This book is a summary of the present state of physics and he shows it is riven by methodological and epistemological difficulties. As far as we have tested, General Relativity and Quantum Gravity are both very good at explaining the world we see around us and some bits we dont! One of them or both? In Baggott certainly has an agenda. In trying to solve this main problem and this is merely a most pertinent one from many, Physics has tied itself in a knot it is struggling to untangle. Lee Smolin thinks he has found a possible answer in his latest book "Time Reborn" and the hint is in the title, but Baggott is very clear that his book will not provide many answers to the questions it poses.
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Posted on June 16, by woit Jim Baggott has written a very good new book called Farewell to Reality that will soon come out here in the US. It is already out in the UK, where it is stirring up some debate, and perhaps the US will soon see something similar.
The book is divided into roughly two halves, with the first half a well-executed overview of the current state of our theories about fundamental physics, from quantum theory through the standard model and cosmology. It ends with a description of the outstanding problems left unsolved by our best theories, and a good summary of the current situation: Several centuries of enormously successful physical science have given us a version of reality unsurpassed in the entire history of intellectual endeavour.
With a very few exceptions, it explains every observation we have ever made and every experiment we have ever devised. But the few exceptions happen to be very big ones. And there is no single observation, no one experimental result, that help to point the way.
We are virtually clueless. This is difficult material to do justice to, but Baggott does a good job of giving an explanation of these ideas that includes some understanding of the problems with them.
He ends the book with this advice to the reader: Next time you pick up the latest best-selling popular science book, or tune into the latest science documentary on the radio or television, keep an open mind and try to maintain a healthy scepticism… What is the nature of the evidence in support of this theory?
Does the theory make predictions of quantity or number, of matter of fact and existence? Come to your own conclusions. The thorniest problems that come up in this sort of discussion are essentially ones about the philosophy of science.
What counts as evidence for a scientific theory? At what point does pursuit of speculative ideas that are going nowhere stop being legitimate science? Baggott devotes the first chapter of the book to an overview of his take on what the scientific method really is. Some are all too willing to exploit the subtleties of good science to find a way to defend the indefensible, with the multiverse mania pointing to the all too real dangerous endpoint this can lead to.
For some reviews from the UK of the book see here , here and here. Butterworth has written more today here. Duff characterizes the experimental situation of string theory as follows: Definitive experimental tests will require that the theory also incorporate and improve upon the standard models of particle physics and cosmology. An impressive body of evidence in favour of this has accumulated, but it is still work in progress.
I think Duff is being highly misleading here, since the story of the last thirty years is not one of evidence for string theory unification accumulating, but the opposite: the more we learn about string theory, the less likely it seems that it can predict anything. One can argue that string theorists just need more time Duff points to the idea of atoms arising back in BC, taking more than two millennia to come to fruition , but the problem with string theory is not that progress is slow but that it is negative.
This is quite amusing coming from someone who see here had his university put out a press release claiming that he had made the first discovery of a way to test string theory. He advertises string theory as having found application in quantum information theory, a claim that I doubt is believed by any other string theorist or quantum information theorist.
No, the worst culprits here are not journalists, whose mistake is often just that of taking seriously press releases from people like Mike Duff. String theory unification is an idea now discredited in the scientific community, but getting propped up by TV programs and prizes from Russian billionaires. According to Duff, I guess, back in the situation was just like that of string theory, with the field experiencing what people were calling an unhealthy domination by the likes of Peter Higgs and others working on the Higgs mechanism.
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Farewell to Reality
He was very interested in "how stuff came to be". He loved physics but did not think he had a strong enough talent for the mathematics that would be required. He worked as a professor for the University of Reading and left academia to work for Shell International Petroleum. After several years he opened his own training and consultancy business. He calls himself a "science communicator" and publishes a science book approximately every 18 months. The advent of the Internet makes it much easier to do research than back when he first started writing books in the early s. In his opinion, the program started out well, but became what he calls "fairy tale physics" when it included interviews with theoretical physicists who talked about such ideas as multiverse , superstring theory , and supersymmetry.
Farewell to Reality: How Modern Physics Has Betrayed the Search for Scientific Truth