To judge by some of the reviews, Stephen Hawking has evidently given up his quest for the Theory of Everything.
A scientist is in a situation like those SF scenarios where we come into possession of advanced technology. The challenge is whether we, with our primitive technological understanding, or unevolved brains, can figure out more advanced technology.
There are variants on this scenario. The technology may be more advanced because it comes from the future. Or it may be more advanced because it comes from a superior alien civilization.
There are variants on that scenario as well. The alien technology may be more advanced because the alien civilization is further along the historical continuum, but someday we will catch up. Or it may be more advanced because the aliens are smarter than we are.
If the aliens are smarter than we are, then their technology may defy our best efforts to understand it. We can never reason at their level. So the design will remain opaque to human understanding. Or perhaps we can learn a few things from studying the advanced technology–which will jump-start our own technology–but other things forever elude our grasp.
In another variant, the technology may defeat our efforts to figure it out, not so much because the alien engineers are intellectually superior, but because their type of intelligence is simply incommensurable with ours. How they perceive the world, process information, &c.–is so different from ourselves that we have no common referent point. We can’t tell what problem they were trying to solve. We just don’t think like they do.
This scenario often takes the form of an alien cockpit. After scientists figure out how to get inside the spacecraft–or the craft obliges them–they poke around the cockpit, trying to figure out if they can operate the control panel. Is there something analogous to human experience, some common denominator, some Rosetta Stone, which will enable them to decrypt the system?
Of course, this scene tends to be a bit of a letdown since the cockpit was designed, not by superior aliens, but human beings pretending to be aliens. The cockpit suffers from the limited imagination of the screenwriter and FX dept., as well as the demands of a satisfying plot.
To what extent is our universe comprehensible? Is God like a toymaker who comes down to the level of the child? Who designs a toy that we can take apart, put back together, or recombine–in ways we can fully master and exhaust?
Or is God like a toymaker who designs a user-friendly toy that a child can play with, even though the underlying technology remains unintelligible to a child?