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A Stressful Way of Liking Physics

  1. Feb 3, 2014 #1
    I have found that when people are passionate about physics the predominant attitude they have towards other people's opinion of it is comparable to to how people view their religion (though maybe not as strong). They consider physics as the subject most worthy, or even the only subject worthy of pursuing. They want everyone to acknowledge physics as not only the most interesting subject there is but also the one which makes everything in modern society possible. One of my physics professors made this attitude very clear in his first lecture by saying he feels very dissappointed whenever he isn't able to convince someone else to like physics.
    I used to have this attitude also until maybe a year or so ago. Since then I lost the enthusiasm to spread physics and instead I developed what could be called a "possesive love" for it. This turned out to be a much more stressful attitude to have because when I hear of someone whom I dont consider worthy of being part of the "physics elite" I feel like an atom whose electrons suddenly fell to the lowest energy state, in other words I feel it diminishes my passion. This is how I felt when I found out about Angela Merkel and Brian May being physicists. When I knew that a guy who I didnt get on with was coming to university in the same year as me I worried a lot about him doing physics (it was likely as he is that kind of smart, quantitative person), and was greatly relieved when I saw that he wasnt. Now this year my sister seems to be enjoying physics and maths a lot in secondary school and it's getting me very worried. It's not that I greatly dislike her but I just dont see her as "worthy". I feel that if she also chose to do a physics degree I would like it a lot less.
    Now I really dont enjoy thinking in this way, so I was wondering did anybody else here ever have this attitude towards their field of study and how did they deal with it? Any advise for not classifying people into worthy and unworthy? Thanks in advance for all contributions.
    Last edited: Feb 3, 2014
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  3. Feb 3, 2014 #2
    Are you saying that at present you feel that some people are worthy of studying physics and others are not? In this context what do you mean by worthy and unworthy?
  4. Feb 3, 2014 #3
    What makes you think there HAS to be such comparison in the first place? You have an annoyingly similar viewpoint as my former physics professor who also is / was, I don't know, chasing after this meaningless ideal - worthy or not worthy. In his eyes, people not committed to academics were not worthy - speaking as if young people should Not enjoy themselves at all and Not have fun, but only work for some unknown future goal burning out in the process AND to top it all off, he believes success is only possible through hard work - which roughly translates to: there is no reason to start teaching those who are not worthy to begin with since they wouldn't get anywhere. In some sense I agree, but then again who the hell is HE to decide this right from the get go?

    I just like physics, that's all - if one has to force themselves to like it somehow, I think something is wrong with that already.

    I f you want to know who is worthy or unworthy, only time will tell. Those sincerely into the subject will produce results. You just can't look the person in the eye and show them the door or shake their hand, can you?
  5. Feb 3, 2014 #4
    From what I read, you're holding on to a very narrow-minded view, one that I would encourage you to let go of.

    For one, claiming that any one field of study is solely responsible for modern society is a very dumb statement. Can physics claim credit for all of the medical progress to which people owe their lives? Can Biology claim credit for the computer? It takes a large group of interdisciplinary researchers to create anything meaningful, claiming that any one field is solely responsible for all or nearly all progress is frankly wrong and smells of uneducated prejudice.

    Second, what is this about being "worthy"? I LOVE physics, but I don't consider it insulting if someone isn't interested in my area of study, rather I respect it and move on. No one can have a say as to who is "worthy" enough to study physics, people who genuinely enjoy it will study it, and that's that. Everyone has differing levels of intelligence and competence, but there are no worthy or unworthy people. Those who can't handle physics will fail out, and those who can will be your classmates.
  6. Feb 3, 2014 #5
    I'm pretty sure the OP is not defending his attitude. He's confessing it.

    I feel the same way about a lot of people involved in things I'm interested in. There are people I wish hadn't gotten involved because they don't seem to grasp the essence of the activity and their efforts always seem to miss the mark, thereby eroding the integrity of the field.

    I just started this thread:


    in which I quote two mathematicians who characterize the Greeks as having taken math off course into unworthy territory for 2000 years. This illustrates that the attitude some person, or school of thought, is completely missing the mark is not necessarily "narrow minded" or otherwise flawed. In a lot of cases it is possible to make a good argument in defense of a dislike of some other party's whole approach. At the same time, though, this would, indeed, generate a lot of stress.

    I would find it hard to believe everyone here doesn't harbor some secret animosity toward some method of analysis of one thing or another and wish that it had never been developed.
  7. Feb 3, 2014 #6


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    What makes you think you're "worthy"? Why couldn't I come along and say the same thing about you that you're saying about your sister? Personally I would love it if my brother studied physics or math as opposed to biology or engineering or whatever else because then we'd have more things to talk about.

