~ Rich's Writings ~

A Collection of Writings by Rich Van Winkle

Click here to return to the Home Page

 


“The Grand Design”

 by Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow

(Follow-up to my initial review)

Something from nothing… I now believe that this is plausible since the authors have managed to earn a royalty (something) from the sale of a book based entirely upon nothing. Well, almost nothing. I was critical of the book in my preliminary review and upon reading it, my opinion has diminished – the book is a nice introduction to some basic physics and cosmology, some popular theories, and some unpopular opinions (often stated as theories). Since there plenty of better books around that offer more of the above for less money, we can be assured that this book’s popularity and appeal is based upon three things:

                 Dr. Hawking’s reputation,

                Some controversial claims,

                “Good” (misleading) marketing .

 My first question would be, “who picked the title?” “The Grand Design” rather implies that there was one. “The Grand Design?” might have given us a clue, but this title directly contradicts the book’s conclusion that there was no “design”. Even worse, the entire point of the book becomes clear upon reading: to propose a pseudo-scientific “theory” that makes “God” unnecessary to explain the “Big Bang”. And, the purpose of making this claim is also obvious – to sell books.

 Let me begin at the beginning: the authors claim that "The Big Bang was the result of the inevitable laws of physics and did not need God to spark the creation of the Universe.”  "Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing.” "Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist.” All of these conclusions arise in the final pages of the final chapter of the book – Chapter 8, “The Grand Design”, pps. 179-180. I’ll quote the whole section…

 “In a physical universe, the counterparts of objects such as gliders in the Game of Life [the subject of most of this chapter] are isolated bodies of matter. Any set of laws that describes a continuous world such as our own will have a concept of energy, which is a conserved quantity, meaning it doesn’t change in time. The energy of empty space will be a constant, independent of both time and position. One can subtract out this constant vacuum energy by measuring the energy of any volume of space relative to that of the same volume of empty space, so we may as well call the constant zero. One requirement any law of nature must satisfy is that it dictates that the energy of an isolated body surrounded by empty space is positive, which means that one has to do work to assemble the body. That's because if the energy of an isolated body were negative, it could be created in a state of motion so that its negative energy was exactly balanced by the positive energy due to its motion. If that were true, there would be no reason that bodies could not appear anywhere and everywhere. Empty space would therefore be unstable. But if it costs energy to create an isolated body, such instability cannot happen, because, as we've said, the energy of the universe must remain constant. That is what it takes to make the universe locally stable-to make it so that things don't just appear everywhere from nothing. [End of p.179]

If the total energy of the universe must always remain zero, and it costs energy to create a body, how can a whole universe be created from nothing? That is why there must be a law like gravity. Because gravity is attractive, gravitational energy is negative:  One has to do work to separate a gravitationally bound system, such as the earth and moon. This negative energy can balance the positive energy needed to create matter, but it's not quite that simple. The negative gravitational energy of the earth, for example, is less than a billionth of the positive energy of the matter particles the earth is made of. A body such as a star will have more negative gravitational energy, and the smaller it is (the closer the different parts of it are to each other), the greater this negative gravitational energy will be. But before it can become greater than the positive energy of the matter, the star will collapse to a black hole, and black holes have positive energy. That's why empty space is stable. Bodies such as stars or black holes cannot just appear out of nothing. But a whole universe can.

Because gravity shapes space and time, it allows space-time to be locally stable but globally unstable. On the scale of the entire universe, the positive energy of the matter can be balanced by the negative gravitational energy, and so there is no restriction on the creation of whole universes. Because there is a law like gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing in the manner described in Chapter 6. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist. It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going.

Why are the fundamental laws as we have described them? The ultimate theory must be consistent and must predict finite results for quantities that we can measure. We've seen that there must be a law like gravity, and we saw in Chapter 5 that for a theory of gravity to predict finite quantities, the theory must have what is called supersymmetry between the forces of nature and the matter on which they act. M-theory is the most general supersymmetric theory of gravity. For these reasons M-theory is the only candidate for a complete theory of the universe. If it is finite - and this has yet to be proved-it will be a model of a universe that creates itself.  We must be part of this universe, because there is no other consistent model.

