It has completely changed the way I think and read about not only physics, but any science where there is a consensus that lacks the characteristics of historically successful theories. As to the content of this exceedingly excellent examination of the state of modern theoretical physics through the eyes of a deeply-learned and concerned practitioner, the reviews by Manny and Rob are both superb and cover all of the bases with flair. If I could go back and do it all over again, I'd run with the math skills I had garnered back in the day together with a speculative bent honed whilst seated, chin-in-hand, upon the toilet, and try to go all the way to the end as a bona fide physici As to the content of this exceedingly excellent examination of the state of modern theoretical physics through the eyes of a deeply-learned and concerned practitioner, the reviews by Manny and Rob are both superb and cover all of the bases with flair.
If I could go back and do it all over again, I'd run with the math skills I had garnered back in the day together with a speculative bent honed whilst seated, chin-in-hand, upon the toilet, and try to go all the way to the end as a bona fide physicist—and I might have run into Smolin himself on the well-watered fields of the University of Waterloo!
The Trouble with Physics: The Rise of String Theory, the Fall of a Science, and What Comes Next
View all 26 comments. Feb 12, M. Rudolph rated it it was amazing. Not for the faint of heart. You gotta love your fermions and your gluons.
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And you need to appreciate a good brane. It took me two months to work my way through this book. I'm not a scientist, by far, and I plodded through determined to see what I could learn. I'm glad I did. It was good to read that the world of physics is just as screwy as any other corporate grouping. Suffering from groupthink, careerists, and ladder-climbers, just like everywhere I ever worked.
Apparently,just because you're a math genius or a theoretical visionary doesn't mean you get ahead, get grants, or get jobs at institutions of higher learning. White men hire other white men that remind them of younger versions of themselves. No big surprise there. But before you get to those juicy assertions about the world of physics, you have to read through the history of String Theory and a weighty defense of all that hasn't happened since that theory took precedence within the physics community.
That's the difficult part of the book and the most rewarding. Not that I can explain what I just read, but I know it was important and I must have learned something that will some day come in handy. String Theory isn't the next big thing. It's just generally accepted by the physics establishment.
Smolin attacks the underlying assumptions of String Theory and, lo and behold, he shows that these assumptions have never been proven. Back to the white board.
The Trouble with Physics - Wikipedia
Dec 30, Cassandra Kay Silva rated it it was amazing Shelves: This book should actually be called the trouble with string theory: Most of you know that I am a massive Brian Greene fan and absolutely love my world "stringy" even superly so. I find string theory to have an energy and power that sparks the imagination and excites the theorist in all of us. Having said that I tried to take an objective view when reading through Smolins work and felt that he laid out his arguments not necessarily against it but against the way that it has been latched on to This book should actually be called the trouble with string theory: Having said that I tried to take an objective view when reading through Smolins work and felt that he laid out his arguments not necessarily against it but against the way that it has been latched on to by the scientific community and the effects that this has on funding and research very well indeed.
Its a massive undertaking to write something that by many would be seen as "anti" to the scientific community of which Smolin himself is a part of. I think his desire to be objective and revisit the whys and the ifs of the basic premises of string theory to be admirable. It doesn't change my love of it, and even if string theory doesn't end up being the "answer" to everything that we are looking for I still see it as a beautiful and amazing line of thinking.
Smolin has a careful and practical outlook on the scientific community at current and I think this book should be read by all lovers of modern science, even those of us who generally follow the more pop variety to keep us grounded in reason and logic. I agree that we must always reevaluate our thinking especially where resources are being allocated. Contray or not I am giving both Smolin and Greene five stars, and value the authors beliefs and efforts equally.
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Apr 06, Richard Thompson rated it liked it Shelves: It is very hard in writing a popular book about physics to strike the right balance between rigorous explanation and appeal to a broad audience. From the favorable Goodreads reviews, it is evident that a lot of people think that Smolin has struck the right balance here, but not for me. There is just too much hand waving in this book for my taste. He trots out scientists and their theories like characters in an Andrew Lloyd Weber musical -- "Hi, I'm a Jellicle Cat, and this is what I do, dum, dee It is very hard in writing a popular book about physics to strike the right balance between rigorous explanation and appeal to a broad audience.
He trots out scientists and their theories like characters in an Andrew Lloyd Weber musical -- "Hi, I'm a Jellicle Cat, and this is what I do, dum, dee, dum, dum. I would have liked the book a lot better, if Smolin had covered less ground and had given more background for the science. As it was written, I wanted to agree with the analysis and the basic philosophical point of view, but I didn't feel that I had been given enough grounding in the science to be able to fairly reach a conclusion and was left with having to rely on Smolin's word as an expert, a predicament that Smolin himself identifies and decries among the string theorists, but does not seem to see as well in the position in which he puts his own readers.
