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Are we closer to a 'theory of everything'?

Susan Watts | 12:09 UK time, Wednesday, 8 September 2010

The physicists' ultimate dream is the search for a "theory of everything", a unifying explanation that can make sense of the infinitely tiny as well as the infinitely large.

From the strange particles that are the terrain of atom-smashing machines such as the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at Cern, to galaxies beyond our own, about which we're learning more and more through increasingly powerful telescopes and observatories.

Much of Stephen Hawking's new book, The Grand Design, makes his case for so-called M-Theory as the prime contender to be that elusive theory of everything.

The Large Hadron Collider

The Large Hadron Collider is helping in the quest

But it's esoteric stuff. So, in his first television interview, Newsnight asked him how he would explain the importance of M-theory to the many people in the UK who have little interest in theoretical physics.

"M-theory is the theory of everything. It explains how the universe was created out of nothing in the Big Bang, and how it behaves now. It governs everything we think and do. Isn't that of interest?" Hawking asks.

Though he hasn't really tackled the important part of the question, it's clear from his answer that Professor Hawking is as dogmatic about M-theory as he is about God. Recall his quote from the book: "It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going."

He deals with M-theory in a similar tone: "M-theory is the only (sic) candidate for a complete theory of the universe." He adds later: "M-theory is the unified theory Einstein was hoping to find."

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But not all physicists agree that M-theory is the answer. The blogosphere has been almost as alive with chit chat from critics of his support for M-theory as it has over his views on God.

The thing about M-theory that most people find confusing is that its maths implies extra dimensions - not yet observed - that exist alongside the four dimensions of space and time that we have become familiar with in our everyday world.

The trouble with theories of everything, including M-theory, is that testing them in the laboratory is tricky - and that leaves them open to the charge that they're as much a leap of faith as religion. Theoretical physicist and broadcaster, Jim Al-Khalili, suggested as much on Newsnight last week.

But experimental evidence may be closer than some think. Atom smashers such as the LHC may one day "see" the extra dimensions that M-Theory implies, and London's Imperial College has published a paper in Physical Review Letters with a press release making the bold claim: "Researchers discover how to conduct first test of 'untestable' string theory."

Lead author Michael Duff tells me it's not quite as black and white as that and that the "test" is an indirect one, but it could have important implications for both string theory and M-theory - effectively an umbrella theory that embraces all five leading string theories.

The team from Imperial say they've found that string theory predicts the behaviour of entangled quantum particles - another mind-boggling area of physics. As this prediction can be tested in the laboratory, researchers say they can now test string theory.

"This will not be proof that string theory is the right 'theory of everything' that is being sought by cosmologists and particle physicists," Professor Duff explained.

"However, it will be very important to theoreticians because it will demonstrate whether or not string theory works, even if its application is in an unexpected and unrelated area of physics."

But Professor Hawking is not alone in his attachment to M-theory, or to the idea that our universe is just one world in a "multiverse" of worlds.

This is an idea which echoes work by the physicist Hugh Everett III in the 1950s on quantum theory. This was roundly dismissed while he was alive, but has enjoyed a late renaissance in recent years. Everett described the universe as having not one single history, but multiple histories, in his so-called Many Worlds, or Parallel Worlds, theory.

Though there's no direct link between Everett's many worlds theory and M-theory, Professor Hawking does describe how M-theory "allows for 10 to the power of 500 different universes, each with its own laws".

Hugh Everett's son, the musician Mark Everett, more famously known as E of the rock band Eels, has tried to grapple with some of this physics in an effort to better understand his difficult relationship with his father.

E, promoting his latest album Tomorrow Morning, tells me how he believes his father's withdrawn character was down to the early dismissive reaction to his work from other physicists.

"He was a 24-year-old genius that was brushed under the carpet, and that ruined his life," he tells me.

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But Professor Hawking explains how Hugh Everett III contributed to our knowledge of the universe.

"Hugh Everett made an important contribution to our understanding of quantum theory," he said. "In classical theory the universe has a definite history but this is not the case in quantum theory, Instead Everett suggested we could think of it as if the history kept branching into alternative histories."

The struggle to understand our world, or worlds, will continue, and the concluding paragraph of Professor Hawking's book sets out a seductive insight into the drive behind that search.

"The fact that we human beings - who are ourselves mere collections of fundamental particles of nature - have been able to come this close to an understanding of the laws governing us and our universe is a great triumph... If the theory is confirmed by observation, it will be the successful conclusion of a search going back more than 3,000 years. We will have found the grand design."

Incidentally, the M in M-theory is variously said to stand for "membrane", or according to Professor Hawking, possibly "master", "miracle" or "mystery". And mystery it may well remain for those of us still trying to make sense of it all.

Watch an extended interview with Professor Stephen Hawking here.

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Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    ..who are ourselves mere collections of fundamental particles of nature..

    the word 'mere' is a pretty mad assumption. the fact these particles are arranged in an order and symmetry implies a controlling pattern or intelligence. otherwise you get into the monkeys and typewriters theory that given enough monkeys randomly hitting the keys of a typewriter one of them will produce a shakespeare play. which is ludicrous. the universe would never have been made if it was like that.

    as for bringing the language of theology into it that can only be because physicists like to see themselves as the new priesthood? however in a previous post it was shown that theology language has a valid place in the universe.

  • Comment number 2.

    stephen has said there is no God so why is the Pope still coming to visit a bit 'Emperors clothes' now isn't it?

  • Comment number 3.

    The hiding places for God are rapidly diminishing. Particles are inherently predisposed to arranging themselves in infinite but definite ways, to suggest that because it looks like something is arranged so it follows that it "must be" is at best child like and at worst ignorant.

    Looking forward to hearing Professor Hawking expand on his latest findings.

  • Comment number 4.

    Personally, I'd prefer to defer to Douglas Adams on such matters.

    He knew enough to know when it was worth cracking a smile about certain things.

    And leave it there.

  • Comment number 5.

    Hawking and Salmond on the same programme - two of the World's great intellectuals.

    I think I will give it a pass.

    I much prefer Hawking via his appearances on Family Guy nowadays!

  • Comment number 6.

    3..The hiding places for God ..

    the childlike belief is that god is an old man in the sky. those who believe that and then feel the need to 'disprove' it have demonstrated they are incompetent theologians. hawking seems to feel that need?

    still, let us watch the monkeys type.

  • Comment number 7.

    As usual all these arguments are backwards.

    First you need to agree a definition of 'God' before you can go about deciding if he exists or not / was responsible for setting up the universe.

    If 'God' is the sum total of everything in the universe and its interactions / astonishing beauty and the ability for beings to appreciate that as observers then clearly he / she / it is everywhere and is everything and exists but is certainly not self aware.

    If 'God' is a bloke sat on a chair with a beard with a pre-disposition for mischief and the random distribution of lightning bolts / setting up universes then... well frankly I would find that quite re-assuring but hardly the sort of theorising physicists should be getting involved in except as idle chit chat in the students union bar after a few pints and / or consumption of other substanbces known to promote unusual brain states.


