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A little rant about theoretical physics...

  1. Feb 3, 2017 #1
    Not sure where to put this discussion, so please feel free to move it...

    Ok, so here I go...

    I understand why theoretically time travel cannot exist before the moment it was created, cause one fellah would have to take one end of a wormhole on a fast ship and fly about a bit.

    I understand why the grandfather paradox must be explained by alternate realities, because my grandfather would flatly refuse to share a reality with me for various reasons.

    I kinda get why "dark matter" is needed to bind spinning galaxies together, or why "dark energy" is needed to hold universes together.

    I kinda get why seven, or one hundred, or three thousand dimensions that the eye cannot see, might complete a Newtonian/quantum equation that makes other huge assumptions fit together neatly.

    Don't get me wrong, I can see why identifying "unknowns" is important in order to devise tests to discover them... but, I do not see how a career can be made out of just guessing... however pretty the maths might be... I truly cannot see is how pure guesswork is useful to anyone. To me it is pure alchemy.

    Is theoretical physics the new pariah?
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 3, 2017 #2

    russ_watters

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    "Pariah"? Outcast? No -- I can't fathom what you might mean and nothing you said above seems to relate to that.
    Nobody, anywhere, ever, makes a career by pure guesswork and your statement is self-contradictory since it includes the word "maths" -- if you derive something mathematically, it is most certainly not "guessing".
     
  4. Feb 4, 2017 #3
    It would be nice to hear some views- good or bad- on this subject. I understand that you might only consider absolutes, but discussions of grey areas, if only to disprove ignorance- are incredibly important.

    Edit, can I add that the reliability of the maths depends entirely on the assumptions made.
     
    Last edited: Feb 4, 2017
  5. Feb 4, 2017 #4
    Thank you for your response. May I ask permission to repost your response? I am intrigued by the scientific communities dismissal of any question over the assumptions used in certain mathematical models, however, outlandish they may appear. I am interested in confirmation bias in the scientific community, and whether certain assumptions are made that fit an expected answer, and whether the inability to physically test many modern theories exacerbates this.
     
  6. Feb 4, 2017 #5

    Borek

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    While yes, work often starts with a guess and assumptions, they are not random (as they are based on what we already know) and they will be accepted only if the predictions of the derived theory agree with the reality (in other words: are confirmed by an experiment). Questions on these assumptions are not dismissed, they are asked all the time and they are discussed all the time.

    Problem with people coming into the picture now and asking questions about assumptions is usually this: they don't know the subject, they don't know its history, they don't know the assumptions they want to ask about were discussed and explained to the death 100 years ago. They don't bother to learn all that yet they are sure they have just found the hole in the whole system. This creates easily predictable reaction from those knowing the subject - irritation and dismissal, they have better things to do than explaining for the umpth time that the Earth is not flat. That in turn is read as "aha, you have something to hide, you don't want to discuss your assumptions because you are stupid, biased and full of yourself".

    Here comes your bias in a community.
     
  7. Feb 4, 2017 #6
    nice wig by the way.
     
  8. Feb 4, 2017 #7

    Dale

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    That is key. A huge portion of the scientific literature, both theoretical and experimental, is spent in questioning the assumptions.
     
  9. Feb 4, 2017 #8

    Dale

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    As @Borek mentioned above, this comment indicates a lack of familiarity with the scientific literature. The complaint is based on an incorrect understanding of the facts. Assumptions are in fact strongly debated and questioned and tested.
     
  10. Feb 4, 2017 #9

    Dale

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    @PinkyMcFiddle please stop duplicating your post. The duplicates have been removed.
     
  11. Feb 4, 2017 #10

    Vanadium 50

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    You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.
     
  12. Feb 4, 2017 #11

    russ_watters

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    Which one?! :woot:
     
  13. Feb 4, 2017 #12
    I think a problem here is in how people perceive 'theoretical physics', thanks to pop culture and the mainstream media, and the stuff science enthusiasts tend to gravitate towards on wikipedia.

    Yes the theory side involves all the guesswork (or in posher terms - 'assumptions', heh), and there are things that might be proven wrong or are cannot be falsified.

    But there are other areas too, which don't even touch on the things popularised by mass media. Quantum mechanics, theoretical particles and string theory are not the endgame for all theoretical physicists.

    For example, at my university there are courses in advanced fluid dynamics which are only available to theoretical physics students and maths students who want to branch into applied mathematics. Fluid dynamics is quite well understood, but there are grey areas such as the way smooth flows transition into turbulent flows, or how to model turbulent flows in general. This is an area of theoretical research - some would call it theoretical physics. Nothing bad, pointless or outcast about it.
     
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