The history of physics is filled with great ideas that you’ve heard of, like the Standard Model, the Big Bang, General Relativity, and so on. But it’s also filled with brilliant ideas that you probably haven’t heard of, like the Sakata Model, Technicolor theory, the Steady State Model, and Plasma Cosmology. Today, we have theories that are highly fashionable, but without any evidence for them: supersymmetry, grand unification, string theory, and the multiverse.
Yet unlike in the past, these dead-ends continue to represent the fields in which the leading theorists and experimentalists cluster to investigate. These blind alleys, which have borne no fruit for literally two generations of physicists, continue to attract funding and attention, despite possibly being disconnected from reality completely. In her new book, Lost In Math, Sabine Hossenfelder adroitly confronts this crisis head on, interviewing mainstream scientists, Nobel Laureates, and (non-crackpot) contrarians alike. You can feel her frustration, and also the desperation of many of the people she speaks with. The book answers the question of “have we let wishful thinking about what secrets nature holds cloud our judgment?” with a resounding “yes!”
If you are a theoretical particle physicist, a string theorist, or a phenomenologist — particularly if you suffer from cognitive dissonance — you will not like this book. If you are a true believer in naturalness as the guiding light of theoretical physics, this book will irritate you tremendously. But if you’re someone who isn’t afraid to ask that big question of “are we doing it all wrong,” the answer might be a big, uncomfortable “yes.” Those of us who are intellectually honest physicists have been living with this discomfort for many decades now. In Sabine’s book, Lost In Math, this discomfort is now made accessible to the rest of us. More.
Usually, when people go on doing something wrong and sense a disconnect, there are questions they don’t feel they can ask and/or evidence they can’t honestly confront. Or outcomes they need that reality will not generate for them. But they must decide for themselves what the questions, evidence, and reality amount to.
The rest of us might have a pretty good idea but we can’t do their thinking or explore their problems or confront their reality for them. Just as we don’t expect them to do such things for us.
See also: Sabine Hossenfelder: Hawking’s final theory is just one of “some thousand” speculations
How string theory can be a theory of everything. That’s so typical. It’s either a theory of everything or a theory of nothing. Such grandeur can easily do without much evidence.