[T]here is a fundamental paradox in the search for such a complete unified theory. The ideas about scientific theories outlined above assume we are rational beings who are free to observe the universe as we want and to draw logical deductions from what we see. In such a scheme it is reasonable to suppose that we might progress ever closer towards the laws that govern our universe. Yet if there really were a complete unified theory, it would also presumably determine our actions—so the theory itself would determine the outcome of our search for it! And shy should it determine that we come to the right conclusions from the evidence? Might it not equally well determine that we draw the wrong conclusions? Or no conclusion at all?
The only answer that we can give to this problem is based on Darwin’s principle of natural selection. The idea is that in any population of self-reproducing organisms, there will be variations in the genetic material and upbringing that different individuals have. These differences will mean that some individuals are better able than others to draw the right conclusions about the world around them and to act accordingly. These individuals will be more likely to survive and reproduce, so their pattern of behaviour and thought will come to dominate. It has certainly been true in the past that what we call intelligence and scientific discovery have conveyed a survival advantage. It is not so clear that this is still the case: our scientific discoveries may well destroy us all, and even if they don’t, a complete unified theory may not make much difference to our chances of survival. However, provided the universe has evolved in a regular way, we might expect that the reasoning abilities that natural selection has given us would also be valid in our search for a complete unified theory and so would not lead us to the wrong conclusions.
Stephen Hawking with Leonard Mlodinow, A Briefer History of Time, London, 2005, p. 17