Sep 10, Dr M rated it really liked it Recommends it for: Smolin's polemic is often misconstrued as a criticism of superstring theory as a physical theory. Indeed Smolin is harsh on string theory, but not because it is a bad theory per se, but because the string-theory community provides a prime example of the problem Smolin is really addressing, namely how we do theoretical physics in the first place. Smolin argues that theoretical physics at least where foundational issues of quantum physics, gravity etc. The Trouble With Physics is a must-read for anyone in physics, and, quite possibly, for anyone in academia.
Smolin makes some very important points, and we do need to take his questions seriously. Towards the end of the book, Smolin goes a bit over the top in his almost worship of the lone genius, but apart from that, he argues convincingly that the two fundamental problems in the physics community is conformity to certain research programs and a system that explicitly rewards incremental science.
The Trouble With Physics is written in a popular-science style that makes it accessible to a general audience. However, if you are looking for a popular-science book where you can learn about the cool modern physics, the strange world of quantum physics, or the mysteries of the cosmos, this book is not for you. The book does not assume previous familiarity with modern theoretical physics, but it certainly does help to have a physics background, at least on the level of a couple of pop-sci books.
If you are willing to compromise on understanding all of the physics discussions, you can read the book as a general discussion of science and sociology without any special background.
Jun 21, John rated it it was amazing. I really liked this book. I've been curious for years about what all the fuss was about, regarding string theory. I've watched a few shows on TV that had string theorists that tried to explain it, like Brian Greene, but they always seemed to just talk around it with flowery language, never explaining the nuts and bolts of how exactly it was the "theory of everything". Lee Smolin does a good job of showing that the emperor has no clothes. If he is correct, and his writing has that "ring of truth" I really liked this book. If he is correct, and his writing has that "ring of truth", string theory has been a decade-plus big complex mathematical exercise, and nothing more.
But the main focus of his book isn't that string theory has failed still too early to say that for sure I guess , but rather criticizing how it has monopolized theoretical physics in terms of grants, post-doc positions, etc. But the most important point he makes is that string theory has never made any testable predictions, and that some string theorists are even saying maybe we should redefine "science" so that it doesn't have to be testable!
Talk about arrogance there, these guys' favorite theory is turning into a hairball, they can't test it or falsify it or prove it correct , so instead of admitting that maybe they are on the wrong track and should try something else, they want to redefine what science is. Saying stuff like that should be grounds for having your tenure revoked. He argues rightfully IMO that we need more of a balance in supporting different competing theories because it's way too early to decide which is on the right track. It's probable that none of the existing theories is the "right one". Very good book about how science can go wrong sometimes, because it's driven by people and organizations, which are never perfect.
But science is unique in that it eventually self-corrects, it just takes longer than it should sometimes. Apr 19, DJ rated it really liked it Recommends it for: It is obvious that Lee Smolin cares deeply and sincerely about the future of his field of physics. I highly recommend this book to anyone who: How do we distinguish between dark energy and matter? Is the notion of a field an oversimplication?
What is gauge symmetry and what mathematics are needed to understand it? Is anyone currently studying the cosmological constant scale and its abundance of apparent coincidences? Conclusion String theory has been deformed so many times that its hard to recognize and understand. Many interesting and creative ideas have come out of the pursuit of string theory.
My romantic notion of a period of scientific hermitude has been reinforced. Studying the fundamental can be lonely and difficult but is essential. Aug 03, Nikki rated it really liked it Shelves: I came out of reading this book with a pleasing illusion that I understood something of the state of modern physics. And I more or less enjoyed letting it turn my brain inside out, too. Reviewed for The Bibliophibian. Nov 20, Justin Tapp rated it really liked it Shelves: To qualify my review a little better, before I read this book I read: But his analogies are simple and more brief.
Of t To qualify my review a little better, before I read this book I read: Of the above, I'd recommend Greene's work and then try Smolin. If you have to pick one, pick Smolin's work. I felt fairly well-versed in string theory and its importance to modern physics. While Greene points out some of the controversial, philosophical nature of string theory both he and Hawking purport that a theory need not create falsifiable propositions in order to be a "theory. Smolin, who is a respected physicist himself, opens this book by asking physics has not made any progress in 25 years.
