Existential Physics: A Scientist's Guide to Life's Biggest Questions

Written by:
Sabine Hossenfelder
Narrated by:
Gina Daniels

Unabridged Audiobook

Release Date
August 2022
8 hours 7 minutes
A contrarian scientist wrestles with the big questions that modern physics raises, and what physics says about the human condition

Not only can we not currently explain the origin of the universe, it is questionable we will ever be able to explain it. The notion that there are universes within particles, or that particles are conscious, is ascientific, as is the hypothesis that our universe is a computer simulation.  On the other hand, the idea that the universe itself is conscious is difficult to rule out entirely. 
According to Sabine Hossenfelder, it is not a coincidence that quantum entanglement and vacuum energy have become the go-to explanations of alternative healers, or that people believe their deceased grandmother is still alive because of quantum mechanics. Science and religion have the same roots, and they still tackle some of the same questions: Where do we come from? Where do we go to? How much can we know? The area of science that is closest to answering these questions is physics. Over the last century, physicists have learned a lot about which spiritual ideas are still compatible with the laws of nature. Not always, though, have they stayed on the scientific side of the debate.

In this lively, thought-provoking book, Hossenfelder takes on the biggest questions in physics: Does the past still exist? Do particles think? Was the universe made for us? Has physics ruled out free will? Will we ever have a theory of everything? She lays out how far physicists are on the way to answering these questions, where the current limits are, and what questions might well remain unanswerable forever. Her book offers a no-nonsense yet entertaining take on some of the toughest riddles in existence, and will give the reader a solid grasp on what we know—and what we don’t know.

* This audiobook includes a downloadable PDF with key visual figures included in the book.
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Lis C.

Like The Disordered Cosmos, this is a book by a woman physicist, taking about her life and work in physics. And that\'s pretty much where the resemblance ends.\r\n\r\nChanda Prescod-Weinstein is a black American woman of Caribbean descent on her mother\'s side and Russian Jewish descent on her father\'s, who describes herself as a Reconstructionist Jew. She\'s encountered, and engaged strongly with, issues of racism and sexism in the world of physics. She says it has robbed her of a lot of the joy of doing physics.\r\n\r\nSabine Hossenfelder is a white German woman who hasn\'t encountered, or chooses not to mention, any issues of sexism in her professional life. She expresses seemingly pure joy in doing physics. That makes this a much easier book to listen to, though as I mentioned in my review, Prescod-Weinstein engaging those hard issues makes it a valuable book in its own right.\r\n\r\nHossenfelder talks about quantum physics, dark matter, the origin of the universe, and the difference between scientific, unscientific, and ascientific theories. The last category are things for which there isn\'t and can\'t be, as far as we\'re able to know, any evidence either for or against. This includes God, but also string theory, the multiverse, and other ideas generating much excitement in the scientific world. She expresses no hostility to any of these ideas; she says those (like Stephen Hawking) who say that the existence of God has been disproven are being as unscientific as those who say God\'s existence has been or can be proven. It\'s not necessarily wrong, either way, she says; it\'s just not science. Hossenfelder is an atheist, or at least an agnostic, but she\'s not invested in being \"right\" on this. She\'s happy to have people believe in a religion, or string theory, or the multiverse, as long as they don\'t insist it\'s science.\r\n\r\nOn the one hand, it\'s a more open attitude than some vocal scientists have. On the other hand, on the ideas at least nominally within the realm of science (string theory, or the multiverse, I wonder if equally rigorous physicists necessarily agree with her, because so many physicists seem to find these ideas quite credible. Is she being overly dogmatic, or not?\r\n\r\nOn the subject of religion, though, I agree with her. It\'s not science, it\'s not supposed to be science, and that\'s kind of the point. I was taught in Catholic school that ignoring the best evidence of science about the physical universe is at least perilously close to calling God a liar. Evolution is real. Earth is 4.5 billion years old. The scientific jury is still out on string theory, the multiverse, and maybe dark matter.\r\n\r\nThere is a lot here about physics, much more than in Prescod-Weinstein\'s book, which had a more divided focus. It\'s interesting, enlightening, and in places just a lot of fun.\r\n\r\nRecommended.

Existential Physics: A Scientist's Guide to Life's Biggest Questions
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