Skip to main content Accessibility help
String Theory and the Scientific Method
  • Cited by 73
  • Export citation
  • Recommend to librarian
  • Buy the print book

Book description

String theory has played a highly influential role in theoretical physics for nearly three decades and has substantially altered our view of the elementary building principles of the Universe. However, the theory remains empirically unconfirmed, and is expected to remain so for the foreseeable future. So why do string theorists have such a strong belief in their theory? This book explores this question, offering a novel insight into the nature of theory assessment itself. Dawid approaches the topic from a unique position, having extensive experience in both philosophy and high-energy physics. He argues that string theory is just the most conspicuous example of a number of theories in high-energy physics where non-empirical theory assessment has an important part to play. Aimed at physicists and philosophers of science, the book does not use mathematical formalism and explains most technical terms.


‘At the frontiers of physics and cosmology theoretical speculation proceeds without the constant confrontation with experiment often thought to be required for scientific validation. Richard Dawid explores this issue in the case of string theory. He offers a fascinating new perspective on non-empirical theory assessment, based on the concept of scientific underdetermination. I heartedly recommend this book to both physicists and philosophers.’

David Gross - Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics, and Nobel Laureate in Physics, 2004

‘Richard Dawid argues that string theory plays a novel role in the scientific process that has been neglected by philosophers of science. I believe that this book is a valuable contribution to the philosophy of science, which should interest practicing scientists as well as those who are more interested in the methodology of science.’

John Schwarz - California Institute of Technology

‘Richard Dawid provides a fascinating account of string theory, then uses it as a starting point to puzzle over exactly what it is that we do or should want from a satisfactory physical theory more generally. The result is a number of compelling philosophical insights into the nature and practice of modern physics.’

Jeffrey A. Barrett - University of California, Irvine

'Dawid makes what is probably the best possible case that theoretical justification can succeed. I applaud the fact that String Theory and the Scientific Method explicitly raises these questions and addresses them in a clear and well-considered way.'

George Ellis Source: Science

'String Theory and the Scientific Method is clearly written and well argued, one of the clearest expositions of string theory accessible to a non-physicist that I have read. Though narrowly conceived, and yearning to be informed by a broader philosophical perspective, it is an important contribution to traditional Anglo-American philosophy of science insofar as its initial inspiration is not the urge to develop the logic of science for its own sake, but the mismatch between the inherited picture of that logic and the actual experience of scientists.'

Robert P. Crease Source: History of Physics Newsletter

'I think that Dawid has identified an important, real feature of scientific methodology, neglected by philosophy of science - one that should be taken seriously. I also think that this book provides a plausible framework for thinking about it. To what extent Dawid is right about the way such 'post-empirical' reasoning functions in science is a harder question; even harder is the question of whether it can be justified along the lines he proposes. Obviously he believes he is right, and he argues plausibly to that effect, but the questions are big ones, deserving investigation and debate among a wide readership. I thus commend the book to you, and encourage you to engage the important issues that it raises. If Dawid is correct, then he has opened up a whole new way of thinking about scientific confirmation.'

Nick Huggett Source: Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews

'… explores how the development of string theories over recent decades has changed the way some physicists think about the relation between theory development and empirical evidence … Recommended. Graduate students, researchers/faculty, and professionals.'

M. Dickinson Source: Choice

'The book makes an important contribution to philosophy of science by discussing and arguing for the role that non-empirical theory assessments play in science.'

Keizo Matsubara Source: Metascience

'The book offers a rather difficult reading, being directed especially to philosophers of science. It is dense and well argued, and I would rank it together with the great classics of philosophy of science.'

Osvaldo Pessoa, Jr Source: Science & Education

Refine List

Actions for selected content:

Select all | Deselect all
  • View selected items
  • Export citations
  • Download PDF (zip)
  • Save to Kindle
  • Save to Dropbox
  • Save to Google Drive

Save Search

You can save your searches here and later view and run them again in "My saved searches".

Please provide a title, maximum of 40 characters.



