Are science jokes fundamentally accurate?

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There are a number of math-science jokes, one of which goes along the lines of

'Biologists think they are biochemists, Biochemists think they are Physical Chemists, Physical Chemists think they are Physicists, Physicists think they are Gods, And God thinks he is a Mathematician.'

(I assume the physicist is a theoretical physicist and the mathematician a pure mathematician)

The jokes all try to convey the message that the more pure and quantitative the subject, the greater and the more powerful it is.

Do you agree that a topclass pure mathematician is superior (i.e smarter) than the rest such as theoretical Physicists and so on?

It seems to make sense because history shows that the pure mathematicians have always been ahead of science. I.e. Riemann with non-commutatitive geometry. Topologists working with extra dimensions and the gamma function invented by Euler as the foundations for string theory as shown in 'The Elegant Universe'. Even calculus such an applicable subject can be independently invented by a pure mathematician such as Leibniz. Indeed, they say Fermat had a good idea of it even before Newton.

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SpaceTiger

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pivoxa15 said:
There are a number of math-science jokes, one of which goes along the lines of

'Biologists think they are biochemists, Biochemists think they are Physical Chemists, Physical Chemists think they are Physicists, Physicists think they are Gods, And God thinks he is a Mathematician.'
I think the hierarchy of sciences is a myth propagated by our culture's flawed perception of intelligence. In general, people are considered "smarter" if they act more like computers; that is, carry out mathematical calculations quickly and store vast quantities of information in their brain. Although useful, these things are largely trivial when you get into doing real science or math, partially because we have computers to do them for us. It's more than that, however.

To see what I'm saying, ask yourself why it is that Garry Kasparov was able to defeat a computer in a game of chess. Is it because he could see more moves ahead? Absolutely not, the computer was far more capable at that task. His real advantage was experience combined with pattern recognition. Our brains are more capable of adapting to change and more capable of creating new things by combining our past experiences. A great scientist is able to look at the results from an experiment or the outcome of a calculation and immediately recognize its significance by comparing it to things they've experienced in the past. That's what I would call genius.

Now back to the original question. Is the value of these capabilities field-dependent? I don't think so. The fact that they have the reputation they do means that math and physics will attract more obsessive people and better calculators, but I haven't been impressed with my experiences with most hardcore physicists and mathematicians. They're often capable of working in deep abstraction and carrying out long and detailed calculations, but most of them sacrifice understanding in the process. That is, they do something really easy -- they follow a long string of standard mathematical procedures to derive new results based on trivially unique equations. Maybe they've changed the dependence of a particular variable or added a new term, but they often shirk the real responsibility -- explaining the motivation and significance of their findings.

I think that any moderately intelligent human being can be trained to do, say, inflationary theory, but it takes a lot more than calculation to really make a difference. There are countless stories of students and amateurs pasting together meaningless chunks of, for example, standard string theory jargon and submitting it as a paper. In most of these stories, the paper gets accepted.

Honestly, I think that abstraction is little more than a status symbol.


It seems to make sense because history shows that the pure mathematicians have always been ahead of science. I.e. Riemann with non-commutatitive geometry.
You mean mathematicians have been ahead of scientists in math? How shocking. I wonder if the scientists have been ahead of the mathematicians in quantum mechanics, evolutionary theory, and cosmology.
 

Monique

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pivoxa15 said:
The jokes all try to convey the message that the more pure and quantitative the subject, the greater and the more powerful it is.

Do you agree that a topclass pure mathematician is superior (i.e smarter) than the rest such as theoretical Physicists and so on?
What can a mathematician say about why someone gets liver failure. So much for being pure and superior :rolleyes:
 
I am no mathematician or scientist. But mathematicians do tend to have very high IQs. It seems to me that anyone moderately intelligent can do the process of making and testing hypotheses about the real world reasonably well. They might not have brilliant insights or make great strides (unless they're lucky) but they would be able to do the work. How much intelligence, for example, does it take to catalogue species or carry out clinical tests? Biology is useful and productive but to me it doesn't seem like it would call for so much pure mind.

Math seems like it would require more ability to understand things than almost anything else. At every corner, there's a new concept, and one's success depends almost totally on one's ability to assimilate ideas and create new ones.
 
I'm almost sure that such speculations on intelligence of different branches of science are just of ignorance of the media.

However, what is important is that, while working on your subject is good, ignoring another is not. Biologists should certainly never ignore the physics behind what they are doing, and at least should be aware of it and respect it.
Dogmatism certainly doesn't make a good excuse for not being aware of other branches of science.
 
Monique said:
What can a mathematician say about why someone gets liver failure. So much for being pure and superior :rolleyes:
What can a Medical doctor do if not for development of drugs via chemistry, which is most fundamentally, applied quantum mechanics? Without such known mechanisms, one can certainly experiment and get a good drug, but can they reproduce it more economically/effectively?
:tongue:
 

Moonbear

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pivoxa15 said:
The jokes all try to convey the message that the more pure and quantitative the subject, the greater and the more powerful it is.