    But heck ..what do I know i never studied any of this stuff and therefore my opinion must by Aritotolean definition be pretty worthless.


    Note at this point I am laughing quite hard as I type and preparing to go home drink a glass of wine and look up at the stars......ahhhhh heavan.

    lol

  • Comment number 8.

    Jaunty
    The monkeys with typewriters idea is at the heart of multiverse set-ups.
    Every possible combination of the key parameters in running a universe is tried - in many situations it'll lead to jack squat happening.
    We are in a universe where the parameters are balanced in such a way as to bring forth life.
    I.e. it's chance that magnificent beasts like ourselves exist

    Everett's ideas feel like an extention of Schrodinger's cat being both dead and alive to me. With the universe endlessly branching out through possibilities.

    I'm pretty sure in the long run M-theory will be rejected and something else will come in it's place. Every generation thinks it's close to understanding everything; one day we may be right.

  • Comment number 9.

    Looking forward to reading Hawkings book, mainly 'cos I want to see where it's possible to slide a fag paper between M theory, apophatic theology, Kabbahla, Derridean Deconstruction and Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow .

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kabbalah

    11 sefirot and tzimtzum ? Really ?

  • Comment number 10.

    "Looking forward to hearing Professor Hawking expand on his latest findings."

    As he's a mathematical/theoretical physicist, he doesn't do findings.
    That's why not a lot of scientists will be taking him too seriously. The public tend to like this stuff more than scientists believe it or not. I suggests Hawking is mainly a political figure in our culture, largely because of his disability. Human Rights, discrimination, disability etc.

    It is all anti-eugenics imagery.

    The media makes a lot of this, but to be frank, it doesn't really matter if Joe Public doesn't understand N-dimensions, as it's just a mathematical convenience. It only matters if his models improve our prediction and control where it matters. The days when truth was sought from mathematics or logic alone are now long gone. Experiment is what matters.

  • Comment number 11.

    CHOCOLATE GALAXIES AND TEA-POTS

    "galaxies beyond our own, about which we're LEARNING MORE AND MORE through increasingly powerful telescopes and observatories."

    But a problem arises in that the current paradigm throws up more questions than answers and needs increasing amounts of cosmo-illogical sticking-plaster.

    I have posted, over and over, where to find a better theory, and made representation directly to Susan Watts. I am now sulking.

    Do your worst Susan.

  • Comment number 12.

    PET MONKEY

    My monkey is No infinity+1. He has completed all the plays of Shakespeare (with sexism, antisemitism, islamophobia, misogynism, bear-bating and cock-fighting removed.

    Unfortunately, our parallel universe has no Guinness Book of Records . . .

  • Comment number 13.

    If the theory about black holes having universes inside them is true, and we can create black holes in the large hadron collider, it is possible that our universe was created by another civilization.

    Think about it.

  • Comment number 14.

    8

    if those who say they are monkeys say they do not participate in intelligence [because it doesn't exist] and that any appearance of intelligence in them is a mere temporary deception caused by a random set of events then i am prepared to believe them :)

    if we are all monkeys at typewriters with no intelligence then anyones 'theory of everything' is just as valid as anyone else's? For the monkeys to start to squabble about their efforts is comic?

    if there is no intelligence in the universe how can there be a 'theory of everything'? One says its chaos and stops there. why go looking for laws in chaos that may or may not be temporary accidents or self deceptions?

    if hawking wants to talk physics fine but why he has the need to thrash about in the field of theology?. Is it a necessary part of his theory? or just an irrational impulse?

  • Comment number 15.

    QUANTUM PARTICLES? (#4)

    "The team from Imperial say they've found that string theory predicts the behaviour of entangled quantum particles"

    Quantum particles: bits of quantum? should have gone to Speck Savers. (Note the spelling Blogdog.)

    I'm with Junkk on this one. Douglas Adams would never have muddled his bootstrap with his string.

  • Comment number 16.

    TWO BOOKS I SHALL NOT BE READING

    One by a man who knows God personally, and the other by a man who has just concluded god doesn't exist.

    "We have to get these two together" (Ghostbusters).

  • Comment number 17.

    supersnapshot - when was the last time Kabbahla or any other 'belief system' allow us to predict the universe in any way whatsoever ?

  • Comment number 18.

    jauntycyclist - the moment I realised that complexity and patterns can arise from chaos without intelligent (or otherwise) design was my Road to Damascus moment.

    If you do bump in to god one day be sure to ask him my he cocked up the Giraffe's vagus nerve.

  • Comment number 19.

    I have for decades realised that Infinity is meaningless in reality as to have Space one must have absolutely nothing before any Big-Bangs. Physics points to the same conclusion, but as of yet physicists, and mathmeticians have failed to prove it. And for the religious and scientific community absolutely nothing means just that.

  • Comment number 20.

    18

    ..If you do bump in to god one day...

    i see your grasp of theology is no better than hawkings. you have imagined something and so we are dealing with your imagination of what you think the divine means.

    the standard definition is that god is greater than any idea you can have about it. so if you have an idea of god know that you have created a limited god of your imagination. old man in the sky is he? what is the probability of me bumping into your imagined image?

    as for isolated patterns then yes they can arise from chaos but not consistently in a predicted pattern that would be useful to anyone. would you expect the offspring of dogs to be cats? Under the dice theory one should at least admit that possibility. Quants say that the price in markets has no memory yet i have still to see a billionaire quant who made money out of that belief.

    if everyone is a monkey who made the typewriters?

  • Comment number 21.

    @17 Yes of course, M theory predicts M theory ! but in which universe ?

  • Comment number 22.

    The moment of enlightenment will soon be upon us, all we need to do is lock an investment banker in a room with a theoretical physicist and the mysteries of how you can create something of value out of absolutely nothing will be revealed.

    They dont refer to themselves as the masters of the universe for nothing y'know.


  • Comment number 23.

    #22 addendum

    If you doubt the truth of my words note the 'other worldly' appearance of Bob Diamond, the newly appointed chief exec of Barclays.

    http://www.thisislondon.co.uk/standard/article-23875154-pound-100m-banker-bob-diamond-back-home-in-london-to-take-barclays-reins.do

    Now that is the demeanor of a guy who knows somethin big he is not tellin.

  • Comment number 24.

    [Let us get the names right the M stands for m-brane (not membrane) -see below]

    I went to an interesting lecture (at Imperial) on 11 dimensional theory last year and this was all about a unified theory of everything which was a development of 10 dimensional super-string theory and termed m-brane theory. This is a spatially extended mathematical concept from whose algebra all forces, particles, anti-particles, gravity and time(?) can be derived.

