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Featured B A couple of links about, not from science

  1. May 4, 2018 #1


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    We repeatedly receive some fundamental questions, some of them of philosophical nature, which we're not very keen to answer - not because they weren't legitimate questions, but because we made the experience, that they simply lead nowhere, and, I'll have to admit, because of the lack of knowledge what philosophers already had written about it.

    To some of those questions there are valuable contributions from other people available, which we often quote, and which should be read, seen or listened to at first.

    So I thought I'd create a thread, which gathers those links. Thus I'll have a single thread to look up the links, as well as a good recommendation for those, who haven't seen them, yet.

    Here's my personal collection:

    Isaac Asimov on the validity of theories:
    The Relativity of Wrong

    Richard Feynman on the reason for research:
    Do you want to find the GUT?

    Richard Feynman on the relativity of answers :
    What is a magnet?

    Karen E. Smith on how to study:
    An interview by AMS

    Eugene Wigner on the mathematical language:
    The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences

    If you know other valuable sources of this kind, those who bear timeless truth, let us know.
    Last edited: May 4, 2018
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  3. May 4, 2018 #2

    Lord Jestocost

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  4. May 4, 2018 #3


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    Hooray for continuous PF betterment.

    From Bertrand Russel's Free Thought and Official Propoganda (1922)
  5. May 7, 2018 #4
    This section is Amazing ( Life long Love of both Asimov & Richard F)
    ....yes, i have seen a few things i believe may fit in here nicely, when i run across them again, will give you the links to check out, in case you agree they will fit..
  6. May 8, 2018 #5
    I very much like this new thread and sincerely hope it flourishes for here we expose each other to "where the rubber meets the road" where we all got our love of Science in the first place. I was struck by the fascinating "answer" Feynman gave when asked "Why?" in the "Magnets" clip and how he explained that "why?' is never-ending and how Asimov mirrored that concept regarding theory in the scientific sense (not the commonly held "idea" that a theory is equivalent to "opinion" or "pipe dream") of being forever refined and improved but also rarely ending in some Truth in the absolute sense that so many seem to seek.

    In this vein I'd like to add another. I suspect many here follow APOD regularly and thus may have already witnessed this but that's just fine since if any here are like me, and I strongly suspect all here have some such commonality, repeated viewings are very satisfying. I hope many find this the same way I do, by no means guaranteed but a rich and compelling dream just based in possibility.

  7. May 8, 2018 #6
    Is this thread the first step in the direction of a badly needed History & Philosophy of Science subforum?

    Henri Poincaré: The Foundations of Science

    Phil Anderson: More Is Different

    Freeman Dyson: Missed Opportunities
  8. May 8, 2018 #7


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    No, it's just about some valuable thoughts on daily biz, and quite the opposite is the case: After Asimov and Feynman, every question about "theory", "wrong" and "real" is obsolete. K. Smith addresses the many questions students have, especially in their first year, and the last one answers "Why math?". It's more like: Why should I explain what a ring is, if nLab already did it? Why should I list Newton's laws, if they are well explained on Wikipedia?
  9. May 8, 2018 #8
    Philosophy of science, in particular the philosophy of physics, is hardly directed at students alone, for they often lack the grit, experience and rigors required to seriously engage fundamental issues.

    It is aimed at and intended for experts within particular (sub)specialties, i.e. philosophy of physics requires that one actually be a physicist on the forefront for several years or decades or a physicist with an unusual career path (mathematical physics, applied mathematics, education, physics journal, metrology, etc). The main difference between educating specialists as opposed to educating students is that the fundamental problems students face (or should face within a curriculum) tend to be problems which have been solved while the actually interesting philosophical problems are open problems.

    More importantly, the resulting thoughts of these physicists as to what has been important, what important problems are left, how to proceed, what methods to learn and/or develop, why these methods and not others and a general sketch of how to proceed in order to solve is precisely that which they are sharing somewhat more publically than usual at the next generation, but not at the level of popular science. Such published works tend to be at the level of a (systematic) review but then at the length of a large tome or even several volumes.