Nobel prizes require verification by experiment, which is not possible with most of string theory. His concern is that string theory is being held up as truth and that physicists suspend the definition of "science. Fewer universities are funding positions to research alternative possibilities, it's become near impossible to get a chair or your research published if it's not pushing string theory.
Smolin has purportedly tried to be a bridge between the string theorists and the ever-shrinking non-stringers, but points out through various articles, blogs, message boards, and others how vitriolic the string theorists can be. String theorists seem to always look for verification from "thought leaders" and any criticism is met with hostility. Smolin points out that even Einstein was wrong about things, this is the way science works-- no one should be above inquiry.
One problem with ST is that the various theories that have spun off of it are built on more assumptions and not proof. In fact, one key assumption that string theorists held from that the finiteness of the theory had been proven long ago-- was discovered by Smolin and others to be false. He contacted the physicist most often cited by researchers as having proved the point, and he admitted he'd done no such thing. That level of blind devotion is a bit concerting. Theorists are a little like economists which I am who fit a curve.
They invent models with a large number of constants, and then tweak those constants to fit any new discoveries. This is hugely problematic as various theories are predicting things found not to hold in the rest of physics. What use is a theory that spins off an infinite number of possible theories? It's been two decades and string theory has yet to produce any hypotheses that are testable, with current technology In The Universe in a Nutshell Hawking writes that you need a particle collider larger than the size of the universe to prove some aspects of string theory, and that's fine with him.
Physicists have bent the rules in order to stick with ST, why don't they demand the old rules for the rest of science? Smolin writes that they probably should have stopped when they got above 4 dimensions necessary for string theory-- instead of the 10 required. The extra six curled-up dimensions seem to be a way of "fitting the curve," so to speak. So-called "M-theory," which Greene holds up as reality, actually has no precise equations.
It's very vague and imprecise and fits no definition of the word "theory. The first thing the collider had to show was the Higgs-Boson or else all of physics would be "in deep trouble. Super-symmetry itself, hopefully to be proven by the collider, does not require string theory, there are other alternatives which author has worked on. He explains the evolution of string theory as the grand unifying theory and its requirements: Requires super-symmetry Requires that special relatively hold Requires 10 dimensions "like a car with the features you want but extras you'd rather not have.
But as string theory evolved, became cult-like-- you were in or out. Researchers speak of its "elegance" and "beauty," and its supposed symmetry, which was never proven, was held up as one of its most important aspects. Smolin has serious "issues" with new string theory pushing a brane universe he doesn't even mention the latest idea, that we're on a hologram, or Brian Greene's assertion that we're probably all just in a simulated multiverse on someone's computer.
Smolin works in quantum gravity, and points out that if dark matter or dark energy exist then string theory has problems. He takes issue with some of the original research in the s on the inflationary multiverse, which Hawking and Greene basically hold up as true, because the original researcher imagined distributing the cosmological constant randomly across all possible universes while holding all else constant-- where he should have distributed all characteristics, otherwise the prediction of the constant will be even farther off. Indeed as I write this , recent evidence cited to support cosmic inflation appears to be caused by cosmic dust.
The media doesn't seem to cover events if they are un-discovered so much as they hype them when they are, as in this case. I found Smolin's discussion of quantum gravity fascinating. When the media reports on evidence found for dark matter they don't point out that it bodes trouble for the string theory and inflation for which they'd recently also run stories. Smolin points out that NASA Pioneer 10 and 11 vessels travelling through space have not traveled in a trajectory that was predicted by laws of physics.
However, the craft showed unanticipated acceleration, confirmed by multiple measurements. See the wikipedia on the Pioneer anomaly. This measurement confirmed by multiple instruments.
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Scientists had tried to control for other variables, but had no luck as of Smolin's writing in determining what is amiss. This is important because it may have something to do with quantum gravity. According to wikipedia, scientists were confident they'd determined the source of the acceleration by Could there be dark matter or dark energy?
Is the speed of light always constant? Again, observed data suggest that it might not be and if general relativity does not hold, every string theory falls apart. Smolin contends in a chapter on the "sociology" of the field that theorists have "groupthink," and look to thought leaders for approval. They have not abandoned their quest in the face of evidence and criticism and Smolin finds the trend toward quasi-philosophical thinking quite disturbing.
Smolin writes that quantum gravity seems to be regaining momentum. It creates falsifiable propositions and is potentially a unifying theory itself. Even so, he closes the book with a look at pioneers who have braved poverty, isolation, and losing their prestige to do their own research outside the paradigm. Some have ended up contributing greatly to the field of physics, but the free-thinkers seem to be a dying breed under the pressure of modern academia.
