## Loss of interest in physics

• Imagine you are sipping tea or coffee while discussing various issues with a broad and diverse network of students, colleagues, and friends brought together by the common bond of physics, graduate school, and the physics GRE.

CyberShot
Posts: 23
Joined: Sat May 15, 2010 5:43 pm

### Loss of interest in physics

Okay, so hear me out.

I originally came to college as a physics major. I've always grown up loving everything about it, especially the concept of time travel. However, now that I'm now a junior in college I have noticed patterns among professors, who seem to follow mathematics so blindly (dangerously so, imo) that they fail to see the quick, intuitive shortcuts that I see. It's as if he doesn't "see" things with intuition, but rather relies on the crutch of mathematics, which does all the work for him. When, I ask him the answer to a certain problem, it's as if he says: "Hmm, well let's see what math says it should be.., because I don't have my own brain. Let me just take this variable called y, do something funny to it, and wallah, out comes the answer. I didn't figure that out for myself, mind you, I let math do the trick"

The way I've tried to approach every physics problem up until this point is to use the most fundamental logic. For example, I don't like how so many funny looking symbols that really stand for something else are , i.e the integral. Let's say we have a function f(x) = x. There's nothing intuitive about being able to conveniently raise it to one higher power, and divide by that power to get the area function. I mean, sure it's fast and easy, but why are things that convenient for us? The modern world relies on calculus, which means that our survival comes down to simple "gifts" of being able to calculate fluxes, probabilities, volumes, etc with simple, neat tricks. That makes me sick, for some reason, that we allow math to control us in such a way.

I do understand that, on the one hand, we can't really give up on all the learned formulas because the work of scientists, whose formulas we use today, would have been all for nothing if we discarded them and searched for something truly elementary. Things that are irreducible, and only stand for themselves (like counting numbers) instead of using tricks.

I've thus obviously dealt with a lot of frustration, and even depression now. I've just "given up" on physics, and switched to computer science because I feel that all I'll be doing in grad school is applying "complicated" formulas, which really stand for something elementary, without truly understanding them at a deep, intuitive level.

Idk. Maybe I'm better off as a philosophy major, with the way I tend to approach problems? I took one class, and found that my very deep "need for complete intuition" way of approaching things worked way better there than in physics.

I guess what I'm really trying to get at is: what kind of careers/majors is better suited to someone who approaches things with the most deep-rooted intuition, and without regard for things that stand for other things.

Or maybe, I'm just crazy..? anyways, I need your help!

zxcv
Posts: 402
Joined: Mon Dec 17, 2007 11:08 pm

### Re: Loss of interest in physics

If you want to learn the fundamentals of calculus and algebra underlying physics you should take math courses where such concepts are formally defined and proved. Math majors are rarely asked to take results on faith alone.

But if you can't accept the that a thing may stand for another thing, then you should not be taking a technical degree. Notation and names are used all the time in math, physics and computer science. Actually, names are pretty essential to everything in the modern world. I'm not sure if you have any options here.

You could major in philosophy, but that's hardly a career path. Academia in the humanities is super super super competitive, and, most agree, a waste of time.

CyberShot
Posts: 23
Joined: Sat May 15, 2010 5:43 pm

### Re: Loss of interest in physics

It's not that I don't understand the formulas, it's just that I think ridiculously abstractly. I just have this deep-down gut feeling that any and everything in the world can be reduced to +,-,*,/ operations. I also feel like if we can reduce them to this basic, "proper" form, then we have truly conquered and understood the idea. Notations, integrals, matrices are just ways of us "coping" with difficult calculations by using manipulative trickeries.

This, I feel, is the great danger.

Maybe my mind is better suited to study mathematical philosophy? Any ideas?

Captain_Slow
Posts: 10
Joined: Tue Jan 25, 2011 8:20 pm

### Re: Loss of interest in physics

I think the way physics is taught depends on the type of university, and most importantly the professor who is teaching it. Though I might have had a little bit of the same feeling you had during my lower undergraduate years, it started to change when I took upper level courses, and did reading courses. Any good upper level physics book paired with a mathematical physics book (I like Hassani's) should give you a development of the methods, and the reason of usage of these "complicated" formulas. You can if you want work out every problem with a fine grained approach, like starting with the definition of a derivative or the fundamental theorem of calculus.

