Stephen Hawking’s Fishbowl

Stephen Hawking

In September 2010, Stephen Hawking, the icon of modern science, made headlines with his new book, The Grand Design. The title is quite ironic, as it alludes to design and intention while arguing for an impersonal chance beginning of the universe. Interestingly, Hawking holds to the notion that the universe was an inevitable natural reality given the natural laws of physics. According to Hawking, there is no need to infer a Creator because gravity is able to create the universe all by itself.

The initial reaction to the views of such an authority might be to concede to his intellect and accept what he’s saying as fact. But let’s think about this a bit. His views are, of course, based on a set of assumptions, such as the brute realities of the laws of physics and gravity. But if nothingness preceded the universe, is it warranted to believe that these laws also preceded the universe? The induction of gravity would itself require some sort of catalyst. Since the force of gravity is also finely tuned, isn’t it unwarranted to simply infer it in the first place as a blunt reality preexisting all things? At the end, contrary to Hawking’s contention, this does not explain why there is something rather than nothing because his “nothing” assumes all sorts of natural laws, measurements, and precision, none of which is really “nothing.” He simply chooses to invoke theoretical “somethings” instead of one supernatural catalyst. It is also somewhat disappointing that he greatly overlooks the extreme fine-tuning of the conditions required for life.

What is Stephen Hawking Claiming in the Grand Design?

He essentially claims that nothing has created everything, but he hijacks all sorts of theoretical and even substantive somethings (i.e. gravity) as brute realities in his version of nothingness. But what is nothingness? Anything at all included before there was any particular something is not really “nothing,” and we don’t know of anything natural the preceded the Big Bang. As such, it appears to be quite a fascinating position to posit a something, anything at all, and yet still freely call it nothing.

Should we be amazed how a mind as brilliant as that of Hawking can fail to comprehend the flaws in this manner of thinking? May we question his intellect? We may. But it may prove to be far easier to see his flaws as the result of his will, not his mind. After all, psychology is the groundskeeper of human intentions and thought scientists are trained to be objective, they are after all human, and have their own feelings, fears, biases, and expectations from which they draw conclusions. Presuppositions of a certain type of reality or a worldview and political and monetary persuasions are precursors to every paper, research, book and lecture.

Stephen Hawking claims in the beginning of his book that ‘philosophy is dead.’ He then goes on to make all sorts of philosophical claims. One such claim is that ‘we are somewhat like goldfish in a curved fishbowl; that our perceptions are limited and warped by the kind of lenses we see through.’ What this brilliant scientist is failing to see (and I’m almost ashamed to point this out) that he shares in this reality and his perceptions must be just as warped as ours. Thus, his claims to some absolute that excludes God is charged by his misconception of this reality as well. Alas, he can not lay claim to any sort of presentation of such a reality either as that of a ‘goldfish in a curved fishbowl.’ Why? In order to be aware of this sort of reality, one must surely be able to witness it from outside of it. Hawking, a mere fish just like the rest of us, is relegated to the same fishbowl. I am not aware of any way for Stephen Hawking to be capable of transcending ‘this fishbowl,’ this reality to which he is so bold at administering a non-supernatural cause. Alas, his claims in a book that is purported to be a ‘science’ book is ironically more of an illogical philosophy book.

14 thoughts on “Stephen Hawking’s Fishbowl

  1. David Kosobucki says:

    Thanks Arthur. You make some good points. It’s interesting how philosphical claims often tend to backfire or boomeriang on themselves – even after philosophy dies apparently. And even when you are as smart as Stephen Hawking. It happens whenever one makes an idol out of a philosophy or an idea. As a false god it inevitably falls short in some important respect sooner or later. In this case it seems to be happening soon.

  2. Ron Krumpos says:

    In “The Grand Design” Stephen Hawking postulates that the M-theory may be the Holy Grail of physics…the Grand Unified Theory which Einstein had tried to formulate but never completed. It expands on quantum mechanics and string theories.

    In my e-book on comparative mysticism is a quote by Albert Einstein: “…most beautiful and profound emotion we can experience is the sensation of the mystical. It is the sower of all true science. To know that what is impenetrable to us really exists, manifesting itself as the highest wisdom and most radiant beauty – which our dull faculties can comprehend only in their primitive form – this knowledge, this feeling, is at the center of all religion.”

    E=mc², Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity, is probably the best known scientific equation. I revised it to help better understand the relationship between divine Essence (Spirit), matter (mass/energy: visible/dark) and consciousness (f(x) raised to its greatest power). Unlike the speed of light, which is a constant, there are no exact measurements for consciousness. In this hypothetical formula, basic consciousness may be of insects, to the second power of animals and to the third power the rational mind of humans. The fourth power is suprarational consciousness of mystics, when they intuit the divine essence in perceived matter. This was a convenient analogy, but there cannot be a divine formula.

    • Arthur Khachatryan says:

      But mysticism’s claims are mostly speculation and it is not really based on anything based firmly in reality. It is a radical syncretism of various “half-truths” that is said to give us the complete “truth”. It is veiled in modern physics as a means of gaining credibility.

