So what the heck is Hawking’s “Model-dependent Realism?”

Stephan Hawking and Leonard Mldoinow describe what they term “model-dependent realism” in their book “The Grand Design.”

The cover of the The Grand Design"

The concept intrigues me. I find that their concept is similar to what I wrote about in the Chapter 3, “What do we know?” of Exploring the Gap between Science and Religion.

In this chapter expand and examine the “observer/observed” model, the basis of modern science. (Keep in mind that we are considered to be in the “post modern” science area.)

What I take from the model-dependent realism is that it takes in both the object being observed and the human-generated model resulting from our observations. I made this conclusion because of several statements about how specific capabilities of the observer alters the models that are a product of  the observations being made. Here is one such statement:

Our sun radiates all wavelengths, but its radiation is most intense in the wavelengths that are visible to us. It is probably no accident that the wavelengths we are able to see with the naked eye are those in which the sun radiates most strongly: It’s likely that our eyes evolved with the ability to detect electromagnetic radiation in that range precisely because that is the range of radiation most available to them. (The Grand Design, Page 91)

It goes on to speculate about life forms living within the range a different source of energy source would most likely develop different perception capabilities. Figure 4 of theExploring the Gap”illustrates the relationship between human perception and the electromagnetic spectrum:

The human eye preceives a small percentage of the total electromagnetic spectrum.

An examination of what is “real”

In the following statement Hawkings and Mldoinow describe how model-dependent realism causes us to rethink what is “rea,l” and the role of observation:

Model-dependent realism short-circuits all the arguments and discussion between the realist and the anti-realist schools of thought. According to model-dependent realism, it is pointless to ask whether a model is real, only whether it agrees with observation. If there are two models that agree with observation, like the goldfish’s picture and ours, then one cannot say that was is more real than another. (The Grand Design, Page 45-46)

This diagram provides a graphic representation of model-dependent realism within context of a model of a human observation. It comes from Chapter 3.

A tree on the right, and a representation on the left

When discussing “Exploring the Gap between Science and Religion” I sometimes ask the audience: “What is the philosophical implication of this picture?”

The answer is that there are two trees in the picture: 1) the one that is subject of the observation and 2) the model that our mind creates as a result. The curved arrows represent our on-going observations, which over time cause us to update our model. In this particular example, I point out that when a tree loses its leaves during the winter, we must update our model. The update reflects that our model of the tree is linked the model temperature and seasons.

Which leads us to another insight from The Grand Design. Hawkings and Mlodinow allude to an interlinking of models (theories) in the following statement:

Each theory in the M-theory network is good at describing the phenomena within a certain range. Whenever their ranges overlap, the various theories in the network agree, so they can all be said parts of the same theory. But no single theory within the network can describe every aspect of the universe–all the forces of nature, the particles that feel those forces, and the framework of space and time in which it all plays out.

The “M-theory” network they are talking about is an extension of string theory, so their focus is narrower than mine. I submit that there is wisdom to be gained by their statement that “no single theory” … “can describe every aspect of the universe” when we develop our personal worldviews in this post-modern world.


A 2012 Look at the story of The Rich Young Ruler

A key insight one discovers when exploring the gap between science and religion is the role of “anomalies,” which are inconsistencies or contradictions between something we observe (including reading) and the model or models we develop as a result.

We encounter these anomalies in almost all human endeavor, including science, religious beliefs, and politics.

The story below from the Christian New Testament book of Matthew 19: 13-22 highlights a stark anomaly being played out on the American political stage.

This is a 2012 rendition of “The Rich Young Ruler.” The bold characters identify where the story has been updated to connect it the context in which Americans find themselves.

The Rich Young Ruler

16Just then presidential candidate Mitt Romney came up and asked Jesus,(M) “Teacher, what good must I do to have eternal life?”(N)

17 “Why do you ask Me about what is good?”[f] Jesus said to Mitt. “There is only One who is good.[g] If you want to enter into life, keep the commandments.”(O)

18 “Which ones?” Mitt asked Him. Jesus answered:

Do not murder;
do not commit adultery;
do not steal;
do not bear false witness;(P)
19 honor your father and your mother;
and love your neighbor as yourself.(Q)[h]

20 “I have kept all these,”[i] Mitt told Him. “What do I still lack?”

21 “If you want to be perfect,”[j] Jesus said to him, “go, sell your belongings and give to the poor,(R) and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow Me.”

22 When Mitt heard that command, Mitt stated his political position by saying, “I’m not concerned about the very poor—we have a safety net there. If it needs repair, I’ll fix it. I’m not concerned about the very rich, they’re doing just fine. (See and or Google “Mitt Romney “I’m not concerned”)

And he went away grieving, because he had many possessions.

By replacing the “rich young ruler” with a living a 21st century politician we can examine and compare two contexts. It is here that we find the anomalies between the two contexts. The first context is the spiritual and values context of scripture, and second is the economic / political context in which American voters find themselves.

Placing these two contexts together quickly highlights a host of contradictions related to how we define (aka model) God, Jesus, religion, and living a life according to principles and the values as taught by Jesus himself.

After this story, Jesus teaches his disciples the meaning of the conversation between himself and the rich young ruler. Here is the wisdom that Jesus shares, which is Matthew 23-26.

Possessions and the Kingdom

23 Then Jesus said to His disciples, “I assure you: It will be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven!(S) 24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”(T)

25 When the disciples heard this, they were utterly astonished and asked, “Then who can be saved?”

26 But Jesus looked at them and said, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”(U)

To read the original from the “Holman Christian Standard Bible” following this link:

It is interesting to consider Mitt Romney’s statements about his priorities related to the rich and the poor, given God’s wisdom as spoken by Jesus.

Like I stated in the opening, a key insight one discovers when exploring the gap between science and religion is the role of “anomalies.” Discussions and dialogs about those anomalies provide those seeking to discover truth opportunities to examine what anomalies that each of us carries around within us.