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Not Even Wrong: The Failure of String Theory and the Search for Unity in Physical Law

3.93  ·  Rating details ·  1,679 ratings  ·  68 reviews
At what point does theory depart the realm of testable hypothesis and come to resemble something like aesthetic speculation, or even theology? The legendary physicist Wolfgang Pauli had a phrase for such ideas: He would describe them as "not even wrong," meaning that they were so incomplete that they could not even be used to make predictions to compare with observations t ...more
Hardcover, 291 pages
Published September 4th 2006 by Basic Books (first published April 25th 2006)
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Abhiram It was a phrase used by Wolfgang Pauli to describe an idea he thought was not correct. Legend has it that during a seminar, Pauli stormed at the speak…moreIt was a phrase used by Wolfgang Pauli to describe an idea he thought was not correct. Legend has it that during a seminar, Pauli stormed at the speaker saying, "Es ist so falsch, es ist nicht mehr falsch" meaning it is so wrong that it is not even wrong.(less)

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Start your review of Not Even Wrong: The Failure of String Theory and the Search for Unity in Physical Law
Jun 09, 2009 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: People skeptical of modern physics
[Original review, June 2009]

Just looking at the title gives you a large clue as to what this book is about. Woit is covering a lot of the same ground as Smolin, in The Trouble with Physics . Both of them argue convincingly that fundamental physics has lost its way. Superstring theory has been around for over 20 years, and it hasn't delivered on its early promises. Here are what I saw as the main pieces of evidence:

1. Problems with supersymmetry. Every particle is supposed to have a supersymme
Jose Moa
May 17, 2018 added it
Shelves: physics
This is not a comon popular science book,in fact it is in some chapters a extremely technical book ,in the frontiers of theoretical physics and mathematics,if one would like to have some remote idea of what is going on in that chapters one must have some idea of the concepts of classical lie groups and lie algebras,gauge groups,simple groups,conections in a differentiable manifold,algebraic topology invariants,knot polinomials,homotopy and so on.
Its to say,it is a book written by a physics mathe
Oct 30, 2008 rated it did not like it
Shelves: science
I’m sorry, I can’t bring myself to finish this one. It is too hard. It has been written about as badly as it is possible to write a book like this. Take this as a case in point:

“Mathematicians were much slower to appreciate the Dirac equation and it had little impact on mathematics at the time of its discovery. Unlike the case with the physicists, the equation did not immediately answer any questions that mathematicians had been thinking about. This began to change in the early 1960s, when the B
Daniel Shawen
Jun 06, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This is a great book, even if it is a little dated.

I previously thought that I was the only one who ranted about things like the 'anthropic principle', which basically says: "If life were impossible, no one would know it." -- Captain Obvious Since when did a statement such as this become 'science'? It's a valid question.

Just like the (now Nobel-Laureate) Alan Guth's ideas about cosmic inflation: "There are no magnetic monopoles in our current universe, because once there were, but now the univer
Rama Rao
Mar 26, 2021 rated it liked it
A quarrel with physicists being lost in math

