Unit 7: “The (Elusive) History of Everything” Reading Response

Get the discussion on this article started by posting your reading response here. Please remember that you will need to post your response and then read other students' responses and post  a reply.

The authors suggest in this article that reality-check"whenever we we develop a model of the world and find it be successful, we tend to attribute to the model the quality of reality or absolute truth." After reading this piece do you think it's possible that only one reality exists?  Does it matter that there might be many realities, if we only exist within our own?


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30 thoughts on “Unit 7: “The (Elusive) History of Everything” Reading Response

  1. Matthew Wetherington

    This short article is, much like “Nature’s Spoils” in the fact that it’s all about our perspective, or perception of reality. The focus of this essay, I believe was to help people take a more open stance on our current human reality, and that there very well may be multiple working in tandem. As Hawking says, there is the classical scientific perspective, the one we use to construct buildings, or cars, but he means to talk really of a perception of how we see the world; in a quantum physical way. Breaking down an elusive way that many realties do in fact exist and people from around the world do in fact see the world very differently. He ties this concept together nicely but using a measure that the city of Monza in Italy tried to pass; where they would ban fish from being kept in bowl shaped containers, as these shaped bowls distorted the reality of fish inside. Throughout the writing, Stephen continually brings up this distorted reality example, to amplify his point that the reality we live in right now may be distorted, or at least not completely aware of other realties we interact with. After reading this article, and even before, I believe multiple realities, or perceptions do in fact exist, humans are very complex. However, I am not sure the relevance of these multiple realties, so long as they can come together on a common ground, like that of classical science. Using classical science, people from all over the world with their different realities come together everyday to construct skyscrapers, bridges, sports cars, and so on. This proves that when we all have the same base, we can function on a global level together.

    1. Amanda Carr

      I feel like everything you said is what I was trying to say in my response. The way you worded it made so much more sense. I also felt like this article was a lot like “Nature Spoils”. I don’t think there will ever be a simple – black and white.

    2. Angelica Kougl

      I thought the same thing while reading this essay. It is a lot like “Nature’s Spoils” in that way! Like Amanda said, nothing is black and white. There are no definite right answers, but instead a variety of possible “answers”. I am hesitant to call these theories discussed in this essay “answers”, however, because these theories are more of a subjective observation than an answer.

  2. Tarean Allen

    I found this article rather interesting. I view that there are many realities and how we each view our reality as our own interpretation. I can agree with the thought that more than one reality exists. There are many things that are left without explanation or viewed as mental interpretations. Like the feeling of someone watching you or déjà vu. These are examples of feelings or imagery of our brains trying make out the world around us. Considering that there are blind spots in our vision that can be manipulated, for example optical illusions, this can also be true to reality theories.
    Take relationships, as another example, some men and women interpret their significant others facial expressions, tone, and physical ques to mean one thing but they mean something else. I believe that we live in our own version of reality, but it can affect other’s reality.

    1. virginia blake

      This is so funny!! I posted my response before reading any others and I used relationships but differently in my post!

      I definitely agree that reality is how we view them. I think in the universe there is one but heaven or hell (to me) but we have earthly realities and many different people view that differently. From hitting rock bottom to decisions people have made in there lives and how it effects people.

      Great post!

    2. Jessica Mathews

      Good response, I agree with you I believe that there can be many realities and it just depends on your own view of the world. Interesting examples you gave ones that I would not think of! Keep up the good work!