    I'll not try to provide a complete table here, (as blogging tables on the BBC always fails to produce a usable representation for example the Higgs Boson has its own cell!) The 11 dimensional maths of m-branes is a bit complex and very tricky to imagine (to say the least!) as most readers will cop out at just 4 dimensions. But I will say that if you have the time and a maths or theoretical physics degree, or better still a doctorate in either it is an enjoyable study once you have mastered 10 dimensional string theory. The maths was an enjoyable month's work to gain a limited understanding of the theory's possibilities. The key to all theory is its both the inclusive nature of its prediction of the known, but more importantly that it goes on to provide a tantalising glimpse of the unknown and a way of getting to grips with these unknowns. In that, m-brane theory is certainly an improvement on string theory.

    Other side effects of m-theory seems to be an infinity(?) of possible multiverses each with a big bang and extremely exotic possible (or do I mean probable?) interconnectivity - absolutely terrible to get your head round! But for those of us who had a quasi visceral dislike of a single big bang then m-brane theory is certainly a step in the right direction. My advice would be: don't even attempt to understand it unless you are familial with the strong and week nuclear forces, gravity electromagnetism, all particles and ant-particles, quantum mechanics and all forms of relativity and dark matter and energy. m-brane theory joins up the universe of all possible p-branes (or string theories). But see the papers and text books.

    However, I don't really see what it implies about God!

  • Comment number 25.

    TODAY IS A GOD AND BOOK STRANGE ATTRACTOR (#24)

    I suggest m - brane describes the 'visuals' of todays Newsnight where the Spuriosa Department attempted to represent all 11 dimensions in one shambolic mess of swirling colours and print or 'superimposed' rectilinear demarcations.

    Nul points guys.

    PS It will all need a rethink when the plasma universe is allowed a decent shout.

  • Comment number 26.

    'From nothing' might appear to have routed God(s) and the moorings of the Right but since 'nothing' is the absence of everyting the human mind can conceive and it is impossible to disprove that there will always be that which it can't conceive - like a bird singing but deaf to Mozart, then the 'nothing' can only be a relative, and not absolute nothing(ess). Religion is going to be around for a long time yet.

  • Comment number 27.

    @John_from_Hendon

    I think what he infers about god is that he is not needed for our existence - given that m-brane would lead us to believe that our universe is not here by chance but statistically certain due to the infinite amount of possible multiverses.

    We are not here by design but as the inevitable consequence of the nature of .... everything?

  • Comment number 28.

    "the word 'mere' is a pretty mad assumption. the fact these particles are arranged in an order and symmetry implies a controlling pattern or intelligence. otherwise you get into the monkeys and typewriters theory that given enough monkeys randomly hitting the keys of a typewriter one of them will produce a shakespeare play. which is ludicrous. the universe would never have been made if it was like that."

    ....it is a common misconception that because we are a large complex arrangement of particles, we must have been 'assembled' by something or someone because the probability that we could come to be by random chance is miniscule. However, the established truth is that our bodies are assembled by genetic blueprints, and those blueprints themselves have evolved according to non-random natural selection on earlier versions of those bodies that carried the blueprints.

    A similar case could be made for the fundamental particles of nature. Just because they appear ordered, does not mean that they were assembled. Given unconstrained infinity, a monkey randomly hitting a typewriter WILL recreate the works of Shakespeare, so who is to say our universe has NOT been assembled by chance, or is the result of natural selection on a set of 'ancestor' universes with randomly varying laws and symmetries?

  • Comment number 29.

    About the subsequent post, there is currently some bad news about the reporting of bad news: Error 404 - Page not found

    When it reappears, I will be interested in the notion of extending everything we do in future based on decisions based on public polls.

    Of course, it would only be right if this was applied equally and not just in certain areas that some reporters and editors prefer.

    And using 'polls' that can be on topics already rather compromised by partisan coverage, and made to say anything one wants, when one wants, to order.

    Hard to see this as 'news'.

  • Comment number 30.

    #27. George wrote:

    "@John_from_Hendon

    We are not here by design but as the inevitable consequence of the nature of .... everything?"

    I am not sure that m-brane theory sees itself as a 'complete' definition of 'everything' in the way that you may be suggesting. Like (super) string theory before it m-brane theory is just another slightly more satisfactory stepping stone along the path of scientific understanding. OK it provide a matrix of amalgamation for the quantum, gravity, particle world, mass and time, but many features of the equations are really quite speculative and remain to be explored - OK a God or any divine supernatural actor is not required, but much of the mathematical prediction is so exotic to any kind of observation and testing who knows we may need even more dimensions as knowledge progresses.

    PS To Vince C. and Two Brains.

    The problem with m-brane theory is that most of its protagonists are old men. There are few new entrants into their field. However, historically young men are the lead innovators in this highly technical field of mathematical physics - indeed most new theories, advances and breakthroughs come from the under 25s - look at the demographics - and please keep up the funding for experimentation (CERN) and post-doctorate research grants. Also work on the gender imbalance!

  • Comment number 31.

    NN mischief making?

    All hawking said was if you have his system you don't need theology. which is the same as saying if you have a metaphysics you don't need a theology. i agree with that. proclus showed where theology [or narrative dramatisation] came from and the relationship between metaphysics [i wish there was a better word] and theology. The proportion of the population able to grasp either theoretical physics or metaphysics would be small so it doesn't get rid of the popularisation that theology represents.

    one could take what hawking is on about and through analogy dramatise it into a 'theology' or mythology [depending on the terms used] that would popularise the abstract concepts. Not everyone can deal with the abstract. Some need images and stories.
    .

    so its NN pumping this end of god stuff. which is their simplistic interpretation. they might of well said the knowledge of electricity means the 'end of mythology'. The NN statement is on that level.

    no wonder the religion and ethics section on bbc iplayer is hopeless. they haven't a clue and no idea where to begin. isn't the head of religion an agnostic which is the same as saying 'i have no idea how theology comes about so don't know what to say about it'.

  • Comment number 32.

    28

    ..a monkey randomly hitting a typewriter WILL recreate the works of Shakespeare, so who is to say our universe has NOT been assembled by chance...


    you heard it here first.

    my point is physicists should leave theology alone. they clearly do not have a dialectic ,that like the Parmenides dialectic, shows you the 24 ways in which one can completely exhaust all the possibilities of an idea.

    for me genetic blueprints is not the highest idea of the mind.

  • Comment number 33.

    8

    "Everett's ideas feel like an extention of Schrodinger's cat being both dead and alive to me. With the universe endlessly branching out through possibilities."

    It's just the maths/statistics - it's nothing mysterious. Beyond a few variables (aka dimensions in math/stats) one gets non-linearities or interaction effects (these increase as the dimensions or number of variables increase beyond 3 in any model of anything) and this just means that interaction effects result in predictions which are probabilistic where small changes in initial conditions can have very big effects on dependent variables.. It really is just the maths, and is not a statement about the universe etc at all. This applies to all complex, dynamical systems from the weather/climate, to the BoE issuing projections for inflation and GDP recovery (see fan charts).

    Don't let the nutters seduce you into Dr Who and Star-Trek think. The limits of our measurement systems are the limits of what we can reliably talk about and manage - that's all. Improve our measurement systems and we can improve the rest. This is why maths ability is highly correlated with general intelligence and why a nations' average numeracy level is highly correlated with its economic and social success. If that falls so does the other.

