Sunday, July 2, 2017

Book Review: The Grand Design

The first chapter of 'The Grand Design' by Stephen W. Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow, The Mystery of Being, begins with a few questions. How can we understand the world in which we find ourselves? How does the universe behave? What is the nature of reality? Where did all this come from? Did the universe need a creator? 
The next chapter, The Rule of Law, tries to familiarize us with the ways we acquired different reasons and rules for various things in the universe, and the interconnections thereof. In the next chapter, Reality, historical development of science since the days of Galileo, to quantum theory, M theory, etc., is reviewed. Discussion thereafter moves away from ordinary experience and intuition, and goes into other basis for theoretical explanation. How, as we improved our technology and expanded the range of phenomena that we could observe, we began to find nature behaving in ways that were less and less in line with our everyday experience and hence with our intuition, as evidenced by the experiment with buckyballs. 
After explaining quantum theory, the book gives a historical commentary of our quest for a theory of everything, while mentioning in brief, the work done by great scientists of the past and present. Further abstract reflections on many questions like the ones follow, brings this book to a close.
Why is there something rather than nothing?
Why do we exist?
Why this particular set of laws and not some other? 
I liked this book very much. More than the scientific information it contained, what attracted me were a few stories belonging to the old times.
For example, The BOSHONGO PEOPLE of central Africa believes, in the beginning there was only darkness, water, and the great god Bumba. One day Bumba, in pain from a stomachache, vomited up the sun. In time the sun dried up some of the water, leaving land. But Bumba was still in pain, and vomited some more. Up came the moon, the stars, and then some animals: the leopard, the crocodile, the turtle, and finally man. 
Or, the Mayans of Mexico and Central America tell of a similar time before creation when all that existed were the sea, the sky, and the Maker. In the Mayan legend, the Maker, unhappy because there was no one to praise him, created the earth, mountains, trees, and most animals. But the animals could not speak, and so he decided to create humans, and invested in them, the power to speak.
And we think we have a better idea about life, just as the Mayans, or the Bumba might have thought then. That people before us weren't developed enough to be having good ideas of life and God, and whatever idea we have now, is the true one. 
And it will go on. Future generations shall continue to have fresh ideas about these, and show amusement at our idea, as well as the ideas of all our forefathers like the Bumba, the Mayans, and others. 

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