THE END OF PHYSICS by David Lindley


The Myth of a Unified Theory
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 When Lindley says ``myth,'' he means it not as a metaphor but literally: ``a story that makes sense within its own terms...but can be neither tested nor disproved.'' Such is the sorry pass he believes that particle physics has come to at the end of the 20th century. The quest for theories of everything--for the grand unification--has indeed becomes a ``holy grail'' that can cost time, money, and careers, all to no avail. That's the message brought by a messenger with credentials as a senior editor of Science as well as a Ph.D. in astronomy. Curiously, Lindley's apocalyptic vision has a parallel with one promulgated at the end of the last century, when physics was also thought to be coming to an end, but for different reasons: It was thought that the major discoveries had been made. This time, Lindley avers that it's the seduction of mathematical constructs unrelated to the real world that's doing physics in. To reach this conclusion, he summarizes all that the 20th century has wrought, from Einstein to Heisenberg to Fermilab, CERN, and the plan for the superconducting supercollider--a grand cathedral. (For an opposing view, see Steven Weinberg's Dreams of a Final Theory--Jan 1993.) Whether or not readers buy Lindley's judgment, they're well served by his first-rate exposition of the state of the science. The rub may lie in the eerie phenomenon by which the toys of mathematicians so often do turn out to be the tools that physicists use to construct--and demonstrate--the next paradigm. (Illustrations)

Pub Date: June 16th, 1993
ISBN: 0-465-01548-4
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: Basic
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1st, 1993


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