Hawking’s idealism – it’s in the math

I think Mary Daly over at Notice the Universe rightly says Stephen Hawking’s new book, The Grand Design, is oddly titled for a work claiming (as she says) “…that the universe will create itself, out of nothing, in an infinite variety of forms; and that, given an infinite variety of forms, a segment or sub-universe friendly to mankind is bound to develop,” which is the same as to say, as Mary points out, that there is “no design needed, grand or not.”

“Even supposing that Hawking is correct and that gravity and quantum physics suffice, that’s a pretty large “given”a little like the old joke in which a scientist challenges God to a creation-of-life competition and then, like God, picks up some dirt to start his work. ‘No, no,’ says God. ‘Go get your own dirt.’

“It seems as if the physicists have started saying that the math is the physics. But math is only a pattern; it is not a reality. Even such a simple mathematical entity as “two” is not real. There is no “two” in the world. There are two apples, two waves, two stars, two electrons, but no “two.”  Believing that the patterns are “real” and the physical things just odd shadows of those patterns has a name in philosophy: idealism.  Reducing the study of physical reality to mathematics is a philosophical decision, not a scientific one; it is philosophical idealism.

Agreed.  It’s one thing when a physicist, with an assist from the mathematician (identified by Daly as “the physicist’s alter-ego”) is able to construct a mathematical system that seems perfectly parallel to the patterns he’s seeing in the universe.  The problem arises when the system starts to imply things that are not even potentially observable and do not resemble either the visible universe or the original pattern that was seen in it – and yet the physicist has so much faith in the math that he finds such oddities to be real as well.

Daly:  “As every detective knows, having a solution that accounts for the facts is not the same as having the right answer.”


8 thoughts on “Hawking’s idealism – it’s in the math

  1. In “The Grand Design” Stephen Hawking postulates that the M-theory may be the Holy Grail of physics…the Grand Unified Theory which Einstein had tried to formulate and later abandoned. It expands on quantum mechanics and string theories.

    In my e-book on comparative mysticism is a quote by Albert Einstein: “…most beautiful and profound emotion we can experience is the sensation of the mystical. It is the sower of all true science. To know that what is impenetrable to us really exists, manifesting itself as the highest wisdom and most radiant beauty – which our dull faculties can comprehend only in their primitive form – this knowledge, this feeling, is at the center of all religion.”

    E=mc², Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity, is probably the best known scientific equation. I revised it to help better understand the relationship between divine Essence (Spirit), matter (mass/energy: visible/dark) and consciousness (f(x) raised to its greatest power). Unlike the speed of light, which is a constant, there are no exact measurements for consciousness. In this hypothetical formula, basic consciousness may be of insects, to the second power of animals and to the third power the rational mind of humans. The fourth power is suprarational consciousness of mystics, when they intuit the divine essence in perceived matter. This was a convenient analogy, but there cannot be a divine formula.

  2. What always amuses me about the claims of science at this level, is the degree of FAITH they exhibit–the same faith exhibited by the believer, though they would be loathe to admit it. Yet, I suspect they will never get beyond the faith that the math proves them right. But then I will never get beyond the faith that well, faith proves me right.

    Happily, I don’t find the two mutually exclusive.

  3. Sherry: Its not really about faith or believing in a theory. The theories are mathematically sound constructs that can model the Universe. You can’t believe, just like many people often assume that the Big Bang came first and was then mathematically proven…it was actually the other way round, the maths was laid down and from that the picture of the singularity emerged, as was later called the Big Bang. Understand your scientific history.

    • Michael, thanks for joining the discussion.

      I’m sure you’re aware that theorists have not yet come up with hard evidence for any kind of wave theory of gravity and are therefore unable to explain away the apparent action of gravity ‘at a distance.’

      Action-at-a-distance is not understandable scientifically. But it still ‘looks’ like that’s how gravity works – it operates at a distance without time constraint. Even the spatial variable is simply a geometrical inverse square rule used to describe the rate of diminished force at a distance, which in no way implies the diminishment is due to a real time lapse.

      Until evidence is found for the space-time wave theory, cosmologists have really ‘got nothing’ when it comes to explanations of gravity. It is indeed a ‘given.’

      But forces operating without time constraints are transcendental. If God is above time or before time (i.e. ‘eternal’ as religion believes) then maybe gravity is subject to the absolute in a way that cannot be schematized in space-time.

      And there’s no real argument for a Catch 22 regarding the origin of any reality which is before space-time. No scientist qua scientist has the job of explaining God (or anything else outside his/her professional sphere).

  4. Is there an uncaused cause (God, gravity, whatever)? That question assumes there is a beginning and end to spacetime. In commenting on my e-book on comparative mysticism, I mentioned the infinite here in the eternal now. One person replied, “What the hell does that mean?” Here is my response:

    If I asked “where are you here and now?” you might reply with your current address and local time. It would also be true that here and now could refer to that city and day, that state/province and month, that country and year, this Earth and decade, this galaxy and century, this Universe and millennium. Continue on and eventually you will get to infinity and eternity, where we all are here and now.

    • Ron, I think you’re basically denying there is any qualitative difference between time and eternity. I recognize the truth of what you’re saying as far as the timeless present, but Eternity is not simply the sum of all segments of time, and therefore you cannot simply totalize larger and larger segments to arrive at the absolute.

      Your reasoning works fine all the way up until you come to the largest segment of time imaginable. Then it breaks down and cannot be used as a bridge to cross into eternity as I understand it.

      • That was meant to be a humorous response to his reply. You cannot logically proceed from today’s location and time to infinity and eternity.

        Suprarational knowing – fleeting consciousness of the unity of existence – is beyond reason, logic and images. Almost everyone has felt this oneness, but most people dismiss it.

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