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Lost in Math

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Dr Sabine Hossenfelder, PhD, is a physicist and a scientific writer. Find out all about her and her works on her website here.


Students young and old, and all those who want to extend their knowledge of particle and astro physics will love Lost In Math. It is also a powerful tool for anyone wishing to increase their knowledge of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire (CERN).


Dr. Hossenfelder’s compelling discourse on the subject of physics is not the usual heavily analytical, numerically driven revelation that is difficult to comprehend. Its focus is on an a selection of interviews with varied illuminated physicists. Dr. Hossenfelder then discusses the interviews and provides her opinions and views. She believes totally in the a priori method of traditional science. Yet she understands the elegant math of nature is a beautiful thing. She cautions us to guard against believing without empirical based evidentiary support.

Dr. Hossenfelder posits that the tug-of-war between the empirical (hard facts) and the esthetics nature (soft elements) creates a stress for those struggling to find unity. It is these esthetic judgements that she credits as the driver of present day research.

Dr. Hossenfelder shares her acumen and her considerable familiarity with the subject in a clear and concise manner, and without recourse to seemingly bottomless equations. Her sense of humor, whist dry gives the book a certain lightness not normally evident from such an able scientist. Her informal method aids the demystification of the subject for non-mathematicians.

The interviews are interesting and informative, but it’s Dr. Hossenfelder’s opinions that take the work to the next level. Her eloquent elucidation on the status of theories and concepts are beautifully paced and completely engaging throughout. When she does feel that a concept requires a challenge, she does so in a compassionate manner.


Lost in Math is a solid read. It is tolerable even for those who avoid mathematics like the plague. Dr. Hossenfelder takes the time to verbally guide you through each topic, and you will almost never have to fear having to face down one of those pesky equations. You will have to endure a brief mention of leptons and quarks, but they quickly pass and are replaced with a discussion on dark matter and dark energy. I found myself falling in love with the totally engaging supersymmetry (loving SUSY). Forget your calculator, just jump in and enjoy this wonderful work. I guarantee you won’t regret it.

Lost in Math was the very best read on the subject of theoretical physics that I have read in quite some time. Dr. Hossenfelder’s humor carried the day by diluting the technically advanced concepts and explanations. The interviews are generally unremarkable, however her criticism of each is a revelation.

I do wish that the book had included more and larger plates. I would also have liked footnotes. That said, I found the appendices to be extremely helpful. Although Dr. Hossenfelder attempts to explain the mathematical and scientific method relating to the subject, those unfamiliar with basic theoretical physics concepts may struggle to follow.


I would like to thank Dr. Sabine Hossenfelder, NetGalley, and Basic Books for affording me the opportunity to review Lost in Math: How Beauty Leads Physics Astray.

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As someone in the physics space, but not a physicist, I enjoyed this book quite a bit.  Hossenfelder's writing is clear, and she does an excellent job at concisely describing several of the theories (susy, etc.) that make up the concept of naturalness and beauty in physics.

I also know a number of physicists who fall prey to these ideas as well and it was an interesting read.

Hossenfelder does a good job at demystifying what for non-physicists is a strange fetish for enlarging mathematical minutiae to extrapolate, as Gogol Bordello would say, a "Super Theory of Super Everything". At the same time, her writing remains respectful of the theories she critiques.

This is a great read if you've just finished one of the great physics cosmology's out there and are looking for a little ego deflation.
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I never heard of Sabine Hossenfelder until I came across this book, but now I even follow her Facebook account. She’s one hell of a writer and her dry humor and down to earth principles made this book a joy to read.

In terms of scientific facts, the book doesn’t bring anything new in the field; there hadn’t been a major discovery in physics for quite some time but the approach on today theories is unique.

The book consists mostly in a series of interviews with today’s major physicists, but her comments, beliefs and interpretations are the salt and pepper of it. 