Graduate school in physics is not about applying "complicated" formulas, even a trained monkey can do that. You will have to understand these "complicated" formulas. The way you approach the understanding is up to you, whatever way gives you the "deep-rooted" intuition.

Lastly, since you have already made a switch to CS, you might want to take a look into 'programming theory', you can look into things like type theory, and logic in programming.

leedj23
Posts: 15
Joined: Sat Oct 31, 2009 12:32 pm

### Re: Loss of interest in physics

Well, mathematics is like a language. you don't need think about syntax or grammar when you use it but concentrate on "how to use it well to convey your idea efficiently". As one studies linguistics to study the roots of the languages, you simply need to study maths.

meichenl
Posts: 11
Joined: Tue Nov 09, 2010 5:39 pm

### Re: Loss of interest in physics

I have noticed patterns among professors, who seem to follow mathematics so blindly (dangerously so, imo) that they fail to see the quick, intuitive shortcuts that I see. It's as if he doesn't "see" things with intuition, but rather relies on the crutch of mathematics, which does all the work for him. When, I ask him the answer to a certain problem, it's as if he says: "Hmm, well let's see what math says it should be.., because I don't have my own brain. Let me just take this variable called y, do something funny to it, and wallah, out comes the answer. I didn't figure that out for myself, mind you, I let math do the trick"

I also like intuitive explanations where they're possible, but ultimately a reasonable balance in necessary. Also, what is considered "intuitive" depends on the person. I do not consider it mysterious that the integral of x^n is 1/(n+1) x^(n+1) or consider it a trick. I think the concept of using antiderivatives to compute integrals is very intuitive, and further that it's intuitively pretty obvious that the derivative of x^(n+1) scales as x^n by simple dimensionality. The exact coefficient isn't obvious to me, (except for small n, where I can visualize an n-dimensional box expanding) but the rest is not so bad.

I'm reminded of an essay by John Baez, "Mysteries of the Gravitational Two-Body Problem" (http://math.ucr.edu/home/baez/gravitational.html) that addresses this issue. Baez says that in his whole career as a mathematical physicist, despite seeing many mathematical proofs that orbits in a 1/r^2 force law are conic sections, "I'm still looking for the truly beautiful way, where you leave the room saying: 'Inverse square force law... conic sections... of course! Now the connection is obvious!'".

The lesson is threefold. First is that many other people are interested in understanding things as intuitively as possible. Second is that this is not always possible, or at least not always easy. The final one is that this doesn't mean physics is in error or ugly or not working. It just means that the consequences of the laws aren't obvious. Doesn't that add to how remarkable they are? Isn't it fantastic that the universe computes such rich, wild, unintuitive results all the time?

I don't know about your professors, and mine varied in quality during lectures, but on the whole they were outstanding. I had the privilege of auditing the last course Kip Thorne taught before retiring - a survey of classical physics including relativity, statistical mechanics, and continuum mechanics. He had an incredible ability to meld both intuitive and mathematical understanding, and he mixed this with stories about the times in his career he had applied this knowledge (sometimes to LIGO, and other times to things like building his house to withstand windstorms), videos of the motion we were analyzing, and historical context to the problems we were solving. In fact I deeply regret lacking the discipline to keep up with the reading and homework outside of class to absorb as much as I could from the experience. (The lecture notes, which are really a fully-formed book, are available at http://www.pma.caltech.edu/Courses/ph136/yr2008/

You might also be interested in things like Sanjoy Mahajan's book on intuitive mathematics http://mitpress.mit.edu/catalog/item/de ... &tid=12156 (free download available) or his notes on order-of-magnitude physics http://www.inference.phy.cam.ac.uk/sanjoy/oom/, or Sterl Phinney's class on the same topic http://www.its.caltech.edu/~oom/. Here, the goal is to take physics phenomena and get rough intuitive understanding without much mathematical manipulation. In some cases it's amazingly powerful.

