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Farewell to Reality: How Modern Physics Has Betrayed the Search for Scientific Truth [Hardcover]

Jim Baggott
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Aug 2013
Modern physics is heady stuff. It seems that barely a week goes by without some new astounding science story; some revelation about hidden dimensions, multiple universes, the holographic principle or incredible cosmic coincidences. But is it true? What evidence do we have for super-symmetric squarks', or superstrings vibrating in an 11-dimensional space-time? How do we know that we live in a multiverse? How can we tell that the universe is a hologram projected from information encoded on its boundary? Doesn't this sound like a fairy story?In Farewell to Reality Jim Baggott asks whether all that we currently know about the universe is based upon science or fantasy. In addition he wonders whether these high priests of fairy tale physics - such as John Barrow, Paul Davies, David Deutsch, Brian Greene, Stephen Hawking, Michio Kaku, Gordon Kane and Leonard Susskind - are the emperor's latest tailors.Praise for Jim Baggott:A shimmering tour d'horizon. Quantum theory may deny us the possibility of properly comprehending physical reality, but Baggott's account is smart and consoling. Kirkus Reviews.Jim Baggott's inspired - and inspiring - idea of presenting the history of quantum physics in terms of 40 key moments works both as an introduction for the uninitiated and as a refresher for anyone who thinks they know the story. John Gribbin.I never read such a good, comprehensive account as Jim Baggott's...highly recommended. A.N. Wilson.The best popular science book of the year to date by far. popularscience.co.uk
--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 338 pages
  • Publisher: Pegasus Books (Aug 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1605984728
  • ISBN-13: 978-1605984728
  • Product Dimensions: 23.4 x 15.5 x 3.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,107,992 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.

'Higgs: The Invention and Discovery of the 'God Particle' - tells the story of the development of the standard model of particle physics and the role played by the Higgs field in the origin of mass. New Scientist remarked: '... his detailed explanation of how the Higgs mechanism gives particles mass is extremely elegant.' The book was published just five weeks after the announcement of the discovery of something that looks very much like the Higgs boson, at CERN on 4 July 2012. Popular Science said: '... the remarkable trick that Baggott and [the publisher] have pulled off is that the rush doesn't show. This is an excellent book throughout.' Professor Steven Weinberg, who won the 1979 Nobel Prize for Physics for his work on unifying electromagnetism and the weak nuclear force, provides a foreword.

Jim's most recent book, titled Farewell to Reality: How Fairy-tale Physics Betrays the Search for Scientific Truth, promises to be rather controversial. It provides a timely and much needed antidote to the seemingly endless stream of metaphysics (or fairy-tale physics) that is promoted in the popular literature as science. Fairy-tale physics is a collection of theoretical constructions for which there is as yet no observational or experimental evidence. Such constructions include super-symmetric particles, superstrings, 'hidden' dimensions, the multiverse, the-universe-as-information, the holographic principle and the anthropic cosmological principle. The book was published in the UK by Constable & Robinson in May 2013. It is now available from Pegasus Books in the US.

Product Description


Persuasive. (Independent on Sunday) --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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 the Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Castles in the sky 2 April 2014
By David Wineberg TOP 1000 REVIEWER
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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16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Somebody good needed to say this... 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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56 of 68 people found the following review helpful
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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