Achinstein, P. (2010) “What to do if you want to defend a theory you can’t prove: a method of ‘physical speculation,’Journal of Philosophy 107(1), 35–56.
Antoniadis, I., N. Arkani-Hamed, S. Dimopoulos and G. R. Dvali (1998) “New dimensions at a millimeter to a Fermi and superstrings at a TeV,” hep-ph/9804398, Physics Letters B436, 257.
Ashtekar, A. (1986) “New variables for classical and quantum gravity,” Physical Review Letters 57(18), 2244–2247.
Barnes, E. C. (2008) The Paradox of Predictivism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Barrett, J. A. (2011) “Everett’s pure wave mechanics and the notion of worlds,” European Journal for the Philosophy of Science 1(2), 277–302.
Becker, K., M. Becker and J. H. Schwarz (2006) String Theory and M-Theory: A Modern Introduction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Bekenstein, J. D. (1973) “Black holes and entropy,” Physical Review D7(8), 2333–2346.
Bern, Z., L. J. Dixon and R. Roiban (2007) “Is N=8 supergravity finite?,” Physics Letters B644, 265–271, hep-th/0611086.
Bird, A. (2007) “Inference to the only explanation,” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 74, 424–432.
Bohm, D. (1952) “A suggested interpretation of the quantum theory in terms of ‘hidden variables,’Physical Review 85, 166–179.
Bovens, L. and S. Hartmann (2003) Bayesian Epistemology. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Boyd, R. (1984) “The current status of scientific realism,” in J. Leplin (ed.) Scientific Realism. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
Boyd, R. (1990): “Realism, approximate truth and philosophical method,” in C. Wade Savage (ed.) Scientific Theories, Minnesota Studies in the Philosophy of Science, vol. 14. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.
Brading, K. and E. Castellani (eds.) (2003) Symmetries in Physics: Philosophical Reflections. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Butterfield, J. and C. Isham (2001) “Spacetime and the philosophical challenge of quantum gravity,” in C. Callender and N. Huggett (eds.) Physics Meets Philosophy at the Planck Scale. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Callender, C. and N. Huggett (eds.) (2001) Physics Meets Philosophy at the Planck Scale. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Capelli, A., E. Castellani, F. Colomo and P. Di Veccia (eds.) (2012) The Birth of String Theory. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Carlip, S. (2008) “Black hole entropy and the problem of universality,” arXiv:0807.4192.
Chalmers, D. (1996) The Conscious Mind: In Search of a Fundamental Theory. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Chakravartty, A. (1998) “Semirealism,” Studies in the History and Philosophy of Modern Science 29, 391–408.
Chakravartty, A. (2004) “Structuralism as a form of scientific realism,” International Studies in Philosophy of Science 18, 151–171.
Clifton, R. and H. Halvorson (2002) “No place for particles in relativistic quantum theories?,” Philosophy of Science 69, 1–28.
Dawid, R. (2006) “Underdetermination and theory succession from the perspective of string theory,” Philosophy of Science 73(3), 298–322.
Dawid, R. (2007) “Scientific realism in the age of string theory,” Physics and Philosophy 11, 1–32.
Dawid, R. (2009) “On the conflicting assessments of the current status of string theory,” Philosophy of Science 76(5), 984–996.
Dawid, R. (2010) “High energy physics and the marginalization of the phenomena,” Manuscrito 33(1), special issue Issues in the Philosophy of Physics, 165–206.
Dawid, R. (2013) “String theory and theory assessment,” Foundations of Physics 43(1), 81–100.
Dawid, R. (in press) “Novel confirmation and the underdetermination of scientific theory building,” in press.
Dawid, R., S. Hartmann and J. Sprenger (in press) “The no alternatives argument,” in press.
Douglas, M. (2003) “The statistics of string/M theory vacua,” hep-th/0303194, JHEP 0305, 046.
Duhem, P. (1954) The Aim and Structure of Physical Theory. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Dyson, F. (2008) “The scientist as a rebel,” New York Review of Books.
Earman, J. (1986) “Why space is not a substance (at least not to first degree),” Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 67, 225–244.
Earman, J. and J. D. Norton (1987) “What price spacetime substantivalism,” British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 38, 515–525.
Esfeld, M. and V. Lam (2008) “Moderate structural realism about space and time,” Synthese 160, 27–46.
Everett, H. (1957) “Relative state formulation of quantum mechanics,” Review of Modern Physics 29, 454–462.
Feynman, R. P. (1950) “Mathematical formulation of the quantum theory of electromagnetic interaction,” Physical Review 80, 440–457.
