- Paperback: 320 pages
- Publisher: Basic Books; Reprint edition (September 4, 2007)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0465092764
- ISBN-13: 978-0465092765
- Product Dimensions: 5 x 10 x 1 inches
- Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 95 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #790,941 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Not Even Wrong: The Failure of String Theory and the Search for Unity in Physical Law Reprint Edition
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From Publishers Weekly
String theory is the only game in town in physics departments these days. But echoing Lee Smolin's forthcoming The Trouble with Physics (Reviews, July 24), Woit, a Ph.D. in theoretical physics and a lecturer in mathematics at Columbia, points out—again and again—that string theory, despite its two decades of dominance, is just a hunch aspiring to be a theory. It hasn't predicted anything, as theories are required to do, and its practitioners have become so desperate, says Woit, that they're willing to redefine what doing science means in order to justify their labors. The first half of Woit's book is a tightly argued, beautifully written account of the development of the standard model and includes a history of particle accelerators that will interest science buffs. When he gets into the history of string theory, however, his pace accelerates alarmingly, with highly sketchy chapters. Reading this in conjunction with Smolin's more comprehensive critique of string theory, readers will be able to make up their own minds about whether string theory lives up to the hype. (Sept.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
"Woit offers some intriguing ruminations on the relationship between physics and mathematics..." -- New York Times Book Review, 9/17/06
"[A]n intriguing view of a significant scientific controversy..." -- Library Journal, 8/15/06
"[L]ively and entertaining" -- Discover Magazine, September 2006 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top customer reviews
In the first chapter of his book " Fashion, Faith, and Fantasy", written on the basis of his lecture in Princeton, Roger Penrose is not daunted by such religious arguments: "if only the insiders are considered competent to make critical comments about the subject [of string theory], then the criticisms are likely to be limited to relatively technical issues, some of the broader aspects of criticism being, no doubt, significantly neglected. Since these lectures were given, there have been three highly critical accounts of string theory: 'Not Even Wrong' by Peter Woit, 'The Trouble with Physics' by Lee Smolin, and 'Farewell to Reality: How Fairytale Physics Betrays the Search for Scientific Truth' by Jim Baggott. Certainly, Woit and Smolin have had more direct experience than I have of the string-theory community and its over-fashionable status than I have. My own criticisms of string theory in The Road to Reality, in chapter 31 and parts of chapter 34, have also appeared in the meantime ..."
I like to say, first of all, that this is a difficult book to read for the layperson. This becomes clearly evident in chapter three, where Woit provides what he calls "an oversimplified description of representation theory and its connection to quantum mechanics." Even in his "oversimplified version," it was very difficult to follow. Perhaps this book would be suited better to someone with some exposure to this type of physics. That said, this book surveys the current state of fundamental particle physics from the point of view of a mathematically oriented particle physicist.
We are first introduced to the nature of the quantum world. It is here we learn (or try) about Hilbert space, wavefunctions, operators, eigenstates, Heisenberg's uncertainty principle, symmetry groups and representations. Next, we learn of quantum field theory and the work of such greats as Jordan, Pauli, and Heisenberg. This segues into gauge symmetry and gauge theories. Several chapters are devoted to the Standard Model. Woit informs us that every experiment that anyone has been able to conceive and carry out has produced results in precise agreement with the model. However, there are some issues. After discussing a number of problems he sees with the model, he notes "what is unsatisfactory about the standard model is that it leaves seventeen nontrivial numbers still to be explained, and it would be nice to know why the eighteenth one is zero." By 1973, we see the completion of the ideas required for the standard model, and this brought to a close a period of dramatic progress; however, this was also the beginning, Woit notes, of "an exceedingly frustrating new era, one that has lasted more than thirty years to the present day."
In chapter ten, Woit explains some new insights in quantum field theory and mathematics. Well, if you're a lay person on the subject, like myself, just forget about understanding any of this. Read it through, and get a feel for the complexity of the work involved. There are instantons, lattice gauge theory, something called large N, two-dimensional field theories, and topological quantum field theory - whew! I don't know what I just said, but it all sounded exciting.
Finally, by chapter eleven, we get to string theory, where our attention is turned to the history of ideas that didn't pan out and their effect on physics to this day. He covers the first string theories and the first superstring theory revolution where we see a large uptick in the number of papers on superstrings in the mid 1980s. At this point, work on superstring theory dominated the field, and this situation continues in some form even today. Despite all the work, it appears that this superstring theory has zero connection with experiment, since it makes no - that's not any - predictions according to Woit. Again Woit ventures into somewhat technical aspects that some readers may find difficult; he finds this necessary to fully explain his position. The simplest supersymmetric theory that generalizes the standard model is something called the "minimal supersymmetric standard model," or MSSM. The problem is this theory introduces at least 105 extra undetermined parameters that are not found in the standard model. We already need help to understand the 18 experimentally known, but theoretically unexplained, numbers that we find in the standard model; now we have 105 more! Unfortunately, the conclusion seems to be that the "fundamental reason that superstring theory makes no predictions is that it isn't really a theory, but rather a set of reasons for hoping that a theory exists."
The author continues by exploring the attitude that string theory is considered "the only game in town." This becomes evident as Woit describes the "triumphalist attitude of some of its practitioners." This attitude is cemented in place by those who hold tenured professorships at the highest-ranked universities as they hold all the influence and power. Sadly, he laments, that it "is an unfortunate fact that the new advances in particle theory are unlikely to come from anyone who is not either being paid to think about the subject or independently wealthy." If you want a tenured job, you're in string theory - period.
Woit now provides some background on the landscape of string theory. It seems that there are a huge number of possible vacuum states (explained in the book) consistent with the theory. Many have come to the conclusion that superstring theory really does have all these vacuum states and thus cannot predict the cosmological constant or other undetermined parameters of the standard model. So Woit ponders why, if one can no longer see a way forward to make predictions, don't people abandon work on it and pursue something more promising? He concludes by saying the power to change direction in research is in the hands of a small group of faculty committees and a couple of government offices, but dramatic changes could be forthcoming should they choose to use their power to effect such change. So, where is it all going? To be continued...
But overall, I highly recommend this book if you would like to have a quick view of thoughts on the other side opposite to the current string theory cult. The author explains all the concepts in a quite comprehensible way--I mean, don't be intimidated by all those names "gauge symmetry," "representation theory" etc. This is not a textbook that tests your scientific knowledge, but rather a nicely written story book that connects hard concepts, and poses questions on a trendy theory that many ppl have wrongly assumed as an incontestable doctrine. (BTW: 4 stars because the fonts are too small. Go get the kindle version if you can).
Most recent customer reviews
He put the light of day on the String Theory Religion.
It's all hocus poocus, and ruining real physics.