Book: The Trouble with Physics

The Trouble With Physics The Rise of String Theory, The Fall of a Science, and What Comes Next
Available in black, magnolia, blue or an elegantly redesigned white edition.

An inconclusive book on an inconclusive subject.
416 pages, ★

Physics is dead. Or maybe it’s just finished. According to the Trouble with Physics, no significant progress has been made towards a ‘grand unifying theory’ since the 1980s. Unfortunately, that was when the author started his physics career.

Theories are developed that fit the available evidence at the time. According to Popper, “a theory is only good until it’s falsified”, and according to Einstein, “a theory should be as simple as it can possibly be, but no simpler”. Theories thus tend to be simple (at least in retrospect) and short-lived.

The trouble with physics comes with the most recent theory, String Theory. It’s neither simple nor short-lived. In fact, it’s so complicated that most physicists don’t fully understand it (or that’s what they claim), and because it can never be proven or disproven, it is effectively permanent. Author Lee Smolin talks about the quasi-religious following surrounding String Theory and its excessive derision of critics. To me, the String Theory lobby sounds about as entrenched as that of climate change, or of intelligent design. If that’s the case, then physics is definitely finished.

As a newcomer to physics, I learned a lot of theory from this book. I learned about General Relativity, Quantum Theory, Loop Quantum Gravity, Technicolor, Twistor Theory and MSSM theory; and the discoveries made by Aristotle, Kepler, Galileo, de Sitter, Einstein, Kelvin, Eddington, Popper and many, many more. Despite the level of detail in this book, math is used only sparingly—which is why I chose this book over others.

The Trouble With Physics is suitable for non-physicists who want to reassure themselves that they made the right career choice. In just 416 pages, The Trouble with Physics provides enough background information to understand passing conversations with physicists, and to understand almost all Big Bang Theory jokes. This book is the most readable in its category. 

4 thoughts on “Book: The Trouble with Physics

  1. I read the book and also found it a quite refreshing, if somewhat biased, take on string theory. I must add that most physicists working on string theory actually hate the guy, which now that I think of it is not surprising…

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    1. The Trouble with Physics certainly has a mild, negative bias (not nearly as negative as the book I’m now reading, Whackademia, but anyway…)

      I think this book is the physics equivalent of Cool It! (a climatology book) by Bjørn Lomborg.

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