A look at some Hawking quotes and why he was not a friend of reason. Many of these quotes are typical of many in the field.
[Please note that this will not exactly match the audio. However, there should be no significant differences].
Welcome to the second episode of the Metaphysics of Physics podcast, I am Dwayne Davies, your host and guide through the hallowed halls of the philosophy of science. Thanks for tuning in and I hope you will tune in again!
With this show, I am going to fight for a more rational world, mostly by looking through the lens of the philosophy of sciences. I will raise awareness of issues within the philosophy of science and present alternative and rational approaches.
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Alright, so today we are going to do something a little different. As many of you will know, Stephen Hawking died a little while back. We were not really a fan of his ideas. Why is this? Well, a lot of his physics is dubious, to say the least.
But, we are not here to discuss that today. We are going to dig up some quotes from Hawking himself and discuss some of the implications of these quotes. This will give you some idea of why we think Hawking was no friend of reason and why we cannot really shed a tear over his death.
We will get a lot more out of this episode than “why we think Hawking is anti-reason”. We will discuss views which are shared by a great many other physicists and we will also get some idea of the problems with those types of views.
Before I get started, I would like to make an announcement. I am currently working on a lecture which I want to present when it is done. It is about the crisis in modern physics and its cause, which is bad philosophy. This will explain the sorts of issues I briefly went over in the last episode and which we will be going over today.
I plan to be able to present this one fairly soon, maybe at some point within the next few weeks or so. More on this when it is closer to completion.
But, for now, we will go over some of the issues and provide some responses.
To quote Hawking:
“I regard [the many worlds interpretation] as self-evidently correct. Yeah, well, there are some people who spend an awful lot of time talking about the interpretation of quantum mechanics. My attitude — I would paraphrase Goering —is that when I hear of Schrödinger’s Cat, I reach for my gun. “
He finds it “self-evident” that there are parallel universes and that anyone that doubts this is irrational. Despite the fact that his view is irrational and obviously far from “self-evident”. It is terribly dishonest to claim that his view is self-evident.
Very few things are in fact “self-evident”. The many-worlds interpretation clearly is not. Especially since it is nonsense. It attempts to sidestep the Copenhagen Interpretation by replacing “consciousness collapses the wave-function” with “the wave-function does not collapse, all things that can happen do happen”.
It is hard to see how this is any better than the Copenhagen Interpretation and it is arguably worse.
“Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist. It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going.”
So, because of gravity the universe magically creates itself and this is why existence exists? What kind of tortured chain of “reasoning” is that?
There is no reason why there is something rather than nothing. This presupposes an alternative to existence. But, there is no alternative to existence; existence exists. It is senseless to talk about reasons for existence, it just is. Existence does not have a cause. A cause presupposes something that already exists to act as a cause.
It is not necessary to invoke God or quantum fluctuations of nothing to explain existence, because existence has no cause.
“Mathematics is more than a tool and language for science. It is also an end in itself, and as such, it has, over the centuries, affected our worldview in its own right.”
Mathematics is not an end in itself. Mathematics is a science of method used to discover things about reality. Hawkings disagrees with this. He believes that the role of physics is to develop equations. Once you do that, you are essentially done.
This reflects the common view that mathematics is essentially all there is to physics or at least that it is the main activity of physics. This view is held by a lot of string theorists today that cannot be bothered even trying to find a way to test their theories.
While, of course, rational scientists always seek to test their theories to see if they are true. They do not consider mathematics an end in itself, they consider it a means to help them formulate a hypothesis, which must then be tested using experimentation.
“Maybe that is our mistake: maybe there are no particle positions and velocities, but only waves. It is just that we try to fit the waves to our preconceived ideas of positions and velocities. The resulting mismatch is the cause of the apparent unpredictability.”
Waves of what? Waves are the motions/changes of something. You cannot have waves without something waving. You cannot wave away the problem of particle-wave duality by appealing to causeless actions. A wave is not a thing and something cannot be a wave. Things exhibit wave behavior but they are not made up of waves.
