Stephen Hawking’s metaphysical dread is troublesome. His new “Model-Dependent Realism” is necessarily a metaphysical ontology as to the nature of the reality that this “realism” presumes to describe. In spite of his “philosophy is dead” rhetoric, Hawking’s MDR is an ontologically relative, philosophical metaphysic as to a reality that is theory-dependent—dependent upon the reifying concepts of what Quine termed our cultural “web of belief.” As such it necessarily precludes old orthodox paradigm Scientific Realism, a theory-independent separate “real world out there” (RWOT) existing independently of perception, conceptual theory and belief. Regarding such an observer-independent, theory-independent ontology, Hawking points out: “In philosophy that belief is called realism.” And this Platonic Realism has become metaphysical dogma of Scientific Realism (Scientism) wherein an objective, spatially extended, external real world exists independently of any observer, theory of belief about it. Conversely, an observer-dependent, theory-dependent reality exists dependently upon an observer and is therefore ontologically relative as to the existence of any “real world out there.” That is to say, for Hawking’s new MDR view, no independent, separate, real, physical reality is theoretically posited or assumed. This is analogous to the ontological relativity of Buddhist middle way Prasangika Madhyamaka epistemology.
Thus Hawking’s theory-dependent Model-Dependent Realism is not an orthodox “Scientific Realism,” but an antirealist philosophical position in the mode of Niels Bohr, Wolfgang Pauli or Julian Barbour, and in opposition to the theory-independent “hidden variable” realists, Einstein, de Broglie, Bohm and Penrose. (Who can say where Lee Smolin stands?) And that’s good news for Hawking, and for our purpose here. But MDR cannot be further developed, explicated and peer reviewed without philosophical (epistemological ontological) analysis and dialogue. Here, the intervention of philosophy of physics is required. Let dialogue begin.
Further, while Hawking’s ontologically relative, perspectival anti-Realism is a courageous change of view from the earlier orthodox Scientific Realism of A Brief History of Time, his philosophy is dead/God is dead creed has no place here. Such destructive dogma represents the all too human dualistic attitudinal constellation that has for so long obstructed the paradigmatic rapprochement between the seemingly incommensurable paradigms of Science and Spirituality. If MDR helps us to resolve, or to avoid the problem of “the meaning of existence,” as Hawking says it does, then such pronouncements are obstructionist. The meaning of existence necessarily involves, not academic philosophy, but philo-sophia—love and wisdom, and the “innermost esoteric” unity of these two that is the intimation of, if not the dualistic theistic God that Hawking objects to, then a nondual ultimate matrix ground of being (cittadhatu) that in Dzogchen of the Vajarayana is mind essence, the very “Nature of Mind,” and in the Buddhist Mahayana is shunyata/emptiness/dharmakaya, etc. Perhaps this is also the direction of Hawking’s inchoate MDR as it matures into its holistic potential. We cannot know this until its occult philosophical consequences rise from the dead and engage philosophical peer dialogue.
The advent of such anti-realist, anti-essentialist empistemologies as MDR and the recent Quantum Bayesianism (QBism) interpretation of the wave function reveals that the reign of Scientific Realism/Materialism is waning. The “Science” paradigm has begged the metaphysical question of Physicalism/Materialism since the Pre-Socratic Atomists. “Hidden Variables” Realism (Einstein, Bohm, early Smolin, Penrose) is the most recent version of this “hope for a miracle” special pleading. To develop that next more inclusive theory requires that we relegate the truths of Scientific Realism and Materialism to the epistemic realm of spacetime dimensional relative conventional truth, and open up to the possibility of a centrist ontology that transcends, yet includes and contextualizes Realism/Materialism. Such a centrist view will be epistemologically pluralistic, yet ontologically monistic and nondual (“not one, not two”). Does not the burden of rejoinder here lie with the realists and materialists?
Hawking’s MDR version of the Quantum Theory may portend a new opening by physics to such a centrist view. (One hopes that physicists will do so as well.) Indeed, the psychological and theoretical openness required by the development of M-Theory and quantum vacuum cosmology has made metaphysics and the natural or “lucid mysticism” (Pauli) of post-quantum mathematics a theoretical physicist’s daily yoga. Some of them are aware of it.