Friday, December 10, 2010

The Grand Design

The Grand Design
© 2010 Stephen Hawking & Leonard Mlodinow
198 pages

Though modern physics is considerably harder to understand than say, anthropology, I continue to be fascinated by it -- for physics, it seems to me, is the most fundamental science. The constituent elements of the universe that compose both our bodies and celestial bodies are all essentially composed of particles driven by natural forces.  As I've enjoyed Hawking in the past and am in need of a physics refresher, I approached this book with great anticipation. The book's slenderness shocked me: though a physically attractive book, its contents are brief, almost truncated.

Hawking and Mlodinow start of promisingly by introducing the reader to the scientific understanding of the universe as being a thing ruled by laws -- not the fickle will of mysterious gods and ethereal forces. From there, they move quickly into quantum particle physics and M-theory -- altogether too quickly for me, for though I reread troublesome passages repeatedly, they left me confused.  Though it is true my knowledge of modern physics has waned sharply in the last two years (as my formal studies have been primarily historic), I remember reading Dan Falk's The Universe on a T-Shirt  and coming away with a fuzzy appreciation for what string- and M-theory meant for science -- and when I read Falk in 2007, I was completely unversed in modern science.

The essential idea presented in the book is that M-theory, with its multiple and parallel universes  explains why our own universe appears so fine-tuned and congenial toward the existence of intelligent life. If everything that can happen has and does happen, well naturally the things that needed to happen for US to happen happened.  That is...what I have derived from reading this several times and wincing because something I thought I had a slight handle on now seems utterly foreign.  If you have a solid appreciation for the subtleties of quantum physics, you may be able to apply that to the chapters which are about M-theory specifically.  As for me, I will be returning to Brian Greene at some point in the New Year, because I remember his The Elegant Universe being hard to read, but thorough enough that I could understand it provided I was willing to take the time to ponder its ideas. The Grand Design is unfortunately  simple to the point of being simplistic.


  • Universe on a T-Shirt,  Dan Falk
  • The Elegant Universe, Brian Greene
  • The Fabric of the Cosmos: Space, Time, and the Texture of Reality, Brian Greene

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