Monday, May 23, 2011

Shermer, Michael. "Stephen Hawking's Radical Philosophy of Science." BIG QUESTIONS ONLINE November 23, 2010.

Hawking, Stephen, and Leonard Mlodinow.  The Grand Design.  New York: Bantom, 2010.

The models generated by biochemical processes in our brains constitute “reality.” None of us can ever be completely sure that the world really is as it appears, or if our minds have unconsciously imposed a misleading pattern on the data. I call this belief-dependent realism. In my forthcoming book, The Believing Brain, I demonstrate the myriad ways that our beliefs shape, influence, and even control everything we think, do, and say about the world. The power of belief is so strong that we typically form our beliefs first, then construct a rationale for holding those beliefs after the fact. I claim that the only escape from this epistemological trap is science. Flawed as it may be because it is conducted by scientists who have their own set of beliefs determining their reality, science itself has a set of methods to bypass the cognitive biases that so cripple our grasp of the reality that really does exist out there.

According to the University of Cambridge cosmologist Stephen Hawking, however, not even science can pull us out of such belief dependency. In his new book, The Grand Design, co-authored with the Caltech mathematician Leonard Mlodinow, Hawking presents a philosophy of science he calls “model-dependent realism,” which is based on the assumption that our brains form models of the world from sensory input, that we use the model most successful at explaining events and assume that the models match reality (even if they do not), and that when more than one model makes accurate predictions “we are free to use whichever model is most convenient.” Employing this method, Hawking and Mlodinow claim that “it is pointless to ask whether a model is real, only whether it agrees with observation.” . . .


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