M-theory is the unified theory Einstein was hoping to find. The fact that we human beings-who are ourselves mere collections of fundamental particles of nature-have been able to come this close to an understanding of the laws governing us and our universe is a great triumph. But perhaps the true miracle is that abstract considerations of logic lead to a unique theory that predicts and describes a vast universe full of the amazing variety that we see. If the theory is confirmed by observation, it will be the successful conclusion of a search going back more than 3,000 years. We will have found the grand design.” [End of p. 180]

 

I will state again that I am not one of the Christian apologists who feel threatened by science. And, I have no theological or doctrinal agenda. I just hate bad science – and what you’ve just read (or attempted to read) is scientific hogwash. I will take it one sentence at a time…

In a physical universe, the counterparts of objects such as gliders in the Game of Life [the subject of most of this chapter] are isolated bodies of matter. There are some interesting observations from John Conway’s “Game of Life” (where simple computer generated object take on complex characteristics under certain simple rules), but to presume that there are real world counterparts to such objects requires both explanation and elaboration. Isolated bodies of matter may or may not take on the properties of objects such as gliders, but even if they do, they certainly function is much different ways.

Any set of laws that describes a continuous world such as our own will have a concept of energy, which is a conserved quantity, meaning it doesn’t change in time. Why? Is any concept of energy inherently like ours? Why is energy necessarily conserved? We’re not even certain that energy is conserved in our universe and some theorists are pretty sure the evidence says that it’s not. At the very least there are unanswered questions regarding the conservation of energy at quantum levels.

The energy of empty space will be a constant, independent of both time and position. First, it is a difficult idea to term space “empty” and then assume that it has energy. Then, it is uncertain whether “empty space” has constant energy. Energy that is independent of both time and position is meaningless in any definition of physical reality.

One can subtract out this constant vacuum energy by measuring the energy of any volume of space relative to that of the same volume of empty space, so we may as well call the constant zero. Now we’re told the difference – one is the “constant vacuum energy” and the other is “empty space”. But wait, then we’re told that the difference is constant at zero – meaning they’re the same? This is pure scientific gobblygoo.

One requirement any law of nature must satisfy is that it dictates that the energy of an isolated body surrounded by empty space is positive, which means that one has to do work to assemble the body. Several assumptions – that energy has “body” which is a poor way to say “mass”. We don’t know why this MIGHT be a requirement of any law of nature (although it could be), but to make this statement as if it is proven fact is misleading. But this thinking (even if correct) is used later to support a wholly unrelated conclusion. Plus, we’ve now added the concept of “work” to the mix without explaining it. Indeed, we typically think that “work” requires energy, but there seems to be work done by gravity without any known energy source. (Search: gravitational perpetual motion).

That's because if the energy of an isolated body were negative, it could be created in a state of motion so that its negative energy was exactly balanced by the positive energy due to its motion. Gads – we have no understanding of any isolated bodies with negative energy so we have no way to confirm the idea that they might be “created in a state of motion” – whatever that means. If we’re attempting to balance an equation that requires this exact balance, why make this assumption?

If that were true, there would be no reason that bodies could not appear anywhere and everywhere. First, it’s a BIG “if” – we don’t know if this is true or not and it actually makes little sense to assume that it is. Thus, there “is no reason” to suggest that anything (much less “bodies”) could NOT appear anywhere and everywhere. And, if this is so likely, why haven’t we ever observed it?

Empty space would therefore be unstable. And yet, at the macro level, empty space appears to be extremely stable.

 But if it costs energy to create an isolated body, such instability cannot happen, because, as we've said, the energy of the universe must remain constant. While there is validity in the assumption that “the energy of the universe must remain constant”, we don’t know whether it must or does remain constant. But we most certainly do NOT know whether this constrain existed outside the universe – before its inception (the “Big Bang”).

That is what it takes to make the universe locally stable-to make it so that things don't just appear everywhere from nothing. What? The stability or constancy of total energy? How does this account for the “local” variations and the now well-established instability within “empty space” (where “ghost particles” are continuously appearing from nothing and then instantaneously disappearing)?

If the total energy of the universe must always remain zero, and it costs energy to create a body, how can a whole universe be created from nothing?  A silly, stupid, or ridiculous contradiction of ideas: there is absolutely no logic is assuming that some possible condition required to make the universe stable operates as a constraint upon the conditions in which it is actually created. Even if our universe has this constraint, we have no knowledge (and cannot have knowledge) of the conditions or constraints that existed BEFORE our universe began. This argument is based upon the assumption that our universe was created within another identical or similar universe – and that assumption is wholly unfounded.

