Dreams of a Final Theory: The Scientist's Search for the Ultimate Laws of Nature


The Nobel Prize-winning physicist and bestselling author of The First Three Minutes describes the grand quest for a unifying theory of nature—one that can explain events as disparate as the cohesion inside the atom and the gravitational tug between the sun and Earth.

The Nobel Prize-winning physicist and bestselling author of The First Three Minutes describes the grand quest for a unifying theory of nature--one that can explain events as disparate as the cohesion ...

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Dreams of a Final Theory: The Scientist's Search for the Ultimate Laws of Nature

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The Nobel Prize-winning physicist and bestselling author of The First Three Minutes describes the grand quest for a unifying theory of nature—one that can explain events as disparate as the cohesion inside the atom and the gravitational tug between the sun and Earth.

The Nobel Prize-winning physicist and bestselling author of The First Three Minutes describes the grand quest for a unifying theory of nature--one that can explain events as disparate as the cohesion inside the atom and the gravitational tug between the sun and Earth.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Nobel Prize-winning physicist Weinberg's quest for a final explanation of the laws of nature displays a scientist's sense of wonder and an artist's love of beauty. (Jan.)
Library Journal
In his celebrated book The First Three Minutes (Basic, 1977; 1988, reprint) Nobel laureate Weinberg wrote the ominous and oft-quoted remark ``The more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it seems pointless.'' This book can be seen as his response to that remark after 15 years of reflection and scientific progress. Weinberg writes with great hope and clarity about the possibility that science can find a universal theory uniting the laws of nature into a single statement that is mathematically, philosophically, and aesthetically complete. His writing is technical in places, and some of the first-person narratives come off as less than humble, but overall Weinberg offers excellent insights on how such a theory could be realized and what it would mean. Especially engaging are his chapters, ``Beautiful Theories'' and ``What About God?'' Other books have been written on this subject (e.g., Paul Davies's Superforce , LJ 11/15/84; John Barrow's Theories of Everything , Oxford Univ. Pr., 1991; and Barry Parker's Search for a Supertheory , Plenum, 1987), but Weinberg's is likely to have the highest demand. Highly recommended.-- Gregg Sapp, Montana State Univ. Libs.
Weinberg, the 1979 Nobel Prize-winner in physics, imagines the shape of a final theory and the effect its discovery would have on the human spirit. He gives a defense of reductionism--the impulse to trace explanations of natural phenomena to deeper and deeper levels--and examines the curious relevance of beauty and symmetry in scientific theories. Weinberg gives a personal account of the search for the laws of nature, and shares glimpses scientists have had from time to time that there is a deeper truth foreshadowing a final theory. For another side of the discussion, see David Lindley's The End of Physics. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
Kirkus Reviews
Weinberg's career has gone from boy wonder to Nobel laureate (Physics, 1979) to sage among particle physicists, combining creative talents with a zeal to explain. In The First Three Minutes (1977), he popularized Big Bang cosmology, in particular the symmetry-breaking changes and events that can account for the matter-filled universe around us. Now, 15 years later, he summarizes how far theory has gone toward uniting gravity, electromagnetism, and the weak and strong nuclear forces into a final theory. To accomplish this summary requires a masterful backing-and- filling of 20th-century physics, spelling out the role of Einstein in 1905 and 1917, Einstein's dispute with Bohr, the Copenhagen interpretation, the contributions of Heisenberg, Dirac, Schr"dinger, and Feynman, and so on down to the younger generation of string and superstring theorists. This would be enough for a popularization, but Weinberg has something else in mind. He discusses, from an insider's point of view, the style of science, specifying concepts like beauty and simplicity, and the context of science, describing the social milieu that creates waves of belief (or disbelief) at given times. Mirabile dictu, he also devotes a chapter to religion, seeing its role as a consolation in the face of death—something science cannot offer. But the underlying theme and not-at-all-hidden agenda emphasizes that if we are going to make any headway toward a final theory, it can come about only with the discovery of entities such as the Higgs particle, using equipment like the Super Collider. While Weinberg justifiably extols the explanatory power of 20th-century quantum mechanics, then, he leaves the reader with the frustratingsense that politics, the recession, science-infighting, or any combination thereof may thwart the logical next step. He makes an eloquent case.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780679744085
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 2/28/1994
  • Edition description: 1st Vintage Books ed
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 352
  • Sales rank: 241,781
  • Product dimensions: 5.20 (w) x 7.97 (h) x 0.78 (d)

