Tuesday, September 19, 2017


I’m still writing on the book. After not much happened for almost a year, my publisher now rather suddenly asked for the final version of the manuscript. Until that’s done not much will be happening on this blog.

We do seem to have settled on a title though: “Lost in Math: How Beauty Leads Physics Astray.” The title is my doing, the subtitle isn’t. I just hope it won’t lead too many readers astray.

The book is supposed to be published in the USA/Canada by Basic Books next year in the Spring, and in Germany by Fischer half a year later. I’ll tell you more about the content at some point but right now I’m pretty sick of the whole book-thing.

In the meantime I have edited another book, this one on “Experimental Search for Quantum Gravity” which you can now preoder on amazon. It’s a, probably rather hard to digest, collection of essays about topics covered at a conference I organized last year. I merely wrote the preface.

Yesterday the twins had their first day in school. As is unfortunately still common in Germany, classes go only until noon. And so, we’re now trying a new arrangement to keep the kids occupied throughout the working day.


  1. I've long suspected that Physics suffers from the "look under the lamppost" problem. Certain techniques are so useful that the thinking gets stuck there. Feynman diagrams and representation theory come to mind. They're tremendously powerful. They give answers! But I can't help but think that their effectiveness forces us to see Nature through a small hole in the wall. (Or, to stick the original metaphor, under a small cone of light in a large and dark expanse.)

  2. They sound like interesting books! Alas, the work it takes to write a book grows about quadratically rather than linearly with its length, because every part needs to fit together nicely with every other part. It's much less tiring to write an equal number of pages in the form of short papers.

    "It’s a, probably rather hard to digest, collection"

    So German, brutally inserting that long adjectival phrase between "a" and "collection"! Surrounded by commas, no less!

  3. First congratulations you have a beautiful family. Hard to juggle kid's and adult work schedules. I feel for you. My wife & I raised 3 of our own and 2 more fostered. I don't know how we did it but I'm sure the stress contributed to our break up, ironically after they were all grown

    Second books are a real pain. Like a word or song repeated over and over you become sick of your own work. Think of the royalties paying for child care! :)

  4. Michael,

    I don't know. I'm meeting with my German editor in November and will hear what he thinks. I'm not doing the translation myself. I figured writing the book once is enough. Also, my written German is miserable.

  5. John,

    Yes, you speak truth. But how do you know it grows quadratically and not exponentially? I insisted on not doing an early information dump in an attempt to not lose 80% of readers who get stuck on the details of the standard model, but dearly regret it. I've ended up saying every couple of paragraphs "we'll get to this in chapter x" or "as we discussed in chapter y".

  6. " “Lost in Math: How Beauty Leads Physics Astray”" Exact angular momentum conservation demands exact mirror-symmetric isotropic vacuum. Baryogenesis and the Tully-Fisher relation require ~10^(9) relative chiral anisotropic vacuum toward hadrons. Predictive non-classical gravitation lacks an ugly footnote (re Chern-Simons correction of Einstein-Hilbert action). Chemistry can observe it. Administratively undiscoverable!

    ..."keep the kids occupied throughout the working day" Social authenticity celebrates illiteracy, innumeracy, and borderline mental retardation. Teach them to organize shock brigades of exemplary labor to demand.

  7. I know it doesn't grow exponentially because I just wrote a book of length zero and it took no work at all. :-) But if you're talking about the asymptotic behavior, I don't really know. It feels quadratic to me, sort of like getting a crowd of people to all clink glasses with each other.

    "I've ended up saying every couple of paragraphs "we'll get to this in chapter x" or "as we discussed in chapter y"."

    Oh-oh. When you say something like "As I said in chapter x, we'll get to this in chapter y" you know the book has become too long.

  8. Just out of curiosity: What are these pink and green piramids?

  9. Hello Sabine,

    Best of luck with your book.
    I'm curious how the title will reflect the content. Judging from your presented opinions and observations on your blog, I would expect courageous insightfull writing, with a touch of 'je-m'en-foutisme'.

    Best, Koenraad

  10. I would guess that writing a science book that is not a text book and on a subject as complex as state-of-the-art physics is one of the most difficult things to do. I thought about writing a book about engineering/corporate experiences and gave up after two chapters in despair over how to corroborate my fallible memory. You should be very proud of this achievement.

    Next time, a book of essays might be easier, perhaps reflecting your experiences in different countries with different languages and different systems. It might allow you to include more of your humor and skillful turns of phrase. Certainly you have the experience and skill to do this - but perhaps not the time.

  11. My youngest also started school this year but you cannot buy Zuckertüten in Canada, so my wife Sara had to get creative and make one from scratch. But why in the world would your daughters not look happier given all the candy that they can dig into?

  12. Unknown,

    The cone things are called "Schultüte". Every child gets one on their first day of school. They are filled with sweets and toys and school-things like pens and notepads and so on. It seems to be a German tradition, but I have no idea where it comes from.

  13. Henning,

    They haven't yet learned to smile on cue. If you tell them to smile they'll just show you their teeth (or absence thereof, respectively). It's quite comical in a sense, but photo-wise you're better off not telling them to smile ;)

  14. Enjoy them while they are little. Once they become teenagers they only surface to eat and ask for money. ;)

  15. Your publisher probably did you a big favor, both by forcing a deadline and by providing a subtitle. A rule of thumb is that math is so intimidating that each equation cuts your readership in half. A title of simply "Lost in Math" would hardly appeal to a wide audience.

    You do have a unique opportunity. You will undoubtedly be the only physicist in history who can use her own lovely children to explain the Twin Paradox! You can pretend two photos were taken at the end of the experiment, and show the aging effects by comparing a photo of one of them when you started the book with a photo of the other one when you finish the book.

    Good luck!

  16. Dear Bee, I noticed you did not publish my last two comments in this or the Away Note post. Did I say something inappropriate in either comment? If I did please let me know what it was so I can refrain from repeating those mistakes.

  17. Louis,

    Not sure what you mean. For all I know, there is one comment of yours that I didn't post. As I have said often enough, I'm not a public ask-the-expert forum. If you could please move your random questions elsewhere, thanks.

  18. Sabine said… “As I have said often enough, I'm not a public ask-the-expert forum.”

    I generally skim over most comments and hadn’t read that before, I get it and will respect that.

    I also made a comment in this thread about enjoying seeing pictures of the girls because it brings back memories of when my two girls were that age. Did you object to something I said there also?


  19. Louis,

    Do you see the menu bar below the header image? Do you see the menu item that says "Comment Rules"? I suggest you read those.

    I don't recall any comment by you among those lines you mention.


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