    Come on Newsnight, focus on one matters.

  • Comment number 34.

    30. At 09:51am on 09 Sep 2010, John_from_Hendon wrote:

    "Also work on the gender imbalance!"

    I'm not sure I understand what you mean there. How do you suggest that is done? Forgive me if I have misunderstood you, but are you suggesting that there are too many females at CERN and that if that was rectified greater progress might be made?

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-1274952/Men-ARE-brainy-women-sa
    ys-scientist-Professor-Richard-Lynn.html

  • Comment number 35.

    28

    "for me genetic blueprints is not the highest idea of the mind."

    Perhaps that's just your way of stating that you do not know/understand that the objective of behavioural genetics is to dispense with mentalistic explanations and that the objective of science is to replace primitive mentalistic talk altogether. See this Nature recent article:

    http://www.nature.com/news/2010/100908/full/467146a.html:

    As one astute reader commented to me, how long before epigeneticists have the courage to look at the behaviour of the MOTHER when she was young? Good scientists ask questions regardless of whether they like the answers and very good ones ask questions which they most fear the answers to. On the other hand, most people do exactly the opposite and get lost in self-serving metaphysics..

  • Comment number 36.

    #34. tabblenabble01 wrote:

    "gender imbalance" = theoretical mathematical physicists (m-braners) are still mainly elderly men so far as I have seen them - are you suggesting that there are too many women in the business?

  • Comment number 37.

    "36. At 5:18pm on 09 Sep 2010, John_from_Hendon wrote:
    #34. tabblenabble01 wrote:

    "gender imbalance" = theoretical mathematical physicists (m-braners) are still mainly elderly men so far as I have seen them - are you suggesting that there are too many women in the business?"

    I'm just pointing out that the evidence from many sources including from GCSEs to GCEs to university courses, females choose NOT to do physics and maths, engineering etc, and the figures show this to be dramatically so. So there won't be anything but old males in physics, as it takes time to master the research as it does in all areas of science. If they don't choose the subject early on, they are hardly likely to figure there later. There are lots of reasons for this preference, and they appear to be biological. You'll no doubt have noted that most females are not very good at ballistic sports either, it's essentially a biological genetic expression issue. There are, of course, some who are, but then, there are some males who are suited for female type activities too. Again, the evidence now suggests this is biological. My point is that there are evidence based biological limits to how realistic it is to expect gender equality statistically speaking.
    The article above covers some of this, and is not controversial, at least, not amongst professionals.

    I suggest the following, raised by another NN blogger, is a far more interesting topic for Newsnight viewers/readers. Note Hoyle's view:

    http://climatechangedispatch.com/behind-the-science/7632-russians-debunk
    -peak-oil-theory-as-bogus-as-greenhouse-gas-scam

    In fact, the man who created the term "Big Bang" for a BBC radio programme in 1949 didn't believe in the "Big Bang Theory" either:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fred_Hoyle

    But the general public believes all sorts of nonsense, as Richard Dawkins has been excitedly telling them for years now. I don't know why he bothers though, it's quite clear to me that most of them don't pay much attention, and will just 'disagree' with him! They can't help it probably. They are just made that way.

  • Comment number 38.

    Physics and theology are both products of thought. The process of thought has not yet been observed, and may not be capable of being observed. Until we know how the brain works, it does seem a little premature to conclude that we can explain anything at all really.

  • Comment number 39.

    "38. At 7:08pm on 09 Sep 2010, Martinahay wrote:
    "..The process of thought has not yet been observed, and may not be capable of being observed."

    A bit like fairies and goblins? Hence not taken seriously by (real) science.

  • Comment number 40.

    "Until we know how the brain works, it does seem a little premature to conclude that we can explain anything at all really."

    Understanding how things work does not require anyone to know how brains work. In fact, building machines to do things has been very successful precisely because they behave in ways that our brains do not. So what you say is false.

    Furthermore, I definitely know how my toilet works, and even though I have a pretty good idea how my brain works, and yours too, absence of absolute knowledge in very fine detail neurochemically has not prevented me knowing how my toilet works, or explaining this to interested others (should they ever ask).

  • Comment number 41.

    A wave-based system may be able to display elements of one or more Newtonian worlds to an observer without revealing that those elements are interconnected through the waves. What you observe may not be the same thing as what you think.

  • Comment number 42.

    #40

    Your post cheered me up no end (just been having a rant on Paul Masons Blog about economics).

    Thanks for that Tabblenabble.

    As a seperate discussion but along a similar theme quantum consciousness has the ring of truth about it but agree arguments about how / if we can impartially observe our own thoughts are ludicrous.

    I would be interested to see the results when they do manage to get a comparable quantum computer working, although I confess I am not sure whether the two states as theorised in quantum consciousness and quantum computing are directly comparable, I suspect they are not but I am too busy trying to keep a roof over my family's head to look into it in detail I am afraid, which will no doubt annoy you!!

  • Comment number 43.

    The scientific method, which relies upon observation, has served us well. It has yielded many discoveries and useful inventions, including an enabling description of the flushing toilet, as other correspondents have noted. However, it has so far failed to provide a description of a process for thought.

    It appears that all anyone can do to give effect to a thought is to move: to effect changes in skeletal muscle antagonist pairs. These operate through cycles. We observe ourselves moving from A to B in time t, but the brain constructs this from cycles. The enabling description of the flushing toilet has a start and an end, but the thinking brain does not appear to work in that way. Cycles have no starts and ends. They are governed by symmetry.

    To make further progress, we may need to re-evaluate the scientific method, and explore new approaches.

  • Comment number 44.

    The surmising raised by Stephen Hawkins on his “M” theory just makes me wonder where science is taking us. For a start, before we get into new theories and speculation about our past and origins, why can’t these so called super scientists solve the problems caused by their already flawed present theories and speculations? The present Big Bang theory has huge problems with red shift and event horizon problems, let alone the problem of temperature transfer troubles throughout our universe. It seems that before these new speculations should come about, how about fixing the already flawed present theories before moving on, especially if we are to believe what they are telling us, has any shred of truth about it, especially when viewed in the light of sciences past history, which is always told with such authority.

    The big question raised here is where does such authority come from? Is it the media who just like a good controversial story or is it scientists gaining celebrity status, keeping their ratings up. It strikes me that true science is science done in a lab that is provable and repeatable by countless un-named people working out life changing discoveries that move society forward with life saving drugs or technology that makes life easier, people for whom I have great respect.