  3. Emily Nerbonne

    “In classical physics the past is assumed to exist as a definite series of events, but according to quantum physics, the past, like the future, is indefinite and exists only as a spectrum of possibilities.” (Pg. #187)
    To me, this essay was a really good essay. I really appreciated what Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow had to say about the theory of the universe and the way we perceive reality. The way people look at the world and the way they explain it to themselves all depends on the person, and there are a million perceptions and viewpoints that reality can be looked at. I watch Doctor Who, and the quote above reminds me a lot about a quote he said. He stated: “People assume that time is a strict progression of cause to effect, but actually from a non-linear, non-subjective viewpoint, it’s more like a big ball of wibbly wobbly times wimpy stuff.” To me, both quotes represent the same thought. The world around us isn’t subject to a single timeline. The timeline of this world can be alterned by all the choices that are created from humanity. Those choices create different realities than the ones that could have happened. The world is rules by people’s choices. There could be a million realities following all those different choices that were taken or the ones that weren’t. Our choices dictate the reality we live in.
    Back to the essay, the viewpoint of reality is a great one. Each person has their own “reality.” Each one of their realities is made by the things they see around them. Each person’s reality is subject to the lives they live and their standing in the world. Just today my friends and I were talking about if we would be each other’s friend if we had grown up in the city, in a public school, compared to growing up on farms. Most of us agreed that we wouldn’t be friends. We would probably run into each other in life, but we wouldn’t be the friends that we are now. The reasoning behind that is that we have grown up in the context we are in now, and that is different from the one that could have happened. Different circumstances bring out different results. Our reality now isn’t a reality we would have had if we had grown up elsewhere. So, many realities exist and the viewpoints of life are all altered from the different perspectives and circumstances that aid in the reality. Their is no single absolutely true reality for every individual on this planet. And from that, if there is not single reality, which alternate reality is true? There are many realities that could be true to many different people.

    1. Cassandra Lane

      I was thinking this sounded like some doctor who reality also. I love how he describes it as “wibbly wobbly timey wimey stuff.” As for everyones different reality, I do agree there. Everyone’s reality is going to be different because we all are leading and living different lives. All of the friends around me I never would have met if I hadn’t met my husband and moved away from Alaska with him. One of them is from Maine and the other from Ohio. I didn’t know anyone from either of those states growing up, nor did I have any family that lived there. It wasn’t very likely I would have visited them had I not met my spouse and even if I had, the chances of meeting and making friends with these women would have been slim to none like my friend here from Australia. My reality is constantly changing with every new duty station we get sent to. We have a new fishbowl to look out of every couple of years and discover the way of life for people in our new location. They are all true realities but are all so very different.

  4. Amanda Carr

    After reading “The (Elusive) Theory of Everything” by Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow, my brain felt a bit upside down and turned around. This type of thinking makes my brain hurt.
    I finally came to a conclusion (before I changed my mind) that it is not possible for only one reality exist. One of the examples used in this piece to try and help explain how much we actually don’t know about reality was from the movie the Matrix “The human race is unknowingly living in a simulated virtual reality created by intelligent computers to keep them pacified and content” (188). This is was a fun way to get your brain thinking big picture. For me to believe that it is not possible for one reality to exist all came down to… every person in the world is different and unique in their own way which means that what each individual believes, thinks and sees is different and unique in his or her own way.
    Personally it does not matter much to me that there is a possibility of having billions of different realities. My thinking on this is that not accepting that there are different realities is like not accepting that every human is different. One person can’t force another to change the way some one else thinks or feels. People can be persuaded to make the choice to change, but a change in their reality can’t be forced. Maybe when humans agree on things is when our realities become one?

    1. Angelina Lund

      I agree with everything that you said and I particularly like the point you made about not accepting different realities is like not accepting that every human is different. That is a great point to this reading.

  5. Cassandra Lane

    This piece was interesting to read. The first paragraph really captures the readers’ attention. I was a little lost when they got into more technical writing that I didn’t quite completely understand. After reading this piece, it is making me question reality more. My kids and I like to frequently think about things like this. “What if we are the fish in the fishbowl?” I never thought about that reality for them. It did occur to me after reading a Stephen King Novel called, “Under the Dome.” I really enjoyed this book, like all of his books, but this one in particular was interesting where the people are the one’s under captivity. Their reality changed in an instant and became a new reality while the old reality still existed on the outside. The whole Quantum Physics confuses me a bit but I do believe that other realities could exist outside of our own realities. I think there is so much to time and reality that we cannot yet comprehend but are still searching for answers, like time machines. Everyone wants to use a time machine. But if you have a time machine, can you cross time and space like Dr. Who does in the popular BBC show, “Doctor Who?” It is an interesting concept and our family loves to watch this show. I would like to think that one day, we would be able to travel across time and space and different realities like he does. But then if you change something in one timeline, it alters the future reality for that timeline and that would be hard for some people to not do.

