Sunday, 22 June 2014
A Brief History of Time
This week my blog is a book review. The book in question is A Brief History of Time by the theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking.
I came to read this book because I have been involved with developing knowledge about time for the past decade and more, and recently my new book, Moments in Time, has been published. This work of fiction is a novel about time, and that which is timeless and that which is not – more about this book will follow in future blogs. For the moment I will focus on Hawking’s book, which I have just read as part of the ongoing process of developing understandings of time in the context of using artistic processes as a research method. This too I will say more about in future blogs.
To begin, I will state that while I enjoyed reading Hawking’s book and found it informative, even though it is now relatively old (first published in 1988), the book is poorly written. Hawking’s talents, whatever they may be, certainly do not extend to writing. At the beginning, in the acknowledgements, he mentions that the publisher (presumably in response to the submission of a first draft) provided a long list of comments and queries. There is from my perspective as a person who is a writer, still a long list of issues that need to be addressed! I also found in this book, some lack of sound information about early cosmology, with what is provided tending more towards myth than what actually happened and how understanding of the universe evolved in early times starting with the Ancient Greeks, and what was actually known, but ignored. The influence of the Protestant interpretation of history is also evident in the book.
What I really liked about the book though, was the honesty and the lack of hubris. Here one finds someone who it would appear, is not caught up in what I call the Science Delusion – at last a scientist who understands science! What am I referring to?
Throughout the book Hawking’s refers to the scientific process that is being deployed in theoretical physics. Constantly he reminds the reader that the models that are used are only models. They are hypotheses and conjectures, and there are several of them which are partial, and not fully compatible, and these are based on simplifications and approximations. In other words, reduction of what is far too complex to be fully understood, to something that is simper and more manageable – this is reductionism. Clearly stated also is the criteria that is used to measure how good these models are – their ability to predict observable phenomena or to account for what can be observed.
And there is no pretence here that these models represent the truth. They are exactly what the name suggests, just models. And as hypotheses they cannot be proved. All one can do is assess their value in terms of the match with observational evidence and this may or may not corresponded to the real universe. We have no way of knowing if this is the case! Here I refer you to Descartes’ Philosophy of Science, who, when writing about this very issue, observed that a watchmaker could construct two watches which were externally similar and equally accurate in keeping time, but with very different internal mechanisms. Thus one cannot prove that there was a big bang that brought the universe into being. If you believe that there was a big bang it is because you choose to believe this, and this is a subjective act. There may be another model that is quite different, but as of yet, this has not be put forward as a conjecture. Likewise if you believe in the evolution of species, it is because you choose to believe, there is no way to prove that this is what actually happened, for again there may be another hypothesis that equally well fits with the observable evidence. That such an hypothesis does not yet exist is not an indication that it does not, only that the closed minds of scientists are not willing to explore such matters. Which brings me to the matter of those nutty professors that constantly appear in television programmes, spouting phrase such as “I have no axe to grind”, or “I am a scientist, and I only deal with facts and evidence” and other such nonsense.
The difference between reality and models is an important point, as those who are caught up in the Science Delusion, for example the nutty professors that I just mentioned, seem to have lost sight of this, for they, it seems do believe that the models are reality.
The book nicely shows that science is not about the discovery of truth, but of understandings, which are too very different things. Only, most of the scientist I have encountered have lost sight of this, and instead believe that they are participating in some glorious quest to discover the truth – the sole truth!
This point is well illustrated by an encounter I had recently in
Brussels with a scientist caught-up in the
delusion that science is about revealing the truth. This scientist said to me
that: “I see science as a process of successive improvements in approximations leading
towards the truth and that the truth will out in the end.” This is nonsense,
but very dangerous nonsense! There is, as has often been said, no-one more dangerous
as he (or she) who knows the truth (or think they know the truth). This is why
we need to bring science under control and to remove it from the affairs of
government, of the state, for it is having a pernicious influence. More about
this will be said in future blogs.
So, I conclude by saying that, if you can cope with the writer’s style, read A Brief History of Time, and begin to understand science, and that it is not about the discovery of the truth. Understand also from this book, the subjective and irrational nature of the creative process, and learn that science is not, as many of the nutty professors would have you believe, solely about logic, reason, and objectivity. To say that it is so, is both a mark of ignorance and delusion. Most of the nutty professors have the latter in abundance. Recall my observation from previous blogs: why so smart yet so dumb?
That scientists believe that they are engaged in a process of revealing the truth is indicative of its Abrahamic roots in Christian Europe, and is one of the reasons why, what I call Dawkin Science (or Dorkin Science), is another religion. It is the fourth Abrahamic religion, and carries with it the same dangers, which is why science and the state need to be separated, for this type of science is just as much about myth, superstition, tradition, etc. as Abrahamic religions are, and thus, as a religion, lacks credibility and authority.
The State should be concerned with authority that is derived from the democratic will of the people and laws that support the notions of civil liberty, equality, fairness, justness, and respect for people, about which science has nothing useful to say. And, as for this modern version of science – Dawkin Science – it will in the end be seen for what it has become: just another dogma that saves people from having to deal with the true complexity of human existence. Dawkin Science and Aristotelian Science are one and the same in the sense that they both have held back the development of human thought and understanding. And this you will find explored in my books, which are available to read online for free: Encounter with a Wise Man, A Tale of Two Deserts, Enigma and Moments in Time.