How To Ask A Question On Physics Forums

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Author: ZapperZ
Originally posted on Jul5-12

We have issues from some members, especially new ones, who ran afoul with our Rules, and then complaints that they were penalized for asking questions and trying to learn. Inevitably, we get accused of not letting people ask questions, stopping people from trying to learn, and generally being too restrictive.

So let's get this out of the way first:

1. We welcome people who want to learn

2. We welcome questions in wanting to learn and understand certain things

3. We do NOT welcome questions that were built on speculation or incorrect/inaccurate understanding of physics.

Let's do an example. We often see question like this:

"If I travel at the speed of light, what do I see?"

This question is, believe it or not, similar to this question:

"When did you stop beating your wife?"

Both are asking a question based on an a priori assumption. The first question explicitly assumes that "I" can travel at the speed of light, and that now that I have attained that speed of light, what is the consequences of that action? The second question explicitly assumes that I have been beating my wife, and now wants to know when I stop doing that.

In other words, both questions made assumptions that something else has happened. They are not asking for the validity of that something else, but rather, they are extrapolating and asking a question as a result of that something else. This is exactly what I meant by a question that is based on a speculation or incorrect understanding of physics.

So how should one ask and learn in this case? The proper question should have been this:

"Can we travel at the speed of light?"

This then can be answered from the ground up. One can start with the postulates of Special Relativity, and the consequences of SR, and the idea that objects with mass cannot attain the speed c. Once that has been established, then the question on what I will see when I travel at the speed of light is utterly moot, because one is asking for something that doesn't occur. It is similar to establishing that I had never beaten my wife, and thus, asking for when I stop beating her becomes pointless and meaningless.

How you ask a question is important, and some time, almost as important as what you are asking. This is true in the running of this forum, and often, it is true in the practice of physics. The questions that we ask of nature must be clear and concise. If not, we will have answers that we simply cannot decipher.

I have previously posted a blog on additional info that you will need to post a question effectively on PF. Hopefully, this will add to it.

Zz.

Author: ZapperZ
Originally posted on Jul5-12
 

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