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on 3 October 2016
I think I was mistaken in thinking that the target audience for this book included me, an intelligent non-scientist.
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on 2 April 2014
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
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on 2 April 2017
The presents himself as a healthy conservative in physics in general, as he advocates the central role of the scientific method. In this book the author describes and criticises many circumstances that the proposals had no proof and not any chance of proving, but still the proponents were non apologetic, and want to continue with the hypothesis because of its mathematical beauty, that is what he called "fairy tale physics". Still it does not mean that these proposals are wrong, just are very difficult to be tested at the moment.
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on 22 September 2016
Repetitive clunky prose and laboured ideas. Feels like a collection from New Scientist.
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on 13 June 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.
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on 8 March 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'.
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on 8 August 2013
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.
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on 10 July 2013
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.
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on 11 February 2015
Excellent book which gives a good ,understandable to the layman, and pretty full account of where current Physics is at and the many problems with current Physics theories. If anything it is not critical enough of current Physics. My opinion is pretty humble as I don't have the maths necessary but for what its worth I feel General Relativity is pretty sound but Physics started to err from Quantum Mechanics on. When assembled groups of quality Physicists ,when polled, can't even agree on the interpretation of a theory from the 1920s and need instantaneous communication or multiple universes to explain Phenomena something is wrong. From then on sopisticated mathematics and billions of dollars of experimentation without common sense has led to the current mess. Admittedly Quantum Physics contains a lot of truth (but not the complete truth ) which has led to technology triumphs but until every step is sound and fully understood a full theoretical understanding is probably unattainable. IMO we would be better served by having people os Hawking,Susskind and Wittens' colossal intellects concentrating on basic quantum physics,and hoping that they have Einstein's imagination to add to there mathematical abilities. Maybe they could find a new approach from considering and mathematically extending Andrew Thomas's (Hidden In Plain Sight) ideas. Maybe.
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on 31 October 2015
Good 'Common-Sence info ALL scientific and learned individuals should read!1 Science in the true sense of the word, isnt anymore! It's mathematical constructs inside physisists heads and departed from OBSEVATIONS many moons Ago!! Read it to fight back and be informed of how FAR we've moved away from EVIDENTIAL science into the Unfathomable world of FNTASY!!
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