April 25, 2010
We are taking on fundamental physics! Our guest, Peter Woit, is a physicist in the Department of Mathematics at Columbia University and author of Not Even Wrong: The Failure of String Theory and the Search for Unity in Physical Law. We discuss the apparently peculiar state of theoretical physics (see also Lee Smolin’s The Trouble with Physics: The Rise of String Theory, The Fall of a Science, and What Comes Next) and the rather startling possibility that superstring theory — the best candidate in decades as the elusive “theory of everything” — may actually have been a colossal dead end for the physics community. We also explore the meaning of theory in science, and what is the connection between theory, observation and experiment. As it turns out, superstring theory has not been able to make any empirically testable predictions, which supports the argument that perhaps it isn’t — as Peter puts it — “even wrong,” meaning that it just isn’t science.