For more than a century physicists have hoped that they were closing in on the Holy Grail of modern science: a unified theory that would make sense of the entire physical world, from the subnuclear realm of quarks and gluons to the very moment of creation of the universe. The End of Physics is a history of the attempts to find such a "theory of everything"; a forceful argument it will never be found; and a warning that the compromises necessary to produce a final theory may well undermine the rules of good science.At the heart of Lindley's story is the rise of the particle physicists and their attempts to reach far out into the cosmos for a unifying theory. Working beyond the grasp of the largest telescopes or the most powerful particle accelerators, and unable to subject their findings and theories to experimental scrutiny, they have moved into a world governed entirely by mathematical and highly speculative theorizing, none of which can be empirically verified. Lindley argues that a theory of everything derived from particle physics will be full of untested--and untestable--assumptions.
And if physicists yield to such speculation, the field will retreat from the high ground of science, becoming instead a modern mythology. This would mean the end of physics as we know it.
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US Kirkus Review »
When Lindley says "myth," be 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. (Kirkus Reviews)
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Author Biography - David Lindley
David Lindley, formerly a theoretical astrophysicist at Cambridge University in England and the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Illinois, has been an editor of the journals Nature and Science and is currently Associate Editor of Science News, in Washington, D.C. He lives in Takoma Park, Maryland.