Table of Contents

I Prologue 3
II On a Piece of Chalk 19
III Two Cheers for Reductionism 51
IV Quantum Mechanics and Its Discontents 65
V Tales of Theory and Experiment 90
VI Beautiful Theories 132
VII Against Philosophy 166
VIII Twentieth Century Blues 191
IX The Shape of a Final Theory 211
X Facing Finality 230
XI What About God? 241
XII Down in Ellis County 262
Notes 277
Index 317
Permissions Acknowledgments 335
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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Posted June 2, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Still dreaming after all these years

    Steven Weinberg is one of twentieth century's greatest theoretical physicists. He is one of the codiscoverers of the Electroweak Theory, an important piece of the puzzle that describes all of the fundamental forces of nature. He is also a very prolific writer, with several important textbooks and a few books that aim to popularize Physics and make it accessible to the general audience. The theme of this book is the long standing problem in Physics, and that is the one of unification of all forces under a single set of laws. Weinberg is as big of an authority on this subject as they come, as he has contributed and worked on various aspects of unification throughout his professional career. In this book he tries to explain what exactly is meant by "Final Theory." He is equally critical of opponents of this approach to science who deride it as overly reductionist, as he is of those who think that the discovery of final laws will in some way be the end of science. In some sense he is staking a middle ground between these two extremes.

    This book was written in the years when the prospect of building the Superconducting Super Collider (SSC) was still tenable. SSC was supposed to be the largest particle collider in the world, and had it became operational it would have provided new data and insights into the mysteries of fundamental Physics. Or so we believed. Weinberg was one of the most prominent scientific proponents of this project, and he testified often in US Congress in its favor. Many of those encounters with politicians are discussed in this book. They provide a valuable and fascinating insight into how "big science" gets done. For one thing, scientific viability and value of any given project is only one of the important criteria that are considered when the pricetag for a project exceeds the entire budget of a small country. In the end SSC did not get the funding, and for better or worse our search for the ultimate laws of nature has since been almost exclusively a theoretical endeavor. This may change with the advent of Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in Switzerland, which is supposed to start taking data any moment now.

    Throughout this book Weinberg touches on many philosophical themes, which in some sense is inevitable when one discusses such a vast topic as the ultimate theory of nature. Weinberg is rather dismissive of philosophical and religious considerations. This may be respectable insofar as his intellectual honesty is concerned, and we as readers at least know where he is coming from. However, the vast majority of people hope to understand the questions of the ultimate meaning in broadly philosophical terms, and it would be useful if scientists who are the most invested in the search for the final theory would at least try to present that search in some more accessible categories. Especially if they hope to have the general public on board when it comes to funding exceptionally large scientific projects.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 29, 2011

    Highly recommended, wished for slightly more technical information...

    This work does an excellent job of describing the current state of physics and the lack of a "theory of everything" or anything even close to such a theory. Coming from Weinberg, this makes the propositions even more convincing.

    Weinberg waxes poetic about the beauty of modern physics and decries the incomprehensible nature of the contemporary Standard Model. The take home message for me is that advanced physics today is a kluge of theorets instead of simple grand scheme and so the beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

    As a scientist not in this field, I would have preferred more technical statements, at least parenthetically or in notes. The extremely awkward million billion billion thing seems silly compared to 1e24 or some other simpler statement of zeros. When in the world will we ever get to the point where some technical symbology becomes allowed in popular science?

    Weinberg takes on philosophy in a chapter that discusses reductionism and positivism in sometimes disparaging ways. This seems futile for a basically reductionist and positivist physicist. Isn't his answer obvious and in his science already?

    And he discusses politics in a chapter on the Superconducting SuperCollider project. That project was summarily killed due to budget but also due to the more popular desire to fund other more promising areas of science, i.e. NIH. Once again, this discussion seems futile. Science monies are always limited and always competitive. If you lose one project, move on to another that can get funding. Decrying the politics of the process hardly seems useful.

    Nevertheless, a very good read and highly recommended.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 8, 2005

    A thought-provoking book

    One of the more personalized accounts of physics I've read. Especially of interest were the discussions of the fate of the SSC in Texas. A good read.

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