Lost in Math: How Beauty Leads Physics Astray

Lost in Math: How Beauty Leads Physics Astray

by Sabine Hossenfelder


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In this "provocative" book (New York Times), a contrarian physicist argues that her field's modern obsession with beauty has given us wonderful math but bad science.

Whether pondering black holes or predicting discoveries at CERN, physicists believe the best theories are beautiful, natural, and elegant, and this standard separates popular theories from disposable ones. This is why, Sabine Hossenfelder argues, we have not seen a major breakthrough in the foundations of physics for more than four decades.

The belief in beauty has become so dogmatic that it now conflicts with scientific objectivity: observation has been unable to confirm mindboggling theories, like supersymmetry or grand unification, invented by physicists based on aesthetic criteria. Worse, these "too good to not be true" theories are actually untestable and they have left the field in a cul-de-sac. To escape, physicists must rethink their methods. Only by embracing reality as it is can science discover the truth.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781541646766
Publisher: Basic Books
Publication date: 06/02/2020
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 105,181
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Sabine Hossenfelder is a research fellow at the Frankfurt Institute for Advanced Studies, where she studies the phenomenology of quantum gravity. She has published more than fifty research articles on physics, cosmology, and quantum mechanics. She resides in Frankfurt, Germany.

Table of Contents

Preface xi

Chapter 1 The Hidden Rules of Physics 1

In which I realize I don't understand physics anymore. I talk to friends and colleagues, see I'm not the only one confused, and set out to bring reason back to Earth.

Chapter 2 What a Wonderful World 17

In which I read a lot of books about dead people and find that everyone likes pretty ideas but that pretty ideas sometimes work badly. At a conference I begin to worry that physicists are about to discard the scientific method.

Chapter 3 The State of the Union 42

In which I sum up ten years of education in twenty pages and chat about the glory days of particle physics.

Chapter 4 Cracks in the Foundations 67

In which I meet with Nima Arkani-Hamed and do my best to accept that nature isn't natural, everything we learn is awesome, and that nobody gives a fuck what I think.

Chapter 5 Ideal Theories 88

In which I search for the end of science but find that the imagination of theoretical physicists is endless. I fly to Austin, let Steven Weinberg talk at me, and realize how much we do just to avoid boredom.

Chapter 6 The Incomprehensible Comprehensibility of Quantum Mechanics 119

In which I ponder the difference between math and magic.

Chapter 7 One to Rule Them All 138

In which I try to find out if anyone would care about the laws of nature if they weren't beautiful. I stop off in Arizona, where Frank Wilczek tells me his little Theory of Something, then I fly to Maui and listen to Garrett List. I learn some ugly facts and count physicists.

Chapter 8 Space, the Final Frontier 171

In which I try to understand a string theorist and almost succeed.

Chapter 9 The Universe, All There Is, and the Rest 195

In which I admire the many ways to explain why nobody sees the particles we invent.

Chapter 10 Knowledge Is Power 222

In which I conclude the world would be a better place if everyone listened to me.

Acknowledgments 237

Appendix A The Standard Model Particles 239

Appendix B The Trouble with Naturalness 241

Appendix C What You Can Do to Help 245

Notes 249

Index 277

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