Top critical review
3 people found this helpful
Physics needs a dreamer
on 30 August 2010
The first thing to say is that the first British edition of this book was in 2007, so some of it may not be up to date.
That said, the trouble with physics, according to Smolin, is that in the 200 years up to 1975 major advances were made about every 25 years, but since 1975 there have been none. This period coincides with Smolin's professional career as a physicist.
Smolin indentifies five major problems that faced physicists in 1975, none of which have been solved. The first was the need to reconcile relativity with quantum mechanics. Various theories were put forward, but the dominant one was string theory, which Smolin explains as well as is possible, I guess, without maths.
Smolin complains that string theory is not really a theory at all, in that it makes no predictions and, therfore, cannot be tested by experiment. Nevertheless, it has become the dominant theory in university physics departments, to the extent that no young physicist can expect to get a post, at least in American universities, who does not subscribe to it.
Thus, the book is largely a critique of string theory, and the way universities fail to encourage theorists with original ideas. Physicists, he says, are of two kinds. There are the craftsmen and the dreamers. At the moment the craftsmen are in the ascendant, but Smolin thinks that something important is being missed, and what physics needs is a dreamer or seer to identify what this is.