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I'm looking for a solid concise way to

  1. Jul 11, 2009 #1
    make someone understand the difference between theoretical physics (which is based on evidence) and junk New Age pseudo-physics.

    For example, when the theory of gravity is distorted into the "Law of Attraction" behind THE SECRET which says you can get whatever you want just by thinking about it.

    Is there a concise, bullet proof argument that can cause an epiphany in the armchair pseudo-physicist? To make them realize "hey, you really do need evidence to accept something as factual."
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 11, 2009 #2
  4. Jul 11, 2009 #3

  5. Jul 11, 2009 #4
    I would start by exposing this person to the history of theoretical physics!
  6. Jul 12, 2009 #5


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    The language of physics is math and a physical theory should be falsifiable
  7. Jul 12, 2009 #6


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    Yes. "Try it". Boom, works every time.
  8. Jul 12, 2009 #7


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    The hard part is to get them to even consider the arguments you give them. There's no way to make them think.

    What you would want them to understand is that the only way to learn anything about how the universe works is to come up with theories, i.e. sets of statements that make predictions about the results of experiments, and perform experiments to see how accurate the predictions are. The experiments are what allow us to distinguish between competing theories.

    It's not enough to get them to understand that this is what scientists think, because they're still going to think "Science shmience. I don't need no stinking experiments, because I have experience". So they have to understand why what I just said is true, and it's impossible to get them to listen long enough.

    They are also completely immune to the argument that if this really worked, someone would already have proved it using scientific methods. They'll just think "proof, shmoof" and completly ignore the fact that you have just given them an excellent reason to change their minds.

    I suppose you could try to let them do most of the talking. Just ask why they believe that it works, and if they think other explanations are possible. That's not going to work either, but at least it will be a longer conversation.

    By the way, I can recommend the forums over at randi.org. They are better than PF for this sort of question.
  9. Jul 12, 2009 #8


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    It's actually pretty hard to explain what theoretical physics is to intelligent and reasonable laymen, let alone crackpots who are not even willing to listen.
  10. Jul 12, 2009 #9
    Fredrik's suggestion:

    Actually does work.

    You can do that by playing along with their game like Sokal did and then demonstrate that you get a ridiculous result. When I was a student, I used to discuss with people about paranormal things, homeopathy, astrology etc. etc. I learned a lot from these discussions. I learned that the direct approach where you directly explain why according to science these things are not plausible does not work. Playing along is far more effective.

    Instead of you doing the explaining, you should ask questions and for the most time just listen. So, if you talk to a believer in astrology, simply ask about if it would be possible to predict the place and date of birth based on someones life story (in which clues about the age are omitted). Then ask about how a horoscope of somepone born on Mars would be made, or someone who lives in intergalactic space.
  11. Jul 12, 2009 #10
    I once met someone who actually thought it was valid to apply Newton's laws to stock prices, "because every action has an equal and opposite reaction." This was from a person who was interested in my programming services. When he told me this my jaw dropped and I realized there was no way I could work for this person.
  12. Jul 12, 2009 #11


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  13. Jul 12, 2009 #12
    Is anyone else having problems with wikipedia loading? Seems like since yesterday, it takes forever for the pages to load. I do a lot of wikipedia'ing, so I hope it's not just me and it'll be fixed soon.
  14. Jul 12, 2009 #13
    Thanks for all the comments.
  15. Jul 12, 2009 #14


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    Wiki works for me, but not yesterday
  16. Jul 12, 2009 #15

    I noticed that on internet explorer 6, wikipedia pages sometimes do not load. If I use the opera web browser, then there is no problem at all.
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