    1. Emily J. Nerbonne

      I love how you mentioned “Doctor Who”! It is really intriguing how he is able to travel through time and space to go to different plants and different time zones to visit different realities all the time. An interesting thought about how changing something in the past can create a completely different reality in the future. The choices that were made in the past can make the future react to the event that occurred long before. Realities are warped because the choices were different. The choices we make affect our lives and the way we live. This look at it can really make you think about the choices you make in life and the effect it will have on your life. Your reality changes based on the decisions you make.

  6. Angelina Lund

    ” In classical physics the past is assumed to exist as a definite series of events, but according to quantum physics, the past, like the future, is indefiniate and exists only as a spectrum of possibilities. Even the universe as a whole has no single past or history.” I found this information to be very interesting.
    I have always thought of myself as pretty black and white. I have never really thought about things from a different view other than the view right in front of me. I have never thought about there being more than one reality even though I believe that there. Most people I think live in their own reality ackowledging that there is more than just their reality. I personally dont think that having more than one reality interferes with day to day life. It is almost feel its like the saying” Put yourself in my shoes.” You can maybe imagine what reality of life is like for that other person or for the goldfish but until you are actually walking in their shoes or until we are in the fish bowl, we will never know their reality.

    1. Emily J. Nerbonne

      I really like that quote from the story, and I almost mentioned it in my response. I liked how it recognized the different realities that can happen based on the possibilities of this lifetime. It’s cool that quantum physics sees the universe as having multiple pasts or histories. Also, it is really funny how you can see that everybody lives in their own reality, and that everybody has their own special life. Nobody can relate to each other in the way they live their lives, and as you said, “until you are actually walking in their shoes or until we are in the fish bowl, we will never know their reality.” We have to experience what they experience, from start to finish, you truly understand what they go through to comprehend their reality.

  7. Angelica Kougl

    I love reading pieces like this because they make me think about things outside of my world and my everyday life. I really like how the authors connected the reality of a goldfish in a curved glass bowl to our reality of our universe. Goldfish experience reality differently than I do, but their reality is just as real as my reality. The difference is in our perspective and how we interpret our world. After reading this piece, I find it very hard to believe that only one reality exists. Reality is defined by perspective! Therefore, because there are a plethora of perspectives, I think it is reasonable to believe that an equal amount of realities exists. All of which are equally real. However, it is impossible for us to confirm the existence of realities outside of our own because, as written in this text, “there is no way to move the observer – us – from our perception of the world” (Pg 187). We can imagine what another person’s reality, or even another specie’s reality, might be like (for example, goldfish inside a curved glass bowl). But we can never step outside and into another’s reality – we can’t even really say what the reality is like for other humans. I only know for certain what I perceive my reality to be, and I cannot say what my brother or sister experience, because I am not them. With that being said, it could be argued that knowledge of realities outside of our own reality is unimportant since we are only able to experience our own. I would argue that it is, at least on some level, important to be aware of multiple realities. I believe we should use this knowledge so that during our quest as human-kind to discover a unified theory of everything, we do not get lost and become ignorant to the realities that exist outside of our understanding.

    1. Erin Dodds

      That is funny that you enjoyed this story because it expands your mind, because I would *like* to say that I enjoyed it for the same reason, but I did not. I could not get past the whole “this story is about physics and Erin, you are terrible at physics” thing, haha. I think that it is not important to be aware of other realities because they do not affect our reality, in a way. And by that I mean realities in the “Matrix” sense, not in the “brother or sister” sense. As far as needing to be aware of other realities that surround our own, yes of course that is important.
      I think it is human nature to try to only associate ourselves with those we perceive to have similar experiences or realities, but we should be doing the opposite. People should know their comfort zones and go beyond them, learning about people they never would have thought to meet or befriend.

  8. virginia blake

    I’m going to admit this article was difficult for me. So, I hope I can answer it the best way I can.

    I think we live in one reality but I think everyone’s reality can be different and live differently in it. You know how people say, “you need a reality check?” Well, if you think about it. Not everyone gets the same reality check. Meaning it might take more for you to reach that point than me and vise verse. So, while I believe in the whole universe theirs on reality as far as death, heaven or hell. (In my opinion) However, earthly reality I think is different for everyone.

    I think men vs women also plays a big roll in different reality’s. Usually, don’t hate me men but usually it takes a man a lot more loss to realize what he has than a women when it comes to relationships. I think us women are more giving and its our human nature to comfort and fix things (Again, in my opinion) So, again I think people live in different realities when it comes to earthly things but I think at the end of the day there is one reality and when death comes I hope to end in heaven.