    It seems to me that when so-called scientists try to speculate about the past it is nothing more than that, yet the word theory currently seems to have taken on new meaning, seemingly conveying the truth? When these people come up with a new theory, with all their so-called celebrity status behind them, are we expected to believe them? It is quite obvious that when mankind is dealing with past issues it can be nothing more than speculation, if we believe in the present day theories which seem to be accepted as gospel there is a great capacity to hide everything in the mists of time. 14 Billion years approx from big bang, cooling for 10 billion years along with expansion, 4 billion years for man and all living creatures to have formed from primordial soup, e.g. molecules to man, yet mans history as far as we know it today only climbed out of the trees possibly a million years ago and gained any sense of knowledge as far as we can speculate about 6000 years ago and we just gained our first scientists about 120 years ago when the phrase was coined, so how are we to know what happened 14 billion years ago, was there a human being there to witness it and record the events? It rather makes “M” Theory look like something from James Bond, pure fiction.

    AA’s is the way scientists seem to be polarising into two groups, scientists vs. Angry Atheist scientists, I will leave it up to you to see which side you come down on or where the real work gets done. Science driven by today’s theories leave us bereft of truth, the mother of them all that spawns all these other theories appears to be evolution, which really wants to take out all intelligence from our origins and account it to our own so called brilliance at working out where we came from and where we are going to. I’m afraid it doesn’t hold out much hope for me. On the subject of intelligence can any one of these AA’s possibly tell us where intelligence came from? Is there any so called molecules or chemical compounds that forms intelligence?

    Society has been mesmerised by DNA, Deoxyribonucleic acid, since its discovery, found in all living organisms with the possible exception of some viruses, right down to cell level. Every cell that makes up our body carries our own unique DNA code, yet within the complex bunch of myriad cells that form you and me they have their own intelligence system to read our own unique DNA code, interpreting our DNA code and applying the DNA code for whatever unique cell it applies to, irrespective of any intelligence we may contain within our brains. This is rather pathetically explained in schools and universities that if the letters of the alphabet were put in a hat and passed around the class enough times three students may pick out a sequence of intelligence spelling “BAT” there you have it intelligence. But to whom! What if you are Chinese or Aboriginal or even more appropriate a living organism? It clearly doesn’t make sense or explain where the intelligence came from. When you go beyond the application of DNA appropriate to each cell, into the protein chain as a result of the intelligence that read and understood the code, you are entering yet another layer of complexity that makes DNA look simple, an area of knowledge true scientists are only starting to scratch the surface of.

    So before we hit the theory of nearly everything come on Stephen Hawkins give us some real answers to some perplexing questions as to where intelligence came from and a myriad of other unanswered questions before we mist up the little bit of truth we have with yet more M theories.

  • Comment number 45.

    "For a start, before we get into new theories and speculation about our past and origins, why can’t these so called super scientists solve the problems caused by their already flawed present theories and speculations?"

    Yes. The truth is that most good scientists don't really take much notice at all of this nonsense except to pour scorn on it. Its market is populist, and to appreciate why it is such nonsense one just has to grasp the simple truth that for logical reasons one can't translate good science into ordinary language without so much being lost in translation that it quickly becomes science fiction! It takes time to learn the language of science and its a one way trip. This is why most good scientists have little time for Hawking and his popular metaphysics. The reality is that most of science is quite dull work, and is 99% perspiration. One of the most disastrous areas of modern science in recent decades has been 'cognitive neuroscience' which I think is typified by the likes of Susan Greenfield, whose populism has at times been no better than witchcraft given the very poor control over variables (not to mention her endorsement of highly suspect toys to improve brain power etc!). Like Hawking's books, this is best steered clear of, as it's just publishers exploiting media and social want-to-bes as usual. Look into these people's personal lives to see what sort of maladjusted people they really are, and I'm not talking about obvious disabilities which are no fault of their own. Less and less people are choosing the sciences these days, and we are now paying the price through an ever greater lack of respect for pursuit of truth and hard work in favour of child-like attention seeking theatrics. To see what might be biasing our culture in that direction one need only look at GCSE and GCE results (and especially subject selection/preferences by group).

  • Comment number 46.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • Comment number 47.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • Comment number 48.

    Wow! What an amazing interview. I trust that Susan Watts understood that she was in the presence of genius!

    What a man! Whatt a band! What a tour!

  • Comment number 49.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 50.

    "48. At 8:14pm on 13 Sep 2010, Wondermaze wrote:
    Wow! What an amazing interview. I trust that Susan Watts understood that she was in the presence of genius!

    What a man! Whatt a band! What a tour!"

    Shameful isn't it. On Newsnight too. We're clearly demographically in decline. I wonder why that isn't covered?

  • Comment number 51.

    Dawkins is I suggest nobly motivated in his challenge to endemic irrationality in our culture, but wrong to endorse atheism. The problem is that cognitive ability is Gaussian distributed, and some people just can't grasp some things so are trapped thinking like children. It is abusive and cruel to demand they behave otherwise as it is the way they are programmed. Dawkins should know that, but he clearly doesn't.

    Mary Warnock, speaking as a well trained philosopher on NN last night, correctly pointed out that most people who talk about 'God' don't think of this as a supernatural entity. I'd like to suggest that those who are committed atheists might change their arrogant disposition if they substituted 'omniscience' for God, as the reality is that human knowledge is an un-ending quest which should bring home to people like David A and Richard D how cognitively fallible/limited we all are.
    That's the real function that God serves, i.e. to protect us against narcissism. In the case of David A and Richard D, this has dismally failed.

  • Comment number 52.

    The Briefest History of Time
    Or
    A Letter to Mr. Stephen Hawking


    Dear Mr. Hawking,

    Being neither scientist nor astrophysicist, it is with great humility that I address myself to you, to, dare I say, differ with you on the major premises presented in your now legendary book of which I took the liberty of parodying, above. I’m sure you’re quite used to being disputed or disagreed with by illuminati as well as fools, or both, and in danger of following suit or sounding like that feisty old lady, in your introduction to your book, protesting that it was “turtles all the way down” I would seriously like to challenge you and your soul-mates to re-examine premises laid down, some in the halcyon yesteryear, some not such a long time ago, and others yet to come.

    You, and others like you have noted that mankind is limited by the very faculties, our brains and all of our senses, that help and have helped us understand and even manipulate our environment a little ( e.g., from the humblest Aristotle’s experiments in his attempts to explain gravity by rolling boulders of different sizes down hills, or his ingenious realization that all matter was like the sand—“composed of smaller particles or atoms” to our reasonably more sophisticated if not complex experiments at CERN, NASA, ESA, etc.) or even escape it, at least, temporarily in moon trips and now, the ISS.

    Herein lies the quandary, for although much has been achieved, our physical as well as intellectual limitations are an absolute cul-de-sac. As one of your colleagues put it in a lecture aired by the BBC on June 20, this year, Mr. Martin Rees of the Royal Society of Science, “…Einstein’s ideas would baffle a chimpanzee ”, when pondering on what would happen if man were to be confronted with superior alien minds. This is the crux of the matter. We, Mr. Rees’s “chimpanzee” are simply ill equipped to unravel or even be able to conceive of, or envisage the true essence of things great and small, their origins, and or, the reason(s) why they are here, there, and everywhere.