This is an interesting book by the Columbia University physicist Peter Woit who started a war of words with string physics community. String theory is purely mathematical and speculative that lacks testable predictions. The theory is largely unverified despite that it attempts to unify theory of relativity (physical reality at large scales) and quantum physics (physical reality at subatomic scales). The quantum field theory explains the behavior of el
Nov 05, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I'm not even going to pretend I understand string theory well enough to have an independent opinion on whether it's right or wrong, or even a decent theory or not. I've read pro-string theory books (Brian Greene's are my favorite) and enjoyed them, but this book makes a pretty good argument that string theory is "not even wrong" (i.e. not scientific enough to be wrong). It's not an easy book to read, but even if the math and physics portions fly way over your head (which they will unless you you ...more
Jun 09, 2012 rated it really liked it
A fascinating book criticizing the institution that is String Theory. The central question here is whether string theory deserves the attention and man hours it receives, and moreover, whether elegance and mathematical beauty are necessities of a scientific theory. He makes a convincing case that string theory fails the most basic test of scientific knowledge: can the theory be proven wrong? We never really know if a theory is "true," so the best we can do, as scientists, is to say a theory is " ...more
Dec 27, 2010 rated it it was ok
The first part of this book is a very well-written brief history of particle physics in the past century. The second part is a rant about string theory, which is not even wrong, and string theorists, who engage in mental masturbation. Well, Kip Thorne thinks otherwise; now, who is Peter Woit and who is Kip Thorne?
Herb Sonny
Mar 31, 2014 rated it it was amazing
In this well-written and technically accurate book Woit takes 40-year old string theory out to the woodshed for not having any physical demonstrations of its application to the real world. The hidden cost of continuing to fund the string theory conjecture (not a theory) is that it takes the lion's share of physics research funding at the expense of funding for research in other fields. ...more
Mar 12, 2021 rated it really liked it
When scientists propose a ‘Theory of Everything’, we expect it to be an all-encompassing theory. It must explain all known phenomena and make new predictions in the domains we are researching. In Physics, scientists believe String Theory is a ‘theory of everything’. It provides a framework, combining quantum mechanics and classical physics into a unified approach that explains the laws of the universe. However, many other physicists, the author of this book included, think this theory cannot qua ...more
Michael Huang
Apr 01, 2019 rated it liked it
Written by mathematician Woit, the book took on the subject of (super)string theories that are supposed to unified general relativity and quantum mechanics. The rating has nothing to do with the quality of the book itself, but a result of a serious "impedance mismatch" between the book and me. The concepts themselves (gauge theory, SU groups, etc.) are non-trivial and there is no way Woit can make it completely clear to laymen what physicists took years to master. But if you use blackboxes as a ...more
Dec 29, 2011 rated it liked it
Chiefly interesting as a mathematician's, rather than a physicist's, view of the string theory controversy (has it failed? is it even a science?) The structure is a bit loose—it begins as a fairly detailed history of quantum field theory, then after assessing string theory it ends with a series of random essays—but it's full of intriguing anecdotes throughout. The mathematical detail is very heavy going, but the suggestions for further reading (both heavier and lighter) are excellent.

Overall, no
Pavan Dharanipragada
This is severe criticism of the particle theory field, a field I'm part of, even though I do not work with string theory, directly at least, (and I hope I don't have to either). It is a sore spot for many giants in my field, and they usually are very ungracious about it.

String theory is daunting. I attended one course on it, and while I didn't pay as much attention as I should have, it is not really all that beautiful, which this book also contends. The book came out in 2006, and while there wa
Jan 06, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I didn't expect this to be as quick a read as it was (it might have helped that I read Frenkel's Love and Math prior to this and had the likes of SU(3) swimming through my head). It's certainly technical in parts, but doesn't go into too much detail (I don't recall seeing an actual equation).

The kind of technical things it mentions seem addressed to the physics community where readers would be able to fill in details from a bird's eye view kind of argument. One reviewer here voiced complaint tha
Nov 15, 2014 added it
Shelves: science
"…[H]ow can one separate out what is legitimately science from what is irrational wishful thinking…?" (loc. 3802)

Good question, but as an answer this book was far too technical for me. I read what I could comprehend and scanned the rest. Whenever the author described what he was about to present as "simple," I could be assured I wouldn't understand a word that followed. Once I started skipping the hard parts I got through the book fairly quickly. I managed to get through part of the third chapte
Dennis Swanger
Feb 11, 2016 rated it liked it
I bought this book in the hope of gaining some understanding of what string theory is all about. Three weeks and 267 pages later, I know little more than when I started the book. Granted, one of the author's principal goals was to offer a condemnation of string theory as unscientific, and in this he succeeds. Scientific theories must be tested by experiments; to date, string theory hasn't proposed a single experiment to validate its authenticity. The string theory practitioners are, according to ...more
Dennis Littrell
Sep 03, 2019 rated it really liked it
Why postmodernists love string theory

This came out the same year that Lee Smolin’s The Trouble with Physics (2006) and it carries the same message, namely that particle physicists need to move away from string theory because it is beginning to look like it isn’t valid science. The main point in both books is that after two or three decades of work on string theory—or superstring theory, M-theory, brane theory, etc.—string theorists are unable to make any predictions that can be scientifically te
May 12, 2009 rated it really liked it
The most powerful and convincing criticism of string theory I've ever seen. Not a good introduction to the subject - as an engineer with several pop physics books under my belt, I was dangling by a finger for most of the time I was reading. But it's rewarding and edifying, and provides an answer to the person who reads The Elegant Universe and then talks about it at parties (I admit this with sadness, being the prime example of that flavor of asininity). ...more
Luca Campobasso
Aug 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: physics
TLDR1: I'm a Physics student, this book is valid.
TLDR2: If you are not a student of math or physics, don't read the math parts, it won't make any sense to you. If you want to know his arguments about ST, just read from Ch. 11.

This book is exactly what is says on the cover, a critics to String Theory.