Finally, you might enjoy Mark Levi's book "The Mathematical Mechanic", which turns the picture on its head, using intuitive physics concepts to understand mathematical ideas!
Last edited by meichenl on Wed Feb 02, 2011 5:33 am, edited 1 time in total.

meichenl
Posts: 11
Joined: Tue Nov 09, 2010 5:39 pm

### Re: Loss of interest in physics

CyberShot wrote:I just have this deep-down gut feeling that any and everything in the world can be reduced to +,-,*,/ operations. I also feel like if we can reduce them to this basic, "proper" form, then we have truly conquered and understood the idea.
I don't think you need to study philosophy. I think you need to learn a lot more math. Try studying analysis, for example, and see if that adds exponentiation to your list of "proper" mathematical ideas. How can you understand power laws, which are so basic to physics, without exponentiation?

Or try studying linear algebra from a good theoretical book (I like Axler's, since it's approachable and clear, with good exercises), then apply it to quantum mechanics, and see if ideas about linear operators on vector spaces are added to your list.

Or try studying differential geometry or topology or even just plain old Euclidean geometry. My opinion is that you mostly need deeper exposure to these ideas. They aren't cute little tricks. They're fundamental and, what's more, incredibly interesting, but only if approached from the viewpoint of studying them for their own sake. Once you get them from a math viewpoint, applying them feels far more natural. That's the way it's worked for me, at least. For example, I knew about matrices and was able to invert them and multiply them and do all sorts of manipulations with them long before I understood them. Only after I understood them did I feel like they were really illuminating that physics they can describe.

meichenl
Posts: 11
Joined: Tue Nov 09, 2010 5:39 pm

### Re: Loss of interest in physics

Captain_Slow wrote:Any good upper level physics book paired with a mathematical physics book (I like Hassani's) should give you a development of the methods, and the reason of usage of these "complicated" formulas.
Hassani has two math methods books - one for undergrads ("Math Methods for blah blah blah") and one for grad students ("Introduction to Mathematical Physics" or some such). Which one were you referring to?

CyberShot
Posts: 23
Joined: Sat May 15, 2010 5:43 pm

### Re: Loss of interest in physics

I guess I can make a computing analogy here.

It's as if calculus, or any other invented math is like a language, which gets converted into binary (the mathematical equivalent of + - * /) so that it can be implemented to spit out an answer.

In this way, we should be able to figure out any problem we want by just adding, subtracting, multiplying, or dividing quantities. These 4 concepts are built into the universe (the rest are man-made) and that's the level at which I want to understand physics.

Or maybe it's just too much work to understand things that way, in which case we have to "invent" things that stand for other things to organize and make things easier.

Any ideas on this?

meichenl
Posts: 11
Joined: Tue Nov 09, 2010 5:39 pm

### Re: Loss of interest in physics

If you know that's really true about the universe, then you know a lot more about the universe than anybody else does.

CyberShot
Posts: 23
Joined: Sat May 15, 2010 5:43 pm

### Re: Loss of interest in physics

Was that sarcasm?

I know for a fact that's the way the universe works. It's logical that it must work that way.

My problem now is that I'm forced to abandon the subject I love because scientists don't like thinking about the world in terms of pluses or minuses. They'd rather invent complicated looking formulas (like tensors) that boost their ego, so as to exclude others and make themselves feel like they are the best and brightest.

meichenl
Posts: 11
Joined: Tue Nov 09, 2010 5:39 pm

### Re: Loss of interest in physics

CyberShot wrote:
I know for a fact that's the way the universe works. It's logical that it must work that way.
What a surprisingly compact way of being wrong, arrogant, and absurd.

YodaT
Posts: 102
Joined: Mon May 10, 2010 2:01 am

### Re: Loss of interest in physics

Where to begin...

To me it sounds like you have not been around professors or researchers who have contributed immensely to their fields. By "immensely" I'm talking about individuals who have written widely used graduate textbooks, received Nobel Prizes, or have been progenitors of their fields of research. I have personally talked to such researchers and trust me... they will blow your mind. Every mathematically expression throughout some derivation has a meaning to them. It's not just "machinery"... every expression has an underlying physical interpretation. Many of times unphysical expressions in various theories are disregarded, because... well they're unphysical. It's not just all mathematical trickery. Trust me, just because your professors are teachers for the great minds of history does not mean all of physics follows mathematics blindly... the ones who follow the maths blindly are the ones who don't truly understand physics. Math is not just invented. It is developed in a strict logical manner to describe nature and all its constituents in a very logical and concise format.

