- Paperback: 336 pages
- Publisher: Pegasus Books; 1 edition (July 15, 2014)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1605985740
- ISBN-13: 978-1605985749
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 8.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars See all reviews (61 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #323,008 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Farewell to Reality: How Modern Physics Has Betrayed the Search for Scientific Truth 1st Edition
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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 --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
“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 Charybdis of popular nonsense.” (The Wall Street Journal)
“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)
“Intellectually gratifying.” (The Economist)
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Top Customer Reviews
"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. "Speculative theorizing of a kind that cannot be tested, that cannot be verified or falsified, a kind that is not subject to the mercilessness of the scientific method, is now almost common currency."
5. Does a good job of defining what science is all about. "Science is the pursuit of knowledge and understanding of the natural and social world following a systematic methodology based on evidence."
6. Baggott provides six principles about reality, science and truth. They principles define what it is that we apply science to, what science is and how we think we know when it is "true".
7. The three components of the scientific method discussed.
8. The first half of the book focuses on what is good science. The author provides a lot of good information of what is understood in theoretical physics. The science, the theories and the scientists behind them.
9. The difference between Newtownian and quantum physics. The difficulties of measurements at the quantum level.
10. The forces of nature and the particle zoo. The taxonomy of particles. The origin of mass.
11. Special and general theories of relativity. Understanding spacetime. Interesting tidbits on how Einstein came up with some of his great ideas. "`Spacetime tells matter how to move; matter tells spacetime how to curve."
12. The big bang theory explained. The ironic inception of the term.
13. Dark matter and dark energy. "The problem of dark matter demands a solution that lies beyond the current standard model of particle physics."
14. Baggott is not afraid to be critical but is fair about it. "What kind of fundamental theory of particle physics is it that can't predict the masses of its constituent elementary particles? Answer: one that is not very satisfying.?
15. Stephen Hawking and black holes. His battles with other scientists. Interesting stuff.
16. The shortcomings of science. "The standard model is a triumph. But don't be misled. It is not a unified theory of the fundamental atomic and subatomic forces."
17. The disappointment in finding the Theory of Everything. "We assume that a unique eleven-dimensional superstring theory is possible in principle, although we don't yet know what this theory is."
18. Confronting one of the biggest obstacles in science. "The problems that SUSY, superstring theories and M-theory seek to address pale almost into insignificance compared with one of the most fundamental problems inherent in contemporary physical theory -- the quantum measurement problem."
19. Strong conclusions. "I would conclude that the strong anthropic principle is not science".
20. Endnotes and formal bibliography included.
1. This is a difficult book to read at times. Theoretical physics is very complex and even at its bare-bone it will test your patience and focus.
2. More illustrations would have added value.
3. The fine-tuning argument could have been handled better. Refer to my further recommendations.
In summary, Baggott makes the compelling case that in many instances modern theoretical physics have abandoned the scientific method. He states specifically that in fairy-tale physics the scientists have lost sight of empirical content and as a result can't make testable predictions. The book at times is very challenging, theoretical physics even at its simplest is very complex and it will test the patience of many laypersons. It will test your resolve but ultimately the author succeeds in making strong arguments in favor of his case. Recommended with reservations noted.
Further recommendations: "Spectrums" by David Blatner, "The Elegant Universe: Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions, and the Quest for the Ultimate Theory" and "The Hidden Reality: Parallel Universes and the Deep Laws of the Cosmos" by Brian Greene, "A Universe from Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather than Nothing" by Lawrence M. Krauss, "About Time: Cosmology and Culture at the Twilight of the Big Bang" by Adam Frank, "Higgs Discovery: The Power of Empty Space (Kindle Single)" and "Warped Passages" by Lisa Randall, "The Grand Design" by Stephen Hawking, "The Quantum Universe" by Brian Cox, "The Blind Spot" by William Byers, and "The Fallacy of Fine-Tuning: Why the Universe Is Not Designed for Us" and "God and the Atom" by Victor Stenger.