Do you agree that a topclass pure mathematician is superior (i.e smarter) than the rest such as theoretical Physicists and so on?
I agree with Space Tiger's assessment here. The mark of a great scientist is not their ability to chug out equations, but to have breadth of knowledge that allows them to ask questions relevant to a bigger picture than just a single experiment, and to understand and be able to express that relevance. A great scientist must also be an independent and creative thinker. The more purely quantitative something becomes, the less room for creativity there is. I tend to think that pure mathematicians (as opposed to applied mathematics) are prone to getting lost in the minutiae rather than keeping sight of the bigger picture.
 

Moonbear

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Bladibla said:
What can a Medical doctor do if not for development of drugs via chemistry, which is most fundamentally, applied quantum mechanics? Without such known mechanisms, one can certainly experiment and get a good drug, but can they reproduce it more economically/effectively?
:tongue:
Except a good deal of drug discovery isn't coming from the synthetic chemists, but from the testing naturally occurring compounds and finding ways to extract and purify them from the plants they are found in. :tongue:

But, I agree with your first point that all the sciences are related and you need to be aware of all of them prior to studying any one of them in more depth.
 

Danger

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I don't recall ever seeing a reference to great math abilities in regard to Thomas Edison or Da Vinci or Tesla, yet they contributed at least as much to science as Pythagoras or Newton. That they did it through common sense, imagination, a knowledge of physical phenomena, and sheer perseverance makes them no less valuable to society.
 
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pivoxa15 said:
'Biologists think they are biochemists, Biochemists think they are Physical Chemists, Physical Chemists think they are Physicists, Physicists think they are Gods, And God thinks he is a Mathematician.'


The jokes all try to convey the message that the more pure and quantitative the subject, the greater and the more powerful it is.
I am sure you misunderstood the joke. It is a lampoon of the alleged attitudes these people have about themselves. It reveals no truth about where they actually fit into any hierarchy. Let me recast what you said to express its real meaning: the more pure and quantitative your science, the more powerful you delude yourself into thinking you are.
 
Most geniuses are neither mathematicians nor scientists. They are musicians, artists, novelists, doctors, auto mechanics, etc.
 
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Danger said:
I don't recall ever seeing a reference to great math abilities in regard to Thomas Edison or Da Vinci or Tesla,
Edison hated and resisted math. Da Vinci was fond of geometry. Tesla was actually very good at advanced math, which he both enjoyed in and of itself, and viewed as a necessary tool. He made constant use of it in all his engineering.
 

Danger

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zoobyshoe said:
Edison hated and resisted math. Da Vinci was fond of geometry.
I should have qualified the previous statement by saying that I didn't know whether or not they were into it, but that it's not something the general public associates with them. Strangely enough, I never think of geometry as being math. I like it, and do pretty well with the Euclidean stuff, but have no knowledge of other math like algebra. Must be just because it's so much a part of the mechanical design work that I do, but it seems more real to me.
 

brewnog

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Danger said:
I should have qualified the previous statement by saying that I didn't know whether or not they were into it, but that it's not something the general public associates with them. Strangely enough, I never think of geometry as being math. I like it, and do pretty well with the Euclidean stuff, but have no knowledge of other math like algebra. Must be just because it's so much a part of the mechanical design work that I do, but it seems more real to me.
Most famous technical persons use maths as a tool, rather than as their 'product'. No doubt their maths skills allowed them to develop their invention/discovery/theory/whatever, and the importance of maths in most technical disciplines is unquestionable, but I don't praise a carpenter for his ability to use a hammer, but for the quality of his, urm, table.
 
I think the main reason most people called geniuses are non-mathematicians is because the people who call them geniuses are also non-mathematicians. The other reason is that few people are mathematicians at all. The structure in a mathematical proof is much greater than that in any novel or painting.

The works of social geniuses like artists and writers are like houses built on soft sand. They become less relevant over time, disintegrating in the wake of differing opinions and changing cultures, and they can never be built very high. Every premise any social genius has is uncertain and empirical and nobody can build very much on it because they are not absolute truths. The more you infer from them, the less certain your conclusions become. Mathematical works are like houses built on stone. The base they work from is rock solid and inarguable, and a mathematical proof never loses validity with time. They can be built into skyscrapers, with only the slight breeze of human deductive error to make them tilt at their very highest. How much better and more lasting the work of a mathematician is than the work of a social genius.
 
In my opinion, most people equate science and mathematics with genius. If someone sees me carrying a math book, they call me a math genius without even wondering if I am carrying the book for someone else.
 
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Danger said:
I should have qualified the previous statement by saying that I didn't know whether or not they were into it, but that it's not something the general public associates with them.
Da Vinci's geometry was more on the lines of the aesthetic quest for "perfect proportions", and not so much an engineering endeavor.