Also, to think notation, symbols, and expressions were created out of egos and ways to make them less understood is just plain dumb. They are shorthand notations, ways of condensing and generalizing expressions. To think everything can be "reduced to +,-,*,/ operations" is also very naive.
CyberShot wrote: They'd rather invent complicated looking formulas (like tensors) that boost their ego, so as to exclude others and make themselves feel like they are the best and brightest.

Intuition is good... but it's just one of a set of abilities needed in physics.

drunkscientist
Posts: 17
Joined: Tue Jan 25, 2011 5:04 am

### Re: Loss of interest in physics

I am sorry, but from my point of view, Initially, you got interested in physics because you didnot understand what physics actually was. Physics is far different from brief history of time or some time travel comics. Its about proving things using hardcore mathematics. Intution is good, but it might also lead to wrong results. A good physicist must use his/her intuition and support it with mathematical proofs.

A physicist who doesnot have a great intuition but a great calculation ability, can still produce breakthroughs. But, we dont call a person with just intuitions as a physicist.

grae313
Posts: 2296
Joined: Tue May 29, 2007 8:46 pm

### Re: Loss of interest in physics

meichenl wrote:
I have noticed patterns among professors, who seem to follow mathematics so blindly (dangerously so, imo) that they fail to see the quick, intuitive shortcuts that I see. It's as if he doesn't "see" things with intuition, but rather relies on the crutch of mathematics, which does all the work for him. When, I ask him the answer to a certain problem, it's as if he says: "Hmm, well let's see what math says it should be.., because I don't have my own brain. Let me just take this variable called y, do something funny to it, and wallah, out comes the answer. I didn't figure that out for myself, mind you, I let math do the trick"

I also like intuitive explanations where they're possible, but ultimately a reasonable balance in necessary. Also, what is considered "intuitive" depends on the person. I do not consider it mysterious that the integral of x^n is 1/(n+1) x^(n+1) or consider it a trick. I think the concept of using antiderivatives to compute integrals is very intuitive, and further that it's intuitively pretty obvious that the derivative of x^(n+1) scales as x^n by simple dimensionality. The exact coefficient isn't obvious to me, (except for small n, where I can visualize an n-dimensional box expanding) but the rest is not so bad.

I'm reminded of an essay by John Baez, "Mysteries of the Gravitational Two-Body Problem" (http://math.ucr.edu/home/baez/gravitational.html) that addresses this issue. Baez says that in his whole career as a mathematical physicist, despite seeing many mathematical proofs that orbits in a 1/r^2 force law are conic sections, "I'm still looking for the truly beautiful way, where you leave the room saying: 'Inverse square force law... conic sections... of course! Now the connection is obvious!'".

The lesson is threefold. First is that many other people are interested in understanding things as intuitively as possible. Second is that this is not always possible, or at least not always easy. The final one is that this doesn't mean physics is in error or ugly or not working. It just means that the consequences of the laws aren't obvious. Doesn't that add to how remarkable they are? Isn't it fantastic that the universe computes such rich, wild, unintuitive results all the time?

I don't know about your professors, and mine varied in quality during lectures, but on the whole they were outstanding. I had the privilege of auditing the last course Kip Thorne taught before retiring - a survey of classical physics including relativity, statistical mechanics, and continuum mechanics. He had an incredible ability to meld both intuitive and mathematical understanding, and he mixed this with stories about the times in his career he had applied this knowledge (sometimes to LIGO, and other times to things like building his house to withstand windstorms), videos of the motion we were analyzing, and historical context to the problems we were solving. In fact I deeply regret lacking the discipline to keep up with the reading and homework outside of class to absorb as much as I could from the experience. (The lecture notes, which are really a fully-formed book, are available at http://www.pma.caltech.edu/Courses/ph136/yr2008/

You might also be interested in things like Sanjoy Mahajan's book on intuitive mathematics http://mitpress.mit.edu/catalog/item/de ... &tid=12156 (free download available) or his notes on order-of-magnitude physics http://www.inference.phy.cam.ac.uk/sanjoy/oom/, or Sterl Phinney's class on the same topic http://www.its.caltech.edu/~oom/. Here, the goal is to take physics phenomena and get rough intuitive understanding without much mathematical manipulation. In some cases it's amazingly powerful.