      We can not conceptually harmonize logical contradictions to make sure they fit within a predefined system we set up beforehand, and this is exactly what mysticism does.

      Truth must be identified wherever it is found. The commitment to truth cannot condone a cursory or simplistic dismissal of entire systems of thought. Nothing is isolated in a vacuum by itself. Ideas clash and generally cannot be harmonized. Attempting to do so at all cost immediately makes an appeal to personal comfort and emotional jargon rather than an earnest search for reality.

      Though I agree with certain concepts, such as the ability for the mind to build intuitive knowledge, I do not hold, as mysticism calls for, an emptying of the mind of conceptual thought in order to feel ‘at one with the universe.’

  3. Ron Krumpos says:

    Arthur, sorry to be so late in my reply.

    It is true that suprarational consciousness is not rational and is independent of reason, logic or images. It is, however, consummate cognition, unmeditated discernment, with certainty. As one of my mentors wrote:
    “It is a condition of consciousness in which feelings are fused, ideas melt into one another, boundaries are broken, and ordinary distinctions transcended. Past and present fade away into a sense of timeless being. Consciousness and being are not different from each other. In this fullness of felt life and freedom, the distinction of the knower and known disappears. The privacy of the individual self is broken into and invaded by a universal self which the individual feels as his own. The experience itself is felt to be sufficient and complete. It does not come in fragmentary or truncated form demanding comple-tion by something else. It does not look beyond itself for meaning or validity.”
    [quoted from “An Idealist View of Life,” by Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan. Note: He was the President of India 1962-67, Vice President 1952-62 and a Professor at Oxford University 1936-52. In 1962, I was introduced to Dr. Radhakrishnan by John Kenneth Galbraith, then the U.S. Ambassador to India.

    • Arthur Khachatryan says:

      No problem, Ron. You’ve articulated some interesting points. Like I stated before, there is some legitimacy in your position, but in its totality mysticism is untenable as a position.

      I fail to see how you could even conceive of emptying the mind without a reasonable assumption that it will bring about some mystical knowledge. So even the decision and process (whatever that process entails) requires a rational move on the part of the mind to empty itself. This is self-defeating, is it not? It turns out that you do need logic even to make the case that you do not need logic.

      “In this fullness of felt life and freedom, the distinction of the knower and known disappears.”

      If this were true we could know everything by simply emptying the mind completely. Then we would lose all separation between ourselves and reality able to know everything. I would completely disagree with this. I do hold that some knowledge, intuitive knowledge for example, can be ascertained by means that remain largely unknown. But it appears that these types of knowledge are the exceptions, not the norm. Most, if not all knowledge requires input into the mind.

      In effect mysticism would also make perception and sensation obsolete. But I don’t think there is any way for anyone to transcend their biology. Reality is after all as much physical as it is metaphysical. This is the world we live in. No one can truly escape it even by rejecting its effects on the mind itself.

  4. Buck Ruano says:

    i’m adding your blog rss feed so that i can see your new posts. keep up the good work!

  5. Udaybhanu Chitrakar says:

    When Hawking’s book was out, Dawkins commented something like this: Hawking has kicked God out of physics the way that Darwin kicked God out of biology. So scientists’ only aim is not to acquire knowledge, in addition to that they are having other aim also. And that aim is kicking God out of physics. Another reviewer on Hawking’s book has written about ousting God from science. Now it can be seen how God has been kicked out, or ousted. They have already taken it for granted that the void artificially created by them is a real void, and that therefore virtual particles are appearing practically from nowhere. We who are God-believers will try to say here that it is not yet an established fact that the void is a real void, because our God is everywhere. In reply to that they will perhaps say that there is no evidence for God so far, and therefore they do not find any reason as to why they will have to think otherwise. So they start with a premise that contains the following: God does not exist, or God has been ousted/kicked out. Yes, if they do not admit that God has already been kicked out/ousted, they cannot come to such a conclusion that the void is nothing but a void. So the premise with which they start for ousting God already contains the conclusion they want to arrive at, that God has been successfully ousted/kicked out. Is it a logically sound procedure?  

    • Arthur Khachatryan says:

      @Udaybhanu thank you for reading the post and commenting. I would actually say that God CAN be detected through science. God has not been ousted from the science that looks into His own creation. The failure of scientists that think they have proven that God does not exist, is failing to account for vast amounts of their own presuppositions and expectations for they _should_ uncover if God does in fact exist. I honestly don’t think that the conclusion of unbelief is something brilliant scientists come to by means of their intellect, but by the means of their decision to NOT believe. It is a matter of the heart, and not the mind. When people do NOT want to believe in God, no amount of evidence will persuade them. As is, the natural world is brimming with design and fine-tuning, and many other scientists (many that I know as acquaintances) have been persuaded by this evidence.

