Monday, October 10, 2016

Reviewed in Nature

The Nature website has reviews of four books of interest at the moment:

* the one about Nazi drug addiction, which is getting a bit of publicity - but the review indicates its not that good, really.

*  one co-authored by Michael Mann, about climate change denialism.   Not a topic that really needs dwelling on at the moment, given the crisis in conservative politics in America, perhaps.

*  one taking a big picture approach to how physics has evolved.  Sounds OK.

* the one I am most interested in, by Roger Penrose, in which he criticises some paths modern physics has taken.

Penrose is now 85, so is in great danger of breaching my "he's too old to pay attention to" rule of thumb.  But I don't think he's ever said anything completely silly yet, even though his views on a quantum role in biology and consciousness views are controversial.   Here's part of the review:
Penrose claims that even well-confirmed theories, such as quantum mechanics, are 'oversold' with respect to their presumptive stability. Quantum physics has had an impressive record of predictive success, ranging from quantum chemistry to elementary particle physics. But it faces a deep conceptual problem. Whereas quantum mechanics has a perfect internal consistency when it describes a system that evolves without being measured, the way in which it represents measurements is not coherently embedded in that description. To Penrose, this indicates that the fundamental principles of quantum mechanics have not yet been found and will rely on the elusive full integration of gravity into quantum physics. He argues that the success of quantum mechanics tends to make physicists insensitive to the theory's conceptual problem and generates an unjustified degree of faith in its basic principles as a solid foundation of physics.
Another source of undue trust in a theory, Penrose asserts, is the physics community's tendency to follow fashion — that is, to settle on one strategy of dealing with a problem before severely testing the theory's empirical predictions. Penrose views string theory (a theory of quantum gravity) as the pre-eminent example.

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