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

3.93  ·  Rating details ·  1,629 ratings  ·  61 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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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
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.
Michael Huang
Apr 01, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: bought
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
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).
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
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.
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.
Dima Gerasimov
Feb 21, 2019 rated it really liked it
Pretty unusual to see an opinion that we shouldn't spend effort on string theory today from a physicist, fresh point of view is always good. Also many cool insights into the history of representation theory.
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.
Volo Bonetskyy
Apr 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Enjoyed reading this! On the edge of my understanding of physics , far beyond my understanding of math, but still Woit somehow made this book easy to read.
Jul 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Sounds like nightmare in theoretical physics
Frank Ashe
Sep 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science, history, physics
I enjoyed the more mathematical approach that this book takes. This highlights the way in which string theory departs from the standard physics paradigm - this is, of course, what the author wanted.
Sep 09, 2010 rated it it was ok
Kind of disappointed by this one. I recently read 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 certain
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