That is why there must be a law like gravity. GIGO – you start with irrational assumptions and illogical ideas and you get presumptive irrational results. I’m embarrassed for the authors and the scientific community they profess to represent. Yes, the coherence and structure of our universe requires something like gravity. But we still don’t understand it, how it works, or where it came from.

Because gravity is attractive, gravitational energy is negative:  One has to do work to separate a gravitationally bound system, such as the earth and moon. Objects at rest have zero kinetic energy and objects an infinite distance apart have “zero” gravitational attraction, so the objects have zero gravitational potential with respect to each other (0 + 0 = 0 total energy). As these objects approach each other, they gain kinetic energy so in order for the total energy to remain constant the gravitational potential must decrease by an equal amount. (x+1 = 0 total energy, x has to equal -1). This sounds logical but it is based upon a problematic assumption – that the universe has net zero energy balance. The evidence (that the universe is expanding) indicates otherwise.

This negative energy can balance the positive energy needed to create matter, but it's not quite that simple. Indeed.

 The negative gravitational energy of the earth, for example, is less than a billionth of the positive energy of the matter particles the earth is made of. OK…

 A body such as a star will have more negative gravitational energy, and the smaller it is (the closer the different parts of it are to each other), the greater this negative gravitational energy will be. Perhaps…

 But before it can become greater than the positive energy of the matter, the star will collapse to a black hole, and black holes have positive energy. Or so it seems. Like conditions before the beginning of the universe, we can know little about “black holes”. By their nature – nothing escapes their pull, not even information. So we make assumptions about black holes based upon their interaction with other objects in our universe while knowing that the same rules and laws that we use to make our assumptions simply don’t apply within black holes.

That's why empty space is stable. Bodies such as stars or black holes cannot just appear out of nothing. Empty space is anything but stable, but we generally find that effects have causes and that our universe has stability that increases as objects become larger.

But a whole universe can. Wow! It would fantastic if the authors could actually support his claim. Unfortunately, they just keep adding BS to the pile.

Because gravity shapes space and time, it allows space-time to be locally stable but globally unstable. Yes, gravity (whatever it is) might be responsible for the local “stability” of space-time – if in fact it is stable.

On the scale of the entire universe, the positive energy of the matter can be balanced by the negative gravitational energy, and so there is no restriction on the creation of whole universes. Perhaps it CAN be, but it doesn’t appear to be. This remains one of the great unanswered questions of science, so to build a theory around this assumption is rather foolish. More so, to say that this single aspect of the universe addresses or presents the ONLY restriction against the spontaneous creation of universes is more than a bold leap.

Because there is a law like gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing in the manner described in Chapter 6. I’m saddened to think that so many people will be so misled by this highly flawed conclusion. While I disagree with so many of the author’s statements, assumptions, and conclusions, I would admit that nothing in the laws of gravity prevent the “spontaneous creation of universes” (that such can happen), but to extend this absurdity and say that “the universe will create itself from nothing” (that it “must”) is pseudo-science far worse than anything I’ve seen from the religious “creationists”.

Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist. This is NOT a “reason”. It could be some part of an explanation of HOW, but it doesn’t even offer much in that area. It certainly offers nothing in regard to WHY did “spontaneous creation” occur because it cannot be reasonably extrapolated to conditions that existed BEFORE creation. This is nothing more than a convoluted “it just happened” argument.

It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going. OK, it’s not necessarily necessary. So what?  What if simply go back one step and say that God is the entity that created gravity so that “spontaneous creation” could occur? Or was gravity created spontaneously also?

Why are the fundamental laws as we have described them? The ultimate theory must be consistent and must predict finite results for quantities that we can measure. "For large densities of field and of matter, the field equations and even the field variables which enter into them will have no real significance. One may not therefore assume the validity of the equations for very high density of field and of matter, and one may not conclude that the 'beginning of the expansion' [of the universe] must mean a singularity in the mathematical sense. All we have to realize is that the equations may not be continued over such regions."  The Meaning of Relativity” by A. Einstein (5th Ed.), Princeton University Press (1956), p. 129. I’m not about to disagree with The Master on this one.

We've seen that there must be a law like gravity, and we saw in Chapter 5 that for a theory of gravity to predict finite quantities, the theory must have what is called supersymmetry between the forces of nature and the matter on which they act. What we’ve seen thus far is a circular logic compounded with unfounded assumptions, ridiculous conclusions, and meaningless theories. I guess we should be surprised that this continues with “M-theory”.

