Customer Reviews


6 Reviews
5 star:
 (2)
4 star:
 (4)
3 star:    (0)
2 star:    (0)
1 star:    (0)
 
 
 
 
 
Average Customer Review
Share your thoughts with other customers
Create your own review
 
 
Most Helpful First | Newest First

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 "David Wineberg" (New York, NY USA) - See all my reviews
(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. And that’s the easy part.

By the end of chapter nine, the gloves come off at last. Baggott has had enough. He blasts the dreamy “theories” as mere speculation. They are without substance, evidence, or the slightest suggestion of how to test (let alone prove) their accuracy, foundation or fallacy. He (and some of his peers) calls them damaging to the very notion of science. They are castles in the sky, built on circular logic foundations where string theory depends on the foundation of super symmetry, which depends on the foundation of M-theory, which depends on the foundation of string theory. Meanwhile, none of them has any basis in science at all. But like a good internet “fact”, if millions have read about them, they become part of the canon. In the immortal words of Oliver Norville Hardy, this is another “fine mess.”

Baggott ends up calling it fairy-tale physics, and wonders if we’ll look back on this era with acute embarrassment. The tangents, side trips, philosophical excesses and just plain bad science seem to be the state of the physics art to him. He makes his case well.

David Wineberg
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Somebody good needed to say this..., 13 Jun 2013
...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.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


59 of 72 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Overview of current issues in Physics, with a twist, 29 May 2013
By 
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'.

There is value in pushing the envelope beyond visible borders, in being able to imagine things however out-of-left-field: imposing beforehand constraints on the ambit of thinking most often entails bad side effects, such as constraining thought. It's true in art, in music, in movie-making, and in Physics. That's e.g. why Stanley Fish's essay 'There Is No Such Thing as Free Speech' was so roundly panned. That's why David Kaiser could write of the hippies having saved Physics, and was able to demonstrate it materially - with real world, dollars and cents applications of the hippies' thoughts.

Over time, unworthy speculations always end up disappearing without a trace, but the little good they somehow contributed to bring about, be it in a nonlinear way, remains. Wasn't it Hewlett Packard Company who, for this very reason, introduced a management principle in the 80s that went : 'Make sure that you generate a sufficient number of mistakes'?

And last but not least .... it seems to me that Jim Baggott may be barking up the wrong tree.
In a world sorely wracked by the very material effects of unproven and often very fanciful theologies, what possible harm is there in speculating at the far edges of physics? There certainly is such a thing as overly reductionist scientists.

In our society where over 30 % of the population aver, according to polls, that they have had at least one 'transcendent spiritual experience' in their lives, isn't on the contrary the surer way to turn people away from science to peremptorily and arrogantly dismiss and deny these personal experiences from the vantage point of science's high stool? Who are the Mary C. Neals of the world going to rather want to believe - themselves, or Daniel Dennett on TV or third party know-it-alls?

Most of the sins of the interpretation of physics cited by Jim Baggott are nowhere near the Eben Alexander level of intensity. Of course, there are the occasional howlers, which indeed threaten to discredit science: as a case in point, the ridiculous calculation, taken seriously in some quarters, that the metaverse contains an exact copy of yourself ten to the power ten to the power 29 meters away, plus an infinity of further such copies farther away. But such howlers are rare, and relatively not so well known. The author says that if we don't curtail science and bring it back to a nonspeculative, pedestrian level where some areas of discussion are no longer allowed, people will turn away from science in droves. Perhaps the opposite is true.

At bottom, only more science can correct science. If a society does not address questions - any questions - through science, then it will address them anyway - through far more questionable avenues. Science should welcome all questions, accept all speculations, and ultimately let some fail and some thrive in the efficient marketplace of ideas.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Is Big Picture Physics heading assymptotically for a ceiling in understanding? If so, why?, 8 Mar 2014
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. Metaphysical hypotheses such as various forms of the multiverse have been suggested to justify some aspects of these theories. It is the nebulous nature of the realities implied by present efforts to arrive at a Theory of Everything extending beyond the Standard Model which Baggott majors on with obvious concern.

Baggott points out that open-endedly accepting unlikely metaphysics into the big picture also opens the way for religious/spiritual causal frameworks. Here his personal taste seems to creep in just a little, and I counter with mine. He mentions with mild disdain the Templeton Foundation and the Discovery institute, both 'spiritually' driven organisations. I don't really like the name of the Discovery Institute since it clearly has an agenda not revealed by the title. However a metaphysical hypothesis of intelligent design, in addition to answering much else, currently 'explained' only with 'physics fairy tales', would also serve to remind ourselves of the limitations of ourselves as observers and thinkers. To be aware of the possibility of these limitations is surely essential to good science. We humans are working from our own, possibly very parochial, context. We have a starting point .We are blinkered by ourselves; the organism we are. The inherited capabilities we do not control. The information, understandings and mathematics we have acquired. An intelligent agent of creation knows exactly what he did and how. He can also see the parochial boundaries of perception and understanding we created humans are subject to. He knows the limits beyond which we will not successfully penetrate. I am not however suggesting we give up. Just that my metaphysical framework suggests we may soon find with increasing finality that we are not converging to a physics 'holy grail'.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Well-written account of "modern" physics, 8 Aug 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
I enjoyed reading this book. The author presents modern physics and clearly shows that there are problems with a number of approaches to solve certain problems. However, although the title of the book is about fairytale physics, still the author is not bold enough and sits on fences at certain parts of the book.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


14 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A realistic appraisal of the current state of theoretical physics., 10 July 2013
By 
Mr. P. A. Dewar (Oxford, England.) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
The calculational problems arising from the, testable, zero-dimensional "Point-particle" approximation has given rise to the one-dimensional "String" approximation. Decades of untestable, speculative, theory based upon closed and open microscopic strings, necessitating more and more exotic geometric extensions to the observable universe, viz:
Extra dimensions (most of which are "Rolled-up" and so invisible),
Branes (n-dimensional membranes), diffusion through stacks of which cause the attenuation of gravitational force,
Multi-universes, (The "Multiverse") allowing the probabilistic bifurcation of physical effect etc, etc.
Thousands of "Physicists" are working in this "Alice-in-wonderland writ large".
Is it physics, metaphysics or philosophy?
How is this catastrophic state to be resolved?
Jim Baggot has, at last, exposed the truth behind the "Search for truth".

Pete Dewar, BSc., BSc., MSc., D A Math (Oxon), C Eng., MIET.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


Most Helpful First | Newest First

This product

Only search this product's reviews