Finally, you might enjoy Mark Levi's book "The Mathematical Mechanic", which turns the picture on its head, using intuitive physics concepts to understand mathematical ideas!
This may be one of the best responses I've ever seen to a post on these forums. CyberShot, you just blew it off. He makes great and well-thought out arguments and provides you links to lots of resources that it sounds like you'd really enjoy. At the least, they would be worth checking out for you.

If you thoroughly understood how to program advanced applications at a bit-by-bit level, would you program this way, or would you use C++ to get there in a fraction of the time? I think you *can* understand physics at that level, and all of the greats do, but no one actually *does* physics at that level because there is no point. We'll write our application, so to speak, in a c++. You can foster an intuitive approach to physics and problem solving, but you'll never be able to do anything meaningful without a deep understanding of the mathematical tools available to you. If you're having trouble gleaning physical intuition from the math equations, that means you don't understand the math well enough.

If that's not enough for you and you won't be happy until you're actually *doing* physics with only +,-,*,/, even if it makes your life ridiculously hard, then physics is not for you. Neither is programming, unless you want to try and write applications by bringing magnets next to bits to flip them. Go be a philosopher and never accomplish anything useful with your life.

Posts: 49
Joined: Fri Dec 17, 2010 2:13 am

### Re: Loss of interest in physics

If you want to do physics with only basic algebraic operations, go teach high school physics. Maybe the tremendous gymnastics done in high school physics courses to avoid using calculus (let alone linear algebra, etc.), and the resulting limitations in those courses, will help you see how necessary such things are for doing real physics.

It shouldn't be a surprise that Isaac Newton, the founder of classical physics, was also the inventor of calculus. If you come up with a way to do physics without calculus, quantum mechanics without linear algebra, or relativity without tensors, let us know. Otherwise, remember that the universe is the way it is, and expecting it to conform to your current intuitive feelings is irrational. Mathematics is the language of physics, and you appear to think the library should carry nothing beyond Fun with Dick and Jane.

The_Duck
Posts: 41
Joined: Tue Nov 16, 2010 12:04 pm

### Re: Loss of interest in physics

CyberShot wrote:It's as if calculus, or any other invented math is like a language, which gets converted into binary (the mathematical equivalent of + - * /) so that it can be implemented to spit out an answer.
As grae says, trying to use the most elementary math instead of more advanced and compact techniques is like trying to program in machine code instead of high-level languages. Yes, the high-level stuff stands for the low-level stuff, so you could write out integrals in terms of limits of sums and so on. But once you understand how an integral is defined in terms of a sum it's not helpful to keep doing it as a sum; instead you just work out some techniques for working with integrals and then stick to that notation.

Anyway, multiplication just stands for repeated addition, and division [in a way] for repeated subtraction, and subtraction for addition of a negative number, so just stick with +.

turgonel
Posts: 6
Joined: Mon Jan 03, 2011 11:49 pm

### Re: Loss of interest in physics

The_Duck wrote:Anyway, multiplication just stands for repeated addition, and division [in a way] for repeated subtraction, and subtraction for addition of a negative number, so just stick with +.
Also, if we have to break things down Barney-style every time, don't forget to define your field.

drunkscientist
Posts: 17
Joined: Tue Jan 25, 2011 5:04 am

### Re: Loss of interest in physics

axiomofchoice
Posts: 198
Joined: Thu Feb 05, 2009 11:45 pm

### Re: Loss of interest in physics

CyberShot wrote:I guess I can make a computing analogy here.

It's as if calculus, or any other invented math is like a language, which gets converted into binary (the mathematical equivalent of + - * /) so that it can be implemented to spit out an answer.

In this way, we should be able to figure out any problem we want by just adding, subtracting, multiplying, or dividing quantities. These 4 concepts are built into the universe (the rest are man-made) and that's the level at which I want to understand physics.
Then you won't go very far - probably no further than high school physics.

Using your own machine analogy, did you ever tried to understand code in binary machine form? Do you prefer that over those BS languages like C++/Java/whatever or even assembly? Or maybe you are one of those superhumans who can make sense out of a bunch of 0's and 1's.

If you don't appreciate the beauty behind some notations (the more I learn about quantum mechanics, for example, the more I admire the Dirac bracket notation - it's just brilliant), you indeed are not suited for physics.

Plus, what make you think that + - * / are built into the universe?

CyberShot
Posts: 23
Joined: Sat May 15, 2010 5:43 pm

### Re: Loss of interest in physics

Since I'm lazy, and it's late, I'll just quote what I wrote from the physicsforums website.

