Has Physics Theory Become Vacuous?

How to Cite

Bauer, H. (2021). Has Physics Theory Become Vacuous? Lost in Math: How Beauty Leads Physics Astray by Sabine Hossenfelder. Journal of Scientific Exploration, 35(2), 405-414. https://doi.org/10.31275/20212015


Modern science made its mark by gaining knowledge and understanding in a bottom-up manner: starting with observed phenomena and developing explanatory theories.

From about the middle of the 20th century, however, reliance on accepted theories became increasingly dogmatic. One indication of increasing dogmatism was a failure to acknowledge phenomena for which no obvious explanation already existed—unidentified flying objects, unidentified creatures (Loch Ness Monsters, yetis, Bigfoot), parapsychological phenomena. Dissatisfaction with ignoring such phenomena led to the founding of the Society for Scientific Exploration as well as other, typically more topic-specialized, groups. A further indication of increasing dogmatism was the continuing adherence in many mainstream matters to explanations no longer consonant with accumulating evidence (Bauer, 2012a).

Nevertheless, it continues to be widely believed that science is carried on, and should be carried on, as described by the scientific method: The validity of theories is judged by their adequacy in explaining observable facts.

Lost in Math argues that theoretical physics is no longer a science in this sense, that it has become a playground of purely mathematical speculation, with judgments of potential validity made not by appeal to observables but to such aesthetic values or principles as elegance or beauty.

The book is enormously informative, extremely well-written, highly recommendable. Honestly and with full disclosure, Sabine Hossenfelder describes in the first person her grappling with the dilemma that her profession, theoretical physics, appears to be determinedly wrong-headed, at an impasse, a dead end, going nowhere, for instance producing 193 models for the early universe and 500 theories to explain a spurious signal (p. 235).

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