    Moreover, it is also aimed at specialists who have walled themselves off from other areas of inquiry, possibly even within their own subject, let alone their branch of science. For instance, over the years many physicists have worked on the same core problem but in a completely different setting, but have not realized - some even until this very day - that there is significant overlap both experimentally and mathematically with experiments being carried out in a completely different field. Two examples in order to illustrate my point.

    An example of the above of two fields within physics is Landau damping in plasma physics and the dynamics of arrays of superconducting Josephson junctions from QM both being examples of the Kuramoto model from applied mathematics. An example of the above from within and outside physics is the mathematics of the Ising model from statistical physics and the mathematical description of the dynamics of voting in a two party system from political science.

    It goes without saying that the requirements of being able to expose and discover such links and so novel theories or even completely novel fields of science and give new interpretation to existing theory require world class physicists/scientists especially when there is no specific motivation (research grants) to find such a link, is exactly the job of philosophy of physics. Many great physicists/applied mathematicians, among others Ken Wilson, Phil Anderson and Mitchell Feigenbaum have done exactly the above and have also promulgated their novel viewpoints towards the rest of the physicists and the scientific world at large.

    The fact that such links exists all over the place and often tend to be discovered a posteriori, suggesting novel viewpoints which might require drastic changes in what is considered fundamental and why supports the need for specialists working on such problems. Make no mistake however, this does not just apply to obscure problems waiting for a question; even the problem of unifying GR with QM is exactly a problem requiring the full breadth of the philosophy of physics and even deep knowledge of the history of all approaches tried so far and why they do not or cannot work.
  10. May 8, 2018 #9


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    Everything you said may be true. However, not all forums need be a one stop source for all things science. PF's mission statement says:
    Missing from that is pushing the frontiers of science. Although science needs pushing, it doesn't have to be done here on PF. Here, we focus more on helping people understand what is in the box; not thinking outside the box. Many of our members and mentors also make use of other venues to participate in other science roles.
  11. May 9, 2018 #10
    I agree more or less that pushing frontiers need not be done on here per se, but that doesn't mean that a lesser task can or should not be done on here, namely just discussing/naming 'popular' viewpoints within (subfields of) physics, when and why they became popular and what was the dominant viewpoint before. This also is the task of philosophy of science.

    Doing this again is useful at all levels of the spectrum, from professional to layman and there aren't any good resources available for most people. Seeing that Physics Forums is one of the largest, most accesible and most active physics communities, I see no reason why the discussion of such matters should be shunned. The same goes for understanding the historical progression of science, a matter which Feynman himself incidentally spoke about as well.

    Stopping such historical and philosophical inquiry into what the physics community has done and why is largely only harmful to science, as it is blocking the road of open inquiry and so causing dogmatic positions to be created instead of allowing possibly as of yet unquestioned assumptions and interpretations to be questioned. Moreover, it exacerbates the anti-philosophy position promulgated by many modern scientists, wherein philosophy itself is caricatured and nonsensically pitted against science in a false dichotomy.

    To get back on topic:
    Like many others here, Feynman has profoundly influenced my views on physics, on science and on the world at large, through his humourous idiosyncratic mannerisms, his honest, dispassionate inquiry into Nature and his ability to find comfort in uncertainty.

    Of course there have been other hugely influential great physicists since (such as Phil Anderson and Ken Wilson as I mentioned earlier), and applied mathematicians and/or mathematical physicists such as Edward Lorenz and Benoit Mandelbrot, but none of them are quite such household names among physicists as Feynman is.

    Over the years however I learned that much of Feynman's own views on physics (e.g. Character of Physical Law, interviews, his Lectures, etc) were not entirely original. Indeed, much of his views can be traced back to the work of the greatest mathematical physicist at the turn of the previous century: Henri Poincaré. As I said in my first post, one of his seminal works, The Foundation of Science is probably the greatest work on science, physics and mathematics ever written; much of the themes that Feynman discusses are from there but without any reference; it might of course also be possible that Feynman rediscovered some of these things by himself and merely failed to recognize he himself was a philosopher of physics.