This will probably answer all of your questions, anywho.
ZapperZ wrote:Maybe what you actually love is NOT physics, but rather the romanticized view of it.

I will also point out that what you call "intuition" is nothing more than a series of knowledge that you've acquired till now. I can show you many situations where your intuition will fail, simply because you haven't been exposed to that particular knowledge. And when you have, then you find that to be intuitively obvious. So relying on your intuition is not reliable, especially when you're still learning and when you don't know a lot.

Zz.
I actually believe that intuition is not learned, but rather pre-programmed into our brains before birth. I'm sure you're familiar with Molyneaux's problem.

ZapperZ wrote:
To me, that is more frustrating than learning mathematics. And considering that philosophy doesn't play a role at all in the advancement of physics, but rather having to play catch-up with the new things in physics, you have to be consider if what you do makes any difference.
A bit harsh, and (no disrespect) miscalculated response, don't you think? Philosophy makes statements about why physics and math are the way they are, or why they're even allowed to work in the first place. It's sort of like the pre-heat part of the instructions in making the universe. Sure, some philosophical statements can probably never be proven, but that's why we're granted some intuition to see if such statements are plausible.

micromass wrote:Yes, I agree. I don't really like philosophy to for that very reason. But I simply think that the OP might be more philosophy minded. And I think that the OP should do what he loves best, and in this case I don't think physics is really his thing.

I mean, if you're loving the concept of time travel, then I think philosphy is the field where you can talk about that concept freely. It's not science at all, but I simply think that the OP might like philosophy more then the hard, cold sciences...
Yes, but I have this debilitating fear that studying philosophy ultimately circles back to intuition and is very unfruitful because you don't really learn anything you already didn't have inside you, you just see things in a better light. Whereas if I pursue physics I can have a real grasp of the way the universe physically presents itself.
JDStupi wrote: Oh yea, and let's not be so sure about philosophy being the easy-breezy place where we can freely speculate on anything we wish. Maybe you should take a philo course, and maybe you'd end up right back where you started. A good Philo course wouldn't stand up for

"These 4 concepts are built into the universe (the rest are man-made) and that's the level at which I want to understand physics"

What is your justification for this statement? Where did you get this idea from? How do you proceed from a personal familiarity to an ontological statement? Assuming you could logically prove that all mathematical operations were reducible to elementary arithmetic operations, how would you proceed from a statement of mathematics/logic to a statement of ontology/metaphysics? ....
Simple argument, see if you can break it.

1. If every physics problem can possibly be done by adding, subtracting, multiplying, or dividing a bunch of numbers, then these 4 concepts underpin reality in some way.

2. Every physics problem can possibly be done by adding, subtracting, multiplying, or diving a bunch of numbers. *
---
3. Thus, these 4 concepts underpin reality in some way.

Argument 1 presupposes a connection between mathematical truths and metaphysical ones, a not so improbable one if you deeply think about it.

It might be hard to see 2 right away. To convince yourself, try to think of a counter-example. Granted, to do calculations using the 4 basic operators might take an infinite amount of time to do so, and it may also be infinitely tedious, but it's definitely possible. Things requiring an infinite amount of time does not place them outside the realm of "possibility." Neither does tediousness.

Fizex wrote:
I'd like to see how you can put 5^pi in terms of those operations without infinitely approximating.
Sure you can. Just add up a bunch of real numbers and decimals and stop when you reach 5^pi. It might take you more time than exists, but who cares? That has nothing to do with the argument. Infinitely approximating is not approximating if we're talking about infinite; it is exacting. Just because integrations and other calculus "tricks" take care of infinitely long processes by conveniently "predicting" what the answer is going to look like if you were to do things the infinite way, doesn't mean that calculations can't be done the very long, tedious way of calculating things.
Fizex wrote:
Have you taken quantum mechanics yet? No human intuition is going to let you derive the solutions to it's problems.
Exactly why it's probably a stubbornly wrong model of reality, not that I'm qualified (as in a physics degree) to make such statements about ludicrous theories that include two particles deciding on their own accord to "communicate" with each other without actually communicating.

CyberShot
Posts: 23
Joined: Sat May 15, 2010 5:43 pm

### Re: Loss of interest in physics

I must admit that I just came home a couple of hours ago after listening to a public lecture by Nima-Arkani Hamed, so maybe that's why I'm all fired up at the moment.