Edison just couldn't handle math and went to extreme lengths to squirm around the need for it when it arose. He did, however, keep people conversant with various engineering and electrical formulas on his staff at all times, and often just threw problems into their laps to solve in terms of his overall plans for a given invention.
Strangely enough, I never think of geometry as being math. I like it, and do pretty well with the Euclidean stuff, but have no knowledge of other math like algebra. Must be just because it's so much a part of the mechanical design work that I do, but it seems more real to me.
My dictionary defines it as "a branch of mathematics..." and it is in the sense it deals with how numbers relate to each other, but your reaction, that geometry is more "real" is true enough to foster the impression it is a different animal altogether. Most other math is disembodied compared to basic geometry.
 

SpaceTiger

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BicycleTree said:
The works of social geniuses like artists and writers are like houses built on soft sand. They become less relevant over time, disintegrating in the wake of differing opinions and changing cultures, and they can never be built very high. Every premise any social genius has is uncertain and empirical and nobody can build very much on it because they are not absolute truths. The more you infer from them, the less certain your conclusions become. Mathematical works are like houses built on stone. The base they work from is rock solid and inarguable, and a mathematical proof never loses validity with time. They can be built into skyscrapers, with only the slight breeze of human deductive error to make them tilt at their very highest. How much better and more lasting the work of a mathematician is than the work of a social genius.
You're arguing that math has more long-term usefulness than, say, sociology or art. I think that's probably true, but it's not what we're discussing. The question of which field is better or more useful is far too subjective to even be worth a mention. Here, we're asking how "intelligent" one has to be to be at the top of a given field. The example you gave earlier about higher average IQs is problematic because

1) People with higher IQs are more encouraged to go into math and the physical sciences, so of course they'll have higher averages.
2) IQ is only a rough indicator of future success. It's easier to measure the more quantitative aspects of intelligence that would be relevant to math and physical science, so that's often the focus of these tests.
 

Monique

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Bladibla said:
What can a Medical doctor do if not for development of drugs via chemistry, which is most fundamentally, applied quantum mechanics?
If only quantum mechanics could be used to developed drugs, hah. Designer drugs do not exist yet: it is done experimentally. And how would you develop a drug when you do not know the disease?

BicycleTree said:
How much intelligence, for example, does it take to catalogue species or carry out clinical tests? Biology is useful and productive but to me it doesn't seem like it would call for so much pure mind.

Math seems like it would require more ability to understand things than almost anything else. At every corner, there's a new concept, and one's success depends almost totally on one's ability to assimilate ideas and create new ones.
So that still does not make someone who does math 'God'.
 

brewnog

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Bladibla said:
What can a Medical doctor do if not for development of drugs via chemistry, which is most fundamentally, applied quantum mechanics? Without such known mechanisms, one can certainly experiment and get a good drug, but can they reproduce it more economically/effectively?
:tongue:
I don't know any medics who are familiar with quantum mechanics!
 

Monique

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brewnog said:
I don't know any medics who are familiar with quantum mechanics!
People researching medical conditions are not always medics! As a biochemist you get training in chemistry; electron orbits and nuclear chemistry. So how many quantum mechanics people do you know who are familiar with biochemistry? To understand why a liver fails you don't learn much from electron orbits alone, you learn from biochemical pathways. You don't need to include quantum mechanics to understand a liver.
 

Integral

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The trouble is that we do not have a decent measure of intelligence. Education is certainly not a measure of intelligence. So to compare the "intelligence" of practitioners of different fields is meaningless. Is the uneducated bushman of the Kalahari any less intelligent then the Noble Laureate in a big city university? If the 2 were to exchange locations neither would survive very well. I believe that all humans are pretty much equivalent, but each has different abilities. Some may not have abilities applicable to their current environment, thus are considers less "intelligent". Given the proper environment their abilities may become apparent at which time they could be considered a genius.
 

Moonbear

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BicycleTree said:
How much intelligence, for example, does it take to catalogue species or carry out clinical tests?
Not as much as it takes to conduct actual biological research. Those two examples you just cited are the jobs of curators or technicians; a bachelor's degree is more than sufficient for either, unless by clinical test you mean clinical research, in which case M.D.s do those. The hardest work has already been done by the time something reaches the level of a clinical study.
 

Ivan Seeking

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I was just sitting here taking this all in and I noticed something funny. The joke from the initial post implies that the more abstract the subject, the higher it comes on the food chain. But the top of the totem pole, or the roots of the tree if you prefer, is philosophy. After all, mathematicians are just philosophers who use symbols and pencils. So the joke implies that all scientists are really just second rate philosophers. :biggrin:
 

brewnog

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Monique said:
People researching medical conditions are not always medics! As a biochemist you get training in chemistry; electron orbits and nuclear chemistry. So how many quantum mechanics people do you know who are familiar with biochemistry? To understand why a liver fails you don't learn much from electron orbits alone, you learn from biochemical pathways. You don't need to include quantum mechanics to understand a liver.
This is the point I was making Monique, sorry for not being clear. Experts (and, I dare say geniuses) in one field often do not need to have even a basic grasp of more fundamental principles if they are not directly needed for their work.
 

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