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“Why should the laws of nature care about what I find beautiful?” With that statement, theoretical physicist and prolific blogger Sabine Hossenfelder sets out to tell a tale both professional and personal in her new book, Lost in Math. It explores the morass in which modern physics finds itself, thanks to the proliferation of theories devised using aesthetic criteria, rather than guidance from experiments. It also charts Hossenfelder’s own struggles with this approach.

Hossenfelder — a research fellow specializing in quantum gravity and modifications to the general theory of relativity at the Frankfurt Institute for Advanced Studies in Germany — brings a trenchant new voice to concerns that have been rumbling in physics for at least two decades. In 2006, Lee Smolin’s The Trouble with Physics and Peter Woit’s Not Even Wrong fired the first salvos at the trend of valuing mathematical elegance over empirical evidence. Both books took on string theory, a ‘theory of everything’ in which the fundamental constituents of nature are strings vibrating in many more spatial dimensions than the familiar three. Since its entry into mainstream physics in the mid-1980s, the theory has failed to make predictions that would unambiguously verify or falsify it.

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Category: Science