I just finished a String theory course in my university (I'm a graduate student in Physics), and I really liked it, so I was wondering whether I should get to know it more. Does this book provide so
Dec 08, 2019 rated it really liked it
Whenever I dare feel that I might have an extremely-rough-but-otherwise-solid grasp of high-level physics along comes someone like Woit with a pair of steel-capped boots aimed straight at my gonads. He goes in deep into the fundamental issues and the background of modern physical theory, offering a rather thorough overview and history of modern quantum field theories from a mathematician’s standpoint rooted in geometry and topology. I hung in there for a while, I really did, I know what an algeb ...more
Jan 28, 2018 rated it really liked it
This book is a devastating takedown of string theory/theories in all of their current forms. The author starts with a walk through the state of standard model as well as its apparent free parameters (values that need to be empirically measured and don't seem to be determinable from first principles). The author talks about the various mis-steps in the development of the standard model and questions it leaves unanswered. Then the rest of the book is discussion of the largest contenders to extend/ ...more
Jan 06, 2021 rated it really liked it
Fairly solid book on the criticism of and demystification of the string theory cult or image. I believe the the first half of the book is a much perfunctory and history leading up to and explain particle and superstring theory. While most of the 2nd half is all the criticism of why string theory has failed, hint/spoilers, there is no experimental evidence for it, shocking.

The first half of the book has a lot of introductory ideas like history, how experimental particle colliders works, as well a
Anthony Friscia
Apr 08, 2021 rated it liked it
Shelves: science-physics, math
Probably closer to 3.5 stars. Many ages ago, when I was a wee lad, I wanted to be a physicist. I grew up near the largest particle accelerator at the time (Fermilab’s Tevatron) and took classes there. I thought I would grow up and whirl those protons round and round and smash them together. When I got to college I was lazy, and didn’t work hard enough at maths, and there went my physics career. I regret this, but I still find physics, and math, fascinating. This book makes me want to go learn mo ...more
Dale Grauman
Apr 15, 2021 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2021-real-books
Well over half of this book attempts to provide a popularly accessible treatment particle physics. I give this material two stars at best. I found it completely impenetrable. You might fair better if you already have some background in physics. The book either needed to be much longer to teach the difficult concepts more thoroughly for non-scientists, or it could have been much shorter and just black-boxed most of the complex ideas.

The parts of the book that are about the problems with string th
Aug 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
Good review of the current status of String Theory in particular about its unsolved problems. The first one is that it is not a theory but a set of hints and hopes that a theory may exists.

Definitively worth reading for understanding why a large part of the theoretical physics community has been probably on the wrong track for a lot of years.

"More than twenty years of intensive research by thousands of the best scientists in the world producing tens of thousands of scientific papers has not led
Stephen H
Nov 02, 2017 rated it really liked it
A great treatment of modern particle physics, but Woit seems to leave out a lot of other grand mysteries such as time, general relativity, and entanglement. But that is OK.

Highly critical, and fairly so, of string theory.

More advanced than most other popular physics books, but Woit seems to know this and keeps things simple.

Great stories of some personalities too.

All in all a good, deep (if somewhat harder) read.
Varun Chauhan
Aug 31, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Book highlights major issues plaguing theoretical physics and the desperate need to change the way physicist are headed.Our obsession with beauty of mathematics but a theory that isnt even falsifiable.Book provides how physics is currently being done which is very counter productive to understanding the universe.The idea we dont understand anything because the universe is the way it is and plus the terrible idea of anthropic principle.
Oct 27, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Wish I could give this book at least 4 stars, but I can't. I don't think this is a bad book. The problem is that it's a very technical book (particularly the middle chapters), way way outside of my abilities as a layman. I lost count of how many pages I simply plowed through, completely lost as to what I was reading. Therefore, I can't sing its praises. Although I suspect that what it says is extremely important. ...more
Chronic Dean
Jan 23, 2020 rated it it was amazing
When all you have in your toolkit is a hammer everything looks like a nail. I hope the final solution to the riddle of dark matter is not just another stupid particle. Lets have some fun. Fortune favors the bold. Sabine should be the first to occupy the revolving departmental chair of faculty critic in the physics department. Maybe the solution is magic, or art , or AI. Lets get it on.
Vance J.
Jun 29, 2017 rated it really liked it
A fascinating read. Brought into focus what I've been thinking for many years: that string theory is more a philosophy than science. After over 40 years of string theory, there has not yet been one testable hypothesis...and doesn't appear that there will be. ...more
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