    I prefer my own parable which, although not based on the unfortunate ape or turtles, is based on what a praying mantis would do when presented with a sheet of paper. At first, it would contemplate it from a close distance witnessing its seemingly infinite span and eventually it would board it and once upon it, it would believe it to be its cosmos, endless and unlimited, yet while on the one side of the sheet, it would be totally unaware of the existence of the other side, or side “B”, of the sheet of paper. Mr. Reese, in his speech suggested that our cosmos could be like an “origami”. If that’s the case then we are like that insect looking for the beginnings of the proverbial sheet and its boundaries if any—yet totally unaware of the origami’s parallel worlds, warps and quirks as well as kinks, and much less aware of the cosmos beyond the origami’s convolutions and manifold.


    The milestones we’ve achieved, and there have been many, are notable. From Aristotle to Galilee and Newton to Einstein, yet time and time again, their contributions, and I dare say yours included, although monumental and ingenious, still fall short when it comes to explaining the very things they set out to explain. These include time, space, or the universe, its synonym (interestingly, universum in Latin has a very figurative as well as literal meaning: “the one-matter scattered or cast at once”), or gravity, light and its very nature, atoms--the DNA of matter, dark matter or light matter, for that matter, etc. Evidence of the shortcomings are the latest and wayward disarray of theories that claim to have found the very thing that underpins the cosmos and beyond, i.e., the Strings Theory, the Chaos Theory, the Big-Bang Theory, the Quantum Theory, the M Theory or the omniscience-theory (the theory to explain all things), the Higgs boson particles- aka the God particle--being sought after at CERN, neutrinos, quantum physics, dark matter, black holes, time travel…the list is long and doubtlessly, it will continue. May I remind you of Plato’s Cave wherein its inhabitants came to believe that the world, or should I say, cosmos, consisted of, well, you know—shadows. Our situation is not very different. The American expression “a shot in the dark” or “taking potshots” would not be very inaccurate in describing our vane efforts to explain---everything.
    I am aware of the fact that we have no choice in the matter and must make full use of the faculties and qualities that have been endowed upon us, by whom—I dare not speculate.


    Yet, I maintain that unless we are to escape our own very human if not inhumane limitations by means of, for example, artificial intelligence of a supreme sort—not a very implausible milestone if I may say—created by mankind or imposed upon it by exterior sources, we will be doomed to forever tread on the endless planes or segments of the interminable and convoluted origami and will continue to gaze at the stars and be baffled, like the proverbial chimp.
    I suppose that given the time---and it may take a few thousand years if not another million--we will accumulate enough knowledge and our brains and other qualities will have evolved sufficiently to be able to not only perceive the unseen and conceive of the unconceivable, but also to fully understand it and be able to manipulate it to our convenience, whatever that may be consequently. Will it be as A.C. Clarke postulated in his brilliant—shot in the dark-- 2001 A Space Odyssey, the supreme force that inserts the enigmatic monolith on the terrestrial clay or rather and more probably; the miniscule monolith-shaped chip we all call “Intel” that will be inserted into our hybrid-USB—portal-brain implants? ¿Qué será, será? Time will tell?


    Time>>Space>>Gravity

    On the question of time and space, which you brilliantly handle in your monogram—giving us the scientist’s point of view—and which I don’t pretend to emulate in any way, I would simply like to make some observations, that, I’m sure, have already been made by others. But in the interest of absolute clarity and simplicity I put to you the following. Times as well as space are two phenomena that we, like all other phenomena described by man, have identified as an observable fact, an occurrence, an event, or what have you. Yet, neither time nor space exist in their own right as a tree a fish or a planet do ,observable and concrete as tactile evidence would prove.
    Who was it that said, “seeing is believing”? This is fine and good for the concrete tangibles in our world but intangibles or abstracts for that matter are, have been, and will always continue to trouble us simply because, well, we can’t seem to “get our brains around them”. Time, space and gravity are the abstracts, par excellence that defy us simply because they don’t exist yet somehow we “feel” their presence, particularly when it comes to gravity, and have even devised means and tools by which we could measure them…the next best thing to seeing or touching them.

    Or could it be that we have conjured up these abstractions simply because they suited us in order to explain the observable e.g., Newton’s apocryphal falling apple. Upon pondering on the phenomenon that all things “hit the ground if not fixed to it already, he went on to create the mathematics (an abstract measuring “tool” if ever one existed) that neatly explained this nasty habit of falling that all objects display. Since his day things have changed and we now see the limitations of Newton’s law since it seems applicable to bodies in our “shadowy” world but once we escape its “gravitational” pull Newton’s law falls short itself, no pun intended. And indeed, when it comes to explaining the behaviour of heavenly bodies--as they were so quaintly alluded to in the past----stars and planets don’t collapse into each other as Newton’s law would have us believe instead they seem to respect each other’s distance and the space between them by some unexplainable mechanism…if only we knew which mechanism is responsible ….we’d be all the wiser.

    Granted, Newton’s and most other laws are useful in certain environments, mainly earthly ones. For how do we account for the expanding, static, or perhaps contracting space? That dark-void we call many things for no lack of words, including, “firmament” that continues to be there with all of its visible as well as invisible matter in its usual place. Recently, I read about another colleague of yours, that maintains that we, and by “we” he means our planet and everything that envelops it ( the origami ? ) are caught in a gigantic black hole, which might account for why space seems to be stretching itself endlessly on end. Did he say a black hole or a dark cave? Forgive my facetious pun but do you see the similarity here between Plato’s metaphor and your colleague’s apocalyptic revelation?

    The point is that space, time, and gravity are abstracts, voids identified, measured and labelled by man and his limited, self concocted tools to help humanity understand them. But, the question remains, are we up to the challenge and do we have the wherewithal to understand the inexplicable? We can keep trying and our duty is to do just that but I doubt that we are up to the challenge—for the time being anyhow.

    PS---I just heard your public proclamation to the effect that the creation of the universe “does not require the intervention of some supernatural being or god.”
    It’s about time you came out of the closet!

  • Comment number 53.

    'Though he hasn't really tackled the important part of the question,'

    ..................................

    My God! ... You mean that his 'M-theory' is scientifically unsound and unproven!

  • Comment number 54.

    Indeed, he nor anyone else for that matter, hasn't tackled that crucial part of the question.

    As to the 'M-theory', whether it be scientifically unsound remains to be proven, but let's not forget that a theory, once proven ceases to be a 'theory' and becomes a fact. All theories continue to be just that until they are supplanted by yet other theories or become a given. Last but not least, as I mentioned above, a theory is just an ethnocentric or shall we say 'species-centric'tool that is limited in its capacity as well as its application because the shortcomings of its creator are inherent in the theory.

  • Comment number 55.

    If the universe has a definite theme, it's the one we've invented for it. Not so much a case of: as above so below, more a massive human transference. Does the universe dictate the mathematics, or are we driven to describe it thus?
    No hiding place for God, someone suggested, he/she is in the detail.
    And just imagine, if you are a solipsist, it will all vanish with you.

