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.”