Skip to main content

The Trouble with Physics – Lee Smolin *****

This is the second book I have read recently which seeks to deconstruct string theory, and put in to question its validity as a scientific theory. (The other one is the more mathematical and technical Not Even Wrong by Peter Woit.) Smolin describes string theory in a very deft and readable fashion, but the real strength of the book is Smolin’s reflections on the flaws in the reasoning behind string theory, and how the way that the physics community works has helped to elevate string theory to the point where it is seen as a panacea to all of the big issues that remain for physicists to try to answer.
Smolin successfully argues the point that we need to reassess our understanding of space and time if we are ever to come up with a ‘theory of everything’, which string theory purports to be. As the author points out, if physicists are to do this then we need to encourage ‘seers’ (Smolin’s term), like Einstein, Bohr, Heisenberg, etc. who have the brilliance of thought to be able to understand the Universe at its most fundamental level and will not be caught up in the flow of current trends in physics which most physicists find themselves being swept along with. One of the reasons that Smolin wrote this book was to encourage his fellow physicists to start to think outside the limiting constraints of string theory, and the stranglehold it has on the physics community, effectively stifling any ideas or theories that are counter to it. The author illustrates very effectively how string theory has made physics go round in circles since the early 1980s, making no real progress at all.
It is a superb and absorbing read, it may be a little heavy going in places if you’re coming to string theory with no knowledge at all of what is about. There are several other books that describe string theory for the layman in a more accessible fashion. It could also be more comprehensively illustrated, but nonetheless this is a book I would highly recommend. An extremely readable and highly thought provoking work.
Paperback:  
Review by Scotty_73

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

I, Mammal - Liam Drew *****

It's rare that a straightforward biology book (with a fair amount of palaeontology thrown in) really grabs my attention, but this one did. Liam Drew really piles in the surprising facts (often surprising to him too) and draws us a wonderful picture of the various aspects of mammals that make them different from other animals. 

More on this in a moment, but I ought to mention the introduction, as you have to get past it to get to the rest, and it might put you off. I'm not sure why many books have an introduction - they often just get in the way of the writing, and this one seemed to go on for ever. So bear with it before you get to the good stuff, starting with the strange puzzle of why some mammals have external testes.

It seems bizarre to have such an important thing for passing on the genes so precariously posed - and it's not that they have to be, as it's not the case with all mammals. Drew mixes his own attempts to think through this intriguing issue with the histor…

Foolproof - Brian Hayes *****

The last time I enjoyed a popular maths book as much as this one was reading Martin Gardner’s Mathematical Puzzles and Diversions as a teenager. The trouble with a lot of ‘fun’ maths books is that they cover material that mathematicians consider fascinating, such as pairs of primes that are only two apart, which fail to raise much excitement in normal human beings. 

Here, all the articles have something a little more to them. So, even though Brian Hayes may be dealing with something fairly abstruse-sounding like the ratio of the volume of an n-dimensional hypersphere to the smallest hypercube that contains it, the article always has an interesting edge - in this case that although the ‘volume’ of the hypersphere grows up to the fifth dimension it gets smaller and smaller thereafter, becoming an almost undetectable part of the hypercube.

If that doesn’t grab you, many articles in this collection aren’t as abstruse, covering everything from random walks to a strange betting game. What'…

A Galaxy of Her Own - Libby Jackson ****

This is an interesting book, even if it probably tries to be too many things to too many people. I wondered from the cover design whether it was a children's book, but the publisher's website (and the back of the book) resolutely refuse to categorise it as such. The back copy doesn't help by saying that it will 'inspire trailblazers and pioneers of all ages.' As I belong to the set 'all ages' I thought I'd give it a go.

Inside are featured the 'stories of fifty inspirational women who have been fundamental to the story of humans in space.' So, in some ways, A Galaxy of Her Own presents the other side of the coin to Angela Saini's excellent Inferior. But, inevitably, given the format, it can hardly provide the same level of discourse.

Despite that 'all ages' comment and the lack of children's book labelling we get a bit of a hint when we get to a bookplate page in the form of a Galaxy Pioneers security pass (with the rather worrying…