Mysticism Beyond 0s and 1s


Search for traces of mysticism in science in the light of Steven Hawking’s Grand Design

The whole of computing, as we understand today in computer science is based on 0s and 1s where 0 is off and 1 is on. Or in other words, combination of ons and offs are computations in computer science. What Millions of transistors in a square centimetre of silicon chip do is to act as a switch, which opens or closes a gate – on or off. A positive charge applied to the gate attracts electrons, allowing current to flow across the gate. A negative charge stops the current and closes the gate[i].
In Grand Design[ii] – which is an attempt to expel the Divine from human quest for ultimate answers, Steven Hawking reduces freewill to calculations, or in other words to 0s and 1s. He acknowledges freewill as a good model/paradigm to explain human decisions but only because we don’t enough computing power to analyse the “scientific” reasons behind human decisions/freewill. For him, the decisions (which comes out of freewill) are the result of combination of complex yeses and nos, which he suggests could be the result of chemical and biological reactions in our brain. Thus Hawking links science and computation to the sanctuary of human spiritual and moral capacities like freewill.

Once we link computations to human moral capacities, there is a big scientific question: why people don’t make the same decisions under same circumstances – if they are the results of same chemical/biological reactions? This is an important question because the basic premise of scientific process is that we should be able to reproduce the same results, under same circumstance for an experiment and principle to be scientifically true. Quite interestingly, Hawking does not answer this question directly.

Hawking tries to reconcile this question by pointing his fingers to macro world – the universe, which is his area of expertise. He rejects the idea of a “Law for everything” and resorts to the idea of “Laws for everything” and calls it as M Theory. In nutshell there is no scientific determinism as we have seen in Newtonian physics. No more single theory of everything or single set of theories for the whole universe. Because he introduces the probability of 10500 universes deriving inspiration from the Feynman’s theory of alternative histories in quantum physics (a jump from micro to macro level). Each of those universes (which came into existence after the Big Bang – the definite creation event), can have that many possible (but separate) histories and sets of laws (Hawking also predicts an end – the judgement day!). This gives Hawking enough space to argue about numerous sets of laws for different set of worlds/universes and for different scenarios. If we can apply this model to micro level – we should be able to explain the moral faculties like freewill, scientifically, for one can argue that decision can take twists and turns, based on those different sets of laws of his/her world. We could also predict those decisions, if we know the laws and got enough computing power to analyse it. However, Hawking does not say it explicitly, but that’s where he is going.

He concedes that those laws are “apparent” because the reality we perceive is modified (or interpreted) heavily by the model we use to understand it (Model dependent realism). There is no ultimate answer/explanation to the things we see and experience. Here, Hawking knowingly or unknowingly leaves space for the unknown, the mystery.

Hawking seems to reject the idea of a prime mover. But introduces a new model where all the probable 10500 histories/universes/sets of laws etc derive from a prime law – Gravity, in his opinion. He has replaced prime mover with prime law. But the question remains: who is the lawgiver? Quite interestingly the Divine is also theologically understood as the lawgiver (remember the story of Moses at mount Sinai). If there is a need for a lawgiver to design the prime law (Gravity in Hawking’ view), who is also the designer of those 10500 or more sets of probable set of laws/histories/universes, and this macro design can be replicated in micro level of human moral capacities (as Hawking would secretly wish), the credit for freewill will again go back to ultimate lawgiver. The mystery of freewill at personal level will also remain intact for out of those innumerable probabilities it will be up to each individual to make the right choices using the laws pertaining to him/her. The mystery will continue which will be very well beyond 0s and 1s.

It seems that the more he tries to eliminate the Divine (to that matter mystery), the more he gives space to exist.

So, the inference: there is something real. The Absolute, the God, the law, the lawgiver! But we may not understand it fully – even through scientific process – because of so many intrinsic limitations of the model we use to interpret it. There will be mystery, and that is a scientific premise. So there is scope for faith. It is quite reasonable to have belief. There is no point is saying that, at this point in history I don’t want to believe in an Absolute (God), since it is not been explained fully through scientific process, now. It could very well be there as one of the 10^500 probabilities at least! Moreover, there is more than enough reason to assume that there is an Absolute – either as prime mover or lawgiver or some other title as we still don’t understand. Or it could very well be understood as a mystery as revealed.

PS: Presented at the Mysticism Beyond Boarders Conference at DVK, Bangalore, 2011


[i] Online:,9171,987590,00.html#ixzz12HC5Plvl

[ii] The Grand Design, Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow, Bantam Press, 2010.

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