The_Duck
Posts: 41
Joined: Tue Nov 16, 2010 12:04 pm

### Re: Loss of interest in physics

CyberShot wrote:1. If every physics problem can possibly be done by adding, subtracting, multiplying, or dividing a bunch of numbers, then these 4 concepts underpin reality in some way.

2. Every physics problem can possibly be done by adding, subtracting, multiplying, or diving a bunch of numbers. *
---
3. Thus, these 4 concepts underpin reality in some way.
1. If every physics problem can possibly be done by NANDing a bunch of bits together, then the NAND operation underpins reality in some way.

2. Every physics problem can possibly be done by adding, subtracting, multiplying, or diving a bunch of numbers.

3. Every arithmetic operation can be done by NANDing a bunch of bits.

4. Thus, this 1 logic gate underpins reality in some way.

On the other hand, I can make exactly the same argument for NOR gates. So which logic gate is the universe built from?

rims
Posts: 21
Joined: Thu Oct 14, 2010 9:10 pm

### Re: Loss of interest in physics

CyberShot wrote:2. Every physics problem can possibly be done by adding, subtracting, multiplying, or diving a bunch of numbers. *
Basically you are saying that physics can be reduced to arithmetic, which is not true. On the other side, physics can be reduced to mathematics (that's the goal of physics since the time of Newton), but mathematics cannot be reduced to arithmetic. A simple example is elementary geometry, which is based on the concepts of point, line, parallelism, etc., which have nothing to do with simple arithmetic. Calculus is another example: the operation of taking a limit is not an arithmetic operation.

grae313
Posts: 2296
Joined: Tue May 29, 2007 8:46 pm

### Re: Loss of interest in physics

CyberShot wrote:Things requiring an infinite amount of time does not place them outside the realm of "possibility."
This doesn't make sense to me -- if it takes an infinite amount of time to complete, then you can never complete it. If you can never complete it, it's not possible to complete.

bfollinprm
Posts: 1203
Joined: Sat Nov 07, 2009 11:44 am

### Re: Loss of interest in physics

Sounds like you should study philosophy. I did both, and I know quite a few who did, so it's not an either/or. And you do need help sorting out your intuitions. What western philosophy (ostensibly) does is follow points of intuition to their logical consequences. And lots of these intuitions conflict with each other in their logical fullness. Finding a method to answer every question in Physics with a plus or minus isn't going to satisfy you, the reality of physics isn't commensurate with a gnostic view into the mind of God. Check out degrees in philosophy of physics, which are offered at a couple larger schools. Michigan, if I recall (maybe it's Madison), has an excellent program.

By the way, the major you're looking for by answering every physics question by arithmetical operations is called field theory. And if you hate symbols and shorthand, I'd stay away.

Ryalnos
Posts: 33
Joined: Sat Nov 14, 2009 1:14 pm

### Re: Loss of interest in physics

As drunkenscientist (sorta) pointed out with his link, believing so strongly that you are thinking about the world correctly and (almost) everyone else is wrong is a bad sign/the road to becoming a crackpot.

Posts: 49
Joined: Fri Dec 17, 2010 2:13 am

### Re: Loss of interest in physics

CyberShot wrote:I actually believe that intuition is not learned, but rather pre-programmed into our brains before birth. I'm sure you're familiar with Molyneaux's problem.
We do have some intuitions when born; others we learn from practice and experience. If you want to assert that all intuition exists immediately, the onus is on you to provide support for this assertion. As it is an absolute assertion, it only takes one counterexample to disprove it, such as a demonstration of chess players gaining intuition for good moves over years of playing.
CyberShot wrote:A bit harsh, and (no disrespect) miscalculated response, don't you think? Philosophy makes statements about why physics and math are the way they are, or why they're even allowed to work in the first place. It's sort of like the pre-heat part of the instructions in making the universe. Sure, some philosophical statements can probably never be proven, but that's why we're granted some intuition to see if such statements are plausible.
"That's why we're granted"? Let's do science, not speak in terms of fairy tales. Zeus didn't send a lightning bolt of intuition down to the humans of Earth. Our in-born intuitions are due to millennia of evolution, which optimized our brain's thought patterns for specific environments. These optimizations generally aren't very good for considering problems outside of the scale in which they evolved. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_cognitive_biases.
CyberShot wrote:Simple argument, see if you can break it.

