AUG 31, 2014  

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the agony, the death, and the funeral

of string theory

When I was reading Bankrupting Physics, I thought thatís that last, golden, nail into the coffin of string theory. But I was wrong - the Oscar goes to The Trouble with Physics by Lee Smolin. There is one true Antistring Divine, and Lee Smolin is Her messenger.

Lee Smolinís understanding of science and theoretical physics in particular, astonishingly broad and deep, makes him a devastating critic even when he announces something promising. His claim that string theory is responsible for the derailing of fundamental physics for the last thirty years comes with considerable respectability.

Smolin is respectful to other scientist, whether on his side or not, but he has no problem to state, for instance, on the subject of the weak anthropic principle:

"Iím talking here about some of the people I most admire ... It then pains me to conclude that in every case Iíve looked into the claims have proved erroneous."

Or, on the subject of merging of supersymmetry with a theory of space and time:

"My friends told me this, and the equations said the same thing. But neither friends nor equations told me what it meant.. I was missing the idea, the conception of the thing."

He is restraining his own ambitions in his current research:

"It would be wonderful to get a real prediction out of a quantum theory of gravity and then have it shown to be false by an unambiguous observation. The only thing better would be if experiment confirmed the prediction. Either way, we would be doing real science."

His most optimistic statement:

"Science done the old fashioned way is moving ahead."

Here follows the abstract of Smolinís string theory critique:

 

the trouble with physics

"A theory has failed to make any predictions by which it can be tested, and some of its proponents, rather than admitting that, are seeking leave to change the rules so that their theory will not need to pass the usual tests we impose on scientific ideas. It seems rational to deny this request and insist that we should not change the rules of science just to save a theory that has failed to fulfill the expectations we originally had for it.

 

We have regrettably reached the conclusion that string theory has made no new precise, and falsifiable predictions - apart from the obvious statement that we must live in a universe where we can live. If string theory was to succeed, it had to not just model possible worlds but also explain our world."

And, let me tell you, The Trouble with Physics is a brilliantly written book - it reads like a detective novel. Read this book. At least once, most pages twice.

 

 

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Krešimir J. Adamić