Today is the first day of this year’s Google Zeitgeist gathering of high-powered world leaders and thinkers (described here, it seems that Google either doesn’t believe in having a web presence, or it’s a secret one. Anyway, my attempts to Google it have failed). One of the headline speakers is Stephen Hawking, and the Guardian reports that:
His talk will focus on M-theory, a broad mathematical framework that encompasses string theory, which is regarded by many physicists as the best hope yet of developing a theory of everything.
M-theory demands a universe with 11 dimensions, including a dimension of time and the three familiar spatial dimensions. The rest are curled up too small for us to see.
Evidence in support of M-theory might also come from the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at Cern, the European particle physics laboratory near Geneva.
One possibility predicted by M-theory is supersymmetry, an idea that says fundamental particles have heavy – and as yet undiscovered – twins, with curious names such as selectrons and squarks.
Confirmation of supersymmetry would be a shot in the arm for M-theory and help physicists explain how each force at work in the universe arose from one super-force at the dawn of time.
They got him to respond to some questions posed in advance, and one of them has the Guardian’s Ian Sample puzzled. Hawking’s answer to “What is the value in knowing “Why are we here?’” was:
The universe is governed by science. But science tells us that we can’t solve the equations, directly in the abstract. We need to use the effective theory of Darwinian natural selection of those societies most likely to survive. We assign them higher value.
Sample’s reaction to this:
On reading it I had one of those familiar, sinking moments of realisation that my brain is so spectacularly inferior to the interviewee’s that all I can do is hold up my hands and say: “Huh?”
At best I might have an inkling of what this means, but I am by no means sure. In this situation, it might take a while to clarify the answer, but other bright minds out there might well be able to unravel it for me and anyone else who might be interested. If you can help, post your thoughts below and put me out of my misery.
To me, it feels as though he is referring to the idea that there are many possible universes and that we can use Darwinian ideas of natural selection to work out which might be most hospitable to life as we know it, and because they are habitable in some sense we value them more highly. That’s my best guess, but I have minimal confidence in it being right.
I will do my best to clarify the answer this week.
My contribution to explaining this is that I see two possibilities:
1. Hawking has signed on to Lee’s Smolin’s ideas about cosmological natural selection.
2. Hawking has realized that once you’ve decided to trade in science for pseudo-science and head down the Multiverse Mania path, there’s no longer any point in worrying about whether what you say makes sense or not, and is behaving appropriately.