1. If every physics problem can possibly be done by adding, subtracting, multiplying, or dividing a bunch of numbers, then these 4 concepts underpin reality in some way.

2. Every physics problem can possibly be done by adding, subtracting, multiplying, or diving a bunch of numbers. *
---
3. Thus, these 4 concepts underpin reality in some way.

Argument 1 presupposes a connection between mathematical truths and metaphysical ones, a not so improbable one if you deeply think about it.

It might be hard to see 2 right away. To convince yourself, try to think of a counter-example. Granted, to do calculations using the 4 basic operators might take an infinite amount of time to do so, and it may also be infinitely tedious, but it's definitely possible. Things requiring an infinite amount of time does not place them outside the realm of "possibility." Neither does tediousness.
Why do you think that these operations are the four fundamental ones? They're really all just forms of addition: subtraction is adding a negative number, multiplication is adding many numbers, and division is multiplying by the reciprocal. What about limits (as mentioned above), logarithms, trigonometry? What about sets of numbers which have a different algebra than the set of real or complex numbers? You seem to have fixated on this idea with little justification or understanding of mathematics. Try to calculate particle decays without exponentials, entropy without logarithms, or even kinematics without calculus; if it takes you infinitely long, then guess what: you never succeed.
CyberShot wrote:Exactly why it's probably a stubbornly wrong model of reality, not that I'm qualified (as in a physics degree) to make such statements about ludicrous theories that include two particles deciding on their own accord to "communicate" with each other without actually communicating.
It must seem quite a coincidence that such a "stubbornly wrong" model has had so many experimental validations. Also, ignorant statements about quantum entanglement, there's something new and refreshing.

Posts: 9
Joined: Sat Jan 29, 2011 1:22 pm

### Re: Loss of interest in physics

CyberShot wrote: I just have this deep-down gut feeling that any and everything in the world can be reduced to +,-,*,/ operations.
What a coincidence, just today I picked up an intro book on Lie Groups by R. Gilmore and on the very first page of the very 1st chapter it says "... Evariste Galois... was able to prove that no closed form solution could be constructed for the general quintic (or any higher degree) equation using only the four standard operations of arithmetic (+, -,*, /) as well as extraction of the nth roots of a complex number."

midwestphysics
Posts: 444
Joined: Thu Dec 16, 2010 12:37 am

### Re: Loss of interest in physics

Ryalnos wrote:As drunkenscientist (sorta) pointed out with his link, believing so strongly that you are thinking about the world correctly and (almost) everyone else is wrong is a bad sign/the road to becoming a crackpot.
You're right and I like the way you put that. I think that strongly favoring a possible outcome in science is one of the most damaging things you can do to your research. It's fine to have predictions, but let them be just that and don't pretend they're concrete. Because whether you're right or wrong isn't important, what matters is that in either case if you've done good research and through that you've contributed to the understanding of whatever subject you're looking at. That's why I've always had a soft spot in my heart for the michelson-morley experiment, because whether they were disappointed with what they found they expanded our knowledge, and that's what it's all about. I don't care about being right or wrong with my predictions, I only care that I've done a good job and because of it I've contributed and I've learned.

bfollinprm
Posts: 1203
Joined: Sat Nov 07, 2009 11:44 am

### Re: Loss of interest in physics

CyberShot wrote:1. If every physics problem can possibly be done by adding, subtracting, multiplying, or dividing a bunch of numbers, then these 4 concepts underpin reality in some way.

2. Every physics problem can possibly be done by adding, subtracting, multiplying, or diving a bunch of numbers. *
---
3. Thus, these 4 concepts underpin reality in some way.

Counter-proof, reducto ad ubsurdum.

1. If every physics problem can possibly be done by appealing to a magical[pink unicorn], then magical [pink unicorn(s)] underpins reality in some way.

2. Every physics problem can possibly can possibly be done by appealing to a magical [pink unicorn]
---
3. Thus, magical [pink unicorns] underpin reality in some way.

Substitute whatever you want into the brackets, and the argument works. So either the argument structure is invalid, or reality depends on a fantastically large pantheon of magical creatures.

Occam's Razor forces me to choose the former.