M-theory is the most general supersymmetric theory of gravity. Supersymmetry (or SUSY) is another theory in the “standard model” that has little or no direct evidence (just some supporting indirect indicators). Its appeal lies in its potential solution of a popular quantum field theory and so it is featured in most versions of string theory. (Although often linked with string theory, they are not inherently interdependent). I happen to favor string theory and the SUSY approach to explaining it. But I most certainly wouldn’t make it out to be anything more than one unproven possibility among many. But the authors are happy to conclude and inform us that…

For these reasons M-theory is the only candidate for a complete theory of the universe. The ONLY candidate? Really? Complete, you say? So the entire scientific community can now turn their focus towards this one possibility because the authors have shown convincingly that there is only one possible candidate for a complete theory. Is that how they think science works? Perhaps – and their book is the result of such thinking. In science, logic is not proof and rationality is not reality. Just because something is logic doesn’t make it correct and just because something is based upon reason doesn’t mean it reflects reality. The authors demonstrate why science is built upon proof – observed and reproducible evidence that reasonably leads to a conclusion that can be tested and verified. “The Grand Design’s” final conclusions are not even poor science – they’re fake science. They’re poorly developed opinions delivered among in the middle of real science so that they appear scientific. It’s hardly necessary to go on.

If it is finite - and this has yet to be proved-it will be a model of a universe that creates itself.  At least we begin with a BIG “if” and a caveat, and then we jump to another bold assumption. It could be a model of an autopoetic universe, but we have no idea whether it is or isn’t.

We must be part of this universe, because there is no other consistent model. What?

M-theory is the unified theory Einstein was hoping to find. Says you. I am confident that AE would disagree, but it’s easy to see why the authors  would invoke his name.

The fact that we human beings-who are ourselves mere collections of fundamental particles of nature-have been able to come this close to an understanding of the laws governing us and our universe is a great triumph. Yes, an astounding thing is occurring – the universe is becoming self-aware. It is not OUR triumph though.

But perhaps the true miracle is that abstract considerations of logic lead to a unique theory that predicts and describes a vast universe full of the amazing variety that we see. In chapter 7 (“The Apparent Miracle”), the authors address the anthropic principle (the miracle of conditions within the universe being so finely “tuned” to allow our creation) and basically conclude that M-theory is the apparent miracle. About the only part of this that makes sense is the description of M-theory as a collection of “abstract considerations of logic”. Again, M-theory is not a unique theory and it doesn’t predict or explain even a smidgen of the vast universe.

If the theory is confirmed by observation, it will be the successful conclusion of a search going back more than 3,000 years. We will have found the grand design. Not hardly. The basic premise behind the book is supposed to be a recent “advancement” in physics known as “M-theory” that some think describes the behavior of the known fundamental particles and forces to such a degree that they may account for the origin of the universe. (So far, a theory not well supported by experimentation). What Prof. Hawking (and the rest of the scientific community) knows is that M-theory, even if correct, can only explain what happened after the first instant of the Creation. Those who SUPPOSE that it might offer some indication of what happened before that instant are fooling themselves (and others).

Let’s take an obvious example – gravity. The author’s new supposition is that gravity existed BEFORE the creation has NO BASIS in observation or experimentation. Indeed, even M-theory accepts that gravity was a fundamental force that “unfolded” from a grand-unified force AFTER the Creation began. It is possible that gravity existed before the “Big Bang”, but that’s not what most scientists think, that’s not that the theory predicts, and that’s not what the evidence shows. So if gravity is the required “trigger” for the magic of spontaneous creation, then we have problems: where did the gravity come from (since it is a result of mass) and what property of gravity would lead to spontaneous creation (under the circumstances before the universe began where there are NO known physical laws).

I regret wasting the time to read this book. I’m going to return it for a refund – it was misrepresented as being a scientific book.

RVW

 

 

Please let me know if you have comments about or corrections for this web site.

rich1vanwinkle@yahoo.com


This is a Rich's Writings Miscellaneous Writings Page. To return to the Miscellaneous Writings List, click here


Email us at: Comments@thehumanfuture.net
Join our email list
Visit our Store
Sign our Guest Book!

See our "Fair Use", privacy, copyright, and terms of use policies and agreements by clicking on the item.

This website and its contents are Intellectual Property  - ALL RIGHTS RESERVED! 2010  by Rich Van Winkle