    Moreover, it is somewhat clear today that Feynman's anti-philosophic attitude has probably done more harm than good for science, this was much less clear prior to the 70s/80s. It is quite literally an accident of history that the name Poincaré isn't synonymous with genius. Poincaré was not just the greatest mathematical physicist of his time, but also the last universalist in mathematics, mastering all fields; the only other physicist/scientist/mathematician with similar credentials is Newton himself.

    It isn't a coincidence either that Poincaré was astutely concerned with and aware of all philosophy of science issues in his time; he was ranked among the best philosophers of physics and of mathematics in the entire world. The last physicist before him with such credentials was Leibniz. It goes without saying that its a shame Poincaré as one of the founders of relativity was overshadowed by the much younger Einstein and that his novel applied mathematical theories, resolving over 200 years of fundamental issues in mechanics were completely overshadowed by the discovery of QM.

    It is practically sure that had Poincaré not died around the age of 50 just prior to the discovery of GR, he would've elucidated the novel conceptual structure of the theory and its mathematical status far better than what has been achieved thus far. Moreover, its not much of a stretch to say that had he lived, we might not even have any QM interpretational issues today, which were failed to be solved by the comparatively philosophical amateurs of Bohr, Einstein et al. and then ignored by the subsequent philosophical heretics such as Feynman, Weinberg et al.
  12. May 9, 2018 #11


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    I am not sure whether you are suggesting that discussions un-supported by peer reviewed publications should be allowed on PF in a Philosophy of Physics forum. Maybe you are not.

    Since I am pondering that in any case, my concerns with it are that such discussions become very difficult to moderate in a manner the community can agree is fair, even-handed and objective.
  13. May 10, 2018 #12


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    @Auto-Didact: This thread is supposed to be a collection of links, and so far you only wrote a lot of text without any links.
  14. May 10, 2018 #13


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  15. May 10, 2018 #14


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  16. May 11, 2018 #15
    I can't edit my first post, so here.
    The Foundations of Science

    More Is Different

    Missed Opportunities
    I'm not. I'm arguing that historically occuring different viewpoints among different schools of physicists should be allowed to be discussed and also why viewpoints in the physics community have changed, when they changed and what exactly lead to the change. A good example of this is of course the difference between the Newtonian viewpoint of space and time being an absolute reference frame and the Einsteinian viewpoint of space and time being relative.

    Another example is when and why did the concept of symmetry become popular within physics, exactly in which branch of did this physics first occur, and what viewpoint did it replace or was considered more popular or more important prior to it. Another good example: when and why did the geometric school arise in the gravitation community i.e. the canonical viewpoint in MTW and why is it not universally accepted among all physicists e.g. as for example Weinberg's treatment of gravitation.
    It is not difficult to moderate at all, especially if sources can be given. Such discussions are, whether you recognize so or not or even like it or not, purely history/philosophy of physics discussions, meant to clarify what and why (communities of) physicists believe what they actually believe. It is also extremely practically relevant for a multitude of reasons, e.g. in choosing a book to learn GR from; it just so happens that Thorne recently even released a new textbook on classical physics where all of it is treated using the geometric viewpoint of physics.
    Last edited: May 11, 2018
  17. May 11, 2018 #16
    Some good old Feynman bits from his Messenger Lectures on The Character of Physical Law.

    On the use and importance of different viewpoints in physics

    On different approaches to mathematics by physicists and mathematicians

    On general differences between mathematicians and physicists

    Edit: This next one is especially insightful for non-physicists into the peculiar logical, philosophical, scientific/empirical and mathematical nature of physical theory (watch the three above beforehand):

    On different mathematical representations of the same physics
    Last edited: May 11, 2018
  18. May 17, 2018 #17
    I have to thank you with more than a "Like" because this is just what I need right now. The first chapters are harsh, but undeniably true. I think it applies also to non-mathematicians, because I'm not a mathematicians and I find some ideas very interesting. Maybe I misunderstood it...
    Last edited: May 17, 2018
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