Not always an easy read, but a very enjoyable one.
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This is definetely not an easy read, but it is an insightful glimpse into the current nature of physics and mathematics. Those willing to take the time to understand the concepts (presented at about a college undergrad level) will get alot out of this book.
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An absolute joy of a read for those mathematical fans that also love literature. I loved reading how Hossenfelder was able to turn math into a fluid concept fit for mathematicians and those less experienced in the mathematical field. This read as a minimum college level book, but was not too dense that one could not comprehend the material. I absolutely adore mathematics and found this one that I will be referring back to often. I am a math teacher and a district math resource coach, and one of the things we often promote is theories and proofs for the math that we teach. I found this writing style fluid, smooth, and engaging for myself.
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I really appreciate the insightful nature of Dr. Hossenfelder's text and how well she explains the underlying assumptions of the idea of beautiful equations and theories.  In her explanations, she is always balanced in her criticisms of different pursuits while also carefully elucidating difficult components of the theories and expanding on historic ideas with the modern research and publications.  One of my favorite explanations of the downfalls of considering how pleasing a theory is was the story of Einstein's work on general relativity and his eventual inclusion of the cosmological constant in order to satisfy his own beliefs and make the theory more beautiful, even when doing so overturned a significant prediction of the theory.
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Lost in Math is a great and well written summary about the way physics is represented in the modern days. The writer Sabine Hossenfelder is a theoretical physicist whose job is to create new theories and leave the mathematical stuff to the mathematicians. In her book Hossenfelder talks about what has gone wrong with her subject in the last thirty years or so.

Now, especially in particle physics, the whole concept kind of circles around made up theories that are only supported by mathematicians. There are not much to observe or experiment on when almost the whole subject is theoretical and not proven in any way. Right now the big thing in particle physics is The Large Hadron Collider which is still yet to be as great of a device as it was promised to be. 

Hossenfelder goes through these kind of subjects as well as talks about her own experiences in her field and why she eventually took up physics in the first place. I've been struggling with physics my self for a quite long time in school but still I genuinely enjoyed this books. It kind of made me more interested in the subject and gave me some motivation to tackle down the physics course that I'm currently taking.

Lost in Math was a great summary of the current state of physics and the fact that mathematical beauty has kind of taken control over the fundamentals of physics. Hossenfelder does not leave any stone unturned and goes through many problems that the field is currently facing. It is an eye-opening book and also, makes us rethink our own views.
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This is a highly scientific book and works well if you have a science background of some sort (I do, even if it is just science in school and a masters in engineering I understood quite a bit of it and was reminded of a few basic concepts) 
I really enjoyed as much as I read but I was unable to read it completely.
It got too technical even for me and I tried many different ways of reading it but I still have not finished it. I might try to read it at some later stage and if I finish I will write a full length review on social media but at this time I can only publish this short note.
This is something that can start a lot of conversation and is very informative.
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"So you want to know what holds the world together, how the universe was made, and what rules our existence goes by? The closest you will get to an answer is following the trail of facts down into the basement of science. Follow it until facts get sparse and your onward journey is blocked by theoreticians arguing whose theory is prettier. That's when you know you've reached the foundations."

Lost in Math: How Beauty Leads Physics Astray by theoretical physicist Sabine Hossenfelder isn't, as the title might suggest, a book about mathematics. 
It is an intriguing portrayal of just how philosophical theoretical physics has become. How concepts like beauty, "naturalness", and simplicity are guiding physicists in their quest to explain our world, how they cling to theories that are "too good to not be true", even though they are untestable and have led to a lack of discoveries in the last three decades. 
Hossenfelder points out that some of our most successful theories were, or still are regarded as "ugly" and "unnatural". She emphasizes the need for objectivity in the scientific process and calls for awareness of the cognitive biases present in each and every one of us. In her words, as scientists "we have to be aware of our own humanity - and correct our shortcomings when necessary."

The author's witty writing style and sarcastic sense of humor make this a thoroughly entertaining book without losing the gravity of the discussed themes - pun intended.
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This is the best book about physics I have read in a long time.

Sabine Hossenfelder sounds the alarm as theoretical physicists begin to stray from the scientific method. As experimental results become more rare and expensive to obtain new theories have to rely on mathematics instead of physical evidence. Some have suggested that experiment is not even necessary in order to prove the worth of a theory. Through a series of fascinating interviews with working theoretical physicists the author summarizes the current state of several fields of theoretical physics. By the end she explains how the culture of academia as well as natural human biases could be causing scientists to squander time, money, and perhaps the credibility of science as a whole in what could ultimately be an fruitless pursuit. The recommendation is to not abandon the scientific method and to try to eliminate bias as much as possible in order to successfuly identify fruitful areas of research.

