Re: The Grand Design

Despite the marquee name of Stephen Hawking (and Leonard Mlodinow) on the cover, The Grand Design reads at best like a sketchy version of a cosmology book. The lack of bibliography should have been a warning. It begins with quite a salvo: On the first page, it declares that philosophy is dead as a means to answer the deep questions. Then it asks deep philosophical questions about the nature of the laws of physics.

In the course of tackling those questions, the book embarks on a high speed tour of the history of physics, starting with the Greeks, careening past the Hindus and the Arabs, leaps past the unification of electricity and magnetism, and lands in the midst of the strong and weak nuclear forces.

The book’s  discussion of the two slit experiment almost got me to believe that a photon interferes with itself by traveling all paths. Thus it doesn’t have a fixed history, and neither does the universe.  And speaking of the two slit experiment, it bugs me that discussions of quantum mechanics go to great lengths to emphasize that photons are not particles and not waves, but can act like particles or act like waves. And then they go on to talk about electrons and neutrons and quarks as if they were tiny little balls.

Where it discusses things I wasn’t already somewhat familiar with, I didn’t quite understand. For example, the whole book leads up to “M-theory”, but I never got more than a vague description of it as a collection of theories, like a collection of maps on the world.  By the end, was left with the impression that M-theory was supposed to be way forward into a Theory of Everything.

I think.