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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent, thought-provoking book., 2 Sept. 2003
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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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Still dreaming after all these years, 2 Jun. 2011
Dr. Bojan Tunguz (Indiana, USA) - See all my reviews
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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5.0 out of 5 stars First class, 5 Oct. 2014
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First class service; excellent quality book. Consistently good sellers. Would/will use again.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars, 5 April 2015
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Good book from ones of the 20th Centuries great physicists.
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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
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 The How Of Happiness, where the author gives an account of enjoying teaching her son mathematics, and enjoying doing statistical analyses, that indicates the kind of satisfaction that science can bring - not spiritual, but at least the 'ego escaping' kind of satisfaction that Schopenhauer is talking about.

This is definitely a book that everyone should read, if only for chapter XI. Any physicist tempted to jump on the popularising bandwagon should read chapter X1 four times before doing so.
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