Exploring the Frontiers of Physics: An Amateur Scientist's Journey

  • #1
pjwetzel
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How did you find PF?
Google search for a specific question
... and I got an amazingly straightforward answer written by a PF mentor. I was so excited that I registered an account here and immediately wrote a post to discuss the mentor's information, to make sure I understood it correctly. But I also extrapolated the ideas into the area of 'personal speculation'.

Wham!

Well, so when I got over the shock, I took the time to read the rules (Yep - the classic case) and to delve into the policies in greater depth.

So obviously I'm still a newbie - still have plenty to learn about the culture here, and whether this is the right place for me. I'm excited to see what sort of discussion this post produces, for starters.

Here's my story (a little bit about me). I'm a 75-year-old retired PhD NASA research Atmospheric Scientist (google Peter J. Wetzel NASA for credentials), so obviously I have a sound science background and have plenty of peer-reviewed published papers of my own. But they're Atmospheric Physics papers, and that is an area that might be considered 'soft science' by the physicists who do Cosmology, General Relativity, quantum field theory, etc.

Bottom line is that I'm a very interested hobbyist, not conversant with the more esoteric math behind most of the modern work in those core Physics fields. But I have an abiding curiosity and interest to understand, in particular, our 'Creation Story' (I use this term deliberately because the origin of our observed reality is still firmly rooted in unknown territory). Science seems to have settled solidly on the Big Bang model as the best, most self-consistent theory we have, but what really lights my fire are the unsolved problems at the frontiers of knowledge.

T.H. Huxley wrote, in 1887:
“The known is finite, the unknown infinite; intellectually we stand on an islet in the midst of an illimitable ocean of inexplicability. Our business in every generation is to reclaim a little more land, …”
I won't mention any specific problem or question, because that is proscribed here. But for me, as a PhD independent researcher throughout my career, this is where the action is, and always will be - advancing science through the scientific method. Hypothesis (a statement that is not true but testable), a proposed test, and gathering the evidence through observation.

So ... what I want to ask questions about is where the limits of our knowledge are, and how are Physicists attacking the unknown realms beyond those limits. What are their hypotheses, how are theorists grounding them in observation (or hoping to), etc.

Again, I will offer ZERO examples in this post. My purpose for this post is to understand whether I can gain insights by asking the right questions here in PF, or whether this forum is more about student-level learning of well-established topics that lie safely behind the frontiers. Or maybe it's a mix.

My questions will be rooted in popularizations (the ones that cite refereed literature, thank you) and Wikipedia articles, and I will be particularly careful to look for and cite the refereed (peer-reviewed) literature, but my experience is that I won't be able to read many of those articles. I don't mean I won't understand them, though the deep dives into hard math will probably flummox me. I mean that they're behind pay walls or only accessible through institutional or library accounts. As an outsider/hobbyist and pure amateur in this field, I appear to have no access to many of the journals - and that seems a big handicap. Any comments on that problem are welcome, along with any guidance as to whether knowledgeable people here will be able to help me understand things like the details of limiting assumptions that underlie the accepted theories, and the consequences of trying to extrapolate beyond them into new territory.

I hope I've made myself clear. We'll see!
 
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  • #2
Welcome to PF; it's great to have you here. I'll definitely look up some of your papers when I get a chance.

The best way to start a technical discussion is to start a new thread in the appropriate forum and post links to the reading you've been doing. Then ask specific questions about that reading to get the discussion going.

You should also check out our Insights Blog article area (see the link at the top of the page). There are several hundred articles there on many, many subjects and questions.

Enjoy PF! :smile:
 

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