  • Comment number 56.

    i love that chapter in the bible when it says god took away the wisdom from the intelligent and gave it to the simple who gave thanks to god.all these know alls really must be making god laugh when they think they know how the universe started they in all there stupidity are going further and further away from the truth without relishing it and they call there selfs intelligent they are no more intelligent then headless chicken.

  • Comment number 57.

    Just got to think that the continual search for the 'beginning' and 'end' is our continual human shortcoming in understanding the universe.

    Perhaps there is no 'beginning' and there is no 'end' ... that could mean that a 'big bang' or other explanation of the existence of the universe is unsound and inappropriate ... perhaps we are in a constantly changing dimensional universe or indeed infinite number of dimensions universe ... with no 'beginning' and 'no end' ... just a thought ... I'm not trying to be 'clever' or anything.

    With a 'non-constantly changing dimensions' theory (i.e. my own 'logical theory') ... our dimension(s) is not neat and tidy and with orderly physical and other properties ... there probably is no such thing as a 'constant(s)' in space and time ... and all of the information that we receive in light from space may have been through different conditions of the dimesnion(s) in space in order to reach us and therefore ... what we see in space ... may not actually have been there or exist as we see it ... if we have a 'non-constantly changing dimension or infinite series of non-constantly dimensions in our universe.

    Where does that leave 'God' ... How the heck would I know?

    'In the beginning ... there was light' ... there may be another reason why we these words are hugely significant ... none the least because of our human frailties?

    Does the phrase also infer that the light could have been there 'before the beginning'? In which case ... the 'answer' ... has always been there in the Bible?

  • Comment number 58.

    If you look at the beginning as described in the bible there are several levels of beginning. In Genesis there was no light to start with which, might reflect the nature of a dark atmosphere. One could interpret why plant life existed before the sun was put on the sky as possible knowledge about a long period of darkness on earth. I favour the beginning as described in John to be the "logos"

    Now regarding the apparent discrepancy between Science and religious belief or between different religions, the hardest thing to do is to let go of a belief as it is part or your mental foundations. The more irrational (or indoctrinated) our belief the more violent our reactions become to their criticism. Particularly if someone lacks the mental capacity to argue his belief on a rational basis they are easily turned into fundamentalists. This is why it is so important to explain that Christianity is based on respect and love to God and your fellow human beings by not only saying so but by living the word as well. If your believe is rational or logic you are at ease as you are convinced anyhow that it’s logic will be revealed in the end. And this is how God is defined in Johns gospel, that in the beginning there was the logos.

    Now for a scientist this should pose no problem to accept this, as science is based on logic or reason and it is all we search for in science, a logical explanation, particularly in the case of Stephen Hawking. It is understandable that a scientist will have difficulty defining God being a person as this represents a model allowing people to access it on a simplified level. In fact making the step to understanding God at a philosophical level can be a frightening as well as exhilarating experience but that simplified image of a “personal God”, e.g. “God as a person” is usually helpful to introduce the Idea of things not being under your control and gives you the opportunity to be thankful and humble. I would hope this to be the ultimate evolutionary trait to discover the “personal God” e.g. the bit of God within yourself, the ability to love in more than what is expressed in sexual desires and the understanding of fate, as your life is not determined by yourself but by the interactions from everything around you sometimes referred to as “Gods Grace”. If people think that they entirely in charge of their own destination they suffer from a dangerous delusion.

    I would say that if as a scientist you deny the existence of God it is probably because you have not understood the philosophical element of God. Science is in no way a contradiction of religion but they go well hand in hand. You do not have to oppose religious fundamentalists at all cost but you can try to guide them to a positive understanding of God in a philosophical context that does not require him to deny his roots but to understand them better. If someone tries to defend his believes in taking his scripture literally in things like creation you can argue to be careful about it as it is not the word of God, but the word of men trying to make sense of God as best as they could and it has undergone many interpretations ad translations. Biologically we are made from the components in dust and soil and we return to it. Evolution as described by Darwin is a tribute to the intelligence of it’s design as it is a concept of gradual optimisation to be fit for purpose. Confronted with people who’s belief in God is based on miracles that cannot be explained by things other that God one may argue that they look for God in the wrong place. God does not live in the miracles that cannot be explained but in the rules of nature that surounds us. And if someones belief in Jesus is based on his miracles, he can be better in a philosophical way that he was an extraordinary man who explained things to people with a fraction of today’s knowledge in a very philosophical way. For example in the story of turning water into wine he did not have to fiddle with the OH molecules. By serving the water out of the jars used for ritual cleansing, he did not need to, as it was immediately clear that the water was so much purer than any wine could be and was indeed the most valuable drink one could ever serve as it is the source of biological life and as the sacred element of the spiritual life. To be at that wedding party would have blown you to pieces, not because you were so fantastically drunk but because you were leaving in thinking mode about a message so divine that people still talk about this party about two millennia later. If you think Jesus would want to promote alcohol consumption than today’s industry does a much better job by promoting it with sexual undertones. But about the parties involving the best drugs and alcohol they are only talked about for negative press and for their mentally ill equipped celebrities for a couple of days. Not doing any miracles does not diminish the admiration he deserves for his life and his death and the revelation he brought to the world in the message that “God is Love”, and he is there for every human being, not just a strategic support unit for the State of Israel and that neither God, nor he himself should be monopolised, facts denied by the state of Israel and some Christian churches. The fact that this live went further than just your close community is nicely described in the parable of the good Samaritan, a chapter that Dawkins would probably need to read, as he believes Love thy neighbour to be restricted to fellow Jews in his book the God Delusion. The limitation of caring only for your own tribe is the limitation of the selfish gene.

    In my oppininon scientists that deny the existence of God past Jesus Christ deny love and care for each other as this is what God stands for. And those who do that deserve our sympathies and our prayers that one day they might find a sparkle of God inside themselves.

  • Comment number 59.

    58. At 12:43pm on 27 Sep 2010, gerne1 wrote:

    If you look at the beginning as described in the bible there are several levels of beginning.
    .................................

    Exactly, some of us tend to think that we are familiar with some of the text of Genesis ... when we are probably not ... I have very much enjoyed reviewing the first Chapter of Genesis (in My King James 1 edition bible) ... and ... bearing in mind the time span for the book ... in my view, the Bible more than holds its own against anything than any scientist can write ... even if it is intended, in some way, to be metaphorical as well as having literal meaning; the words have very deep meaning even if at the same time being somewhat ambiguous by modern standards.

    If the scientists are correct and that we shall never be able to travel backwards in time ... then the best that can be said is that despite the scientists claims - We are still probably 'light years' away from knowing the real origin of the Universe, if, indeed, there is one.

    To think that anyone can unlock the mystery of the universe by e.g. gazing through a telescope and pontificating about what they appear to be witnessing and assuming what may have happpened 'x' billion years ago ... isn't even sensible science ... the universe is likely to be much more complex than what we can currently see/observe/measure.