“It has certainly been true in the past that what we call intelligence and scientific discovery have conveyed a survival advantage. It is not so clear that this is still the case: our scientific discoveries may well destroy us all, and even if they don’t, a complete unified theory may not make much difference to our chances of survival.”
Knowledge and intelligence are good things and cannot reasonably be considered a potential threat to human survival. They are our means of survival. Scientific theories, if they are scientific, are not dangerous.
However, non-scientific ideas can be. And many of his ideas are of this kind.
“Any physical theory is always provisional, in the sense that it is only a hypothesis: you can never prove it. No matter how many times the results of experiments agree with some theory, you can never be sure that the next time the result will not contradict the theory. “
You cannot be certain of anything, apparently. Out with certainty and proof when it comes to observable reality. You can never be sure what you “prove” today will be true tomorrow. Or, at least, there is no such thing as a watertight proof.
If you design an experiment properly, you will run it once or a few times, until you understand the results that you get. Once you understand the phenomena you are studying, you can predict with certainty what the results will be. Or, in cases when there is a degree of imperfect knowledge, you can at least predict the chances of certain kinds of results.
So, you can often be very sure the result will not contradict the theory, once you correctly understand the nature of the things you are studying. It is only when you do not have this understanding that you cannot be so sure and that you regard your theory as though it could be contradicted as easily as he describes.
Is there a chance that despite your certainty your theory still might be wrong? Well, yes. But, certainty is not a matter of “There is no possible chance I will later be proven to be wrong when someone discovers something I do not know about”. It is the conviction that, given presently available knowledge, that your theory is correct.
By the way, a good scientist keeps in mind that his theories depend on the context of his knowledge and the context of available evidence. He knows that should someone uncover something he did not know or find different evidence, that his theory might be corrected or replaced.
But, unless and until such arises, he is still, assuming he exercises the scientific method properly, according to the best knowledge and evidence available to him, entitled to be certain that his conclusions are correct.
“If machines produce everything we need, the outcome will depend on how things are distributed. Everyone can enjoy a life of luxurious leisure if the machine-produced wealth is shared, or most people can end up miserably poor if the machine-owners successfully lobby against wealth redistribution. So far, the trend seems to be toward the second option, with technology driving ever-increasing inequality.”
No, that is not how that would work and it is paranoid to think that it is. Mechanisation makes most people richer. And why would machine owners lobby against wealth distribution? Paranoid nonsense.
It is not in the interest of the people creating or selling machines to make people poorer. The major selling point of such machines is to make life better, perform certain tasks more efficiently, to free humans of menial work and so forth. To make life easier and better.
While it is true that mechanization can cost some people their jobs, they are generally able to find work doing other things. But, you have to remember that robots replace humans in jobs where robots are better at the work than humans. Freeing humans up to do what they are better at and will always be better at.
Also, increased mechanization creates a lot of jobs. The machine industries need a lot of people to create, run and repair these machines. As well as people to find innovative ways to use them. At the moment, many jobs related to increased mechanization are booming and creating countless jobs. Far more than any which might be lost. And you can be sure that this will continue.
Machines help do their job better and therefore become richer. You only need to look at the history of the computer, the car and countless other pieces of technology to see this. They also open up countless ways for people to find new ways to generate wealth, often easier than they ever could before.
So, you can always be sure that despite increased mechanization, there will always be plenty of jobs for people and chances for people to become more wealthy by taking advantage of machines. Machines create wealth and make it more possible for everyone to become wealthy, not poorer.
“The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race. We cannot quite know what will happen if a machine exceeds our own intelligence, so we can’t know if we’ll be infinitely helped by it, or ignored by it and sidelined, or conceivably destroyed by it.”
Again, intelligence is being posed as a threat. It does not matter if an intelligence is “artificial”, intelligence is not a threat. Artificially intelligent entities, if they existed, would not automatically choose to wipe us out. They would by necessity require ethics, just as we would. And we would have plenty of chances to try to provide them with ethical guidance.