Dreams of a Final Theory: The Scientist's Search for the Ultimate Laws of Nature

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Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Apr 20, 2011 - Science - 352 pages
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The Nobel Prize-winning physicist and bestselling author of The First Three Minutes describes the grand quest for a unifying theory of nature--one that can explain forces as different as the cohesion inside the atom and the gravitational tug between the sun and Earth. Wirting with dazzling elegance and clarity, he retraces the steps that have led modern scientists from relativity and quantum mechanics to the notion of super-strings and the idea that our universe may coexist with others.

But Weinberg asks as many questions as he answers, among them: Why does each explanation of the way nature works point to other, deeper explanations? Why are the best theories not only logical but beautiful? And what implications will a final theory have for our philosophy and religious faith?

Intellectually daring, rich in anecdote and aphorism, Dreams of a Final Theory launches us into a new cosmos and helps us make sense of what we find there.

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Dreams of a final theory

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In his celebrated book The First Three Minutes (Basic, 1977; 1988, reprint) Nobel laureate Weinberg wrote the ominous and oft-quoted remark "The more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it ... Read full review

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Steven Weinberg is one of twentieth century's greatest theoretical physicists. He is one of the codiscoverers of the Electroweak Theory, an important piece of the puzzle that describes all of the fundamental forces of nature. He is also a very prolific writer, with several important textbooks and a few books that aim to popularize Physics and make it accessible to the general audience. The theme of this book is the long standing problem in Physics, and that is the one of unification of all forces under a single set of laws. Weinberg is as big of an authority on this subject as they come, as he has contributed and worked on various aspects of unification throughout his professional career. In this book he tries to explain what exactly is meant by "Final Theory." He is equally critical of opponents of this approach to science who deride it as overly reductionist, as he is of those who think that the discovery of final laws will in some way be the end of science. In some sense he is staking a middle ground between these two extremes.
This book was written in the years when the prospect of building the Superconducting Super Collider (SSC) was still tenable. SSC was supposed to be the largest particle collider in the world, and had it became operational it would have provided new data and insights into the mysteries of fundamental Physics. Or so we believed. Weinberg was one of the most prominent scientific proponents of this project, and he testified often in US Congress in its favor. Many of those encounters with politicians are discussed in this book. They provide a valuable and fascinating insight into how "big science" gets done. For one thing, scientific viability and value of any given project is only one of the important criteria that are considered when the pricetag for a project exceeds the entire budget of a small country. In the end SSC did not get the funding, and for better or worse our search for the ultimate laws of nature has since been almost exclusively a theoretical endeavor. This may change with the advent of Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in Switzerland, which is supposed to start taking data any moment now.
Throughout this book Weinberg touches on many philosophical themes, which in some sense is inevitable when one discusses such a vast topic as the ultimate theory of nature. Weinberg is rather dismissive of philosophical and religious considerations. This may be respectable insofar as his intellectual honesty is concerned, and we as readers at least know where he is coming from. However, the vast majority of people hope to understand the questions of the ultimate meaning in broadly philosophical terms, and it would be useful if scientists who are the most invested in the search for the final theory would at least try to present that search in some more accessible categories. Especially if they hope to have the general public on board when it comes to funding exceptionally large scientific projects.
 

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About the author (2011)

Steven Weinberg received the 1979 Nobel Prize for Physics for his work in unifying two of the fundamental forces of nature, and in 1991 he was awarded the National Medal of Science at the White House. His earlier price-winning book The First Three Minutes is the classic account of the "Big Bang," the modern theory of the origins of the universe. Among his other books are The Theory of Subatomic Particles and Gravitation and Cosmology: Principles and Applications of the General Theory of Relativity. Steven Weingberg is a member of the Royal Society of London as well as the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, and has been awarded numerous honorary degrees, most recently from Columbia University and the Universities of Salamanca and Padua.

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