The book is divided into two parts. Part I begins with Chapter 2, and is a grand tour of facts that the scientific method has uncovered over the past couple of centuries. Collectively, the author calls this body of knowledge “authorized reality.” Included in this grand tour is special and general relativity, quantum physics, the standard model of particle physics, and the standard model of cosmology, which includes the big bang, inflation, dark matter and dark energy – a lot of information. Chapter 3 delves into the topic symmetry and how particle physicists use symmetry breaking to explain all of the fundamental particles in the standard model. This topic is apparently one of Jim Baggott's specialties, because he spends a lot of time on it. Unfortunately, to casual readers like me who aren't experts on U(1), SU(2) and SU(3) symmetry will find this chapter very rough going. I skipped over most of it because it was completely over my head. It seems that the author considers the Higgs field/particle as part of “authorized reality” because it fits into the standard model of particle physics and can be explained through symmetry breakage. (For a contrary view, refer to “The Higgs Fake” by Alexander Unzicker.) However, inexplicably, Baggott also considers dark matter to be real, even though it doesn't fit into the standard model at all. I consider this position strange and rather inconsistent.
Part I concludes with the startling statement that Baggott considers everything in “authorized reality” as fundamentally true, yet it isn't quite right. Huh? I think this statement deserves a bit more explaining, but there isn't any. Maybe reality has degree of “truthiness” in the Stephen Colbert sense. At any rate, we are left hanging at this point where the book inexplicably launches into Part II, entitled “The Grand Delusion.”
Part II is the reason the book is entitled “Farewell to Reality.” It hammers away at “junk science” and “fairy tale science,” which are defined as any and all theories that aren't included as part of the “authorized reality” described in Part I. This section begins with Chapter 7, which gets into the dreaded topic of symmetry for a second time. Here, there is more of the highly confusing U(1), SU(2) and SU(3) terminology that is still left unexplained. I struggled to understand how all of this applies to junk science. It seems that carrying symmetry to an extreme leads to supersymmetry (SUSY), which is considered “junk.” On the other hand, the standard model, which is also based on a symmetry approach, is considered “real.” Go figure.
In Chapter 10, the author takes a stab at debunking the holographic principle as “fairy tale science.” He takes us through a brief tutorial on quantum information and black holes. Unfortunately, his treatment of information and entropy is a bit muddled. Like many other authors of popular science books, Baggott fails to properly identify the relationship between information and entropy (hint: they're essentially the same thing), and conflates order with information (they're actually opposites, because perfectly ordered systems lack information). On Page 251 he states, “To an observer watching from a safe distance, high-entropy material (for some reason in these scenarios this is nearly always an unfortunate astronaut) approaches the event horizon.” Astronauts are not “high-entropy material.” Astronauts are highly-ordered systems that have very low entropy. They will, however, become high-entropy material after falling into a black hole and having their atoms scrambled. But enough nitpicking.
In Chapter 11, Baggott comes down particularly hard on string theory and the multiverse concept, which Leonard Susskind and others seem to think solves the fine-tuning problem of the universe. I happen to agree that applying the anthropic principle to “prove” the existence of a multiverse is highly questionable; however, I think this book could have done a much better job of exposing the psuedo-bayesian fallacy behind it. Here's how the fallacy actually operates: Let O be some observation and let H1 and H2 be two hypotheses that could account for O. Let P(O|H1) be the probability that O occurs given H1 is true, and let P(O|H2) be the probability that O occurs given H2 is true. If P(O|H2) > P(O|H1) then the argument is that H2 is more likely than H1. Applying this argument to support the multiverse, O is the observation that the universe is “fine tuned” for intelligent life, H1 proposes a single universe with a random set of physical parameters, and H2 proposes a multiverse with many (up to 10^500) universes, each with a different random set of parameters. If H2 is true, then it is likely (almost certain) that one of these random sets will produce O, whereas if H1 is true, then it is very unlikely that O will occur. Therefore, H2 (the multiverse) is a much more likely explanation than H1 (a single universe). The fallacy behind this argument is simple: P(O|H1) and P(O|H2) have nothing at all to do with the probabilities that H1 and H2 are true; in other words P(O|H2)>P(O|H1) does not imply P(H2)>P(H1) because this argument is based on the unproven assumption that H2 is true; you are still left with the burden of showing that H2 is actually true.
The book ends on a rather sour note. Part II arrives at the conclusion that the scientific method has led humanity down a blind alley, and scientific progress has stalled. This would be a tremendous opportunity to offer Part III that explores exactly why this state of affairs exists, and how we can kick start the scientific method and get back on track. My personal belief is that material reductionism applied to linear systems needs to be replaced by a completely different paradigm based on self-organizing principles applied to non-linear systems. I would love to know what Jim Baggott thinks the problem is, but unfortunately he didn't tell us. I'm hopeful that the missing Part III will appear in a later volume.
I gave “Farewell to Reality” three stars because although it presented a wealth of information, it stopped far short of completing the task. But despite its many flaws, I still consider it to be a thought-provoking book that was worth reading.
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