Feynman, R. P. (1969) “Very high energy collisions of hadrons,” Physical Review Letters 23, 1415–1417.
Fine, A. (1986) “The natural ontological attitude,” in The Shaky Game. Chicago, IL: Chicago University Press, pp. 118–119.
Freedman, D. Z., S. Ferrara and P. van Nieuwenhuizen (1976) “Progress toward a theory of supergravity,” Physical Review D13, 3214–3218.
French, S. (1998) “On the withering away of physical objects,” in E. Castellani (ed.) Interpreting Bodies: Classical and Quantum Objects in Modern Physics. Princeton, MA: Princeton University Press, pp. 93–113.
Galison, P. (1987) How Experiments End. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
Galison, P. (1997) Image & Logic: A Material Culture of Microphysics. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
Georgi, H. and S. L. Glashow (1974) “Unity of all natural forces,” Physical Review Letters 32, 438–441.
Gell-Mann, M. (1964) “A schematic model of baryons and mesons,” Physics Letters 8, 214–215.
Gervais, J. L. and B. Sakita (1971) “Field theory interpretation of supergauges in dual models,” Nuclear Physics B34, 632.
Ghirardi, G. C., A. Rimini and T. Weber (1985) “A model for a unified quantum description of macroscopic and microscopic systems,” in L. Accardiet al. (eds.) Quantum Probability and Applications. Berlin: Springer.
Glashow, S. L. (1961) “Partial symmetries of weak interactions,” Nuclear Physics 22, 579–588.
Goldstone, J. (1961) “Field theories with superconductor solutions,” Nuovo Cimento 19, 154–164.
Green, M. B. and J. H. Schwarz (1984) “Anomaly cancellation in supersymmetric D=10 gauge theory and superstring theory,” Physics Letters 149B, 117.
Green, M. B., J. H. Schwarz and E. Witten (1987) Superstring Theory, 2 vols. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Greene, B. (1999) The Elegant Universe: Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions, and the Quest for the Ultimate Theory. London: Jonathan Cape.
Gross, D. J. and F. Wilczek (1973) “Asymptotically free gauge theories 1,” Physical Review D8, 3633–3652.
Guth, A. (1981) “The inflationary universe: a possible solution to the horizon and flatness problems,” Physical Review D23, 347–356.
Hacking, I. (1983) Representing and Intervening. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Han, M. Y. and Y. Nambu (1965) “Three triplet model with double SU(3) symmetry,” Physical Review 139, B1006–B1010.
Hawking, S. and L. Mlodinov (2010) Grand Design. London: Bantam Press.
Hedrich, R. (2007a) “The internal and external problems of string theory,” Journal for General Philosophy of Science 38(1), 261–278.
Hedrich, R. (2007b) Von der Physik zur Metaphysik. Ontos.
Higgs, P. (1964) “Broken symmetries, massless particles and gauge fields,” Physics Letters 12, 132–133; “Broken symmetries and the masses of gauge bosons,” Physical Review Letters 13, 508–509.
Horava, P. and E. Witten (1996) “Heterotic & type I string dynamics from eleven dimensions,” hep-th/9510209, Nuclear Physics B460, 506.
Horava, P. (2009) “Quantum gravity at a Lifshitz point,” Physics Review D79, 084008; arXiv:0901.3775.
Howson, C. and P. Urbach (2006) Scientific Reasoning: the Bayesian Approach, 3rd edition. La Salle: Open Court.
Hoyningen-Huene, P. (1993) Reconstructing Scientific Revolutions: Thomas S. Kuhn’s Philosophy of Science. Chicago, IL: Chicago University Press.
Ibanez, L. E. and A. M. Uranga (2012) String Theory and Particle Physics: An Introduction to String Phenomenology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Johansson, L. G. and K. Matsubara (2011) “String theory and general methodology,” Studies in History and Philosophy of Science B42(3), 199–210.
Kahn, J. A., S. E. Landsberg and A. C. Stockman (1992) “On novel confirmation,” British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 43, 503–516.
Kaku, M. (1997) Beyond Einstein: Superstrings and the Quest for the Final Theory. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Kobayashi, M. and T. Maskawa (1973) “CP violation in the renormalizable theory of weak interaction,” Progress in Theoretical Physics 49, 652–657.
Kovtun, P., D. T. Son and A. O. Starinets (2004) “Viscosity in strongly interacting quantum field theories from black hole physics,” Physical Review Letters 94(2005), 111601, hep-th/0405231.
Kuhn, T. S. (1962) The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
Ladyman, J. (1998) “What is structural realism?,” Studies in History and Philosophy of Science 29, 409.
Ladyman, J. and D. Ross (2007) Every Thing Must Go. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Lakatos, I. (1970) “Falsification and the methodology of scientific research programs,” in I. Lakatos and A. Musgrave (eds.) Criticism and the Growth of Knowledge, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Laudan, L. (1977) Progress and Its Problems. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
