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The Grand Design

How science unlocked the secrets of the universe

By Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow
15-minute read
Audio available
The Grand Design by Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow

The Grand Design (2010) tells the fascinating story of how humans came into being and how we began to use the scientific method to explain both our remarkable growth as a species and the world around us. From the foundational laws of Newton and Einstein to the mind-bending science of quantum physics, find out how far we’ve come and how close we are to answering life’s big questions.

  • Armchair philosophers
  • Science geeks who are into astronomy and physics
  • Anyone who’s ever wondered about the mysteries of life

Stephen Hawking (1942-2018) was one of the world’s most celebrated scientific thinkers, having been honored with numerous awards, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom. For 30 years he was a professor of mathematics at Cambridge University, where he worked on many of his most popular scientific theories. He was also the author of many influential books, including A Brief History of Time and The Universe in a Nutshell.

Leonard Mlodinow is a physicist at the California Institute of Technology and one of the most respected specialists in quantum theory. He is also the author of the best-selling books The Drunkard’s Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives and A Briefer History of Time.

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The Grand Design

By Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow
  • Read in 15 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 9 key ideas
The Grand Design by Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow
Synopsis

The Grand Design (2010) tells the fascinating story of how humans came into being and how we began to use the scientific method to explain both our remarkable growth as a species and the world around us. From the foundational laws of Newton and Einstein to the mind-bending science of quantum physics, find out how far we’ve come and how close we are to answering life’s big questions.

Key idea 1 of 9

The quest to explain our world took us from the mythological to the scientific.

One of the defining characteristics of human beings is our curiosity. As long as we’ve been around, we’ve been pondering the big questions: why are we here? Are we alone in the universe? Is there a creator?

While these questions are thousands of years old, the method of using scientific inquiry to get answers is relatively new.

Back in ancient times, we used gods to explain the world’s natural phenomena. We had sun gods, gods of rain and thunder, even earthquake and volcano gods.

So, when we were desperate for good weather, we went out of our way to please the appropriate gods. And when drought or natural disasters befell us, we believed it was due to a failure on our part to adequately please the gods.

It would take the ancient Greek philosophers like Aristotle, Archimedes and Thales to move us past this mythological thinking. These Greek thinkers were devoted to pondering life’s big questions and contemplating the universe, and they began to find ways of understanding the world apart from godly intervention.

While someone like Archimedes wouldn’t be considered a proper scientist today, he was one of the first to conduct experiments and carefully observe and measure the results. This is how he came up with revolutionary principles like the law of the lever, which explained how small forces can be used to lift heavy objects.

This line of thinking would continue to be refined, and in early modern times, it became known as the scientific method – a strict system for formulating a hypothesis and rigorously testing it through experiments, measurements and observation.

In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, scholars like Galileo, Johannes Kepler and René Descartes were early proponents of the scientific method. Isaac Newton used this system to formulate the laws of gravity and motion, which finally allowed us to understand the movements of planets and stars.

Eventually, scientists would use the scientific method to explain how all of the physical world functions.

This led us to scientific determinism, the belief that every occurrence in nature can be scientifically explained – even human decisions.

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