*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)