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Dreams Of A Final Theory: The Search for The Fundamental Laws of Nature [Kindle Edition]

Steven Weinberg
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

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Book Description

An understanding of nature's final laws may be within our grasp - a way of explaining forces and symmetries and articles that does not require further explanation. 'This starting point, to which all explanations can be traced, is what I mean by a final theory', says Steven Weinberg in this extraordinary book. In it he discusses beauty, the weakness of philosophy, the best ideas in physics and the honour of accepting a world without god.


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Review

"Wienberg has reached the pinnacle of scientific succes - the Nobel Prize - he writes clearly and with confidence, imbuing the reader with an irresistible sense that one is in the hands of a master physicist at play" (Sunday Times)

"Highly literate, comprehensive, challenging, a survey of an exciting and extraordinary field of enquiry by one of its leading figures" (Financial Times)

"A truly important book, one which tries to change our minds... A magnificently honest piece of work" (Times Literary Supplement)

"This is a brilliant book" (Daily Telegraph)

Book Description

A fascinating and controversial book about the minutiae that make up the universe and the possibility of a theory that might unite them all, by the author of a prize-winning account of the Big Bang, The First Three Minutes.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 460 KB
  • Print Length: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage Digital; New Ed edition (31 Aug. 2010)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0041KLBOO
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #118,453 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent, thought-provoking book. 2 Sept. 2003
Format:Hardcover
A final theory – an all-embracing explanation of the laws of nature – is the ultimate dream of science. Weinberg is optimistic that such a theory, rejected as a possibility by philosophers such as Popper, can indeed be unravelled. The book is underpinned by a description of the historical progression of knowledge about the laws of physics. Some of the description of quantum mechanics and other aspects of physics are heavy going for non-physicists such as myself. Those interested in Einstein’s theories and developments since will probably find this book full of interesting information in that regard. From my perspective the book is most important in the issues it raises and addresses relating to the philosophy of science. Weinberg shows a good understanding of philosophy, critically examining scientific method and questioning the relevance of philosophy to this methodology in the modern world. The obvious question to ask is whether a final theory can ever be reached. Weinberg provides an interesting case that it can – but I won’t spoil the fun by giving away his arguments here. The text is well written and easy to follow. I found this book an interesting and thought-provoking read, despite my lack of knowledge about physics. I recommend it as essential reading for anyone with an interest in the philosophy of science.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Still dreaming after all these years 2 Jun. 2011
By Dr. Bojan Tunguz TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
Steven Weinberg is one of twentieth century's greatest theoretical physicists. He is one of the codiscoverers of the Electroweak Theory, an important piece of the puzzle that describes all of the fundamental forces of nature. He is also a very prolific writer, with several important textbooks and a few books that aim to popularize Physics and make it accessible to the general audience. The theme of this book is the long standing problem in Physics, and that is the one of unification of all forces under a single set of laws. Weinberg is as big of an authority on this subject as they come, as he has contributed and worked on various aspects of unification throughout his professional career. In this book he tries to explain what exactly is meant by "Final Theory." He is equally critical of opponents of this approach to science who deride it as overly reductionist, as he is of those who think that the discovery of final laws will in some way be the end of science. In some sense he is staking a middle ground between these two extremes.

This book was written in the years when the prospect of building the Superconducting Super Collider (SSC) was still tenable. SSC was supposed to be the largest particle collider in the world, and had it became operational it would have provided new data and insights into the mysteries of fundamental Physics. Or so we believed. Weinberg was one of the most prominent scientific proponents of this project, and he testified often in US Congress in its favor. Many of those encounters with politicians are discussed in this book. They provide a valuable and fascinating insight into how "big science" gets done.
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5.0 out of 5 stars First class 5 Oct. 2014
By Ricardo
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
First class service; excellent quality book. Consistently good sellers. Would/will use again.
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1 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars What about God? 1 Feb. 2012
Format:Hardcover
Weinberg doesn't make a convincing case for the existence of a final theory. Indeed, given the very title of the book, one doubts that he has any strong belief that it can be found. In building up the case for a final theory, Weinberg canters through a history of modern physics, culminating in an account of his electroweak theory, symmetry breaking, and string theory. But he goes through this material far too quickly for anyone to get a good grasp of them, excepting perhaps theoretical physicists working in the field.

Until the penultimate chapter I was tempted to give the book only two stars, but that chapter is so good I decided to double the star rating. I have never read a more intellectually honest, indeed brutal, defence of atheism, or a better account of the (non-)spirituality of science.

Weinberg's honesty comes from a blunt admission that he doesn't find that science provides spiritual satisfaction, thereby undermining the simple sentimentaility of the Brian Cox "it's wonderful!" brigade. I have a degree in physics and never saw black holes or quantum experiments as more than "mildly interesting", like the solution to a good chess problem. So it's good to see a physicist of the highest standing underwriting my feelings!

The message of chapter XI is so bleak - there's no God and science does not provide spiritial satisfaction - that I think Weinberg should have provided some hints as to where at least some kind of satisfaction might be found. Schopenhauer is equally bleak, but even he points to contemplating great works of art as allowing us to escape from the unsatisfied will.

If you are feeling depressed after reading Weinberg try reading
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Amazon.com: 3.7 out of 5 stars  26 reviews
39 of 42 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Cogent objective & informative glimpse towards 19 Sept. 2002
By Autodidact Andy - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio Cassette
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:
· Preface
· Prologue
· 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.

