The Trouble with Physics: The Rise of String Theory, The Fall of a Science and What Comes Next Paperback – 28 Feb 2008
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"A splendid, edifying report from the front lines of theorectical physics . . . A wonderful gift." The San Francisco Chronicle" "An uncommonly clear and confident account . . . Even those who differ with many of Smolin's contentions can applaud his bringing physicists' anguished night thoughts into the clear light of day."--Tim Ferris "If you want to think in new ways about the interconnected universe around you, read Lee Smolin's provocative, inspiring book."--Margaret Geller"The best book about contemporary science written for the layman that I have ever read ... Read this book. Twice."The Times of London
About the Author
Lee Smolin is a theoretical physicist who is a leading pioneer of the field of quantum gravity and cosmology. He is the author of more than 100 scientific papers and two popular books, LIFE OF THE COSMOS (1997) and THREE ROADS TO QUANTUM GRAVITY (2001).
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Of those 5 problems string theory proposes a solution for only one of them: the unification of particles and laws. However, the theory cannot be tested with our current technology. For the author it is a dead end, because a theory which is not subject to experiment can never fail, but can never succeed either. Into the bargain, string theory is background-dependent and not background independent like Einstein's general theory of relativity, where the geometry of space is not part of the laws of nature.
Lee Smolin launches a frontal attack on the dictatorship of string theorists in universities, because they are grabbing nearly all funds for fundamental research and are making a laughing stock of its opponents.
He proposes 3 basic ideas for a successful approach of quantum gravity: space is emergent, everything in the universe is discrete and causality is fundamental for its description.
A far better theory than superstrings is loop (formed by field lines) quantum gravity, which is background-independent. The theory could mean that the universe existed before the Big Bang. But, its main problem is to find a way to unfreeze time (to represent time without turning it into space).
Lee Smolin's book is a goldmine for those wanting to know more about the current state of physics.
Making us more humble, he tells us that we only know 4 % of the universe, because 26 % of it is dark matter and 70 % dark energy.
He explains clearly the gauge theory (all properties of a force can be determined by symmetries) or the importance of spontaneous symmetry breaking, proving that the properties of the elementary particles depend in part on history and environment.
This book is a must read for all those interested in the world we live in.
The main focus of this book is in arguing that physics (in particular, but perhaps science in general) has, to an extent lost its way in recent decades; he does this by comparing the rapid advancement of early 20th century physics with its important discoveries of relativity, spacetime, wave-particle duality, quantum mechanics and the Big Bang, against the relative hiatus of the last 30 years. He argues that science throughout the ages has matched theory to experiment but that with the advent of string theory the experimental evidence has not been forthcoming. What is more of an issue is that, even given the fact that string theory has not made a single new testable prediction, it has nevertheless attracted a substantial proportion of new scientists and university research budgets. Although this issue is addressed throughout the book the latter few chapters is devoted almost entirely to it, and whilst these are somewhat interesting, unless you're a university employed scientist involved in (or the recipient of) research budgets you may find these chapters a little tedious. Also Smolin works in the US and mainly talks about the US string theory press gangs, whilst this is obviously an issue globally I'm not in academia and so I'm not sure to what extent this is replicated in universities around the world.
On the whole this is an informative read highlighting upto date and alternative (to string theory) theories of quantum gravity; each chapter is accompanied by a comprehensive reference section of related material much of which makes very interesting additional reading. If you're an undergraduate physics student (especially one hoping to go into ToE/quantum gravity research) then this is definitely worth a read, at the very least it might encourage you to have the courage to go against the string theory grain.
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