As a physicist I enjoyed the book very much and believe it could be useful to any scientist. The author's writing style was also very refreshing and accessible.
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Glad I didn't stay in particle physics

Thirty-five years ago I got a PhD in theoretical particle physics. Not wanting to spend a decade or more bouncing between post docs hoping to eventually land a job as a professor (the path chosen by the author of this book) I took a job in the real world.

When I was a student supersymmetry and string theory were beginning to become popular. They were elegant and gave hints of solving issues with the "standard", but incomplete, model of physics.

Over the years I've watched as those theories have become both ubiquitous and failed attempts to explain the universe. They are loved because they are elegant, but they have also spawned resistance because they have, arguably, ceased to be physics.

For old fashioned physicists like me good physical theories make predictions that can't otherwise be made and that, if wrong, invalidate the theory. But susy and string theory can predict pretty much anything you want by choosing the right parameters. Which is much like saying you can fit any data set with enough free parameters. The out taken by their supporters is to say that there are an infinite number of universes with all possible parameters, and we happen to live in the one that makes us possible. Which really means the theories can postdict what we see, but can't actually predict anything. Which makes them more metaphysics than physics. And, thus, unsatisfying to those of us who want physical theories to make falsifiable predictions.

What I've just said appears to be the author's point, except that doesn't make for a saleable book pitch. So the book becomes more of a human interest quest where she interviews various physicists about why they support (or, occasionally, don't) the currently popular lines of inquiry even though decades of effort indicates they aren't helping us to understand why our universe is as we observe it to be. She devotes pages and pages to quotes that don't really add to her point, instead just letting a variety of physicists give their varied views of the matter. But we don't get any closer to understanding, well, matter.

Toward the end of the book we also learn her (negative) views of economics and philosophy. Regarding the latter, she cites the Sokal hoax, which demonstrated that one part of the philosophy community is drawn to nonsensical babel. But her real objection to philosophy is that it isn't interested in helping physicists move forward. I'm not sure why the reader of this book should care about this, but I imagine her discussion is really more about epistemology than philosophy more generally.

I have mixed feelings about this book. The author makes a valid point that a good editor should have forced her to make more succinctly. You won't miss much if you start skimming when the text seems tedious.

The publisher provided me a copy for review.
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“Lost in Math” tackles the topic announced in the subtitle: how enchanted by orderly and beautiful math, physicists stray further away from hypotheses testable in (or even descriptive of) the real world. With experiments in modern physics becoming more and more long-term and expensive, it is harder than ever for physicists to find the right paths of exploration. One “solution" that is employed (and that has been present in physics historically) is reliance on mathematical beauty as a theory assessment criterion. The issue of beauty is central to the book, but Hossenfelder also talks about the new fad of “non-empirical theory assessment”, cognitive biases and scientists’ ignorance of them, increasing specialization, issues of popularity, funding and employment in physics and how they all influence what theories are explored and how much progress is made.
A significant portion of the book is the author’s interviews with various personalities in the field who hold an array of views and focus on different areas and theories. She tries to gauge their specific attitudes towards non-empirical theory assessment and beauty as a criterion in physics. Some of them are more interesting to read than others, and though series of dialogues is not my favorite format for a book, I can see how it makes sense for the subject matter. 
In general, the book clearly presents the author’s argument and almost succeeds in providing a broad overview of attitudes in the field of physics. I was put off by the mangled foray into how similar issues may manifest in other disciplines, when Hossenfelder touches on how economics suffers from stifling reliance on conventional dogmas in last chapter (do it comprehensively or not at all!) and her periodic descriptions of her checking her email and digging through her backpack, but not significantly enough to dislike the book. 
Overall, an interesting and worthy read.
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Sabine Hossenfelder dares to ask difficult question about the state of science today, and she examines the forces that drive the current research. A thoughtprovoking and important book for everybody who is interested in science in general, and theoretical physics in particular.
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I can’t say for sure that I understood everything in this book, since my knowledge of physics in general is very patchy, but overall, I liked its tone, and its global idea, because I can get why one would be easily led astray by theories that look ‘beautiful’. It’s something that I feel is very human, after all, as we often look for a form of harmony in the world surrounding us, if only to try and make sense of it. Perhaps the fundamental, underlying laws of nature don’t make that much sense, or don’t always look like they do, and so we try to understand them in ways that would reconcile us with an apparent lack of… meaning, maybe? But what if the theories we pursue, albeit ‘pretty’ and nicely wrapped, turn out to be wrong? Shall we keep pursuing those, in the hopes that we just haven’t seen proof yet due to technological limitations, for instance? It seems that the answer to this isn’t so clear-cut. (The LHC being a good example. I’m tremendously excited by the LHC, and what it allowed to prove so far… but while we got the Higgs boson, we still haven’t gotten supersymmetry.)