Laudan, L. (1981) “A confutation of convergent realism,” Philosophy of Science, 48, 19.
Laudan, L. (1996) Beyond Positivism and Relativism. Boulder, CO: Westview.
Laudan, L. and J. Leplin (1991) “Empirical equivalence and underdetermination,” Journal of Philosophy 88, 449.
Linde, A. (1982) “A new inflationary universe scenario: a possible solution of the horizon, flatness, homogeneity, isotropy and primordial monopole problems,” Physics Letters B108, 389–393.
Lipton, P. (2004) Inference to the Best Explanation. London: Routledge.
Maher, P (1988) “Prediction, accommodation and the logic of discovery,” PSA, 1, 273–285.
Malament, D. (1996) “In defense of dogma – why there cannot be a relativistic quantum mechanical theory of (localizable) particles”, in R. Clifton (ed.) Perspectives of Quantum Reality. Amsterdam: Kluwer.
Matsubara, K. (2013) “Realism, underdetermination and string theory dualities,” Synthese 190(3), 471–489.
Mattingly, J. (2005) “Is quantum gravity necessary?,” in J. Eisenstaedt and A. Kox (eds.) The Universe of General Relativity: Einstein Studies, vol. 11. Boston, MA: Birkhäuser.
Murugan, J., A. Weltman and G. F. Ellis (2012) Foundations of Space and Time: Reflections on Quantum Gravity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Musgrave, A. (1985) “Realism versus constructive empiricism,” in P. M. Churchland and C. A. Hooker (eds.) Images of Science. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
Nambu, Y. and G. Jona-Lasinio (1961) “Dynamical model of elementary particles based on an analogy with superconductivity 1,” Physical Review 122, 345–358.
Norton, J. D. (1993) “The determination of theory by evidence: the case for quantum discontinuity,” Synthese 97, 1.
Norton, J. D. (1994) “Science and certainty,” Synthese 99, 3.
Pais, A. (1986) Inward Bound: Of Matter and Forces in the Physical World. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Penrose, R. (2005) The Road to Reality. London: Vintage Books.
Perlmutter, al. (1999) “Measurements of omega and lambda from 42 high-redshift supernovae,” The Astrophysical Journal 517(2), 565–586.
Peskin, M. E. and D. V. Schroeder (1995) An Introduction to Quantum Field Theory. Reading: Perseus Books.
Pickering, A. (1984) Constructing Quarks. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
Polchinski, J. (1998) String Theory, 2 vols. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Polchinski, J. (1999) “Quantum gravity at the Planck length,” hep-th/9812104, International Journal of Modern Physics A14, 2633.
Polchinski, J. (2007) “All strung out?,” American Scientist 95(1), 1.
Policastro, G., D. T. Son and A. O. Starinets (2001) “The shear viscosity of strong coupled N=4 supersymmetric Yang Mills plasma,” Physics Review Letters 87(2001), 081601, hep-th/0104066.
Politzer, H. D. (1973) “Reliable perturbative results for strong interactions?,” Physical Review Letters 30, 1346–1349.
Psillos, S. (1999) Scientific Realism – How Science Tracks Truth. London: Routledge.
Putnam, H. (1975) “What is mathematical truth,” in Mathematics, Matter and Method, Philosophical Papers, Vol. 1. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Quine, W. V. (1970) “On the reasons for indeterminacy of translation,” The Journal of Philosophy 67, 179.
Quine, W. V. (1975) “On empirically equivalent systems of the worldErkenntnis 9, 313–328.
Randall, L andR. Sundrum (1999) “A large mass hierarchy from a small extra dimension” and “An alternative to compactification,” Physical Review Letters 83, 3370–3373 and 4690–4693.
Rescher, N. (2000) “The price of an ultimate theory,” Philosophia Naturalis 37, 1–20.
Rickles, D. (2011) “A philosopher looks at string dualities,” Studies in the History and Philosophy of Modern Physics 42(1), 54–67.
Riess, al. (1998) “Observational evidence from supernovae for an accelerating universe and a cosmological constant,” The Astronomical Journal 116(3), 1009–1038.
Riordan, M. (1987) The Hunting of the Quark – A True Story of Modern Physics. New York, NY: Touchstone.
Roush, S. (2006) Tracking Truth. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Rovelli, C. (1998) “Loop quantum gravity,” gr.qc/9710008, Living Reviews in Relativity 1, 1.
Rovelli, C. and L. Smolin (1990) “Loop space representation of quantum general relativity,” Nuclear Physics B 331(1), 80.
Salam, A. and J. C. Ward (1964) “Electromagnetic and weak interactions,” Physics Letters 13, 168–171.
Scherk, J. and J. H. Schwarz (1974) “Dual models for nonhadrons,” Nuclear Physics B81, 118.