    I think you just have to stop being immature. You're not a kid anymore and physics isn't a video game or a toy that you share with siblings and/or friends.
  8. Feb 3, 2014 #7
    I would love it if my brother studied period.
  9. Feb 3, 2014 #8
    I don't recall ever having this mindset, but I encountered a few classmates who thought like this. I attribute it to the immature elitist worldview that some early physics students seem to have. Incidentally, all of these people I knew have drifted away from their almost religious physics fervor and in most cases dropped out, or grudgingly dragged on to finish their undergrad studies with almost a hatred for the subject.

    I don't see how anyone else liking something you like would diminish its merit, unless you really have a fixation on liking things that are "weird" and counter-culture and get annoyed when they start getting acceptance by a wider audience. Sounds like an ego problem, and I probably had a similar mindset when it came to musical tastes when I was a teenager.

    Your judgement problem: maybe you've never been on the receiving end. Would you like it if people said you weren't worthy enough to play in your neighborhood's basketball team? Or in your group of friends' online gaming clan? Being excluded out of things you really want to do is no fun.

    Perhaps you should ponder the golden rule for a bit (the Biblical one, not Fermi's).
    Last edited: Feb 3, 2014
  10. Feb 3, 2014 #9


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    Very well formulated. I think I understand precisely what you mean (though I can't say I'm feeling possessive about science myself).

    Maybe you feel a certain threat of competition? And maybe you fail to see the good things that can come about if two friends/relatives share the same interest? I would personally love if more of my friends/relatives shared [STRIKE]some[/STRIKE] more of my interest in science, physics etc. Actually some do. Well, actually many do, to some extent at least. And I try to encourage it if I can.

    I've probably felt like that sometimes when I was younger, but frankly, I can't remember. I decided a long time ago what kind of person I'd like to be, e.g. I try to be encouraging instead of discouraging, constructively competitive instead of destructively competitive, sharing instead of possessive etc. I try my best, and I think it works well.

    Yes. Don't do it :biggrin:. Anyway, time will tell if a person has the interest and capability to achieve whatever it is he/she is trying to achieve (e.g. do a physics degree or whatever).

    The golden rule is a very good one, IMO.
    Last edited: Feb 3, 2014
  11. Feb 4, 2014 #10
    Frontline Physics deals with the unknown... on that battlefield, you never know who is "worthy" or "unworthy". Sometimes, fundamental laws are discovered by people who seem to be less worthy than others.
  12. Feb 4, 2014 #11


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    This is pretty natural, actually. It's a transition from surely this is just something to share with others to the realization that you're better at this than any of your family or friends. If they respect your ability (instead of belittle it), then you're essentially the man when it comes to physics (or whatever it is you're the best at).

    That's not such a bad feeling and it's probably revealing that it's only the idea of family and friends threatening your position as the man that concerns you.

    It's natural, but probably something you'll need to get over when you get a job and everyone you work with is roughly as good at this as you are. (Fortunately not something I have to worry about, since I'm better than everyone I work with, but something most other people have to worry about. And I would have considered it a good thing if any of my younger siblings had taken up an interest in physics. They are my spares, after all, and it would be a shame if my ability were totally irreplaceable.)
  13. Feb 5, 2014 #12
    I can try to speculate on what the criteria actually are, but I can't say if a strict set of criteria exists here at all. When I think of a public figure or a person that I know taking a strong interest in physics, I just feel whether they're worthy or not. If you asked me why I felt what I do about a specific person I would be able to say, but in general no.

    I don't think this is to do with my being better then other people. In my year there are many people who are just as good as me, and some who I'd have to admit are better.

    Did you understand my post at all? You're mixing together the two opposite viewpoints which I presented and you're criticizing them as one.
  14. Feb 5, 2014 #13
    Religious fervor is actually more an attribute of the first mindset (the people who want to share physics with the all of humanity). My passion tends to be quite controlled. It's certainly not like that excitement most people have when they first discover physics. I don't mind a wider audience as long most of that audience sticks to popular science.

    For your second question, I do not have any power to exclude people from physics. And I imagine that if someone knows that I consider them unworthy it only brings them more pleasure when doing it to know they are annoying someone like me.
  15. Feb 5, 2014 #14
    If its stressful and not doing you any good then dump it, I say.
  16. Feb 6, 2014 #15
    Do me a favour and define physics. You seem to be making something out of it which it isn't.
    The reasons a person may have to do physics may very well be different from your own but paths may differ but all lead to Rome; some may do it for the money, some for passion, some as a hobby and some because it's "Oh! so cool!"
    'Worthy' isn't a criteria for doing physics.
    I would say just interact more with people esp. the 'unworthy' ones and the pop-sci audience.
    P.S. no one cares what you think, and no one's going to do physics just to annoy you;
  17. Feb 8, 2014 #16


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    Since she is younger than you, just keep in mind that she is not as advanced in her schooling as you are now and may not have been exposed to more fully developed ideas in her classes yet. If she is just starting to enjoy these subjects this year, then maybe wait at least a couple of years, including at least a year of college, and see if her appreciation of the subject grows as time goes on.
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