  9. Erin Dodds

    Honestly I do not have much to say about this story. It was very short but also had plenty of ideas condensed into it! And to be frank, this is the most boring story we have read so far, in my opinion. I used to enjoy reading this kind of thing but now I view it as pointless. Even if we did perceiving things differently than actual reality, what does it matter?
    I guess you could argue that in the scheme of things everyone perceives things differently. And if everyone saw things the same way we would not have war and peace would be immediate, right? I mean, how could you fight with someone whom you understood thoroughly and were completely empathetic toward? I do not think it is possible for humans with “normal” emotions and cognitive functioning. From there maybe science can devise a way to transmit feelings, emotions, and memories from one person to another, but that just sounds like science fiction.
    But then again I am so busy and so committed to this perception of life that I cannot stop to think about this kind of thing. I think most people would agree. And even if there was some kind of breakthrough discovery about our perceptions, (just the fact that we cannot see microscopic life if sort of proof), on a larger scale, people would not want to accept that they have not been living up to their full capacity; that their lives are a lie!
    Meh, this story is probably boring to me because I am frustrated that I don’t understand any of it!

  10. Jessica Mathews

    the story the (elusive) Theory of Everything by Stephen Hawking & Leonard Mlodinow I found the story to
    be a fun and enjoyable read for me. The reading really gets you to think on the topic, what is outside the box? If you stay in your own reality always you will never get to experience what else the world may have for you. I do believe there can be many realities, and it does matter that there is many others, because everyone has a different perspective on life and what they see and when they see it. I loved the example they story gave, we see a goldfish on the inside of a fish bowl, but how does the goldfish’s perspective of the world on the outside in which we live.

    1. Roger Vang

      About the goldfish story, an example I appreciated, goldfish formulate scientific laws would be incredible (188)! The goldfish can only devise such laws from their environment, the fishbowl. Their laws may seem incorrect from our human world, but within the fishbowl, their distorted formula(s) is the reality. Their different calculations would conclude the same answers as in the human world.

  11. Roger Vang

    I think our reality depends on our perspective in life, how our brains interpret certain situations in life. I thought the M-theory explains reality the best. Our physical world is the same to everybody, but it can be perceived in different ways, “employing different fundamental elements and concepts” (190). Even though we agree on laws like Newton’s, we also understand that no one has the option just to pick a reality out of a list. Our reality is built by everything we have learned and experienced growing up. The way you view reality may contrast my view, but if we can agree with the model-dependent realism, “diversity is acceptable, and none of the versions can be said to be more real than any other” (190), then we should be able to accept everybody for who they are. Personally, our different perception of life is what makes us human. We are individuals. Although, we choose our career paths, in the end, our choices affect the entire community.

  12. Thomas Vorderbruggen

    This was quite the mind-prodding piece. Although the idea of multiple realities tends to exist only within comic books and comic book-related movies, Hawking and Mlodinow do an excellent job of posing the question of whether or not alternate realities are, as they say, “reality”.

    The idea of alternate realities is not a new one, and has always been a topic of intrigue and endless philosophy. The idea in itself does a good job of making our own world feel small and insignificant, as though there are countless versions of reality that make our own feel less important. That can really take the edge off when you make a mistake, at least.

    Unfortunately, with where science is currently, there is no way of knowing how many realities there are, if any. Hawking and Mlodinow do a good job of creating one of many philosophies on the whole “Alternate-reality” thing, and they do a convincing job of the ifs ands or buts about how or why reality might be whatever it is. However, ultimately, until science progresses to a further point, we are left with cosmic wonderings and marvel comics.

    1. Kristopher Dunkle

      I agree, it was definitely mind-prodding.

      And yeah, it would be pretty hard to experimentally determine the existence of other universes. Especially since, depending on the theory, they might be entirely separated from ours, so they would be undetectable even in principle.

  13. Kristopher Dunkle

    I feel like the article (and discussion in general I guess) would really benefit from clearly defining what the word “reality” refers to and being consistent about its usage. I was badly tripped up by the fact that the article sometimes uses the terms “reality” and “concept of reality” interchangeably, which is very confusing when you don’t catch the shift! One is the thing itself (the true, underlying, all-encompassing totality; the actual situation), the other is an abstract representation of it: a concept or model.