Schweber, S. S. (1994) QED and the Men Who Made It: Dyson, Feynman, Schwinger and Tomonaga. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Schwinger, J. (1951) “On gauge invariance and vacuum polarization,” Physical Review Letters 82, 664–679.
Shimony, A. (1970) “Scientific inference,” in R. C. Colodny (ed.) Pittsburgh Studies in Philosophy of Science, Vol. 4. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, pp. 79–172.
Sklar, L. (1975) “Methodological conservatism,” Philosophical Review 84, 384.
Sklar, L. (1981) “Do unborn hypotheses have rights?,” Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 62, 17–29.
Sklar, L. (2000) Theory and Truth. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Smolin, L. (2006) The Trouble with Physics. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin.
Stachel, J. (2006) “Structure, individuality and quantum gravity,” in D. Rickles, S. French and J. Saatsi (eds.) The Structural Foundations of Quantum Gravity. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 53–82.
Stanford, P. K. (2001) “Refusing the devil’s bargain: what kind of underdetermination should we take seriously?,” Philosophy of Science 68 (Proceedings), 1.
Stanford, P. K. (2006) Exceeding our Grasp – Science, History, and the Problem of Unconceived Alternatives. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Stanford, P. K. (2009) “Scientific realism, the atomic theory and the catch-all hypothesis: can we test fundamental theories against all serious alternatives?,” British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 60(2), 253–269.
Strominger, A. and C. Vafa (1996) “Microscopic origin of the Bekenstein–Hawking entropy,” hep-th/9601029, Physics Letters B379, 99.
Strominger, A. (1998) “Black hole entropy from near horizon microstates,” JHEP 9802, 009, hep-th/9712251.
Stöltzner, M. (1999) “Vienna indeterminism: Mach, Boltzmann, Exner,” Synthese 119, 85–111.
Susskind, L. (2003) “The anthropic landscape of string theory,” hep-th/0302219.
Susskind, L. (2006) The Cosmic Landscape. New York: Little Brown.
’t Hooft, G. (1971) “Renormalizable Lagrangians for massive Yang–Mills fields,” Nuclear Physics B35, 167–188.
’t Hooft, G. and M. J. G. Veltman (1972) “Regularization and renormalization of gauge fields,” Nuclear Physics B44, 189–213.
van Fraassen, B. C. (1980) The Scientific Image. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
van Fraassen, B. C. (2002) The Scientific Stance. New Haven, CT & London: Yale University Press.
van Fraassen, B. C. (2008) Scientific Representation: Paradoxes of Perspective. Oxford: Oxford University Press
Veneziano, G. (1968) “Construction of a crossing-symmetric, regge behaved amplitude for linearly rising trajectories,” Nuovo Cimento 57A, 190.
Verlinde, E. (2011) “On the origin of gravity and the laws of Newton,” JHEP 1104, 029.
Weinberg, S. (1967) “A model of leptons,” Physical Review Letters 19, 1264–1266.
Weinberg, S. (1992) Dreams of a Final Theory. London: Pantheon.
Weinberg, S. (1996) The Quantum Theory of Fields. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Weinberg, S. (2001) Facing Up. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Weingard, R. (1989) “A philosopher’s look at string theory,” reprinted in Callender, C. and Huggett, N. (2001) Physics Meets Philosophy at the Planck Scale. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Wess, J and B. Zumino (1974) “Supergauge transformations in four dimensions,” Nuclear Physics B70, 39–50.
Witten, E. (1995) “String theory dynamics in various dimensions,” hep-th/9503124, Nuclear Physics B443, 85.
Witten, E. (1996) “Reflections on the fate of spacetime,” reprinted in C. Callender and N. Huggett (eds.) (2001) Physics Meets Philosophy at the Planck Scale. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Woit, P. (2006) Not Even Wrong: The Failure of String Theory and the Continuing Challenge to Unify the Laws of Physics. London: Jonathan Cape.
Worrall, J. (1989) “Structural realism: the best of both worlds?,” Dialectica, 43(1–2), 99.
Worrall, J. (2000) “The scope, limits, and distinctiveness of the method of ‘deduction from the phenomena’: some lessons from Newton’s ‘Demonstrations’ in optics,” The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 51, 45.
Wüthrich, C. (2004) “To quantize or not to quantize: fact and folklore in quantum gravity,” Proceedings PSA 2004: Contributed Papers.
Yang, C. N. and R. L. Mills (1954) “Conservation of isotopic spin and isotopic gauge invariance,” Physical Review 96, 191–195.
Zwiebach, B. (2004) A First Course on String Theory. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Book summary page views

Total views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between #date#. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed.