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Farewell-to-Reality

Jim Baggott

Constable, £12.99

I had been awaiting this book, but did not anticipate that it would be such an excellent read for biologists – even though its only 'biology' is Schrödinger's cat.
It pulls the plug on the kinds of modern physics that have lost touch with reality, from many-universes games through super-symmetries, s-particles, branes and the rest.

It does this by describing the history of these advances beautifully clearly – but with no equations except E = mc2, which is delightfully explained, as are the W and Z bosons and the Higgs story. Baggott is very bitter about the lack of experimental testing that is even theoretically possible: the Higgs boson, for example, is entirely consonant with the standard model, but is also consonant with super-symmetry and many other models.

There is no way to disprove most of such models – they are metaphysics, not science. But there is a beautiful warning here for biologists: not only the higher reaches of biosemiotics, but quite a lot of theoretical ecology and some of the deeper complexities of epigenetics have just the same problem. These ideas seek consonance, not disproof; they may become proper science, but at the moment they are like theoretical physics. Their practitioners could well heed this book, as a warning.

Jack Cohen FSB

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