# Greatest physicists never used calculators

1. Mar 8, 2009

### Stratosphere

I've been wondering abought this for a while now and i wanted to know some other peoples oppions. I realize that two of the greatest physicists never used calculators becuase they simply were not around. Now that we have them Is'nt it making people lazy because they no longer need to to do the math on paper? Is it even worth learning to do certain things that we could just do one a calculator? I personaly have been trying to learn do do tings by my self bu it takes alot more time than useing a calculator. I'm not sure its worth it.

2. Mar 8, 2009

### Staff: Mentor

Re: calculators

Always use the best tool for the job. It doesn't make sense for a man to use a shovel when he can and should use a backhoe, and using a backhoe instead of a shovel doesn't make a man lazy.

3. Mar 8, 2009

### mgb_phys

Re: calculators

It took Petzval about 3 years to do the calculations for his lens design which a modern optics package can do in real time.
Milkanovich spent most of his life on the calculations for his theory of ice ages - he might have discovered a lot more if he had a ti-89

Last edited: Mar 9, 2009
4. Mar 8, 2009

### f95toli

Re: calculators

Also, remember that a calculator can only be used to manipulate numbers; most "advanced" math only involves manipulating symbols in some intelligent way. And yes, people do use e.g. Mathematica to solve integrals etc; but that is not very different from looking up the integral in a table which is what people used to do (and still do if it is a common integral, much faster than typing something into Mathematica).

5. Mar 8, 2009

6. Mar 9, 2009

### Gnosis

Re: calculators

I look at it like this; the time I'm not wasting by grinding out the mechanics of the math provides me with more time to perform many more calculations and comparisons. The guy who paints a room with a paint bomb rather than a million brush strokes isn't lazy, he's creative! I prefer an optimistic point of view.

7. Mar 9, 2009

### Gib Z

Re: calculators

Whilst I agree with whats been said, I wish to add that it's still important to know how to do the things you do on your calculator, and then let it do it faster. Most people won't know how to take square roots without a calculator, and some people i know even take out their calculator out for the addition of 2 digit integers...o my.

8. Mar 9, 2009

### BobG

Re: calculators

You don't name the physicists you're talking about, but some type of calculating aid has been around for ages.

Prosthaphaeresis was a method of doing multiplication and division using trig tables. A lot of effort was put into making the trig tables, but once created, provided a fairly effective way of doing multiplication and division. It was around in Newton's time.

In fact, by time Newton was born, a better method was invented. John Napier invented logarithms, followed by Henry Briggs inventing base 10 logs. Multiplication and division were even easier using log tables instead of trig tables.

In fact, you could put the logarithmic scales on rulers and do quite a few calculations much easier. Isaac Newton came up with a way to http://web.mat.bham.ac.uk/C.J.Sangwin/Sliderules/newtonpoly.pdf [Broken] using logarithmic scales.

That was just a novel way of using the slide rule invented by William Oughtred. As a better way of fastening the scales together with a sliding scale were designed, you had a device that's more effective than most digital calculators. You have to go to the good graphing calculators (such as a TI-89), before your digital calculators are more capable than a good slide rule.

Albert Einstein's favorite slide rule was a Nestler 23R (this was also Werner Von Braun's favorite slide rule - in fact it was the favorite of most scientists or engineers that grew up in Germany).

I'm torn as to my favorite. I like the feel of the bamboo on my Post Versalog 1460 and it's actually my favorite for most general type problems. My Pickett N4-ES is better for electrical engineering problems. My avatar is a close up of part of my pocket Pickett N600-T, a little 6 inch slide rule.

So, unless you're talking about someone like Archimedes, they probably used a calculator.

The reason different slide rules are better for different types of problems has to do with the fact that you lose accuracy and speed everytime you have to copy down a number from the slide rule. Setting up a problem so you minimize slide movements and minimize having to take a reading makes for better calculations, so the placement of different scales on the body or slide to solve the problems most often encountered makes a difference. That's the other advantage of a digital calculator. You don't need one caculator for chemistry (a Post 1491, for example) and a different one for physics (a Post 1460, for example).

Of course, only needing one calculator for all of your calculations is kind of boring. What kind of collection is that?

Last edited by a moderator: May 4, 2017
9. Mar 9, 2009

### Staff: Mentor

Re: calculators

While I am pro every kind of calculating aid that can speed up the real work, I think they make sense once you know how to do it on your own. Otherwise you are not more inteligent than your calculator. And while I highly value help of the TI-89 that lies on my desk, I am sure I am better at solving problems.

10. Mar 9, 2009

### Brilliant!

11. Mar 9, 2009

### Focus

Re: calculators

I think I belong to the latter. I never really needed arithmetic in maths, they have algorithms to do that.

12. Mar 9, 2009

### BobG

Re: calculators

Yes, there is:

For addition: $$x + y = (\frac{x}{y} + 1)y$$

For subtraction: $$x - y = (\frac{x}{y} - 1)y$$

13. Mar 10, 2009

### mplayer

Re: calculators

Yes...that's what the machines want you to thing...UNTIL IT'S TOO LATE!

dun dun dun