cover image The Dream Universe: How Fundamental Physics Lost Its Way

The Dream Universe: How Fundamental Physics Lost Its Way

David Lindley. Doubleday, $27.95 (240p) ISBN 978-0-3855-4385-9

Astrophysicist Lindley (Uncertainty) argues that modern physics has drifted too far from its roots in reality, into increasingly complex and abstract theory, in this eye-opening treatise. Setting the stage, he observes that at the start of the Renaissance, scientists placed more weight on orthodox, Church-sanctioned theory, derived from Aristotle, than on empirical evidence. That changed with Galileo, who relied on his own astronomical observations to investigate the laws of motion and the configuration of the universe. Galileo used math as a tool, Lindley writes, to make sense of his data, an approach that served many other scientists, from Isaac Newton onward, until the birth of quantum mechanics in the early 20th century. With scientific inquiry increasingly pushing into the subatomic realm, theoreticians began to use mathematical formulas, rather than experimentation, to infer the existence of elusive or unobservable phenomena. When a field of science depends on logically rigorous but untestable formulas, Lindley provocatively asks, does it still constitute science? He sees physics reverting to the classical world’s model, when empirically and logically based knowledge were strictly separated, and the latter was prized over the former. Lindley’s probing work raises important questions about what science should be, and how it should be approached. Agent: Susan Rabiner, Susan Rabiner Literary. (Mar.)