# Lay people answering complicated questions.

1. Dec 14, 2011

### lauchlan

Do you guys think it is possible and worthwhile to pose complicated physics problems in simple ways to lay people and children with little or no knowledge of the subject and see what answers they come up with.

I will use an example to explain what i mean.

If you told people to make an equation from various concepts. If you gave them energy, velocity, mass, volume, light speed and maybe a few others and you gave this to a few million people, how long would it be before one of them came up with E=MC2?

I know this is a massive stretch but i somehow think that unlearned people will not be thinking about the things that "won't" work and even though 99.9% will spit out pure garbage, maybe that tiny fraction could stumble upon something profound, possibly without even knowing what they have done. It is clear to me how easily this question could be blown completely out of proportion and argued down to the point of ridicule, but i pose it nonetheless.

It does seem that within many fields of study, people are hindered by the textbook writers in that the most knowledgeable people seem to create the confines within which other people in the filed are to work if they want to be taken seriously. I'm not saying this is entirely a bad thing, but there must exist the possibility that these confines are not the true boundaries. Unlearned people won't care about the boundaries or about making stupid mistakes because ultimately nobody is going to call them incompetent .

2. Dec 14, 2011

### Staff: Mentor

3. Dec 14, 2011

### lauchlan

People are not monkeys though and there will be some logic, however uninformed, behind their ideas. So their answer would be a lot less random.

I wouldn't filter the garbage because i don't know anything about physics, but maybe somebody who knows a bit might see something interesting amongst the rubble. That is kind of what i am getting at.

4. Dec 14, 2011

### PatrickPowers

Hang around here and you will see plenty of this.

Surprisingly, the same ideas come up over and over, like, does antimatter have antigravity? After a while you will have seen everything.

The ideas of quantum mechanics are weird, and relativity is VERY weird. The odds of ordinary people coming up with this stuff is quite close to zero. I mean, there are reasons that the men who formulated these theories are very famous. It was a truly exceptional accomplishment. The chance of amateurs coming up with something BETTER is very, very low. I think you would have a better chance with lottery tickets.

Operating in ignorance is a big disadvantage. It makes more sense to avoid the thousands of blind alleys that have already been thoroughly explored.

It's actually fairly easy to come up with radical ideas. ArchivX is full of them. There are so many that people who want to do real work avoid them, since one could spend a great deal of time reading this stuff.

A big problem is that new ideas are either 1) wrong 2) duplicates of existing ideas 3) impractical to verify, so many physicists consider it an enticing but ultimately dangerous to your career to mess with. A particularly nasty problem is that the closer it is to right, the more time and effort it takes to refute it.

Another big problem is that the uneducated tend to invent their own private languages to express their ideas. Who wants to take all the effort to learn such a thing, since any payoff is a very long shot?

Gracing this forum is a professor with many publications who has come up with a new interpretation of quantum physics in terms of thermodynamics. He knows all the current theories very well. Nevertheless reception to his ideas is mixed. Some are interested, some say "why do we need a new interpretation? Too much work to learn it. What I have is good enough." So even when you have everything going for you, it is a hard sell.

5. Dec 14, 2011

### Staff: Mentor

You didn't get it - it was a rhetoric question.

Effort involved in filtering the garbage makes whole idea ridiculous. It is much easier (and requires less effort) to learn enough to be able to derive reasonable equations, or to propose new ideas based on known ones.

What is easier - to learn how to multiply and to write a multiplication table, or to ask hundreds of people to put random numbers into the table and then test them to see which ones are correct?

6. Dec 14, 2011

### PatrickPowers

I have posted such rubble to the forum. I was invited to cease this practice.

7. Dec 14, 2011

### micromass

Watch this (the end of it):

8. Dec 14, 2011

### bp_psy

Why physics and not some other field like medicine? Why not let people think of various drugs and surgical procedures and then test each of them? After all they are not confined by the boundaries of modern medical science.
Unfortunately I have meet people that see no problem with this.

9. Dec 14, 2011

### Ryan_m_b

Staff Emeritus
I was just going to mention this. I commonly find a misunderstanding/proposition that lay people can come up with new physical theories that may be valid yet this proposition does not extend to chemistry, biology, medicine etc. I think part of the reason could be that people are more interested in learning about the wider universe but to do so very complicated theories are simplified to analogies, then lay people try to develop the analogy rather than the theory and think they have come up with a new physical theory.

In addition without the relevant training lay-people often lack the relevant knowledge to even understand the question, let alone begin to answer it.

10. Dec 14, 2011

### Pythagorean

doesn't medicine have a pretty bad reputation for making crap up and being male-centric? I kind of feel like I have to fight dark-age medicine when I go to my public healthcare providers.

11. Dec 14, 2011

### rhody

Slam dunk Micro...

Rhody

12. Dec 14, 2011

### Ryan_m_b

Staff Emeritus
Er...where are you lol?

13. Dec 14, 2011

### Astronuc

Staff Emeritus
No - that should be self-evident.

14. Dec 14, 2011

### Astronuc

Staff Emeritus
Brilliant!

BTW, there aren't infinite possibilities.

15. Dec 14, 2011

### rootX

Why do lay people need to play around with physics?

Physics is a profession and worked on by people who are trained through education and work experience.

I think modern pop science and pop science shows are to blame.

16. Dec 14, 2011

### AlephZero

17. Dec 14, 2011

### Pengwuino

The problem is that special relativity is not just $E=mc^2$. Any idiot can look at dimensional analysis and come up with $E=mc^2$. Figuring what it means is what matters! A large number of laypersons will never figure that out. One set of examples are things such as the Planck length, Planck temperature, Planck energy, etc. The Planck energy is given by the only combination of the fundamental constants of the universe that give you an energy, or $E_{Planck} = \sqrt{{\hbar c^5}\over{G}}$. It's believed that these energies, temperatures, etc., are where quantum mechanics and gravity will merge.

That's totally useless though! Physics is not about throwing letters together and calling it science. Any unified theory of quantum gravity is not going to be just about 1 or 2 simple equations just like special relativity is not just about $E=mc^2$.

Another example is something even simpler that I was discussing with my adviser a couple weeks ago at a reception. I asked "do students ever ask you why the kinetic energy of an object is ${{1}\over{2}}mv^2$ and not something like $mv^2$?". Well, the answer, of course, is no, students never ask :D. However, this is the point. Ask random people to think like you're suggesting, and who is to say kinetic energy isn't just $mv^2$? You need the rest of newtonian mechanics to be able to determine exactly what it is because the entire theory must be self-consistent and randomly generating 1 equation from a theory is not helpful!

It really annoys me (and I'm not saying you're doing this) when people think that the lay person has just as much ability to make breakthroughs in physics. I think it does kind of say something for how elegant physics can be at times. Newtonian mechanics, Schrodinger's equation, General Relativity, the Dirac Equation, and a few other equations can be written down in such amazingly simple ways (despite the background and actual implementation being amazingly complex) that I have a feeling people think physics IS simple.

18. Dec 14, 2011

### