Saturday, 12 May 2012

Cannonball read #17: The Grand Design by Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow

I'm not a religious person, but I find myself getting spiritual from time to time. The Swedish mountains, a summer night sky scattered with stars, the open expanses of the ocean, all seem divine to me, because they fill my mind with questions about Life, the Universe and Everything. Questions that mankind has sought to answer since the beginning of time.

Or, hang on a second. There was no beginning of time. We can't talk about there being a beginning of time because...what was that again?

Hawking and Mlodinow's book ”The Grand Design” goes through some theories that attempt to answer some of these questions and to explain how the world works, and concludes that the M-theory is the one that holds most promise. The authors discuss religion in this context, in what I thought was a respectful manner, to make a case for why we don't need it to understand the universe. And (lemme see if I got this straight) the reason we are here to observe this specific universe is because this specific universe (only one of an infinite amount of universes) is the only one with the potential to have us, who can observe it, in it. Confused yet?

Science books are not known for being pleb-friendly. They have difficult issues to tackle, so no matter how simplified your language is, you can't explain advanced laws of physics and quantum theory to a three-year old. And that's what my level of understanding is when it comes to those things. You want to explain the Big Bang to me? Talk to me as if I were a child. Use simple words and speak s l o w l y.

Fun fact: I almost flunked chemistry in high school, physics only being a little bit more comprehensible to me. I could write a hell of an essay, though.

But I wanted to understand this book, because these things amaze me. So I kept reading, despite my eyes glazing over on more than one occasion. I think I read a whole chapter without taking in a single word. But some chapters I did understand, and loved. However, maybe the heart of the problem with this book for me (although it's definitely not the book's fault but my own expectations') is that it's less important exactly how it works; just tell me what the implications are. I don't care what the different particles are called or how they interact with each other, but I do care if it means there are infinite universes out there, or if teleportation is possible. Then I can send my cats far away, to a place where they can't wake me up in the middle of the night, and then bring them back when I'm in the mood for cuddling.

Maybe the questions are more interesting than the answers?

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