The book also gave me pointers about things of which I clearly don’t know enough, especially in order to understand where the author comes from, so I know I’ll have to focus on those at some point in order to learn more.

As a side note, I don’t know, but I don’t feel particularly bothered by the ‘ugliness’ of the Standard Model. It may be in part because all I know about it, I learnt on my own, without following the regular cursus, so I never approached it with any specific idea in mind? We’ll see once I’ve studied more.

Conclusion: Definitely interesting, although don’t approach it if you know next to nothing to physics, since some ideas won’t make sense otherwise.
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Lost in Math is the story of how aesthetic judgement drives contemporary research; how theoretical physicists produce ideas that are "highly controversial and yet exceedingly popular, speculative yet intriguing, pretty yet useless"; and how these theories are untestable but the physicist believes them to be too good not to be true.  

In the past, scientists observed the world around them and performed experiments.  Then they developed theories to explain these observations.  These theories would then be tested against addition observations and experiments.  These days, theoretical physicists (especially in particle physics) concoct theories that are only supported by beautiful mathematics, and which can never be confirmed by experiments or which are unlikely (due to cost and difficulty) to be examined experminentally.

In an effort to find out what went wrong with theoretical physics, Hossenfelder interviews several physicists and takes a look at the current popular physics theories.  The author makes a convincing case that this reliance on the beauty/maths-only criteria to determine which theories to study and promote has resulted in a lack of progress in certain physics fields.  In the author's own words, "in the end the only way to find out which theory is correct is to check whether it describes nature; non-empirical theory assessment will not do it".  

The writing style of this book is conversational and accessible (for the most part - just pretend the physics is Star Trek physics), and the topic covered is important not only for physicists.  I did find the physics explanations somewhat baffling but then most of the physicists interviewed state that no-one understands quantum physic.  However, this book is a book about how physicists work, not about the physics itself, so it didn't matter much.  I found this book to be interesting and informative.
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Is truth beauty and beauty, truth? It can be hard to tell.

In Lost in Math: How Beauty Leads Physics Astray, Sabine Hossenfelder argues that these two concepts are not equivalent. As the subtitle implies, Hossenfelder feels that theoretical physicists are too obsessed with creating “beautiful” theories, in the sense that the mathematics that underpins the theories (because these days, theories are basically math, even though, as Hossenfelder stresses, physics isn’t math) must be beautiful and use “natural” numbers (by which she means numbers close to 1). Theories that don’t conform to these criteria tend to be unpopular, to receive less funding for experiments and less attention in papers. This, Hossenfelder contends, is a mistake. She fears it reinforces an orthodoxy that threatens theoretical physics with stagnation and, worse, undermines the scientific method. In her view, since theoretical physics is often regarded as the “hardest” of hard sciences, if faith in the foundations of physics goes, so too goes trust in science—right when we need it more than ever.

I guess this book kind of hits the sweet spot for me, because I’m big into the intersections of philosophy and mathematics and science. Thanks to NetGalley and Basic Books for the free eARC!

I love thinking about the limits not just of what we know but also what is knowable. This, to me, is why theoretical physics fascinates me—not just because it explains the foundations of our physical existence, but because it knocks up against literally the limits of our ability to measure and quantify. Each time we want to go looking for heavier and heavier particles, for example, we need bigger and bigger particle accelerators. That’s why we built the LHC, which—in Hossenfelder’s opinion—has been a bit of a bust in terms of new physics. But we’re running up against the limits of what we can do on Earth, or even in orbit … what’s next? Particle accelerators the size of our solar system? I get chills.

