Cogent objective & informative glimpse towards "Final Laws"
This is a review of both the printed book & the fabulous book on tape. I discovered that the narrated unabridged (7 cassettes) book on tape is available after I read the printed book cover to cover. I quickly bought a copy & have since listened it more times than I can recall! The narrator's voice is pleasant to listen to. His voice come across clear, brisk & very articulate. The whole wonderful experience keeps my attention riveted & gratefully takes my mind off the infamous Southern California traffic during my hours long commute each day. There's always something different & interesting that captivates my attention each time I experience this great book. Keep in mind that I'm a veritable compulsive-obsessive autodidactic with a fanatical drive to understand physical reality at the most fundamental level - call me a PRE (Physical Reality Explorer). I don't have a formal "higher" education or the mathematical tools to speak the technical language - but, like I said, I'm a fanatical layman who's bent on understanding what the hell is REALLY going on "out there" - or "in there" as the case may be...
Well, back to the book! You don't really need a deep understanding of mathematics or even an understanding of Quantum Physics to "get" what this book has to offer. Shoot, for that matter, maybe having an "empty cup" would make the experience of this book all the better! So, what's in the book? Glad you asked! Here's a brief table of contents with a few (parenthetical) comments:
· On a Piece of Chalk (great introduction to some basic principles in Atomic Theory)
· Two Cheers for Reductionism ("...I am not an uncompromising reductionist, I'm a compromising reductionist!")
· Quantum Mechanics & Its Discontents
· Tales of Theory & Experiment (this has a nice history & synopsis of QED)
· Beautiful Theories
· Against Philosophy
· Twentieth Century Blues
· The Shape of a Final Theory
· Facing Finality
· What About God? (he admits that he's not a qualified Theologian here)
· Down in Ellis County
· Afterword (this might be titled something else like "...A Year Later...")
The book on tape doesn't have the Preface or the Afterword, but don't let that stop you from getting a copy 'cause you won't miss anything really important in those sections.
I liked Weinberg's description of the way the chain of questions "Why?" have arrows of explanation ever convergent towards ubiquitous laws of fundamental physics. It seems analogous to Faraday's lines of force in the fields he described. I see a metaphor here where the "field" of the "arrows of explanation" points in the direction of propagation towards answers to questions about the most fundamental aspects of physical reality. Weinberg's cutting logic & objective appraisal is cogently brought to bear on deep questions such as:
What roles do quantum theories & symmetry principles in physics play in the search for a Final Theory?
Why does each explanation of the way nature works point to other, deeper explanations?
What implications will a final theory have for our philosophy & religious faith?
What would be the role of God in a universe governed by such a theory?
Why are the best theories not only logical but beautiful?
What do physicists mean by a final theory?
What sort of things might such a theory say?
How could we tell it is indeed final?
How close are we to one?
As you can see, this book shares a curiosity with the audience. We get keen insight into Weinberg's working philosophy when he describes himself as a "rough & ready realist" & a "compromising reductionist" while he subtly & carefully defends his right to DO physics without being bothered by those fluffy, subjective, & interpretive philosophies which, you get the distinct impression, he'd like to just go away & leave him alone...
Finally, I am compelled to urge you to look at two other works by Weinberg which are actually the same material, just different media. These are a pair of lectures presented by Steven Weinberg & the late great Richard Feynman in the 1986 Memorial Lectures given in honor of the great P.A.M. Dirac. I bought the video, "Towards the Final Laws of Physics: The 1986 Dirac Memorial Lecture" and, to my great joy, found a coupled experience of Weinberg giving a slightly more technical & narrowly focused lecture in VHS video format. The title of the printed book (transcribed from the video taped lectures) is, "Elementary Particles & the Laws of Physics: The 1986 Dirac Memorial Lectures". These two media really compliment "Dreams of a Final Theory".
Bottom line on "Dreams": accessible, cogent, succinct & beautifully written.