1. PF Contest - Win "Conquering the Physics GRE" book! Click Here to Enter
    Dismiss Notice
Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Studying Does only the application really matter?

  1. Aug 3, 2016 #1
    I majored in a science in college and a few years after college I think that engineering and applications are the only thing that make math and science relevant to society. I mean otherwise they're all just head knowledge and nothing justifies why society as a whole should keep them around. Shamanism is arguably just head knowledge and so I reason that anything that doesn't bring about consistent results doesn't have a place in our society. So enlightened students in college should think about application above all else then if this is true.

    I'm thinking about this because I want to go to graduate school for science. but I'm thinking more and more about how I can gear my education towards a concrete application ( like clean energy for the USDE ). Really this is just my own philosophizing but I wanted to hear other peoples' thoughts. thanks.
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 3, 2016 #2


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    I cannot but state the obvious here: both "head knowledge" - as you put it, and application of knowledge are important.
    Sure, but what if there were no theoretical ideas and studies already in place? We cannot take it as something anyway existent, because there are great people behind this who have spent countless hours of studying and thinking. I don't underestimate in any way, what engineering has achieved so far, but it's just as important as theoretical ideas and it's better to see this in a statistical way for a clear picture.

    Now, regarding what to pursue, one or the other, it's a question regarding inclination and the skill set that someone has.
  4. Aug 3, 2016 #3

    Vanadium 50

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor
    2017 Award

    Here are my thoughts:

    1. It's possible to be proud of one's own accomplishments without belittling others'.
    2. You even might wait until having some actual accomplishments of your own before belittling others'. Just sayin'.
    3. Your argument reflects more on you than the people you are attacking.
  5. Aug 3, 2016 #4
    Agreed 100%!! Developing a new nuclear device which will kill thousands of people instantly and leave many other dying of horrible wounds or growing up without parents or loved once, that's way more important than finding out where life came from. I'm glad you're so enlightened!
  6. Aug 3, 2016 #5
    Nowhere do I see the OP attacking anyone, but what I do urge him to consider are the countless inventions/applications that were preceded by theoretical work that seemed to have no purpose.
  7. Aug 3, 2016 #6
    Right, but that's missing the point. The point to me is that theoretical work is important even if there would never be applications at all. We're still looking for how life started from nonliving materials, and we want to find the answers regardless of what useful tools it can give us. The same is true for theoretical physics or math.
  8. Aug 3, 2016 #7
    ROFL!!!!!! Talk about a bolt from the blue! To be honest though I think the atom bomb was OVERALL a useful invention.
  9. Aug 3, 2016 #8
    Yep, killing thousands of innocent Japanese civilians (including children) and slave workers in order to take revenge on what the army did. I'm glad too.
  10. Aug 3, 2016 #9
    Anyways everyone I want to follow up my post with agreeing with everyone that I do think theory and intellectual exploration are important. I mean I personally find math and science more interesting than engineering. I was just thinking of in a more enlightened sense what is important and not just what is interesting. And I see that as more concrete fields of application like medicine, construction, energy, food, transportation, etc.

    I do love math and science but I just want to approach them in a more enlightened way that keeps in mind the better interests of humanity is all.
  11. Aug 3, 2016 #10
    Sure. But you could state that opinion without insulting a lot of people by calling your opinion "enlightened", implying indirectly that the people who are busy with intellectual pursuit is not. We get that you feel happy serving the needs of humanity. You need to acknowledge that that is your point of view/
  12. Aug 3, 2016 #11

    Vanadium 50

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor
    2017 Award


    One of the Great Unenlightened
    Last edited: Aug 3, 2016
  13. Aug 3, 2016 #12
    No one even knew what the applications of electricity were at first. If you know how your research was going to turn out, then you're not doing anything new.

    These contests where people compare whose field is more valuable (or more difficult, or less valuable, etc.) are rarely a topic of conversation among actual professionals, because they usually recognize the impact other fields can have on their own. It seems only people who aren't in these fields actually try to make these comparisons.

    Do what's interesting to you. That's what you'll probably find easiest.
  14. Aug 3, 2016 #13
    Are you guys really construing my question as an attack? Like seriously I'm not trying to take a personal stab against science or academia. I'm more of just asking is it science that helps society or engineering even though OBVIOUSLY science is involved either way.
  15. Aug 3, 2016 #14
    Basic science and theory have their place. I don't think we need to annihilate entire fields of human thought. My real question is about what is REALLY important to society not just what deserves to have a place and all I mean yea anyway stuff.
  16. Aug 3, 2016 #15
    Define "important to society".
  17. Aug 3, 2016 #16
    I suppose the easiest way to answer that is what other people are willing to pay you to do.
  18. Aug 3, 2016 #17
    I get paid to do pure math. I'm useful!
  19. Aug 3, 2016 #18

    Vanadium 50

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor
    2017 Award

    Then you might not want to question our very existence ("nothing justifies why society as a whole should keep them around") or claiming that you are more enlightened than us.
  20. Aug 3, 2016 #19


    User Avatar
    Homework Helper
    Education Advisor
    Gold Member



    (EDIT: A few words from the above quote were removed)
    Last edited: Aug 4, 2016
  21. Aug 4, 2016 #20
    While this is true, it is also a debated amongst government and politicians. Which has great outcomes for funding.

    This prevailing view of applicability (in my country atleast) has had a negative impact on science.

    Answer to original question:
    I've always felt that engineering /applicable science has short term gains, while basic science/theoretical (by this I mean theoretical within a field) can have long term gains.

    If the focus is always on what can produce results now, the long term progress is slowed.

    Edit:added stuff. Stupid tablet an italics
    Last edited: Aug 4, 2016
Know someone interested in this topic? Share this thread via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook