Comments on Stephen Hawking’s ‘The Grand Design’

The Grand Design, the latest book of Professors Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow, has caused great offence in religious circles. Christian, Muslim and Jewish leaders have lined up to say that Hawking is misguided in claiming that God was not needed in the Creation. Rather than attempting a rebuttal of the book’s denial of God’s existence, the clerics should instead be asking: “Does Physics exist?; Does Mathematics exist?” other than as self-referential delusions in the heads of scientists. Richard Feynman points to the paradox that Physics is based on mathematics, which is not a science, as the test of its validity is not experimental.

One much repeated quotation from The Grand Design is ‘[b]ecause 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.” Here Hawking is implying that the universe is an ‘it’ that can be grasped using the notion of gravity, which by implication must be a precursor of the universe – there can be no evidence for anything extra-universal. All we see is paradox, including a self-referential theory that predicates the extra-universal. As for spontaneous creation, that is an effect without a cause, a denial of ‘why?’, which is then used paradoxically to explain ‘why?’ – “why the universe exists, why we exist.” So according to Hawking, the reason for the Creation is … (spontaneous) creation: a tautology. Such creation needs the mind of the physicist to imagine ‘it’ into existence with a pre-construction from intellectual abstractions – but where did they come from?

As for causality, this does not exist in the ‘real world’ of phenomena, rather it is a personal delusion for imposing meaning on relationships between events necessarily happening in that world. Thus meaning doesn’t uncover any causes there, no matter what the intellect tells us. Causality is a prescribed fundamental component of the way we think about reality; a prerequisite, a building block of meaning/logic, not a truth uncovered by thought.

There is no ‘why?’ in the way the world works; ‘why?’ is solely in the head of an observer, and its function is to stimulate further distinctions that acquire new descriptions. It is the first step of any cognitive system that believes it is able to question itself about the validity of its own validity. However, the descriptions that are the by-product of cognition cannot be elevated to an explanation that surpasses the limits of cognition itself. Any answer to the question ‘why?’ must be a delusion. When we think we are explaining ‘why?’ we are merely communicating a description that answers ‘how?’ – one that is formulated as a sequence of events within the self-referential delusions of causality. We can describe ‘how?’ an apple falls by using the concept of gravity, but ‘why?’ it should do so stays as elusive as ever. Even then there are different approaches to that ‘how?’ (in the case of gravity there are Newton, Einstein, and others), but ‘why?’ always remains unapproachable.

The arguments given by Hawking suffer from a fallacy that underlies all the reasoning within Physics, namely the unquestioned acceptance that there are ‘it’s’ that can be observed objectively – that the way we humans categorize is truth in action. Physicists casually employ the mathematical concept of ‘infinity’ when pondering the universe, despite no one actually understanding ‘it’ (arguably it drove George Cantor insane). A number of modern mathematicians point to its ‘absurdity’: to quote eminent mathematician Doron Zeilberger: “Infinity is abstract nonsense”.

It’s not only infinity; even the finite is problematic.  The cognitive sampling and categorization of things observed in the world is both the result of observation, and the means whereby observation is possible. We don’t observe categories, rather through categories. The very act of categorization remains an obscure selection process that is guided by the success or otherwise of previously chosen categories. Each observation categorizes things in the world via the imposition of linear distinctions. These things are separated within the observed scene, but they still remain structurally coupled to the rest of the world. These couplings are lost to the particular observer, but they remain part of a non-referential system created by the self-reference imposed by the original observation (as the unobservable part of the distinction). However, they may appear as other-referential systems within the self-reference of other observers.

Whatever the scenario that comes into play, an observer creates a distinction that always leaves something unobserved as a precondition of observing the something that has been selected. Here, the word linear is used to mean the categorization on which cause-and-effect processes are insinuated, and that exhibit a directly related change; it is where action always ends with a reaction. Thus, from this perspective, linearity is unavoidably imposed by both science and technology, which derive from, and function under the causality hypothesis. All method is linearity imposed on a non-linear world: all observation likewise. However, the ensuing paradoxes will necessarily introduce uncertainty; should this prove disruptive then we are back to the problem of structuring the observation, which leads to yet more paradoxes.

It is erroneous/absurd to insist that a categorical representation of a thing is identical to the apparent thing-in-itself, because ‘the map is not the terrain’. And yet this is what Hawking is doing. Not that there is necessarily such a thing as a thing-in-itself, only that somehow an intellectual process is triggered that convinces the observer of the thing’s existence. The concept of something in-itself, of something per se, or however that concept is stated, is merely an abstraction that removes all observers from the existence of that thing. The notion of a thing-in-itself denies the variety of categories that may be imposed on it by the existence of different observers, and thereby allows the delusion of objectivity to enter the arena of knowledge.

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