...
39 of 44 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Rewarding 23 Aug. 2001
By Arvan Harvat - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
A seedy book by a Nobel laureate (I guess I couldn't have avoided this) over which readers often violently divide. The reasons are as follows: for physicists, Weinberg expounds good, but (to them) already known physics (quantum mechanics, chunks of cosmology) overladen with amateurish musings on philosophy and metaphysics (even aesthetics). For lay(wo)men (no pun intended) the book is sometimes heavy going (lots of names, abstract concepts, frequently scholastic dilemmas). On the strong side: I would highly recommend this work to the interested amateur as a historical tour through the elementary particles physics (bits of cosmology added). During this voyage, a reader will become well acquanited with virtually all that matters in contemporary high energy physics. Although not a basic read, it is completely non-mathematical. Just- it requires persistence to absorb and "digest" a multitude of interrelated concepts in this historical narrative on the unfoldment of modern physicist's "worldview". On the weak side: Weinberg's frequent forays into philosophy, theology and politics are not too rewarding, or enlightening (except as an intriguing exposure of modern scientistic mind). Nevertheless: this absorbing story of 20th century physical ideas and controversies leaves one with a good feeling: " That's how modern physics was made and how it casts spell over its inammoratos".
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The final theory: a postponed dream 5 Aug. 2008
By A. Panda - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This book is very easy to read, perhaps the easiest I have read on the subject. It is intended for the lay persons and is completely free of formulas, complicated concepts and tortuous reasonings. Maybe I would have liked that the author went into deeper explanations on some topics.

I personally liked Fearful Symmetry: The Search for Beauty in Modern Physics (Princeton Science Library) and Deep Down Things: The Breathtaking Beauty of Particle Physics much better, since they contained more detailed explanations on several topics. In Fearful symmetry the author devoted the entire book to the intrinsic beauty of physical laws and its formulations.

I found Mr. Weinberg's chapter "what about God" to be one of the best essays on religion/atheism and science that I have read, since he expresses his ideas in a thoroughly respectful manner and without complicated philosophical thesis.

Throughout this book you perceive the author's sadness, anger and frustration at the cancellation of the SCC project and at the way funding is assigned to the various projects in the US. Although I share his feelings, I would have preferred to share with him his passion for physics instead of his sadness about a postponed dream of a final theory. I know that unfortunately "lobbying" is essential for getting funds for pure research, but in a way, I prefer to think of scientists as never minding such "earthly" things.

I believe the author wrote this book to open more people's minds about the importance of this project and I truly wish he succeeds with it, because it seems that what started as a beautiful dream of a truth revealing accelerator, ended as a frustrating nightmare in front of an empty tunnel.
13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very Good Overview of a Difficult Subject 8 April 2005
By J. head - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Dreams of a final theory

I believe this book's main propose was the Author, a Nobel prize winning physicist attempting to weigh in for Congressional funding of the Superconducting Super- Collider (SSC). This book is like reading two books in one. The first part of the book had some very good writing about atomic particle research and excellent explanations of the experiments. It also contains the author's surprisingly optimistic view that the theories being currently developed are the beginning of the correct path that will lead science to the "final theory". The remainder of the book is a promotion of the field of particle physics to show that by reduction all the sciences can benefit and share in what is learned in particle physics. Chemistry, Biology, etc at their lowest levels operate at an atomic level. Also some philosophical musings. The author has a knack for explaining complicated ideas for the layman.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Still dreaming after all these years 28 Sept. 2009
By Dr. Bojan Tunguz - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Steven Weinberg is one of twentieth century's greatest theoretical physicists. He is one of the codiscoverers of the Electroweak Theory, an important piece of the puzzle that describes all of the fundamental forces of nature. He is also a very prolific writer, with several important textbooks and a few books that aim to popularize Physics and make it accessible to the general audience. The theme of this book is the long standing problem in Physics, and that is the one of unification of all forces under a single set of laws. Weinberg is as big of an authority on this subject as they come, as he has contributed and worked on various aspects of unification throughout his professional career. In this book he tries to explain what exactly is meant by "Final Theory." He is equally critical of opponents of this approach to science who deride it as overly reductionist, as he is of those who think that the discovery of final laws will in some way be the end of science. In some sense he is staking a middle ground between these two extremes.

This book was written in the years when the prospect of building the Superconducting Super Collider (SSC) was still tenable. SSC was supposed to be the largest particle collider in the world, and had it became operational it would have provided new data and insights into the mysteries of fundamental Physics. Or so we believed. Weinberg was one of the most prominent scientific proponents of this project, and he testified often in US Congress in its favor. Many of those encounters with politicians are discussed in this book. They provide a valuable and fascinating insight into how "big science" gets done. For one thing, scientific viability and value of any given project is only one of the important criteria that are considered when the pricetag for a project exceeds the entire budget of a small country. In the end SSC did not get the funding, and for better or worse our search for the ultimate laws of nature has since been almost exclusively a theoretical endeavor. This may change with the advent of Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in Switzerland, which is supposed to start taking data any moment now.

Throughout this book Weinberg touches on many philosophical themes, which in some sense is inevitable when one discusses such a vast topic as the ultimate theory of nature. Weinberg is rather dismissive of philosophical and religious considerations. This may be respectable insofar as his intellectual honesty is concerned, and we as readers at least know where he is coming from. However, the vast majority of people hope to understand the questions of the ultimate meaning in broadly philosophical terms, and it would be useful if scientists who are the most invested in the search for the final theory would at least try to present that search in some more accessible categories. Especially if they hope to have the general public on board when it comes to funding exceptionally large scientific projects.
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