Physics in trouble December 4, 2006Posted by dorigo in Blogroll, books, food, news, personal, physics, science, social life, travel.
Last Saturday, upon arriving in Chicago, I went downtown and spent a couple of hours at the Borders of Michigan Avenue. Time really flies there… In the end, I bought two books, one by Raymond Kurzweil (“The singularity is near”) and another by Lee Smolin (“The trouble with Physics”).
I will post about my impressions on Kurzweil’s book later. I rather started reading Smolin’s book, which has been at the center of a heated debate lately, together with Peter Woit’s “Not even wrong”. For details, a good site to visit is Peter’s blog, http://www.math.columbia.edu/~woit/blog/.
I only read a chapter and browsed carelessly through the rest, but I can already say I find Smolin’s “Trouble with Physics” a very pleasant reading and a well-written account of the situation fundamental physics has been facing in the last thirty years. The book has no formulas whatsoever, and I am sure outsiders will find it just as good a reading as insiders.
Which brings me to my thought of the day. The fact that people like me ends up reading about the status of theoretical particle physics in a divulgative book rather than in scientific journals is kind of depressing. I am no theorist, but I did study physics for ten years. A laurea, a PhD, several schools, plus 15 years of experience as an experimentalist. Notwithstanding all of the above, the level of theoretical discussions in most of today’s scientific papers is way above my head, and I have to settle on material such as Smolin’s or Woit’s book to know what is going on in theoretical physics.
Sure, I do follow theory seminars in my Physics department now and then (more then than now). But most of the times things get too complicated after the first 20 minutes. This is frustrating and is a side-effect of the complexities into which theoretical particle physics has spiraled in the last years of unbound speculation.
By the way, in the evening I visited the “Cafe’ Iberico” on La Salle Avenue with Giorgio and Simone (the new Ph.D. student for CDF in Padova, who took the picture below). The tapas were as good as ever… I only advise to get there early (as we did – we were all jetlagged and hungry) or an hour wait is quite normal on Saturdays…