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Farewell to Reality: How Modern Physics Has Betrayed the Search for Scientific Truth 1st Edition

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ISBN-13: 978-1605984728
ISBN-10: 1605984728
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*Starred Review* When a prominent theorist acknowledges how many spatial geometries superstring theory allows—“More numerous than grains of sand on a beach. Every beach”—Baggott sees not conceptual fertility but scientific failure. After all, theorists cannot identify any of the absurdly numerous geometries they contemplate as superior to others as a description of reality. Unfortunately, Baggott finds that some theory-mad physicists simply do not care about reality—or about the scientific method as a way of discovering it. Baggott’s own commitment to empirical reality pervades his overview of six principles foundational to the orthodox science behind the accepted model of the universe. To be sure, readers will soon realize that that model leaves large questions unanswered: Why, for instance, won’t relativity and quantum mechanics play together? Why does the big bang look so fine-tuned? Though he acknowledges the lacunae, Baggott argues that scientists should not be rushing into the gaps with wildly imaginative theories exempt from empirical testing. Boldly naming names, Baggott indicts prominent theorists—even Stephen Hawking—for spinning fairy-tale physics in fantasizing about multiple universes, anthropic principles, M-theory branes, and string-theory vibrational patterns. Solid physics, he warns, is fading into airy metaphysics. Certain to broaden and intensify the debate over what counts as science. --Bryce Christensen


“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.” (Publishers Weekly, STARRED REVIEW)

“Baggott has done something that I would have thought impossible in a popular book. He navigates successfully between the Scylla of mathematical rigor and the Charybd is of popular nonsense.” (The Wall Street Journal)

“The basic history behind the quantum revolution is well known, but no one has ever told it in such a compellingly human and thematically seamless way.” (Publishers Weekly, STARRED REVIEW)

“Intellectually gratifying.” (The Economist)

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Pegasus; 1 edition (August 1, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1605984728
  • ISBN-13: 978-1605984728
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.2 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (48 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #674,412 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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79 of 82 people found the following review helpful By Book Shark TOP 500 REVIEWER on August 21, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Farewell to Reality: How Modern Physics Has Betrayed the Search for Scientific Truth by Jim Baggott

"Farewell to Reality" is a critical book of the current state of affairs of modern theoretical physics. Award-winning science writer and former scientist, Jim Baggott questions the veracity for many of the "fairy-tale" ideas proposed by modern theoretical physics. "The stuff is not only not true, it is not even science." The author describes what modern physics can reasonably say about the nature of our physical reality and where it has abandoned the scientific method. Theoretical physics is difficult and this book will test your patience but ultimately the author succeeds in making clear where theoretical physicists have gone astray and its implications. This challenging 336-page includes the following twelve chapters: 1. The Supreme Task, 2. White Ambassadors of Morning Light, Quantum Theory and the Nature of Reality, 3. The Construction of Mass Matter, Force and the Standard Model of Particle Physics, 4. Beautiful Beyond Comparison, 5. The (Mostly) Missing Universe, 6. What's Wrong with this Picture?, 7. Thy Fearful Symmetry, 8. In the Cemetery of Disappointed Hopes, 9. Gardeners of the Cosmic Landscape, 10. Source Code of the Cosmos, 11. Ego Sum Ergo, and 12. Just Six Questions.

1. Well-researched and well-written book.
2. Good format. Each chapter begins with a chapter-appropriate quote from Albert Einstein.
3. Fair and even-handed. The author does a wonderful job of not overstepping his bounds. He is a defender of good science and that includes being able to say I don't know over wild speculations presented as plausible theories.
4. The current state of modern theoretical physics clearly stated.
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38 of 41 people found the following review helpful By Peter S. Bradley on October 12, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The standard narrative that most people are exposed to is that science is confidently moving toward a solution to the ancient questions of humanity. Science is pushing all other modes of human experience to the side as it makes continuous and consistent progress in knowing the things that are worth knowing. Chief among the sciences is physics, which is uniquely able to answer our questions and can show that, for example, according to Lawrence Krauss, something can come from nothing.

The truth is that the standard narrative may be all wrong and physicists may have been going down the wrong path for the last thirty years.

Jim Baggott's Farewell to Reality is excellent for its exploration of the metaphysics of science, but for the lay reader, the physics itself may be more than a little daunting. For example, while I understand the signficance of the "Bell Inequality," I'm still pretty sure that I don't understand the experiment that proved (or disproved) it. Nonetheless, the take-away that the measurement of one "entangled" beam of photons determines the quantum state of another entangled beam of photons faster than the speed of light is still an astonishing concept.

Baggott's book is roughly divided into three sections. A section on the metaphysical foundation of science, a section on the standard narrative of the standard model of physics and a section on how the standard narrative distorts or ignores the metaphysical foundations of science.

The first section is, in my opinion, worth the price of admission. It is heartening to hear someone make the "no bones" admission that science has metaphysical foundations that do not come from science.
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26 of 29 people found the following review helpful By Edwin E. Klingman on September 20, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Not sure why so many four stars... This is a five star book!

Very few people, especially non-physicists, can understand most of what passes for current 'theory', then organize it in understandable and entertaining fashion and critique it. Jim Baggott does just that. He bends over backward to present the ideas in their best light and show how and why some people might believe these theories, yet in the end there are no predictions, no numbers, no nothing. And worse than that, it's a house of cards, in the sense that one thing, strings, led to super-strings, led to Calabi-Yau "windings" around 10-dimensional manifolds, (a 10-D torus) leading to 10*500 possible windings, which somehow get connected to 'inflating bubbles' each of which has many different parameters (I would say 'put in by hand', but they're not even put in, they're just assumed to exist!) and these 'bubbles' form an infinitely varied multi-verse, supposedly explaining why our finely tuned universe was just our "luck of the draw", and somehow backed by 'M-theory', etc. And not one of these 'supporting theories' has an observation, a calculation, or a prediction to back it up! Zip. Nada. A number don't even have equations written down, let alone solved!

Baggott's generous treatment of these "fairy tales" is impressive, yet in the end he simply states that they fail to meet any smell test. In fact he begins the book by laying out an excellent approach to 'reality' and how one can go about deciding if a theory relates to reality, while acknowledging clearly just how hard (impossible) it is to define reality. Yet you are real and I am real. I wrote this, you're reading it. It's real. So despite Bell's theorem and "gravity as geometry", there is something real there.
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