Tuesday, May 31

Physics sadness

Paul Falstad has a pretty cool physics page where you can run java applets that demonstrate basic concepts. Surfing around his page, I found some unbelievable anecdotes about the state of physics knowledge in the world today. I am not posting this to make fun of the Ignorant Masses - after all, it's not their fault that basic scientific and physical reasoning isn't part of their worldview. Rather, I fault the community of scientists for failing to promote their ideas with the proper enthusiasm.

Gravity on the Moon
and
Heavy Boots

6 comments:

JeremyHussell said...

Just think of it as evolution in action.

Pharaohmagnetic said...

Evolution is fascinating. Now, what exactly do you mean? I see 3 main possibilities.

(1) you could be saying that there's no selective pressure towards physics-informedness
(2) you could be saying "take heart, for such prodigious numb-nutsedness will be selected against"
(3a) you could be saying that there's no selective pressure on physicists toward approachability
(3b) you could be saying that there's selective pressure on physicists *away from* approachability

If your position is (3b), I would be inclined to agree with you.

JeremyHussell said...

Actually, I was being deliberately vague, so that you could happily assume that I was confirming your own biases. Unfortunately, you turned out to be too open minded for that to work :-)

As for my own beliefs, (1) is right out, as is (3a). There are lots of selective pressures, the only question is which one is the most important one.

(3b) is true, since some physicists make careers out of publishing papers that nobody else can understand. However, some physicists make careers out of being able to explain physics in a way that's easy to understand. Most likely these two strategies will continue to coexist.

However, I do think that (2) is a much more powerful selective force. Even mediocre, unsuccessful physicists can manage to raise a family, whereas a misunderstanding of basic physics can be fatal. It doesn't have to happen very often to have a big effect in the long-term. See this for some hard numbers.

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