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US paperback
Sep 2007
Not Even Wrong
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Basic Books
ISBN 0465092764
320 pp
Not Even Wrong
by Peter Woit

According to commentators on what get attention in physics departments these days, string theory is the only game in town. But according to Peter Woit, despite its two decades of dominating theoretical thinking within the field, it is no more than an elaborate exercise in speculation aspiring to be a theory. It hasn't predicted anything, as theories are required to do, and its proponents have become desperate enough to redefine what doing science means in order to justify their tenets.

The first part of the book surveys the experimental and theoretical developments that led to the creation of the highly successful "Standard Model" of particle physics around 1975. However, despite its successes, the Standard Model did not answer all questions that fell within its scope, which has led to a search for a better theory. Woit explains these remaining questions in detail and describes the history of attempts to answer them, along with the spectacular new mathematics that has emerged from these efforts. His criticism is that, in the absence of guidance from new experimental results, the fashion in physics has become a search for more "beautiful" theories, instead of ones that can be verified experimentally as conforming to reality. The difficulty springs to a large degree from the unimaginably large number of possibilies that the theory allows, rendering it inherently incapable of making predictions.

Peter Woit holds degrees from Harvard and Princeton Universities (PhD, theoretical physics) and has taught mathematics and physics at Columbia. He describes himself as a mathematician, in large part because that is indeed his chosen career, but also, obviously, because he rejects much of current theoretical physics as having abandoned anything resembling orthodox science.

"The fundamental problem with string theory is that, as far asits central goal of unifying physics goes, over the last nearly 25 years it has not only not made any progress toward explaining anything about particle physics, but, quite the opposite. Everything that has been learned about string theory makes it more and more clear that the original hopes for getting unification this way were just misguided and can't work. The derivative here is the wrong sign."

-- Peter Woit, posted on his weblog September 13, 2007.

"It seems that the abstract equations ARE strangely "beautiful" UNTIL the math must be patched to conform to a universe with precisely three large spatial dimensions; as soon as we are forced to manipulate the additional dimensions, the beauty of the mathematics begins to fade. That `beauty' has been fading for 20 years at this writing. Woit finds the equations of strings/branes to be growing uglier at every turn. After decades of contortion, strings/branes are ever becoming less beautiful than advertised. And, as Woit briefly explains with stark, non-glossy frankness, strings/branes are NOT the only game in town, or at least they shouldn't be."

-- Wesley L. Janssen (San Diego, CA, USA), amazon.com review

Like Peter Woit, I am a recovering mathematician, and this book has given me hope. "Not Even Wrong" carries my highest recommendation, especially for those empirically-inclined investigators who have become demotivated by the crisis in science.

-- Hilton. G. Ratcliffe, Astrophysicist (South Africa), amazon.com review

 
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