      • Naviedm says:

        Disbelief is something that “brilliant scientists” and other atheist/agnostics do come to by means of their intellect. They do not think that belief in God meets a certain criterion (e.g. evidence), therefore they do not believe in God. Their decision is entirely rational (which is not to say their conclusion is correct, only that their decision is the product of reason). Your argument can easily (and quite justifiably) be turned on its head: When people want to believe in God, no amount of evidence will persuade them. Unlike you, I *do* believe that belief in God is rational, though I myself am a disbeliever. It is not a “matter of the heart, and not the mind”, as you and many others claim. This, I believe, is the product of an inability to reconcile a Pre-Enlightenment mode of rationality with the scientific-method (our modern form of inquiry).  “Pre-Enlightment” rationality is not meant pejoratively;  historically, belief in God(s) *was* rational. Early man did not wake up one day with a feeling in their heart that God exists–he looked into the heavens, regarded lightening and made rational hypotheses! You make it a matter of the heart, because belief in God cannot withstand the scientific method. Believers privilege (or suspend disbelief in) God and religion and somehow use this as the last word on the subject.
        One last point, fine-tuning is not evidence that God exists. A stone may be made perfectly rounded by the undulations of the sea–that does not mean Neptune made it so!

        • Arthur Khachatryan says:

          Naviedm, thanks for stopping by and for the comment. It is certainly true that many scientists come to disbelieve in God through *some* examination, but you have to concede the fact that what they would deem *enough* evidence is highly subjective. As you, yourself stated, some people will believe in God regardless how much of a certain type of evidence you may present against God (not sure what that would look like other than a presupposition of methodological naturalism). In the like manner, some people will disbelieve in God regardless of how much evidence they may be presented with. I’m not sure how much of my writing you’ve read, but I don’t hold to a fideistic persistence for God’s existence. Perhaps the article gave you the wrong idea, but nothing I’ve written do I find the least bit contentious, honestly. I think there is plenty of very good reasons to believe in God. The real problem is that people do NOT WANT there to be God for various personal reasons. Did the ancients make ridiculous claims ‘that God did it’ when they observed something they did not understand? Sure! There are all sorts of crazy belief systems. But before throwing the baby out with the bathwater, I think it’s important to examine this a bit deeper, no? After all, the ancients perverted the belief in the One True God just as much as they perverted (or perhaps lacked) the true means by which to examine the natural world. I don’t see this dichotomy that you seem to be pointing at between God and science. God can be known through the conscience and through the natural revelation of himself in the effects. But, we don’t stop there. There is a massive, and I do mean massive, body of evidence from history as they pertain to Jesus Christ. 
          I will also disagree with you with your final point. Fine-tuning IS evidence for God!  “A stone may be made perfectly rounded by the undulations of the sea–that does not mean Neptune made it so!” First, if anyone were to believe in Neptune without proper reason, we need not take it seriously. I don’t think it is in our best interest to prove one God wrong by the ridiculous belief in another. As far as the stone, we’re not merely talking about perfect roundness here. We’re talking about a highly improbable set of factors all working together to allow for life to exist and comprehend its own existence. The stone itself could be formed by natural processes. But would you also infer or presume a natural process at work were you to find yourself on another planet and find the same rocks forming the words, “Welcome Naviedm!”? It’s not just precision, but precision and intelligibility, and those together ALWAYS come from a mind. I will be posting some of these specific factors in a future blog post, if you’re interested.
          I do hope I’ve corrected some of your initial assumptions about my positions. I would, however, still hold that the human psyche does often persuade people to believe one thing against another simply because of the inner desires, wants and needs. And yes, this does work both ways, but this does not really prove the belief right or wrong, and neither does the belief of one of the most brilliant scientists of all time.

  6. Anonymous says:


    The Old Lady’s TORTOISE (Hinduism)
    and DRAGON (Taoism) are symbols for
    WAVE (energy), both are analog with MAGEN
    DAVID (Judaism). “Snow White and
    the Seven Dwarfs” is the metaphor, and also similar with allegory of
    rituals Thawaf circling around the
    Ka’ba and Sa’i oscillating along “the
    sinus” Marwah-Shafa (seven times) during
    the Hajj pilgrimage (Abraham). CROSS (Christian) and SWASTIKA (Buddhism) are symbols for “Balance of

    “A BRIEF HISTORY OF TIME – From the Big Bang to Black
    Hole” by Stephen W. Hawking is the best scientific interpretation of AL
    QUR’AN by a non believer. It is a “test case” and also a “genuine bridge stone”
    for comprehensive study of Theology. Surprise, this paradox is a miracle and
    blessing in disguise as well. It should be very wise and challenging for Moslem
    scholars and others to verify my discovery, for then we should know the Mind of GOD.

    I am just “ordinary people,” so would you mind correcting my point
    of view. Thank you.

    • Arthur Khachatryan says:

      @TatoSUFI, thank you for reading the post. To be honest with you I did not understand the point(s) you were making. You made references to a few symbols, but I don’t see how that’s relevant to the topic of the post. I could simply make a few assumption and reply accordingly, but I don’t want to be accused of setting up straw men. Thanks, and I’m looking forward to your reply.

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