Lost in Math is not really about physics in the popular science sense. This is more accurately a philosophy book. Hossenfelder discusses a lot of physics concepts (most of which, to be honest, go way over my head), but ultimately she is more interested in looking at why her colleagues in theoretical physics chase the theories that they do. Unlike some of them, she confesses that she doesn’t seem to have a nose for beauty, that she doesn’t recognize a beautiful theory when she sees it—and she is uneasy about this reliance on ideas of beauty.

So while the book follows the fairly standard approach in popular science texts of doing a brief overview of the history of physics, Hossenfelder is looking at the philosophies that were at work rather than the merits of the actual theories. As familiar names—Bohr and Einstein and Schrodinger and Heisenberg and Dirac et al—move across the page, we learn more about their thinking—insofar as we can know it—than their specific contributions. Hossenfelder isn’t looking to teach physics here. She’s asking us to think critically about why we have the physics we do.

I think this is a really interesting and important point. To laypeople, like myself, it might seem inevitable that we’ve ended up here. After all, there is only one true science, right? We might have made a bunch of false starts, but along the way, as we uncover more and more “facts” and tinker with our theories and run better experiments, we’re narrowing it down and getting closer to “the truth”, right?

Well … it’s complicated. As Hossenfelder explains, it isn’t so much that the physics we have now is The One True Physics as it is Something That Mostly Works. And in the case of quantum physics, there are actually a whole bunch of competing interpretations that explain the same phenomena, just differently, and at the moment they all tend to be valid because no one has figured out a way to test between them. So as much as both philosophers and physicists would like the other camp to stay out of their business, when you get right down to it, the two are entwined at the moment.

Hossenfelder tours the landscape of theoretical physics, interviewing researchers in different fields to help her understand the obsession with naturalness and beauty. Along the way, you will pick up on her clear sense of exasperation with what’s happening in her profession. It isn’t just the naturalness argument: it’s the whole system, the fighting over short-term grants and positions, the tendency to reward people who publish more often, on more accepted topics, over people who spend their time tinkering with more heterodox approaches. And maybe how surprised I am by Hossenfelder’s tone and voice, or even the fact that this book got written, further supports this idea, since we are so used to “gee whiz” pop physics books that emphasize the beauty of the universe and of the theories that explain it. Physicists who write books for popular consumption are generally trying to build a following, and I get the impression Hossenfelder really doesn’t care about that. While I find Hossenfelder’s writing, in general, to be mediocre, her forthright and honest tone is refreshing and interesting.

There’s a fair bit of mathematical concepts in this book too. That probably shouldn’t be surprising, given its title. There aren’t actual equations, but Hossenfelder throws around terms like “groups” fairly generously without really going into what they are (and maybe that’s for the best). As with the physics shop talk, if you don’t have much of a grounding in abstract algebra, you’re going to feel a little out of the loop. This is not a light read. It is, however, enjoyable in the sense that it tickles the part of your brain that really wants to think hard about things.

Lost in Math succeeds, largely, in what it sets out to do. It demonstrates that certain elements of how theoretical physicists theorize right now aren’t the most conducive or productive. It pulls back the curtain for a wider audience, exposing us to some of the philosophical debates and issues that have long been happening within the physics community, which laypeople might wrongly perceive as monolithic in approach, if not in interpretations. Hossenfelder’s writing is a little dry, and the book is full of challenging concepts … but I think it’s worth a try if you want some philosophy in with your science.

Creative Commons BY-NC License
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Loved the philosophy of science; got lost in the physics

I enjoyed this book. I confess that I got lost in all the physics but it didn't really matter. I loved Sabine Hossenfelder’s discussions about the philosophy of science, her descriptions of interviews with other physicists, her travails as a scientist, and her keen sense of humor and, at times, biting sarcasm. I recommend it for people interested in the philosophy of science.
Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book via Netgalley for review purposes.
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One thought experiment that I love is the Theseus Paradox, which asks the question that if a ship is repaired and all of its old parts replaced, is it the same ship that was originally built or a new one? When looking at modern theoretical physics, I start to wonder if we’re approaching a similar paradox where physics has been replaced by math and philosophy. In Lost in Math, Sabine Hossenfelder seeks to answer a similar question. Her contention is that desire for a beautiful theorem has become too much of a distraction for theoretical physics. Lost in Math journals her investigation.


