All We Are Saying Is Give Physics a Chance

Last week, the blog Last Word On Nothing did a piece on the best and worst sciences to write about, and the two writers tapping physics as the worst said things that were really disappointing to hear from professional writers. I nearly wrote an angry rant here in response, but Jennifer Ouellette covered it more diplomatically than I would've, so I opted to try for a more positive response over at Forbes: Four Reasons to Not Fear Physics.

Would've been better to get this out much earlier in the week, but it's the next-to-last week of the term, and I was buried in grading all this week, and it's not all that time-sensitive a response. Anyway, if that sounds interesting, go over there and check it out.

(I also did a post there earlier this week on the evaluation of teaching, that I see I didn't flog here, so if you didn't notice it because you only follow this blog, well, there's some more weekend reading for you...)

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To Not or Not to, that is the question. Some people can't easily get past that kind of thing. Weird and obsessive, they are.

You might have done well to put the last, "Physics is Profound", in scare quotes, and talk about it differently. For some people, sure, "the central principles and weird idea(sic) of physics have deep implications for every aspect of existence", but for other people physics can also be thought of as just stuff about matter, not about the meaning of life. I can go either way on this, but I can see it to be at least reasonable not to think that without physics my life would be empty and meaningless. There's a certain amount of browbeating people and apparently implying that they're stupid if they can't see that physics is super important.

I also can't quite get my head round "Physics Is About Really Simple Ideas", insofar as stuff that gets reduced to one line equations takes large textbooks to put into context, with few easy ways out and with a lot of mathematical pre-requisites. Even when stuff can be reduced to relatively simple ideas there are often important ifs and buts about when stuff gets complicated. Gotta be careful not to overplay this one. On the other hand, one aspect of anything worth doing well is to make it look easy while also making people go wow at the virtuosity, knowing that not just anyone can go there (this, for me, is a tennis analogy; we're not all winning Wimbledon, but someone is, and those people are almost incredible).

"Physics Is Everywhere" and "Physics Is Amazing", however, at least the way you elaborate them, speak to what I've always liked about coming here, where it's more about the lasers and the condensed matter, metaphorically gathered round a car engine with a few beers, than about the Big Questions.

By Peter Morgan (not verified) on 29 May 2015 #permalink