A contrarian argues that modern physicists' obsession with beauty has given us wonderful math but bad science
Whether pondering black holes or predicting discoveries at CERN, physicists believe the best theories are beautiful, natural, and elegant, and this standard separates popular theories from disposable ones. This is why, Sabine Hossenfelder argues, we have not seen a major breakthrough in the foundations of physics for more than four decades. The belief in beauty has become so dogmatic that it now conflicts with scientific objectivity: observation has been unable to confirm mindboggling theories, like supersymmetry or grand unification, invented by physicists based on aesthetic criteria. Worse, these "too good to not be true" theories are actually untestable and they have left the field in a cul-de-sac. To escape, physicists must rethink their methods. Only by embracing reality as it is can science discover the truth.
Science writer and researcher Hossenfelder argues persuasively that physics has stalled because of a focus on mathematical "elegance" rather than reality. Hossenfelder begins with supersymmetry and the standard model of particle physics, created to explain all the elementary particles discovered in the 20th century. Supersymmetry theory, she writes, is accepted because it fits so well into previous theories. But it also predicts that more particles should be found at energies just above where physicists discovered the Higgs boson, but none have yet been discovered. Though physicists from Newton to Einstein have prized mathematical beauty in theories, Hossenfelder sees this belief as a dangerous limitation. Elegant theories, she observes, don't explain dark matter and dark energy, or how to find multiverses. Along the way, Hossenfelder introduces an array of important researchers, including stoic Nobel laureate Steven Weinberg and social media-savvy Australian astrophysicist Katherine "Astrokatie" Mack. This layreader-friendly, amusing treatise gives an enlightening look at a growing issue within physics.