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This book is not for everyone, but contrary to another review, it is non-technical, quite accessible to an educated lay readership with an interest in modern physics.
Most of the book is a very comprehensible review of the development of physics in the twentieth century, ending with string theory. It is worth reading for this alone. And then the briefer critique begins.
String theory is unquestionably mathematical, arguably philosophical. But string theorists have never proposed a way to test it, a fundamental requirement for a scientific theory, and therefore it does not qualify as science as previously defined. To call it science you must redefine science, as string theory enthusiasts have advocated. Indeed, to the extent that it requires that two unproven mathematical theorems to be accepted on faith, as well as the unproven supersymetry theory, string theory is arguably theology.
A huge practical problem is that string theory is incompatible with general relativity. If string theory is correct, than general relativity must be wrong, despite its extensive empirical verification. I find that a far stretch for a theory with no empirical support.
Why do physicists continue to pursue it? Smolin provides a very interesting sociological/economic explanation.
If you sail through this book, you might want to tackle Peter Woit's "Not Even Wrong". It is more technical, though still written for an educated lay readership. It provided my first real understanding of quantum mechanics, though I had to read that chapter twice before I got it. It is also surprisingly amusing. A physicist with a sense of humor!
3 out of 5 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 6, 2007
This was a well written and consistently argued problem with not simply the current problem with String theory, but the fundametal problem with the way physics is executed in today's Academic venues. For those who are not facile with quantum physics, quantum gravity and string concepts etc., which he uses to support his arguments, the issues of group think and hi-jacking of a program by a senior elite et al is very clear and powerful. Consistent problems abound in today's various business cultures. Must read, especially for those who are accepting the public outcry on global warming -- it's not an inconvenient truth but a very convenient liberal political agenda
2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 19, 2007
This is a reasonably engaging book presenting a perspective on theoretical physics that has been rather under-represented in popular works. If you've read popular books advocating string theory and found them convincing, this book will give you a more balanced understanding of the theory's achievements and its limitations. Smolin argues that string theory is failing because it's an extension of the practical particle physics that has led to successes such as the Standard Model--an approach that has done so well, he says, that it's drowned out other avenues of research right at the moment when it has ground to a halt itself--and that what is needed now is more emphasis on re-examination of fundamental problems like spacetime and quantum mechanics. My views are almost opposite in a way (i.e. that the problem with string theory is that it isn't nearly practical enough), but Smolin is an expert whose opinion is worth reading. One point of irritation for me in the text is that I don't trust the analogies. Although I don't know the technical details of most of what he discussed, an analogy he made for something I do understand (fine tuning and the Higgs mechanism) appears to have nothing to do with the actual physics. The others could be better, but I can't tell. His discussion of the specifics of string theory is more balanced than in other books I've read, and that's what makes the book most useful in my view. The rest of his views are kind of out there, but interesting.
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Posted September 18, 2006
This book raises questions about the value of string theory, suggesting that it is a very ingrown subject of interest mainly to those involved, and with few ramifications for either the real world or the philisophical one. Maybe more importantly, the author asks about how this situation evolved and why it continues: what is wrong with universities, with funding, and with the scientific community itself. He is bang on in this arena. The book is very readable and timely, and hopefully will provoke some real change in physics.
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Posted November 23, 2009
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