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Farewell to Reality: How Modern Physics Has Betrayed the Search for Scientific Truth Hardcover – Aug 2013

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 338 pages
  • Publisher: Pegasus Books (Aug. 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1605984728
  • ISBN-13: 978-1605984728
  • Product Dimensions: 16 x 3 x 23.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 100,776 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Jim Baggott was born in Southampton, England. After graduating in chemistry and completing a doctorate at Oxford, he worked as a postgraduate research fellow at Oxford and at Stanford University in California.

He returned to England to take up a lectureship in chemistry at the University of Reading. After five years of academic life, he decided on a complete change of career direction and worked in the oil industry for 11 years before setting up his own independent business and training consultancy.

Jim maintains a broad interest in science, philosophy and history, and writes on these subjects in what spare time he can find. He was awarded the Marlow Medal by the Royal Society of Chemistry in 1989 in recognition of his contributions to scientific research. He was awarded a Glaxo Science Writer's prize in 1992. He has written numerous popular science articles published in UK newspapers and New Scientist magazine and has contributed to several radio programmes in the UK and America. He made his television debut in an episode of Morgan Freeman's 'Through the Wormhole' science series, which aired on the Science Channel on 17 July 2013.

You can read all about Jim's books and find related articles, podcasts, videos and reviews at

Product Description


Persuasive. (Independent on Sunday) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Book Description

A controversial popular science title in which Jim Baggott asks whether all that we currently know about the universe is based upon science or fantasy. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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66 of 80 people found the following review helpful By Henri C. Ransford on 29 May 2013
Format: Kindle Edition
This book is really an overview of the current themes and questions of Physics, with a twist. The overview makes up about 80% of the content, and the twist the rest.

As an overview of where Physics is at, it's outstanding and really quite complete. It effectively covers all of the important themes in Physics today.

The twist is a critique of what the author calls 'fairy tale physics' - the speculations straddling the outer edges of the envelope, as it were. As such, it directly echoes the wonderful collection of papers published by Dieter Zeh last year (mostly but not exclusively in German), under the title: 'Physik ohne Realität - Tiefsinn oder Wahnsinn?' (roughly, Physics Without Reality: Profundity or Folly? ) Whereas Dieter Zeh presented a series of compelling papers, Jim Baggott's critique seems weaker, on a number of grounds:

First, it makes a bit of a mountain out of speculations which really are molehills. Yes, some speculations in modern physics are idle and out of left field - but so what.

Second, it overlooks a fundamental driver of progress: the ability, even the permission, to make mistakes. Let us not forget that e.g. hard-science astronomy was born of .... nonsensical astrology, and panning astrology then would have delayed the onset of astronomy. Closer to modern times, yes indeed sting theory has involved a lot of untestable, fanciful theorizing. But in the process of doing so, it has achieved much good. It has considerably enhanced the mathematical abilities and conversance of a generation of physicists. It has also helped solve a few conundrums, such as the so-called 'black hole information paradox'.
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18 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on 13 Jun. 2013
Format: Kindle Edition
...before somebody bad closed down the funding! Science is an open-ended quest for better understanding, & all ideas must be welcome in this. Jim Baggott has no objection to open-minded enquiry: what he cavills at - as he makes clear in his Preface - is the tendency for careless commentators (& even some hard-up physicists) to peddle conjecture as though it were supported theory. Such speciousness is corrupting of the special relationship between practising researchers & their (paying) public, who deserve scientific speculation, not misleading twaddle. Some of the fault often lies with presentation, but whatever the source, hard-won scientific progress is ill-served by sloppy communication. No such criticisms could stick to this book, which is healthy, wholesome food for any curious mind.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful By David Wineberg TOP 500 REVIEWER on 2 April 2014
Format: Paperback
In The Hitchhikers’ Guide To The Galaxy, in the very first chapter, the Earth is destroyed (to make way for a hypergalactic bypass). On the one hand this is frightening, as we lose all basis for relating to anything. On the other hand, it frees us to experience and explore new concepts without being prejudiced by our experience.

In Farewell to Reality, Jim Baggott destroys the concept of reality by page seven: “Reality is a metaphysical concept,” he says. This allows him to explore the submicroscopic with the same detail and passion as the massive contents of the universe. Unfortunately, we are at such an early state of knowledge, we can’t make reasonable, let alone unified sense of it all. Baggott acknowledges this, but still tries. Hard. He describes the essence of numerous theories, without resorting to Greek-symboled mathematical formulas. He compares and contrasts. He makes it understandable. But problems crop up all along the way.

The essence of the main problem is defined succinctly by Heisenberg very early in the book. The gist of it is we frame everything in terms of what we already know (“…nature, exposed to our method of questioning”), and that makes it impossible to understand the universe. Particles that can also be waves are very hard to digest. We have no idea what gravity is. (The Standard Model, that kludge of patches, holes and exceptions, doesn’t even incorporate it.) Baggott points out there are now at least 61 “fundamental” particles that compose the universe. Imagining them is all but impossible for the earthbound. What we detect and know is only 5% of the true content of the universe. We rejoice when we discover and confirm another fundamental particle, like the Higgs boson, but the jigsaw puzzle still doesn’t even have the edges completed.
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Format: Paperback
A pretty good book overall, the first half being a summary of much of the progress in modern physics, and all written with a decent degree of candour. Baggott discusses the progress toward the standard model of particle physics. Special and General relativity are then summarised. The Lambda CDM cosmological model is briefly explained. Up to this point I found the book clear and succinct, dealing as it is with reasonably widely accepted facts.The usual popular science prohibition on the use of mathematical equations in the text is probably not helpful with issues of this depth. There seems to be a perhaps unavoidable step change in the complexity of verbal analysis as we move further ahead into discussing the shortcomings of the 'authorised version'. Many non-specialists will get lost here I suspect, but that is not necessarily reason to give up, one can skip ahead.

We do not stop with the SM/LCDM problems and plot subsequent developments of thought, and things are a little easier to follow again. Baggott moves on to discuss increasingly bizarre hypotheses claiming to be 'pure' physics but which many might label 'metaphysics'. The difference between what is perhaps mere abstract philosophy rather than hard empirical science is explored from many angles, both philosophically and in terms of examples.

This physics/metaphysics fringe becomes increasingly relevant as recent apparent progress in physics is related. Supersymmetry potentially allows for some neat mathematical solutions to difficult issues in the standard model. However it is neither verified by experiment nor easy to falsify (disprove). Conjecture such as string and M-theory becomes increasingly abstract and void of both substantial mathematical models and real world data.
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