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Showing 1-10 of 39 reviews(Verified Purchases). See all 94 reviews
on September 15, 2016
Whenever a scientific theory enters a realm that cannot be falsified by any means it has trespassed into the realm of metaphysics whose claims cannot even proven wrong or right. This seems the case with the deviated direction of the string theory. The maths might be elegant, but its results cannot be scrutinized by experiment, it is incapable of making any prediction that can be nullified, it is like a high-priest ensuring you that there is another world in which the hell and heavens have many levels, a multi-verse of higher dimensions but to prove it you have to die first and visit it for yourself!
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 ..."
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on September 14, 2014
The title of this book, "Not Even Wrong," is interesting. One meaning refers to a theory that "is so incomplete and ill-defined that it can't be used to make firm predictions whose failure would show it to be wrong." Is this the state of String Theory today?

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...
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on August 11, 2016
An ecstatic read, indeed. I picked up this book after reading Brian Greene's the Elegant Universe and realized it was so out of date that the universe is no longer "elegant" as claimed, with the exponentially-growing possibilities of "multi-verses," the alleged "multi-verses." Even to start with the title of this book, in grad school I've repeatedly heard some mathematician snobs attacking others' work as "not even wrong," with pure sarcasm and even a bit of intentional insult. But I don't view the book as a direct attack on the standing of string theory, but rather, a recount of the theory from a mathematical perspective--Peter Woit, who's a mathematician himself, has done an excellent job almost re-telling the story in maths. The first few chapters are quite informative, providing a thorough and inclusive background of particle physics that even a lay person can enjoy--I myself who have a doctoral degree in engineering maths, but not quite versed in particle physics, definitely appreciate the in-depth introduction. The latter half of the book, however, may not be as exciting. Like, the author has devoted pages to introduce the fundamentals of Gauge theory but the discussion in connection with its application on the central topic here, the super strings, is unclear (I could be wrong and missing something). And I unfortunately had the same problem with discussion of other math concepts throughout the book.

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).
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on August 2, 2014
The first half of the book reviews some history of physics and how we arrived at the standard model. It is in the second half of the book where things get more interesting. The author reviews the history of string theory. Previously I have not seen a good overview of the beginnings of string theory. The next chapters describe how string theory is not really a theory but more of a hunch. The lack of predictability after all these years of development is a huge weight on string theory. If you have read other books such as The Grand Design or the The Cosmic Landscape then you owe it to yourself to read this book to get a balanced perspective.

Another interesting chapter was chapter 16 where he describes what a powerful force string theory is within theoretical physics. If you want a career in theoretical physics and you are not on board with string theory then it will be tough struggle. If you are on board then you can publish just about anything and travel to worldwide resort areas for conferences. Sometime scientists are perceived as sober minded, objective searching of the truth; following where the evidence leads. Peter Woit begins to give a glimpse of politics and the forces of peer pressure which can and does lead scientists astray. I would like to read more about the this area so if any other Amazon reviewer knows of other books that talk about the social forces that scientists work under I would appreciate suggestions in the comments area.

One final warning about this book, if you don’t have some background in physics then this book will be a hard read. The author makes some attempt to explain certain concepts but with the breadth of the subject this is just impossible. For the educated lay person who want a background on the standard model I suggest The Cosmic Landscape. Although I disagree with Susskind’s final conclusion, he does a good job at explaining hard concepts found in quantum mechanics.
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on November 9, 2015
With an Academic background in Physics I found this book excellent, informative and even entertaining.
Reality is more complex than we may ever know, but that does not mean brilliant humans should ever give up, yet sometimes the lure of fantastic ideas supported by Math can take us just too far into what is not really what reality is, even if mathematical constructs are 'complete' and beautiful.
Not all is lost of course as many methods and ideas from brilliant theoreticians will probably find uses in other areas of science.
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on July 2, 2014
This is a book I wish I would have read back in 2006 when it was published. It gives a mathematical physicist's arguments against string theory. Woit has a blog started in 2004 under the same name as this book. It discusses theoretical particle physics and mathematics and in particular is an ongoing criticism of string theory, multiverses and other theories that make no connection to observables and that can never be falsified. The level of this book is the same as the blog, very readable.

In order to explain his criticisms of string theory the book gives a historical development of particle physics theory starting with the development of quantum mechanics in the 1920's and leading up to the culmination of the standard model of particle physics. Then as the author states throughout the book "The discovery of the standard model is an intellectual achievement that will be remembered for the rest of human history. One unexpected result of this progress has been that the field of theoretical particle physics has now been a victim of its own success for nearly a quarter century". To this date (2014) there has not been any experimental result in particle physics that cannot be described by the standard model. However, there are known problems with the Standard model. Problems such as unifying the electroweak force with the strong force and explaining the values of twenty or so adjustable parameters in the standard model. Many model and theories were developed along the way to the standard model one of them being string theory.

