From acclaimed science author Jim Baggot, a pointed critique of modern theoretical physics.
In this stunning new volume, Jim Baggott argues that there is no observational or experimental evidence for many of the ideas of modern theoretical physics: Super-symmetric particles, super strings, the multiverse, the holographic principle, or the anthropic cosmological principle. These theories are not only untrue; they are not even science. They are fairy-tale physics: Fantastical, bizarre and often outrageous, perhaps even confidence-trickery. This book provides a much-needed antidote. Informed, comprehensive, and balanced, it offers lay readers the latest ideas about the nature of physical reality while clearly distinguishing between fact and fantasy. With its engaging portraits of many central figures of modern physics, including Paul Davies, John Barrow, Brian Greene, Stephen Hawking, and Leonard Susskind, it promises to be essential reading for all readers interested in what we know and don’t know about the nature of the universe and reality itself.
©2013 Jim Baggott (P)2013 Audible Inc.
Letting the rest of the world go by
In order to criticize something, you first must be able to understand it. In the first half of the book the author lays the foundation for the listener so that they can understand the criticisms coming in the second half of the book.
He explains the authorized version of reality and the parts that go into it better than any science book I have ever listened to. The listener will understand the 'standard model' of particle physics and its 20 parameters and the 'lambda-cosmic microwave background' for the cosmological model. The author doesn't miss a concept before he leads up to these current versions of reality. He steps the listener through Newton's Theory of Gravity and his crutch of absolute space and absolute time, and then Einstein and his special and general relativity and how that leads to a cosmological constant which leads to dark energy and dark matter and so on. He'll tell you about what the Higgs Boson really is and he does it even better than multiple books that I've listened to which were dedicated to the subject.
All of the background that's presented in the first half of the book leads up to his main theme that "string theory started by applying a beta function to the scatter diagrams of atomic collisions and then realizing that the points can be replaced by vibrating strings and this leads to a symmetry between fermions and bosons". Don't worry, the author explains each concept so that you'll be able to explain it over breakfast with a partner as you listen to the story. He is really that good at explaining. His real point is that string theory doesn't point to experience but relies on untested assumptions.
I don't agree with his conclusion. I think super-symmetry (string theory) is the best approach we have for connecting the very big (general relativity) with the very small (quantum theory). He want to take the metaphysics (he would say 'fairy tales') out of science by strictly obeying the corresponding theory of truth principle. Don't worry, once again the author explains everything.
This book explains physics/cosmology better than any book I have read, and he covers almost every topic I'm interested in. He doesn't miss a topic. For example, he completely tells you about Bells' Theorem and entanglement, and the measurement problem in physics, and the hierarchy problem within the standard model and how these kind of things provide motivation for another model.
Even if you don't agree with the subtitle of the book, the listener will get the best overview of physics/cosmology available from any other audible book on these topics.
I focus on fiction, sci-fi, fantasy, science, history, politics and read a lot. I try to review everything I read.
The author attempts to present some basic principles of science, then explains his Authorized Version of Reality (a history of science), then explains some of the various cutting edge physics theories (multiverse, string theory, mathematic universe) and attempts to demonstrate these theories are unscientific.
The author presents six principles of science; Reality is a Meta-Physical concept; Facts are inherently based on a Theory; Theory formation is complex and intuitive and often involves hidden assumptions; A scientific theory must be testable, but sometimes failure of a test just leads to adjustment of assumptions; Scientific Truth is transient; and finally Humans are not privileged observers.
The book presents a history of physics and cosmology in a reasonable but uninspired way. There are a lot of books that present this stuff. I found this version somewhat dry, with no excitement, very little (or amazingly dry) humor, no insightful explanations, and no unifying theme.
The author, while presenting his Authorized Version of Reality, doesn’t seem to accept it deeply. He makes subtle, yet telling, mistakes. Like the atomic electron wave function giving a probability of where the elector is. That is not what the theory says. Instead the wave function is the probability of an interaction occurring somewhere if we look. This seems similar, but is quite fundamentally different, the first presumes the existence of an electron when it is not observed, the other does not. The author makes several such misstatements, each time subtly and incorrectly assuming the existence of unobserved particles. This is not the Authorized Version. Instead this is a physicist who thinks classically attempting to explain, and persuade about, non-classical physics.
The author also seems biased when referring to theories he likes as “discovered”, and theories he does not like as “proposed”. Again this seemed telling (and a bit funny).
Baggott does not seem to like (or understand) the Mathematical Universe of Max Tegmark. He basically calls Tegmark stupid and suggests he shut up. I just finished Tegmark’s book and found Tegmark’s history of physics and descriptions of why physicists feel the need to introduce multiverses significantly more interesting than Baggott’s. Not to mention Tegmark’s theory of a Mathematical Universe which seems both obvious and brilliant. Bagott’s refutation of the Mathematical Universe is that it does not make sense to him.
I largely agree with Baggott about non-testable aspects of multiuniverses and string-theory, but this was covered better in Smolin’s The Trouble with Physics.
Baggott seems to fear that a generation of theorists may lose their way on these paths of fairy tale physics. They may. So what? 99.9% of theorist are always on the wrong path 99.9% of the time. The final theory of everything is more likely to come from an outsider (like Einstein) anyway.
It seems to me Baggott does not realize that sticking with his Authorized Version of Reality and the historical scientific method is unlikely to make progress in our current environment. I believe the world has been poised on the edge of a final theory of everything for nearly a hundred years. Only the abandonment of some absolutely fundamental aspect(s) of his Authorized Version of Reality will lead to progress. Theorist must think outside this box. Which of the fundamental aspects must go? How far is too far? We may be quite surprised when it happens.
I have listened to numerous books audio books and read hard copy on string theory. It would appear that after 30 years and the efforts of thousands of theoretical physicists string theory has not been able to produce a single testable prediction. It was very refreshing to read an honest appraisal of the current situation and an explanation of the word "theory" in a scientific context. It was also refreshing that no reputations were spared. I would highly recommend this to anyone with an interest in theoretical physics.
You need to have a basic understanding of theoretical physics to get the best out of this but you do not need to be a physicist.
I am sure Jim Baggott will get some stick for writing this but more power to him.
The narration and sound quality is excellent.
I keep trying but I just can't do it. The narrator ought to be good and you'd think so from hearing a few moments of the preview. He reads clearly in a refined British accent, but he does a sort of "I'm reading a book!" style cadence with an unnatural inflection and unnatural pauses even where it is clear there must be no comma or semicolon. He seems to follow a pattern of 8-10 syllables per set and repeats the exact same intonation as he begins a sentence, does the characteristic pause, and completes the sentence.
The result is a narration that is SO FAR from the natural way people talk and with such disregard for the flow and intentional or necessary intonation of words that my mind just tunes it out as white noise and I keep having to pull myself back to it and telling my brain 'these are words! not just the same flow of altering pitches in a repeating pattern!' as he hits the same intonation at the end of the third word (for example) in every sentence no matter what it happened to be.
That may seem petty but maybe it's just me. I'm maybe 1/4 through and just can't go on which is disappointing because after all of the well narrated books Supporting string theory and others of the genre this is really a fascinating topic and the author has done a good job. I'll probably end up buying the paperback.
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