Sunday, February 10, 2019

Lost In Math

Once again putting off a post I had scheduled (now have ~2+ months of posts scheduled!), this time to interject a quick blurb for Sabine Hossenfelder’s 2018 book, “Lost In Math.” Having just finished it, am very happy I included it on my year-end “best books” list for 2018, based on nothing more than the “buzz” around it at the time — too often I find popular physics books rather indecipherable (over-my-head), as well as too speculative and detached from scientific method (in my view) to enjoy, but Dr. Hossenfelder’s volume is very readable, and another refreshing contrarian or skeptical viewpoint. Very much liked the discussions/interviews with a wide range of well-known individuals in the physics community, and also especially enjoyed her final wrap-up chapter — in fact, I’d almost recommend reading the LAST chapter first since it really lays out what all the rest of the book is centrally about (the question of whether particle physics/cosmology is going astray).

Further, given all the talk these days (especially on blogs!) about the “beauty” of mathematics, her basic thesis that “beauty” in physics may not be all it is cracked up to be (may even be counter-productive) is a thought-provoking notion.

Quite awhile back I made a mental commitment not to buy many more popular physics books — they so often disappoint me. I got Sabine’s book from my local public library, but now having read it plan to purchase a copy to keep on hand!
The book includes several passages suitable for quotation. I'll end with a couple I passed along on Twitter:

"I can't believe what this once-venerable profession has become. Theoretical physicists used to explain what was observed. Now they try to explain why they can't explain what was not observed. And they're not even good at that." 

“Then there is the mother of all biases, the bias blind spot — the insistence that we certainly are not biased. It’s the reason my colleagues only laugh when I tell them biases are a problem, and why they dismiss my ‘social arguments’ believing they are not relevant to scientific discourse. But the existence of these biases has been confirmed in countless studies.”  

Here, by the way, is Peter Woit's longer review of the volume:

...On a separate book side-note, I see John Brockman is out with a new essay compendium on artificial intelligence, "Possible Minds":

(...and on Wednesday I'll be back here with another re-play of a past favorite puzzle)

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