String Theory developed in the 70's was originally proposed to try and understand the strong force. Over time hope began to grow that it could describe all the known particles and the four known forces. It became of "Theory of Everything". One big problem, it couldn't calculate anything to compare to experiment. The hope to relate it to experimental data was always over the next horizon waiting for the next big insight. This situation has been going on now for thirty years or so with the author saying that string theory has been a drag on resources that otherwise could be used on working on other theories. The author takes a similar view to what Lee Smolin discusses in his book "The Trouble with Physics". In the world of folks opposed to string theory Woit's book and Smolin's book work together very well. Both give compelling arguments against string theory and the negative effect it has had on physics in general. The author discusses in a field with limited resources how string theory has negatively effected the entire physics community. However Woit being a mathematical physicist does say how string theory and certain areas of mathematics have grown together partly due to the string theorist Ed Witten. This is a tread throughout the book in how over the past hundred years or so how physics and mathematics have helped one another in certain areas. This to me made interesting reading when he discusses the collaborative efforts between the two disciplines.

Woit's account stresses the use of group theory in quantum mechanics especially the influence of Herman Weyl. Various ideas in group theory are described very well such as describing what is a group what is a Lie group and why group theory is useful in physics. He discusses what is an SU(3) group for example. I wish he would have used equations and examples but that is not the purpose of this book. The level of discussion is that of what you would read in a Scientific American article.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and would recommend it to anyone interested in particle physics, its relationship with mathematics and to understand why there is disagreement in the physics world about string theory and the negative effect it has had.on science.
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VINE VOICEon November 26, 2010
I bought Peter Woit's book about two years ago. In fact I bought it together with Lee Smolin's book on a similar subject, and read them both at the same time. I loved this book, and I was at best lukewarm about Smolin's book. Then I waited two years to write a review, because I wanted to wait until two of my sons learned enough physics to read these books too. You see, I am a Ph.D. in physics, and these books are not written for me first and foremost, they are supposed to be for laymen. I was sure that neither book was close to being understandable by someone who does not know any physics. But I had high hopes that they would be somewhat understandable, and even entertaining to someone with an elementary introduction to physics. In that I was not disappointed, and I learned a lot from my sons' points of view of what they though of these two books and particularly the ideas in them.

Based on what my sons thought, I suggest that you read chapter-1 of "Not Even Wrong", and then skip the next 9 chapters, and start reading again on Chapter 11, unless of course you have an undergraduate degree in physics. In doing so, you skipped roughly half the book, but the stuff you skipped is not at all essential to understanding what was discussed in the second half of the book. I think Peter Woit made a serious mistake in organizing the book. He should reduce chapters 2-10 to appendices, and he should refer to them when relevant.

The material presented in Chapters 11 through 19 are extremely well written, and it was well understood by my sons (ages 16 and 18). They found it very intriguing, amusing, and even sad and scary at times. After reading the book, they had a million questions for me to answer about the physics content as well the human content. Before they read the book, I had some (perhaps not very much) worries that they may be turned off from science (at least from physics.) Quite the contrary, their scientific curiosity was much increased. (The older son is now a college freshman studying physics of all things.)

I highly recommend Woit's book to all bright and scientifically minded high school and college students. If you know nothing about physics however, don't waste your time. Woit tries to teach you some physics on the fly, but most of it will fly over your head. Similarly, I also recommend the book to all scientists if you have not already read it. In this case, the chapters 2-10 might even be useful.

And Smolin's book? Well, that's another story. If you don't have a Ph.D. in physics and a keen interest in politics, I don't recommend it. Maybe I will write a review about it some other day.
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on November 29, 2013
Bingo. Hit the nail smack on the head. I LEFT physics after a MS degree and switched and got my PhD in geosciences, after where I saw physics was heading. Well, physics as a profession stayed on that train-wreck to dead-head alley, and has largely become meta-physics, or perhaps philosophy. Quantum entanglement may someday provide something useful to society, but string theory is and never was science, and has long overstayed its welcome.
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on February 9, 2013
This book is one of two that quite properly take modern university and post-university physic study of String Theory to task. Its thesis is that despite 30 years, and chewing up the effort of most of the world's best and brightest physics majors, String Theory isn't getting anywhere at all - and shows no signs of breaking free. It's never (despite the name) gotten to be a theory - merely a conjecture. The sooner it is abandoned (and there is much else in physics still to be investigated) the less shame it will bring on the current corpus of physicists worldwide.

I needed Woit to explain what String Theorists claim String Theory to be, before I could understand why it's a loser. Woit does that too.
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on March 19, 2015
Woit does an excellent job. His mathematical knowledge enables him to identify the overreach of String theorists. This line of research has created enough dead ends, contradictions and confusions to make any reasonable person take pause. The truth is this topic does not need an industry of researchers to bear fruit. We are facing limitations that suggest unification is not a topic that can be sorted out by humans.
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