Not Even Wrong: The Failure of String Theory and the Search for Unity in Physical Law

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Overview

If Not Even Wrong, Peter Woit shows that what many physicists call super-string "theory" is not a theory at all but an unrealized hope that a theory might exist. In his view, superstring theory has departed the realm of testable hypothesis and now resembles something like aesthetic speculation, even theology-it makes no predictions, even wrong ones. Can a subject be a science if it makes no predictions at all? Not Even Wrong tells the story of how quantum physics came to such a pass. It describes how superstring theory came about; explains how mathematic and physics have worked together to generate a compelling theory of particle physics that has become in many ways a victim of its own success; and describes how it developed that judgments about scientific statements, which should be based on the logical consistency of argument and experimental evidence, are instead based on the eminence of those claiming to know the truth.

About the Author:
Peter Woit is a lecturer in the Mathematics Department of Columbia University

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Editorial Reviews

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This book owes its title to the ultimate level of disapproval that Wolfgang Pauli applied to some scientific theories. According to this German physicist, wrongheaded theories can be categorized as "Wrong!", "Completely wrong!", and, worst of all, "Not even wrong!" According to quantum theory specialist Peter Woit, string theory fully deserves such decisive dismissal. According to this Harvard- and Princeton-trained mathematician and physicist, string theory has had two decades to generate testable predictions and generate new explanations but has failed to do so. Woit maintains that the domination of string theory in academic circles has stifled alternative research in theoretical physics. A contrarian critique of a hip theory.
Publishers Weekly
String theory is the only game in town in physics departments these days. But echoing Lee Smolin's forthcoming The Trouble with Physics (Reviews, July 24), Woit, a Ph.D. in theoretical physics and a lecturer in mathematics at Columbia, points out again and again that string theory, despite its two decades of dominance, is just a hunch aspiring to be a theory. It hasn't predicted anything, as theories are required to do, and its practitioners have become so desperate, says Woit, that they're willing to redefine what doing science means in order to justify their labors. The first half of Woit's book is a tightly argued, beautifully written account of the development of the standard model and includes a history of particle accelerators that will interest science buffs. When he gets into the history of string theory, however, his pace accelerates alarmingly, with highly sketchy chapters. Reading this in conjunction with Smolin's more comprehensive critique of string theory, readers will be able to make up their own minds about whether string theory lives up to the hype. (Sept.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
String theory is currently the dominant approach used by theoretical physicists in search of a program for the unification of forces. Woit, who offers a strong critique of this theory and questions whether it should even be considered part of science, knows of what he speaks. A university lecturer in mathematics at Columbia University, he also earned a Ph.D. in physics and writes an anti-string theory blog, "Not Even Wrong." Woit devotes the first half of his book to a history of the standard model for physics particles, which was completed in the 1980s and successfully explained much experimental data. He then addresses the dubious development of string theory, presenting it as an exceedingly complicated tangle of theory that is completely out of touch with the experimental data at hand. Most lay readers will struggle at times with the difficult portions of the discussions, but those who persevere will be rewarded with an intriguing view of a significant scientific controversy. Recommended for academic and large public libraries.-Jack W. Weigel, Ann Arbor, MI Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780465092758
  • Publisher: Basic Books
  • Publication date: 9/28/2006
  • Pages: 320
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Peter Woit is a lecturer in the mathematics department of Columbia University, where in recent years he has taught graduate courses in quantum field theory, representation theory, and differential geometry. His math and physics blog, Not Even Wrong (www.math.columbia.edu/~woit/wordpress), has been featured in Discover, Seed, and New Scientist. He lives in New York.

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Table of Contents

1 Particle physics at the turn of the millennium 1
2 The instruments of production 5
3 Quantum theory 29
4 Quantum field theory 49
5 Gauge symmetry and gauge theories 59
6 The standard model 67
7 Triumph of the standard model 85
8 Problems of the standard model 91
9 Beyond the standard model 95
10 New insights in quantum field theory and mathematics 105
11 String theory : history 139
12 String theory and supersymmetry : an evaluation 161
13 On beauty and difficulty 193
14 Is superstring theory science? 203
15 The Bogdanov affair 213
16 The only game in town : the power and the glory of string theory 221
17 The landscape of string theory 237
18 Other points of view 247
19 Conclusion 255
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