    I don't accept the bible in its precise litereal accuracy/interpretation ... but in what it represents as in the sense of 'inspiration' and admittedly, in a great deal of mystery. We can only understand the universe through concepts and imagination ... I'm afraid that I find that most scientists are a big turn off here with their arrogance and raging athesism.

  • Comment number 60.

    Sorry about another long comment, but be careful to say most scientists to raging atheists - or all Christians are Creationists. Some Creationists are delusional Christians as much as some Atheists are "delusional" scientists, both thinking they have absolute authority of a subject and cannot cope with the idea that of absolute authority of somone else on "their" subject. Even the Pope has declared Genesis discriptive so they might do better in letting go. On te other side some scientists develop a bloated ego due to their success. To be humble as a scientist is not furthering your career in a world thriving for egocentric celebrity. Attenborough is probably an exception who describes himself as agnostic not an atheist, probably as he would want to keep an open mind on everything.
    Now the argument scientists like him come up against, the claim of a loving god is to ask why he allows disease to happen as you can see on youtube in his interview by Michael Palin. Now this is where Attenborough disappoints. Firstly that he sets the accidental blinding of the human by a worm over the accidental killing of a worm by a man. This assumes that the love of God should be preferenctial or even restricted to humans. That is human arrogance and lack of critical thinking. Whilst he is hailed for his success in promoting interest for the natural world by his childlike curiosity it is not an excuse for lack of critical thinking. And his success as broadcaster is in part due to his performance, but als due to the chance he had at some point, to be given access to the great platform of the BBC.
    To understand such issues brings you much closer to understand what God is about. The problem when eating from the tree of knowledge - not the tree of wisdom - is that we think we know what is right and wrong. Clearly to be ill is a wrong thing and that the boy suffers. God has given us the ability to recognise this and to feel compassion about it. To know about the suffering of another human on the other side of the world is something unique to humanity in our ability to transmit thoughts. God has also given us the ability not to lament and complain about it but to change things for the better of humankind and to consider the consequences of those changes. However the latter requires wisdom or holy spirit, and that comes only by the grace of god and is rarely found in a celebrity or a celebrity scientist. If you acquire wisdom it will make you humble, but then you can probably live happily without the celebrity status.
    Just as a final word about our rush to collectively judge groups of people. It happened to me when watching the pictures of an aeroplane flying into the twin towers while on a conference at the university of east anglia. I started hating all Muslim blaming them collectively for such atrocity. However in this moment of despair and agony I asked myself why and, fighting the tears in anticipation of the disaster, I went into the student chapel opening up the bible at random. I am still sorry for not having ripped out the pages or at least written down what I read at the time as on the first page I opened it showed me my error in thinking and not to pass judgement. I guess the bible is full of such warnings anyhow. I went out still everything in a blur but amazed about this experience with the conclusion that I should have known better, not to judge an entire group of people by the action of a few. As a scientist working on single cell analysis all my life I should have known immediately that there is no population of anything entirely the same. Even if they all have the same genetic makeup their phenotype is determined by their environment and their interaction within and a small group of cells can change the entire system, for the better of the worth. Dawkin’s hail of the gene is wrong as it is not heterogeneity of cell it’s environment that changes it’s fate. And everyone of us is responsible for shaping that environment as entrusted by God.
    Leaves me with recommending a good book
    “Evolutionary Theory and Christian Belief” by David Lack

    and a Quote from Goethe on God and Science:

    to find you in infinity of space and time
    one must first divide and then combine.

    Hope Susan gets something out for herself on those discussions as well, so the next time she meets David Attenborough she might ask him what he thinks a loving God should do. Might get him thinking

  • Comment number 61.

    60. At 2:19pm on 28 Sep 2010, gerne1 wrote:

    Sorry about another long comment, but be careful to say most scientists to raging atheists -
    ......................

    I'm afraid that you seem to be out of touch as I am 'careful' ... and what I am saying is that many scientists do, unfortunately, unwittingly or otherwise display a tendency to revel in using science as a platform upon which to launch their atheist views ... in my opinion, this is, to say the least, 'arrogant' and does in some cases appear to lead to their attention grabbing antics actually leading them in to making rash scientific ... unscientific judgements and stastements about their opinions, claims and ideas.

    I think that you need to be careful in failing to recognise this particular strand of "scientists' behaviour" and which may be worthy of funded research to establish the ethical prognosis of whether this is having a detrimental effect on the quality of the science and the way that some of the science is portrayed in the media.

    Let's face it ... if scientists cannot agree on e.g. climate change or indeed the occurrence and measurement of 'spritual energy' ... it may be better to leave God out of it for a while.

    The number of times I've heard scientists over the years on TV and radio saying before they have mentioned any science that they are 'atheist', speaks volumes for itself ... Is the making of this statement necessary in order for them to 'clear the 'air' before they speak?

    If a scientist is atheist then why try and rubbish 'God' when they say that they do not even believe in God? Why do some continuallly try and rubbish something that they say that they do not even believe in themselves?

    Can someone venture a scientific or other rational explanation for this behaviour?

    I say that it is time to study the 'scientists'!

    By the way, I think that the the earth is 'round' and it is right to call the earth 'round' but many scientists would, of course, disagree with that statement.

  • Comment number 62.

    I recently found this great humorous article about cosmology. It's rather tongue in cheek but really well written and a good laugh. Cosmology: A Humorous Guide.

    Enjoy!!

  • Comment number 63.

  • Comment number 64.

    Why did Professor Hawking wait for over 20 years before acknowledging Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem as ruling out a complete Theory of Everything (TOE)?
    An all-encompassing TOE would not only include a logical derivation of the fundamental laws from a set of root mathematical axioms but would extend this logical derivation to every possible phenomenon in the universe as a mathematical statement.
    This is the definition of the TOE used by Professor Hawking, as evidenced, for instance, by his including the Goldbach conjecture formulated as a physical problem – in terms of wooden blocks – as part of “the theory of the universe”, as he puts it in his website.
    Applying Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem to the root mathematical axioms shows that the mathematical system is either inconsistent, which we can rule out, or that it is incomplete, ie, there are some true statements of the mathematics – manifest as phenomena in our universe – which cannot be deduced from the root axioms and, therefore, which cannot be predicted from the TOE either, since it is, itself, derived from the root axioms.
    The fact that a TOE derived from the root axioms of the type envisaged by Professor Hawking is incapable of predicting all the phenomena in the universe surely deserved a comment!
    In "The Grand Design", again, no mention is made of Gödel, although this is less surprising if M-theory is regarded as a “conventional” TOE, which does not attempt to explain all phenomena.
    However, there is a final twist to the tale. While Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem shows that an all-encompassing TOE, which predicts all phenomena, cannot be derived from the root axioms, it is nevertheless true that a TOE which does predict all phenomena could, in principle, be written down without deriving it. It would simply not be possible to prove, in this universe, that what had been written down was, indeed, the genuine TOE. This, and other aspects of the TOE, are discussed in my website, www.godel-universe.com.

 

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