I should note that Smolin is no intelligent design theorist, he rejects what he sees as a false dichotomy put forth by Hawking and Susskind that one either has to believe in God or string theory. He argues that if and when string theory is finally discarded, physicists will still examine other alternatives to explain where the universe came from. In the beginning of the book, he argues about evolution with probably the worst example of supposed Christian apologists I've ever seen, such that I doubt whether they really existed people who believed dinosaurs are all still alive hiding in African caves.
He enjoys philosophy and knows enough not to engage in philosophical debate, except in showing the illogic nature of the string theorists. I give this book 4. I found Smolin to be concise and engaging, he comes across as a peace maker. Some of the complaining about modern academia sounds a bit like whining, but it's universal across all fields so it's not unique to Smolin.
I highly recommend this book and would like to read Smolin's other works. I thought Physics wasn't able to pickup girls anymore. I didn't expect some ethical and sociological aspect of Physics from this book. All I thought about was the technical aspect which covered almost two third of the book. Progression of the book: The book started off with the background of scientific revolution that kicked off since early era of Hippocrates and Aristotle explaining the theoretical ideas they put forward an I thought Physics wasn't able to pickup girls anymore. The book started off with the background of scientific revolution that kicked off since early era of Hippocrates and Aristotle explaining the theoretical ideas they put forward and how some of their predictions were latter proved wrong.
The book went through the journey of theoretical science validated latter by experimentation started since then. How some of their work were incomplete and later completed by Figures like Einstein and others. The books has tried great deals in explaining about the unification of the different fields in physics which kicked off after Maxwell unified mathematically the theoretical work of Faraday's into the laws of Electromagnetism. The second part of the book goes through the so called 'String Revolution' of the String theory after every intellect and Physics craftsman thought that it would be ultimate viable theory.
- Driving Etiquette: Ultimate Guide;
- The Trouble with Physics: The Rise of String Theory, the Fall of a Science and What Comes Next.
- Im Balladenton - Flute;
- Tikal, Reino de la Muerte (Spanish Edition).
The books talks a great deal about the things with String theory and its different forms, how it is trying to incorporate general relativity and quantum gravity as well as other major problems of physics. What I didn't like about the book 1. The author said that this book is intended for general public but it contrast with what is stated. The book should have covered less about the technicalities involved in string theory which covered most parts than others in this book and stated other alternative approaches equally as this one.
I felt that the book sometimes lost its way with the topic. What I liked about the book. The author has presented the beautiful timeline about the evolution of physics and the emergence of problems and how people have been tried to tackle it. The thing that I didn't expect, the sociological and the ethical factor which could play in the slowing down of physics and leading it in to the dead-end has been explained beautifully.
I respect the gut of author putting forward these academic politics into the book without being fearful about the contemporary scientific community. Overall this was a good read. Dark Matter and the Dinosaurs. The Weight of Memories. Life on the Edge. Why Buddhism is True. Lies Have Ruined the World. A Closed and Common Orbit. Adults in the Room. A Night Without Stars. Why There Is No God: The Meaning of Human Existence.
Thinking, Fast and Slow. The Universe in the Rearview Mirror. Too Like the Lightning. A History of the Universe.
Three Roads To Quantum Gravity. The Singular Universe and the Reality of Time. The Life of the Cosmos. How to write a great review. The review must be at least 50 characters long. The title should be at least 4 characters long. Polchinski's review states, "In the end, these [Smolin and others'] books fail to capture much of the spirit and logic of string theory. Motl's review goes on to say "the concentration of irrational statements and anti-scientific sentiments has exceeded my expectations," and,.
In the context of string theory, he literally floods the pages of his book with undefendable speculations about some basic results of string theory. Because these statements are of mathematical nature, we are sure that Lee is wrong even in the absence of any experiments. Sean Carroll's review expressed frustration because in his opinion, " The Trouble with Physics is really two books, with intertwined but ultimately independent arguments.
The abstract argument — about academic culture and the need to nurture speculative ideas — is, in my opinion, important and largely correct, while the specific one — about the best way to set about quantizing gravity — is overstated and undersupported. Carroll fears that excessive attention paid to the specific dispute is likely to disadvantage the more general abstract argument.
Aftermath" alludes to the book's polarising effect on the scientific community. She explores the author's views as a contrast in generations, while supporting his right to them. Philosophy used to be part of the natural sciences — for a long time. For long centuries during which our understanding of the world we live in has progressed tremendously. There is no doubt that times change, but not all changes are a priori good if left without further consideration.