IT Management Blog: my thoughts about putting the "i" in IT

Plato’s Revenge – Part 5: The grand design of the multi-universe - by Hawking and Mlodinow

In a previous post I wrote about the book “The Grand Design” by Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow. I saw the book in the bookshop and thought that since I said something about it, I better read it as well.

It is a relatively easy read and contains no maths. One of the key arguments is that there are most likely other universes that are created and that disappear over time. Since many universes can be created at any moment, in time the lucky situation occurred that a universe was created with exactly the laws and parameters that allows for the creation of solar systems and planets and therefore life as we know it. One of the other arguments is that mathematically there is no need for a God for this creation and they also explain that intelligent life and specifically human life with the freedom of will do not need God for this creation. Due to the complexity and the immense large number of parameters and dependencies involved, we experience freedom of will but it does not necessarily mean that this is the case.

Universes can be created spontaneously and this randomness relies, as far as I understood, on Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle.

The mathematics and the theories we have defined so far are not always that elegant yet and we only have models that seem to work relatively well but part is this is because we have our own limitations with respect to discovering the laws of nature.

A nice explanation is given about the goldfish in the bowl as an alternative to Plato’s Allegory of the Cave (see my first post). The goldfish inside the bowl has a distorted view on the world and therefore would come up with rather complex models of the laws of nature for whatever happens outside the bowl.

I think the book is a good read and challenges us to think further. However I see two weaknesses in their arguments:

1) As far as I understood, the spontaneous creation of universes relies on Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle. Since this is one of the great miracles in physics, would it not be very well possible that due to our limitations and our distorted view on reality (being a fish in a bowl), that we see this uncertainty but that in reality something completely different appears behind the scenes?

One of the key things I belief that we humans do not really understand is time. Physicists might be pretty happy with the way they calculate with it, but do we really understand it? We can’t grab time, we can’t go back and forward in it as we can in space. I like their explanation of time to see it as the vertical axis on a circle. When you are on top of the circle, you can move left and right, but there is no downward movement in time. So at the top of the circle time stands still but when you move in space (horizontally) time starts and the further you progress along the circle, time is moving until you come to the bottom of the circle.

2) At one moment time started and at the moment of the big bang, the universe was created out of the singularity. As they explain, we probably can’t apply our normal laws of physics to those very early stages of the creation of the universe. But my question is, where does the singularity come from? Why should there be a creation at all? Why should there be anything at all? Why should Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle apply? The questions that arise are not much different than asking who created God.

The conclusion that this is all explained by the laws of physics is not very well grounded and they skim over this issue too quickly. They very nicely start explaining that we have a distorted view and therefore our theories and models are more or less approximations. But then they don't really apply it to their own reasoning. Then they should not bring their conclusions with this certainty. They should bring it more as if it is just one potential explanation.

Given all this and with all its weaknesses in the arguments, I do not have any problems accepting that different universes can be created or that there are other parallel universes.

In my day to day life, I see that different people live in different universes where different laws apply. Gravity does not seem to apply for babies. At one moment in time they have something in their hands and at another moment it disappears. Then suddenly it appears in their hands again. Over time, the concept of gravity grows into their world. I still see it with my daughter that gravity is not always existent in her world. She can put a glass of water near or halfway the edge of the table. Sometimes the glass suddenly disappears and then there is much emotion. But later the glass will magically appear clean and well again in the cupboard. In my universe, the glass falls on the ground and I can clean up the mess.

In the work context you see that people live in different universes as well. Though there are two major sets of laws of nature that govern the work context (economics and human behaviour) plus some industry specific laws (e.g. biology, physics, etc.), different people live in universes with a different mix of those laws.

The laws of economics are to certain extend straightforward. You produce something for the costs of $5 and sell it for $7 and you have $2 profit. However you do need the laws of human behaviour in order to sell your product and in order to make the people in your organisation achieve the goal of making profit. Human behavior is much more a mystery. (OK, you might want to argue that economics also covers human behavior, but that's not the point here).

In some universes the laws of economics are loosely applied while the laws of human behaviour seem the focus of attention. In most cases cost efficiencies and profitability are then a coincidental side effect. Money seems to appear out of nothing, coming in through a wormhole from another parallel universe.

In other universes, everything is well defined in financial structures but where there are some strange laws about the rules to create certain products or where there are mysterious rules about organisational structures equivalent to Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle. The reason for doing things seem to be rather random.

In effective organisations that sustain growth and profitability over a longer period of time, both sets of laws are well formulated into a single model (M-theory).

Take for example Apple. They created the first i-Phones with the rounded edges. Engineers probably have complained about it, and I may assume that the marketeers demanded this. They understood human behaviour and created something that looked nice and something that people wanted regardless whether this contributes to a technically good product or not. Apple was very successful in creating a hype and this way revolutionised our world even though we might say that there are many practical limitations to their product.

Organisations where these laws are not brought into a unified model can still be created and still can have strong growth and can temporarily experience strong profitability, but if there is no balance over time the organisation will disappear; just as an instable universe will disappear.

The same logic applies between departments within an organisation. The IT department usually is governed by the laws of economics and is strong in thinking in terms of efficiency. In most cases that is their remit, while other departments are more focussed on the laws of human behaviour such as the HR and Marketing departments. And those laws are not always easily reconciled. In order to exist, we need to allow for a certain amount of uncertainty and randomness.

For example, we need to accept that if we commence a project, there is only a certain probability that the project will ever be finished and the resulting system will be used. The better the unified model, the higher the probability. The challenge of coming to a good model is that you sit within your glass bowl and have a distorted view on your own universe and that makes change from within the organisation difficult. We call it the culture of the organisation. Revolutionary insights (e.g. Einstein’s theories) or long term growth towards maturity (people slowly becoming aware of gravity) are required to achieve change.

I also like to make some concluding remarks about the argument relating to the existence of God. Of course that creates quite a hullabaloo around the world and everyone jumping on the subject to say something about it. (Somebody in favour of the argument:; Wikipedia also gives an overview of the criticism) At least it helps sell the book. The issue of free will is also heavily discussed.

But I did not see anything in the book that really excludes the existence of God. I don't think that the book really needed this argument at all.

I don't like these type arguments in relation to the existence of God in either direction. 

I believe in God and therefore Hawking and Mlodinow are wrong.
I do not believe in God and therefore they have a valid argument.

Years ago I watched a show on TV in the Netherlands discussing which city was better. The one camp argued that because they were born in Rotterdam that each time when they arrived back in the city, they felt at home. Therefore Rotterdam was the best city and Amsterdam was nothing. The other camp argued the other way around. What a nonsense!