(a book review by
George Packard had never written a book review before. And surely this book, The Grand Design by Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinov, had already been reviewed – and lauded! – numerous times since its release in 2010. But George wanted to recommend this book – and the other Hawking’s books – to anyone interested in modern physics or cosmology. Likewise to anyone who is simply curious and isn’t too timid to try to tackle something difficult. There’s no doubt about it, thought George, quantum physics is essentially incomprehensible.
All the same, In The Grand Design Hawking and Mlodinov do their level-headed best to explain to the layman the basics of quantum theory and the current status of the great quest for the Grand Design: the handful of simple equations – indeed one equation would be the coolest! – that explains the whole kit and keboodle. The theory of everything!
In the rapid advance of modern physics from a Newtonian model to the Einsteinian, and then to Quantum Mechanics and the current Quantum Field Theories, M theories, String theories and Super-symmetry models, the quest for The Grand Unified Theory (the GUT) or Theory of Everything (TOE) goes on.
And, ah, but that fine and noble path to a more complete understanding! Ah, the serendipitous gifts along the way!
Hawking explains current scientific theory as well as anyone. His accomplishments as a physicist and as an author are truly remarkable.
One interesting concept he presents in the book is that of ‘model-dependent realism’. States Hawking: “According to model-dependent realism, it is pointless to ask whether a model is real, only whether it agrees with observation.” By model Hawking means any of our various conceptions of reality, such as the Biblical model of the earth as a flat pancake, or a model of a universe composed of atoms which are only vibrations, or a universe in which particles are waves and waves particles, and even a universe that is only one of a near-infinite number of universes.
In the end, if the model explains the data….well then, that’s the model we’ll go with for now, says Hawking. It must be true; it fits the data; it makes correct predictions. Many conceptual obstacles are removed when one adopts such a pragmatic and open-minded approach.
The beauty that Hawking and Mlodinov reveal to us – and also show to us by their devotion to the search for knowledge – is a pleasure to behold. In this book they have shared with the lay public some of the esoteric treasures of modern physics.
So here’s to Stephen Hawking!