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Book Review – The Trouble with Physics, Lee Smolin

December 7, 2019

The Trouble with Physics: The Rise of String Theory, The Fall of a Science and What Comes NextThe Trouble with Physics: The Rise of String Theory, The Fall of a Science and What Comes Next by Lee Smolin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There are some genuine attempts here to take original perspectives on the universe at the fundamental level, and not to overplay the applicability of things such as string theory in their claims at being theories of everything. In a way string theory and the big bang cosmology have become an accepted consensus narrative because they largely fit in with the long standing western orientation going back to Descartes and beyond of seeing the world as machine like, following laws against a fixed, neutral and unchanging background.

Smolin exposes the limitations of these views and explains that a proper appreciation of General relativity and its implications forces us to search for a background independent theory, in order to unify our understanding properly. The real insight from general relativity is that space and time is not an unchanging background to reality, it is a dynamic and changing thing dependent on the matter that is there. We can keep modifying things after the fact to fit the matter we find, as seems to be what some approaches have reduced to, and lose all predictive, explanatory power, and pretend we still have a theory, or we can accept the limitations here and move to new approaches that are truly background independent.

In this regard, he goes over his own efforts in this line of pursuit, and he points out the pioneering efforts of thinkers such as Roger Penrose, Joao Magueijo, Carlo Rovelli, Julian Barbour and others, as innovators and seers who, rather than just working away at an accepted dogma, are always looking for new creative solutions and perspectives.

The institution of science has made things progressively more difficult for these seers and innovators to forge a career in mainstream science, and so as promoted an era of yes men and scientists with much less originality, just parroting accepted doctrines and overplaying their applicability. I have seen this myself for some time, and through this book, it is great to have access to an underground current of thinkers for further research that are not just trying to inculcate dogmatic, overly comfortable and sure of themselves, doctrines, into the next generation of young people, which is what most popular science has become, but are still genuinely exploring on the frontiers of thought and civilisation into new and uncharted territories.

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