations of M-theory treat them exactly the same.
Our universe came into existence spontaneously due to random quantum fluctuations. Within our universe, it does not make sense for something to come out of nothing; however it does make sense for an entire universe to come out of nothing.
If any of the laws of our universe deviated by even a small percent, life would not be possible. Some offer this as proof of design by a creator God (the strong anthropic principle). However, Hawkings still rejects the necessity of a creator, and says this can be explained by the multiverse. At any given moment, billions of universes are coming into existence. Most of them only last a short time and then collapse again into nothingness. An analogy would be the bubbles in boiling water. Out of those billions of universes, eventually a universe like ours will be created by chance. We know this because our universe already exists.
Hawkings starts off his book by telling the readers that "philosophy is dead". In other words, physics has superseded philosophy and the philosophers cannot say anything significant about metaphysics that has not been covered by M-theory.
I find Hawkings conclusions correct with respect to Western philosophy, but I would argue that his views are compatible with Buddhism (which has no God concept). According to Hawkings own words, science constructs a model of reality which is useful to the extent that it agrees with observations and can predict future events (i.e., model dependent realism). However, by its own definition, science is forming a model of objective reality. However, through meditation, it is possible to construct a subjective model of reality. Meditators can be seen as subjective scientists - as their procedure is one of careful examination and inquiry into one's conscious experience. The conclusions of this subjective science have been summarized in ancient Buddhist literature, particularly the Abhidhamma.
If Hawkings is correct, than our existence is a product of a random quantum fluctuation, and further philosophical inquiry is futile. However, I would submit that Hawkings is describing the limits of how much we can understand our existence using the techniques of objective science. I would submit this is a compelling argument for meditation, that is, careful subjective scientific observations of ones own consciousness. This also seems the greatest hope of deriving a meaning for one's life based on truth, rather than relying on one of the popular fairy stories.
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