Saturday, 7 June 2008

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.
Review by Scotty_73

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