Synopses & Reviews
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, it is not even science. It is 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 forall readers interested in what we know and don’t know about the nature of the universe and reality itself.
"From superstrings and black holes to dark matter and multiverses, modern theoretical physics revels in the bizarre. Now it's wandered into the realm of 'fairy-tale,' says science writer and former 'practicing' physicist Baggott (A Beginners Guide to Reality). Quantum theory led scientists to create a Standard Model of physics in the mid-20th century, but that model is really an amalgam of distinct individual quantum theories necessary to describe a diverse array of forces and particles. Meanwhile, astronomical observations have revealed that 90% of our universe is made of something we can't see (dark matter); some mysterious 'dark energy' is pushing all of it apart at an accelerating rate, and physicists are gambling on a 'supersymmetry' theory in hopes that it could be the holy grail, a Grand Unified Field Theory that might lend coherence to the Standard Model while explaining some of the phenomena the latter fails to account for despite the fact, Baggott says, that for 'every standard model problem it resolves, another problem arises that needs a fix.' In consistently accessible and intelligent prose, Baggott sympathetically captures the frustrations of physicists while laying out a provocative and very convincing plea for a reality check in a field that he feels is now too 'meta' for its own good. Agent: Peter Tallack, the Science Factory (U.K.). (Aug. 15)" Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
From acclaimed science author Jim Baggot, a pointed critique of modern theoretical physics.
About the Author
Modern physicists have spent decades struggling to explain the universe with more and more baroque theories. They’re creative and complex—and as Jim Baggott points out in review - Farewell to Reality: How Modern Physics Has Betrayed the Search for Scientific Truth, largely unsupported by experimental evidence. Shining a spotlight on both fact and fancy, Baggott draws the line between valid science and “fairy tale” physics.
Q: Where did modern physics “go wrong”?
A: Theoretical physicists were faced with a choice. Either they could sit and wait for new data that might help guide them toward solutions, or they could build new theoretical structures without waiting for data. Of course, they couldn’t wait. The end result is the creation of theoretical structures with great logical and mathematical appeal, but with no real empirical foundations—in other words, metaphysics.
Q: Is there something endemic to the field that invites this kind of abstraction?
A: Not so much with the field of physics itself, but rather with aspects of physics that touch on the “big questions” of reality and human existence. Human beings have always desired to tell each other creation stories, and contemporary theoretical physicists are no different. It’s really hard to resist.
Q: You describe the Standard Model of particle physics as being riddled with problems. Has the recent discovery of the Higgs boson made things better or worse?
A: It really depends on what you were hoping for. All the signs indicate that the particle discovered [at CERN] last July is the bog-standard Higgs boson. This is a triumph for the Standard Model, but it doesn’t really move us forward. There are no real big surprises here, no new data to point toward resolving some of the Standard Model’s thornier problems. I think it’s fair to say that most high-energy physicists hoped for something more. But it seems we’re not going to get it.
Q: Is any part of modern theoretical physics salvageable?
A: Funnily enough, I don’t advocate any kind of major change of direction. I just want us all to acknowledge the difference between empirically based scientific theories and metaphysics, or pseudo-science. I would question whether we should be throwing all our eggs in the string theory/multiverse/cosmic landscape basket. Perhaps it’s time to consider other ways we might address the problems with the “authorized version” of reality, wherein all the available observational and experimental data are essentially secondary to the prevailing theoretical structures. These other ways would suffer from a lack of empirical foundations just the way string theory does, but there’s a saying that when you find yourself in a deep hole, maybe it’s time to stop digging...