Reviews for Farewell to Reality : How Modern Physics Has Betrayed the Search for Scientific Truth


Booklist Reviews 2013 July #1
*Starred Review* When a prominent theorist acknowledges how many spatial geometries superstring theory allows--"More numerous than grains of sand on a beach. Every beach"--Baggott sees not conceptual fertility but scientific failure. After all, theorists cannot identify any of the absurdly numerous geometries they contemplate as superior to others as a description of reality. Unfortunately, Baggott finds that some theory-mad physicists simply do not care about reality--or about the scientific method as a way of discovering it. Baggott's own commitment to empirical reality pervades his overview of six principles foundational to the orthodox science behind the accepted model of the universe. To be sure, readers will soon realize that that model leaves large questions unanswered: Why, for instance, won't relativity and quantum mechanics play together? Why does the big bang look so fine-tuned? Though he acknowledges the lacunae, Baggott argues that scientists should not be rushing into the gaps with wildly imaginative theories exempt from empirical testing. Boldly naming names, Baggott indicts prominent theorists--even Stephen Hawking--for spinning fairy-tale physics in fantasizing about multiple universes, anthropic principles, M-theory branes, and string-theory vibrational patterns. Solid physics, he warns, is fading into airy metaphysics. Certain to broaden and intensify the debate over what counts as science. Copyright 2013 Booklist Reviews.

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Choice Reviews 2014 February
Farewell to Reality is a broad and detailed examination of the current state of theoretical physics, which shares a dismayed viewpoint with two relatively recent books, Lee Smolin's The Trouble with Physics (CH, May'07, 44-5107) and Peter Woit's Not Even Wrong (2006). These two books, both written by professional physicists, provide an insider's view and focus primarily on string theory. Baggott, a prolific science writer (e.g., The Quantum Story, CH, Oct'11, 49-0924) trained as a chemist, constructs a much more comprehensive indictment. Following an introductory chapter addressing what science is and is not, Baggott surveys the aspects of modern physical theory he considers resting on solid foundations: quantum theory, the standard model, special and general relativity, and big bang cosmology. The final portion of the book sets out his case for theoretical physics' descent into fantasy: supersymmetry, grand unification, string theory, M-theory, the multiverse, the holographic principle, and the anthropic cosmological principle. The book ends with a warning about the damage done to science by a wide program of speculation untethered to experiment and observation. Whether or not one agrees with his view of contemporary theoretical physics, readers will be treated to very clear explications of the topics considered. Summing Up: Recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through professionals; general audiences. General Readers; Upper-division Undergraduates; Graduate Students; Researchers/Faculty; Professionals/Practitioners. K. D. Fisher Columbus State Community College Copyright 2014 American Library Association.

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Kirkus Reviews 2013 July #2
Science writer Baggott (Higgs: The Invention and Discovery of the God Particle, 2012, etc.) argues that many of the more esoteric theories that have captured scientific and public attention no longer abide by the rules of scientific exploration. From supersymmetry to the holographic principle to the multiverse, the author dismantles the notion that a theory can be properly scientific without any observational or experimental evidence, calling such ideas "fairy-tale physics" loaded with "metaphysical baggage." Since some of these popular theories--for example, the idea that ours is one of an infinite number of parallel universes--hold very little or even no potential to ever be verified experimentally, Baggott criticizes the ways in which physicists produce content aimed at a general audience that tends to take such information at face value. A keener skepticism, he argues, is necessary in order to protect the definition of a traditional scientific method and retain space between theories supported by experimental evidence and theories that remain mere possibilities. Otherwise, the very notion of "reality" becomes muddled in the race to justify physics that remain on the fringe of fact. Baggott deftly guides readers through many of the most cutting-edge and bizarre-seeming theories that have found a strong following by leaders in the field, and he examines how each defies principles of testability, fact and even reality. The result is a book that is brave in its willingness to take on these scientific giants and provocative for its compelling, and well-argued, suggestion that modern physics may not be science at all. Baggott pulls no punches in his accusation that modern physics has left the realm of reality and is, instead, its own brand of fiction. Copyright Kirkus 2013 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

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Publishers Weekly Reviews 2013 April #3

From superstrings and black holes to dark matter and multiverses, modern theoretical physics revels in the bizarre. Now it's wandered into the realm of "fairy-tale," says science writer and former "practicing" physicist Baggott (A Beginners Guide to Reality). Quantum theory led scientists to create a Standard Model of physics in the mid-20th century, but that model is really an amalgam of distinct individual quantum theories necessary to describe a diverse array of forces and particles. Meanwhile, astronomical observations have revealed that 90% of our universe is made of something we can't see (dark matter); some mysterious "dark energy" is pushing all of it apart at an accelerating rate, and physicists are gambling on a "supersymmetry" theory in hopes that it could be the holy grail, a Grand Unified Field Theory that might lend coherence to the Standard Model while explaining some of the phenomena the latter fails to account for--despite the fact, Baggott says, that for "every standard model problem it resolves, another problem arises that needs a fix." In consistently accessible and intelligent prose, Baggott sympathetically captures the frustrations of physicists while laying out a provocative--and very convincing--plea for a reality check in a field that he feels is now too "meta" for its own good. Agent: Peter Tallack, the Science Factory (U.K.). (Aug. 15)

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