Who is the real Dr. Stephen Hawking? Is he a detached Spectator seeking a mathematical description of a deterministic, objective reality – ‘out there’? Or is he an embodied Participant in the universe seeking to bring about a more desirable future? The timeline of the book is a four-city lecture tour the author organized for Hawking in the early 1990s (Portland, Eugene, Seattle and Vancouver BC). Hawking’s powerful meetings with students with disabilities, officially collateral events, were remarkable in and of themselves. The greater significance of these ‘stories of the road’ is better appreciated in the context of the central narrative question of the book: the nature of the universe and our place/role in it.
The author, a philosopher of science (Berkeley, London), engages Hawking, his graduate assistants and even his nurses in what starts as a critical review of the ‘new physics’ of Einstein, Bohr and Heisenberg. The question of the limits of classical science expands to questions of the limits of all supposedly objectivist, ‘one right answer’ ideologies – in biological, socio-economic, and political realms. Is everyone ‘really’ selfish? Is the world universally, objectively competitive, or cooperative? In a parallel review of the ‘new philosophy of science’ the contributions of the author’s mentors, Feyerabend, Lakatos, Kuhn and Popper the central issue of falsification reveals a parallel path to complementarity
What is called for is a new post-scientific, post-objectivist way of understanding the place of the embodied Participant inquirer in the very nature of reality. What is called for is a More General Theory that can subsume the successes of the classical sciences as limited special cases, understanding them in a new, superseding way. Hawking’s embrace of the need for a Participatory Anthropic Principle in cosmology parallels the embrace of a new pragmatic understanding of ‘real’ inquiry in the philosophy of science. Traditional ‘fact’ questions as to ‘how the universe works’ and ‘how the universe came to be as it is’ become inseparable from traditional ‘value’ questions as to ‘how we should work in the world’ and ‘how might we bring about a more desirable future’. – Who then is the real Stephen Hawking? And what does the new understanding suggest as to ‘how we should live’?
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