Return to media reviews

Lost in Math: How Beauty Leads Physics Astray

Hossenfelder explores how new science is discovered. How do we know where is interesting to explore and validate? How are theories created? Imagine a theory of gravity that could predict Newtonian mechanics perfectly, but with slight tweaks could also predict anti-gravity, or gravity stranger than anything we see. A good theory is one that is falsifiable and has explanatory power, but many theories are difficult to falsify and have enough parameters so that they could explain many observations.

One guidance scientists have used is beauty — formulas that are elegant and symmetrical. As it turns out, a lot of our physics is governed by quite beautiful mechanics. But as we've learned more, we've also discovered that the universe is weird. We make measurements that stretch our theories beyond what is reasonable. Hossenfelder argues that perhaps our universe is indeed weird, and convoluted ways to make it beautiful (dark matter, dark energy, string theory, etc).

It's a fascinating book, though is a bit inside baseball at times — it's less about communicating physics, than communicating how we explore new physics, and Hossenfelder's issues with current science. I enjoyed it quite a bit, though, so would recommend to STEM-minded people.

Feb 2023: Hossenfelder has put out a fairly concise video summary of her issues with current particle physics research.


These are entirely subjective, and roughly try to capture my personal enjoyment and usefulness, and how likely I'd recommend it to others. Don't read too much into this unless you love my judgement. Rough guidelines:

A: Top quartile. Changed the way I think about something.

B: Worthwhile. I took away something useful.

C: Didn't hit, wouldn't directly recommend. Likely won't revisit.

Stay connected

I send out occasional updates on posts, interesting finds, and projects I'm working on. I'd love to include you. No tracking, one-click unsubscribe.