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Discussions with non-physicists

  1. Oct 24, 2013 #1
    I thought I'd let my first post be a non-physics one. It's a long one, sorry for that ;).

    I wonder how often you guys run into heated arguments with non-phycists. I sometimes get a bit annoyed when another person is unable to follow my arguments.

    For example some time ago I had a discussion with a friend of mine, she studies psychology. It was about free will and I was trying to make a point that hypothetically one could say we don't have free will. I tried making her understand the idea that if we would be able to know all forces and positions of the particles we could calculate the future and so therefore it was already laid out for us. (Off course ignoring Quantum Physics to ease the discussion.)

    However! The only argument I got back from her was: "If you want to change, your brain changes in structure eventually and that is measurable by MRI." So off course I answered that also those changes in your brain are already laid down in the physics and are inevitable (hypothetically), but she again responded, "no that can't be true since I learned otherwise at my studies. If you want to change, you're brain changes too so the initial structure is not laid down. So you have free will." It kind of continued from thereon until I was annoyed and she was too.

    The funniest thing I once heard from another psychology student was: "You can't apply statistics to individuals!" So I asked, "So if 90% of the workers in a factory has little education, then if I take one individual out of the group there must be 90% chance that this individual has little education." I got the response: "You are wrong, you can ask your statistics professor, this is what I learned and I studied really hard for the statistics exam. You can't apply statistics to individuals." (Off course she was confusing a whole different thing here. I guess she learned you can't say someone has 90% Alzheimer, but a 90% chance of developing it and even then the person will eventually have it or not. Or maybe it has something to do with the fact that when you consider a group you don't know the individual differences so that some in the group will develop Alzheimer for sure and some will not.)

    I've run into these kind of discussions more often and while these examples are not of particular importance to everyday life some of them are and I can be amazed how weird and sometimes frustrating the logic of some non-physicists/mathematicians can be. (Don't even ask me about the time I had a discussion with a theology student.)

    Does this sound familiar to you guys, or am I just too stubborn to even try haha? It's just that I sometimes am bazzled by the way people think, even if they are otherwise smart individuals. The girl from the last example has an IQ over 130 apparently. But then again, psychologists invented that too.

    (And if I seem arrogant, well.., I will admit I have had plenty of good and valuable discussions with similar people too.)
    Last edited: Oct 24, 2013
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 24, 2013 #2


    Staff: Mentor

    Welcome to PF!

    In general, this forum is here to help students with homework and to discuss various topics in Physics, Math and Science. We tend not to waste time on arguing with people or in discussing the frequency of arguments we have.

    If you're interested in Physics then open a thread about your question or interest and lets go from there.
  4. Oct 24, 2013 #3


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    Gold Member

    I know so little about the world, I try not to speak with authority on anything that is not in my small area of expertise.
  5. Oct 24, 2013 #4
    Yes, it's frustrating, but we can't fix them, so we have to fix us. I'd say get off the high horse a bit, and take as your model the brilliant Neil DeGrasse Tyson, who is a perfect model for how a scientifically literate person behaves in a scientifically illiterate world, with charm and diplomacy and humility and humor. I try my best to emulate him, given my limited intelligence and wit.

    -Dave K
  6. Oct 24, 2013 #5
    Hi jedishrfu, I understand that. I registered here for the physics discussions, but this was something that popped into my mind and that's why I put it in the General Discussion forum. I hope that's fine.

    I agree one should be careful not to speak with authority about areas outside of your expertise, but I also think you shouldn't be afraid to draw parallels or to generalize into different areas. I think physics is just right for that. I wouldn't very quickly tell a doctor however how to operate on my leg!
  7. Oct 24, 2013 #6
    I think that learning how to relate and communicate to people outside the sciences (or in other sciences) is a legitimate topic, even if it involves a few semi-rants and aired grievances.

    -Dave K
  8. Oct 24, 2013 #7


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    Staff: Mentor

    MHuiq, welcome, but please read our rules before posting. Some individual sub-forums have additional rules, you will find these "pinned" at the top of the sub-forums. Also, philosophical discussions, such as your first example, are no longer allowed here as they are pointless and often become overly speculative. Just a friendly heads up.
    Last edited: Oct 24, 2013
  9. Oct 24, 2013 #8
    Why were you arguing with someone whom you believe has no free will to change? Seems ironic.
  10. Oct 24, 2013 #9
    @Evo, I didn't think it would be against the rules, since this is the general discussion forum, but apparently I was wrong.

    @zoobyshoe The point was not about whether or not you have free will, but about getting the argument across.

    Anyhow, I am already starting to regret having opened this topic. It guess everybody thinks differently about these things. For me it can sometimes be frustrating though, but that's me. I opened this topic because I was interested in your opinions on the matter. And if you don't agree with me that's fine with me too.

    Have a nice day anyway! you can close this topic if you want
  11. Oct 24, 2013 #10


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    Staff: Mentor

    Forum rules apply to General Discussion, the only difference is that non-science topics can also be discussed. You didn't break any rules, if you had, you would have received a notice.

    You'll find that although our members tend to be smarter and/or more educated than the average person, they don't brag about it or come across as superior or condescending. I think what members are trying to get across to you is that it's the quality (knowledge) that is shown by the content you post that matters, saying you are smarter than others doesn't mean anything. :smile:
  12. Oct 24, 2013 #11
    So true...
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