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

3.92  ·  Rating details ·  1,456 ratings  ·  52 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…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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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 supersymmetr
Manuel Antão
Nov 04, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2006
If you're into stuff like this, you can read the full review.

B+SB+B+HPπ = Heaven: "Not Even Wrong" by Peter Woit

(Original Review, 2006)

Peter Woit: “Wow it seems this is a contentious subject with many different views . My two pence worth bearing in mind I am no butcher. Well, the bacon should be good quality from a real butchers, rind on unsmoked. The Bread? Another issue with many counter arguments but for me a good quality sliced white; Jacksons make my favourite lightly buttered.
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
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
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
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.
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
Yasiru (reviews will soon be removed and linked to blog)
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
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).
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
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
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.
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.
Aug 29, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: science
No matter you agree or disagree, the first 2/3 part of this book is clearly written.
The last part is too much about reality and personal politics, you could, and in fact should simply ignore.
Sep 09, 2010 rated it it was ok
Kind of disappointed by this one. I recently read Warped Passages: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Universe's Hidden Dimensions as part of an effort to read some books that have been sitting on my to-read shelf for quite a while, and because of when it was published, it's full of references to all kinds of theoretical questions that could be answered by the then-soon-to-activate Large Hadron Collider. Well, the LHC has been operating for the better part of a decade by now, and although we're pre ...more
Jul 06, 2013 rated it really liked it
A good dissenting voice against the majority string theory hype in pop sci. Since it came out a decade ago in 2006, it's interesting to see how the various references to future experiments at the LHC have played out, mainly in Woit's favor.

First half is a zippy recap of particle physics theory & experimental validation over the past decades, with the detail growing thicker as Woit approaches the present. If, like me, you're not already familiar with ideas & terminology in this area, this
May 07, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: hard-sciences
The first chapters are extremely technical so you are likely to skip them if you are not a specialist. I found the last chapters interesting, which contained the criticism of String Theory.
To be honest, I found these criticisms to be rooted in the lack of imagination that often characterizes experimentalists, though the author is a mathematician. He claims that String Theory is not a science because it makes no predictions, but later goes on to say that mathematics does not make predictions eit
Bojan Tunguz
Apr 05, 2011 rated it it was amazing
I've been following the arguments made by Peter Woit against String Theory for quite some time, and it's a pleasure to be able to have them all in a single volume. His arguments are very persuasive, and his writing clear and to the point. This, however, is not a book that the general audience will find easy to follow. The earlier chapters recount the canonical story of the success of the particle physics in the 20th century, and if you are familiar with that story you can safely skip these chapt ...more
Mar 05, 2015 rated it liked it
I wanted to like this book so much, because it offers factual backing for my personal dislike of string theory (saying it's hand-waving is a far cry from being able to say why it's hand-waving)...but even with Woit's attempts to simplify information, I think I would have gotten a lot more out of this if I had taken linear algebra. Of course, since I haven't taken linear algebra, this might not be the right math, but the point remains that single-variable calculus eleven years ago doesn't prepare ...more
Sep 30, 2011 rated it liked it
This was particularly useful to me, although to be frank I ended up paging past entire sections that were over my head. As physics overviews for the layman go, this is one math and concept intensive tour du force... and yet I felt like it gave me an insight into particle physics that I've never gotten from the many many other books on the subject that I've read - specifically because it gave me even this tiny glimpse into the mathematics of the subject, and how important that has been in the evo ...more
Woit has some issues with the general approach of string theorists, which he's only partially successful in countering. He does raise some compelling arguments relating to the failed science and, surprisingly the elegance of the theory.

The second half is a big payoff, but the first -- focused on the interwoven history of mathematics and physics in the 20th Century -- was a bit of a trial for me. Woit could be clearer in his explanations (although admittedly a novice like me is probably not his
Ian Murray-Watson
Apr 17, 2015 rated it liked it
Not in my view a book for the layman. I've read many books on quantum theory in which the basic idea are far better explained for non-physicists (and non-mathematicians). He frequently uses the phrase "in a sense" as in "A is in a sense the negative of B" - so often that one wants to scream 'in what sense>?' or 'is it or isn't it?' Still, he makes his main points convincingly, and although the book is now seriously out of date, time seems only to have proved him right. Also quite good as a so ...more
Mar 01, 2010 rated it really liked it
Yet another attempt to explain 20th/21st c. physics in a no-math way to a non-technical audience, with the usual less-than-satisfactory results. It's basically an impossible task, but this one seems to do better than most. By which I mean that I was left with the pleasant sensation that I understood....something. At least for a while.

Like Lee Smolin's "The Trouble With Physics" this physicist is a skeptic about String Theory which has become the dominant sub-field in physics in US academia in r
Jon Larimer
Jan 09, 2008 rated it liked it
It took me a while to get through this. I read a bunch of other popular-physics books from Kaku, Greene, et al, mostly very pro-string theory, and they were much more accessible. There are a few concepts I had trouble with, but it didn't really detract from the overall message of the book.

Woit comes from a math background so he has an outsider's perspective on string theory. I agree with his conclusion that string theory is getting dangerously close to not being science anymore.

I enjoyed the f
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