Lost in Math by Sabine Hossenfelder is an important investigation into the current biases shared across the theoretical physics discipline. It asks hard questions about the current orthodoxy. Highly recommended.

The State of Theoretical Physics

Ms. Hossenfelder quite clearly lays out the state of theoretical physics, and she approaches the field as a contrarian. In my idealized view of any science, I see the practitioners as deeply skeptical of the status quo. Else how do we surpass our current knowledge? But Ms. Hossenfelder paints a different picture, one in which questioning the mainstream is increasingly difficult.In Lost in Math, she focuses on the failure to find supersymmetric particles to explore whether we’re looking at the wrong theory, simply because symmetry is beautiful. She investigates this through many interviews with working and prominent physicists. Her journey showed a variation of opinion but a united optimism that the scientific method will prevail. It’s encouraging to see that despite the lack of results, the physicists maintain their excitement and passion for their field. But passion isn’t enough when the experimental results are missing. Ms. Hossenfelder continues to hammer home the point that despite bigger and bigger particle colliders, the supersymmetric particles still elude us.

In the course of her investigation, we see that she’s at odds with the mainstream physics community. In this book, she lays out many reasons for why this is so, and I appreciated that she presents a complex picture. Because, like many things in life, no one prime mover exists that we can point to and say, “fix that to make everything better.” But in addition to shining the spotlight on what she believes to be the problem, Ms. Hossenfelder lists potential solutions. These solutions are the appendix, which, at first, I didn’t like. It seemed too safe to exclude them from the text, but upon reflection, I think it was the correct move to place them in the appendix. Instead of highlighting her solutions, Ms. Hossenfelder showcased the problem, which allows room for solutions other than just her own. Though, I recommend serious consideration of her solutions.

The most technical argument in the book pits natural versus fine-tuning. It’s an interesting discussion that takes a bit to understand, but I think Ms. Hossenfelder explains it well. It’s challenging without reaching too far.


This text is a curious mixture of physics lessons, interviews, and travel journal. Sabine writes in an academic style that at times slips into deep philosophical prose. While most of the book was accessible for me, often I had to reread and think hard about the concepts in the text. The challenging parts are important in a book like this. The reader needs to think deeply about the topics and where physics goes from here. But these parts are interspersed enough to give the book a sense of pacing. Lost in Math wasn’t a dull, dry lecture; it’s a story of the current state of physics that ebbs and flows. I think it’s very well done and will be looking for more of Ms. Hossenfelder’s work.

In addition to the physics lessons, this book reads as a person questioning if they’re still in love with their profession. One of the important but rarely discussed differences between college and the workforce is what the work actually entails. The things I loved about studying engineering make up less than half of what I do at my job. What we study and love is just a small part of work, and I wonder if this book is born of Ms. Hossenfelder’s disappointment in that regard. By the close of the book, we see that its her love of physics that clashes with the current orthodoxy. The contrarian occupies a difficult place in a society, especially when pointing out needed improvements. So, is it that Ms. Hossenfelder is questioning her career choice, or does she feel the fatigue of pointing out that the emperor has no clothes? I hope it’s the latter and that she continues to provide a reality check to theoretical physics if not to spur on needed changes.

Physics (My Personal Opinion)

No one would accuse me of being without an opinion, and I try to keep them out of my reviews. BUT around this book gathered many questions that I’ve had over the years about physics. To be clear, I love physics. I read a lot about the field and came close to making it my career path. But ultimately I chose engineering for a number of reasons, high among them the need to see a testable product. Over the years of reading about string theory, the standard model, the multi-verse, I’ve fallen in love with these elegant ideas, but a small tickle always accompanied my studies. How do they know these advanced theories are correct? That is the question that drove Lost in Math and that drove me to engineering. Traditionally, the answer to that question has been an experimental correlation. Theory and experiment twist round each other like the double helix of a DNA strand. But increasingly, physics has branched out into areas currently beyond our experimental capabilities. So, the question becomes how do they know?

