Farewell to Reality: How Modern Physics has Betrayed the Search for Scientific Truth, by Jim Baggott is a criticism of modern theoretical physics. Baggot is currently a freelance science writer. A graduate of Manchester with a degree in chemistry and a PhD in physical chemistry from Oxford he was a lecturer at the University of Reading. He is the author of several books on quantum physics and reality.
There has been an explosion in Physics for the common man, or at least the lay person that chooses to follow. I was working on an electronics degree in the mid 1980s and I came across a copy of Taking the Quantum Leap by Fred Alan Wolf. I was amazed at book about quantum physics that I could follow. Earlier I picked up a book on String Theory and I was thoroughly discouraged as the book was entirely mathematical equations. Times changed for the better. Hawking’s A Brief History of Timemade physics popular again. But is popular good?
Since then the Discovery Channel and the Science Channel have kept the general public up to date and interested. It’s is actually surprising how many people actually knew something out the Higgs particle last year. Documentaries covering physics, reality, time, and quantum mechanics are all readily available and constantly updated. The concept of multiple universes even made its way to prime time television as the science fiction show “Sliders”.
Baggott writes a clear introduction with a list of items he would like the reader to think about and follow along with as they read the book. He traces science from the observable to the purely mathematical. Along the way he explains the corrections made to theories and scientific thought. The idea of what is reality comes into play and does science actually describe reality. Reality can be a matter of perspective. Plato’s cave allegory is an excellent example of reality. From the prisoners view, the shadowy images are reality yet for everyone else it is not. Einstein introduced the world to the idea that time and space were not constant, only the speed of light is constant. Numerous thought experiments were made, but still, empirical observation supported these predictions. Relativity was, and is, difficult but, all in all, not mind blowing. The Standard Model again is difficult, but has a beauty in it: symmetry of particles. Then came the discovery of more particles and the need to explain them, Super Symmetry, Sting Theory, additional dimensions, Multiverses. We have gone from elegant and empirical to seemingly impossibly complex and untestable. Just because mathematics can provide a solution, is it necessarily the right right solution; more importantly which of the several mathematical conclusions is right…if any?
There comes a point when science loses touch with empirical world. Baggott uses the term fairy tale. Opponents would counter, “Here is the mathematics to prove it.” Baggott uses the term metaphysical to describe where science is headed. I can see the direct relation to what he is say. Without empirical data or proof, what separates science from metaphysics or religion? Modern physics seems to have abandoned the scientific method and pursued unobservable, untestable, and unfalsifiable science: fairy tale. Perhaps it’s the popular science selling itself to the mass market, where popular is better selling than factual. Selling the idea on a holographic universe is more profitable than being right. Has sensationalism taken over modern science? Baggott gives his views in this book.
Farewell to Reality is doing for science what Zealot is doing for religion. It is setting up a challenge and creating controversy. Baggott’s book is a bit deeper than popular science books like A Brief History of Time. Rather than fame or fortune Baggot wants to save science. He presents a clear and well written book. The book is well cited and almost 40 pages of documentation are provided. Farewell to Reality is an excellent book for the science minded. It may be a bit difficult for those without a science or a physics background.
One response to “Book Review: Farewell to Reality: How Modern Physics has Betrayed the Search for Scientific Truth”
Thank goodness, the Big Bang Theory has a real scientist on their crew, because that’s where my better half and many others get their Physics info i.e. Higgs particle. I read quite a bit there for a while on String theory and found it implausible and (like you said) the books were boring.