    It took me quite a bit of re-reading to be confident that the article is NOT advocating multiple conflicting realities somehow coexisting. Rather, the recurring idea is that of different “concepts of reality” correctly describing the SAME underlying state of affairs. It’s just saying that when we have abstract models that predict the same observations where they overlap, we can’t really say which one is “more real” with regard to the parts we can’t perceive or measure. Which, thinking about it, only makes sense. How could we possibly tell, if the difference is something that can’t be measured or perceived?

    1. Brooke Mattice

      This article was really confusing for me as well. I found it kind of hard to get through and grasp.

  14. Sara Church

    I had a hard time reading this article. The subject is very interesting to me but the writing for me personally was very dry. The topic of alternate realities is something I would read about in comic books and hear about in TV shoes all the time. Its a concept that authors like to use a lot. So reading about it in this article is not new for me. Though Hawking and Mlodinow give an explanation for it a little bit differently. Most people would think that a different reality would completely separated from our “reality”. But the way these two explain in, is that different perspectives can create a different reality. Which was pretty much where my brain got left behind. I do think there can be alternate realities and they can be important much further down in our history.

    1. Rebekah Melchior-Waldron

      I agree this article was interesting at times and dry at others. I like that you bring up comics and tv as alternatives to learning more about the subject. I thought it was funny the article talked about The Matrix but that is a pretty good example of a version of reality. The characters in the movie are like the goldfish in the bowl.

  15. Brooke Mattice

    I believe that there is not just one reality. All people have their own realities because no two people have the same experiences or perceptions of everything. I think generally most peoples realities have a similar base, but one is not the same as another. The majority are similar because of we as people live cohesively together, every day. There will always be someone whose reality is completely crooked or different from the general population because they most likely do not have a similar or logical way of thinking. I a world where people are so different it is incredible to think that we are all living in our own little “bubble” or “reality” yet we seem to function for the most part as a thriving society.

  16. Rebekah Melchior-Waldron

    This was a very interesting essay, even though Physics is not my thing. I think it is definitely possible that more than one reality exists, even if we can’t prove it. This article used the example of the fisheye distortion. I like how the article described this with “How do we know that the reality we perceive is true? The goldfish is seeing a reality that is different from ours , but can we be sure it is any less real? For all we know, we too may spend our lives staring out at the world through a distorted lens” (186). The concept of realism is interesting because it goes against this theory, however the essay says it is becoming more difficult to defend recently which makes a lot of sense because there seems to be a growing interest in alternate realities. A long time ago, I read somewhere that our minds tell us what to believe and the images that we see are our interpretation. If you are looking at a tree, you see the shape of the tree because you know what it is and your mind is forming the image. However, how do we know that image is really the way it appears? I really thought that was interesting but I never went back to it. This essay talked about something similar with the example of a chair. “When you see a chair, you have merely used the light scattered by the chair to build a mental image or model of the chair.” What I take from that is there could be other mental images of this chair by other beings that are different to our own, and that is their version of reality. I don’t think it really matters in our lives that there are other realities because we do only exist in our own and we haven’t been able to prove there is only one reality.

  17. Hunter Young

    I found this super interesting. I have always had this thought in my mind that things we see are not really the shapes, it’s just how light reflects off of them. Of course they are the shapes, but I thought that that was such an interesting little thing that made me happy.However, when the article discussed different realities and accepting the one we live in as our world (with all of its laws and theories that contribute to that reality).
    This article seemed really existential which I loved because I think it is something I can talk about more than physics (PSA: I’m not a physics major). When it brought the Matrix in and comparing that to a goldfish, I fell right into the piece. There’s something so crazy about the Matrix, and taking a single pill to realize your whole life was a lie. I thought about religion and how it can give existential clarity in the reality we live in (which doesn’t connect with science, but I thought was interesting to look at). We look at the world as we know. Even when we see pictures of ourselves we totally see someone so different from what we see in the mirror (mostly because of the flipping of a mirror). But the idea of alternative realities and other theories of the laws in that world really interest me. I think it would be interesting to read more into the M-theory and how all of the different theories interconnect.

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