But at some point we have to say that we don’t know. There is nothing wrong with this, though. Being able to say I don’t know is an essential part of the scientific method, but it isn’t as sexy as talking about the multi-verse or a reality made from music. One day, it may be possible to conduct experiments into the information loss paradox at blackhole event horizons. One day, we might be able to glimpse into the multi-verse to view inflationary bubbles where everything is made of anti-matter. But until then we must be careful to differentiate between what we believe and what we’ve observed. This is even more true when put in context of the anti-science right here in America. These people condemn the word theory when applied to evolution, and it’s hard to explain that theory doesn’t just mean guess. And when theory is all mathematical, it’s even more difficult. 


Sabine Hossenfelder’s Lost in Math is a call to action for physics to take a good hard look at itself. It’s a necessary work that will irritate people, which is ultimately the role of a contrarian who loves a subject. Ms. Hossenfelder’s attempts to pull physics back from the borders of pure math and philosophy is admirable. As an anchor to the current realities of the field, this is a must have book for anyone exploring cutting edge theoretical physics.

8 out of 10!
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A good attempt to explain the beauty of Standard Model and the state of the art of particle physics, keeping it simple, but not too simple, as Einstein himself proposed. I particularly liked the Appendix "What you can do to help",  because I stronlgy think there is nothing like a passive learner.
I didn't liked too much the "In brief" section at the end of each chapter, that ruined the discussion with the triviality of the bullet points
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Banda sonora de la reseña: Sugiero leer esta reseña escuchando Lost in the Beauty, de The Cainfields (Spotify)

De un tiempo a esta parte, he vuelto a incorporar en mis lecturas los libros de ensayo y divulgación científica, disminuyendo un poco mi ingesta de fantasía y ciencia ficción. Por ello, y puesto que algunas personas por Twitter me lo han pedido, iré publicando de vez en cuando en el blog algunas reseñas de libros científicos que espero resulten de vuestro interés. 

El primero que os traigo es Lost in Math, de Sabine Hossenfelder, una muy recomendable obra que se pone a la venta esta misma semana. En ella, la autora ataca varios temas que, personalmente, me parecen muy atractivos. Por un lado, pone de manifiesto la crisis por la que pasa la física actual debido a la ausencia de evidencia que corrobore teorías tan populares como la supersimetría y a la creciente dificultad de realizar experimentos que puedan discriminar entre las distintas alternativas, cada vez más abstractas, que pugnan por unificar la física cuántica y la relatividad general. Por otro, explora las interacciones entre física, matemáticas y filosofía y los problemas que pueden surgir cuando se diluyen las fronteras entre ellas, como bien ejemplifican los siguientes párrafos:
It took twenty-five years from the prediction of the neutrino to its detection, almost fifty years to confirm the Higgs boson, a hundred years to directly detect gravitational waves. Now the time it takes to test a new fundamental law of nature can be longer than a scientist’s full career. This forces theorists to draw upon criteria other than empirical adequacy to decide which research avenues to pursue. Aesthetic appeal is one of them.
When asked to judge the promise of a newly invented but untested theory, physicists draw upon the concepts of naturalness, simplicity or elegance, and beauty. These hidden rules are ubiquitous in the foundations of physics. They are invaluable. And in utter conflict with the scientific mandate of objectivity.
El libro se convierte así en una cruzada por desterrar los criterios subjetivos de la investigación científica, algo que Hossenfelder lleva a cabo de forma magnífica. La autora comienza exponiendo la extendida creencia de que las teorías físicas deben ser "hermosas", algo que desmonta rápida y certeramente sin más que echar un poco la vista atrás: 
And not only does the history of science thrive with beautiful ideas that turned out to be wrong, but on the upside we have the ugly ideas that turned out to be correct.
Esta primera parte del libro es, simplemente, excelente y justifica por sí misma la lectura de la obra, no sólo por el contenido del certero análisis de Hossenfelder, sino por el estilo del mismo, que derrocha ironía y frases demoledoras:
After evidence forced him to give up the beautiful polyhedra, Kepler, in later life, became convinced that the planets play music along their paths. In his 1619 book Harmony of the World he derived the planet’s tunes and concluded that “the Earth sings Mi-Fa-Mi.” It wasn’t his best work.
De hecho, el texto está plagado de auténticos "zascas" y Hossenfelder reparte estopa a diestro y siniestro sin demasiados reparos ni miramientos. He subrayado muchísimos pasajes y, aunque no voy a reflejarlos todos aquí, sí que me gustaría, al menos, mostraros algunos para que os hagáis una idea de lo que os podéis esperar de Lost in Math:

Is it really any weirder to believe everything is made of qubits than of strings or loops or some 248-dimensional representation of a giant Lie algebra? How patently absurd it must appear to someone who last had contact with physics in eleventh grade that people get paid for ideas like that. But then, I think, people also get paid for throwing balls through hoops.
You’d think that scientists, with the professional task of being objective, would protect their creative freedom and rebel against the need to please colleagues in order to se- cure continued funding. They don’t.

The search for dark matter particles began as an afterthought: experimentalists working with a detector originally developed to catch neutrinos reported in 1986 on the first “interesting bounds on galactic cold dark matter and on light bosons emitted from the sun.” In plain English, “interesting bounds” means they didn’t find anything. 

Various other neutrino experiments at the time also obtained interesting bounds. 
There's a lesson to be learned here I think: if you pile up enough of it, even shit can look beautiful. 
Todas estas reflexiones están, en su mayor parte, intercaladas entre las entrevistas que Sabine Hossenfelder realiza a físicos como Steven Weinberg, Franck Wilczek, Nima Arkani-Hamed o Garrett Lisi (el famoso "científico surfero"). Estas conversaciones sirven para dar una visión global bastante acertada del panorama de la investigación puntera actual en física teórica, aunque he decir que en la parte final llegan a hacerse ligeramente repetitivas (uno de los pocos problemas que he encontrado con el libro). 

Aunque Lost in Math no es el típico libro de divulgación centrado en exponer en términos llanos conceptos científicos (no encontraréis aquí, ¡afortunadamente!, la enésima descripción del experimento de la doble rendija), Hossenfelder no renuncia a dar explicaciones de fenómenos puntuales cuando lo considera necesario, y lo hace siempre con claridad y exactitud, como, por ejemplo, cuando habla de las dificultades de unificar relatividad general y mecánica cuántica: 
The origin of the contradiction is that general relativity is not a quantum theory but nevertheless must react to matter and radiation, which have quantum properties. According to the standard model, an electron, for example, can be in two places at once because it is described by a wave function. And according to general relativity, the mass of the electron curves space-time around it. But around which location? General relativity cannot answer this question, since its curvature doesn’t have quantum properties and can’t be in two places at once.
En este sentido, el libro puede ser leído por cualquier persona interesada en el tema, pero se trata de una obra más cercana al ensayo metacientífico que a la divulgación científica propiamente dicha. Por ello, quizá resulte más atractivo para aquellas personas que tengan al menos un conocimiento somero de los temas tratados (sin necesidad, ni mucho menos, de ser un experto en la materia). 

En cuanto a las conclusiones, la obra termina de una forma un tanto abrupta. Hossenfelder hace un grandísimo trabajo exponiendo los problemas de la física actual y cómo muchas de las teorías propuestas se alejan sin remedio del campo de lo comprobable empíricamente para adentrarse en el reino de las matemáticas puras. También hace un buen análisis de las causas de estos problemas, tanto a nivel puramente científico como a nivel social. Pero, para mi gusto, se queda un poco corta en apuntar nuevas direcciones que puedan ayudar a resolver estas dificultades. Es verdad que hay un apéndice con algunos consejos de "buenas prácticas", pero me han parecido demasiado etéreos y no suficientemente contundentes.

Este es la principal pega que le pongo a una obra que, por lo demás, es prácticamente impecable. Amena, rigurosa, incisiva, mordaz, inteligente y divertida. Poco más se le puede pedir a un libro de este estilo, por lo que lo recomiendo casi sin reservas.
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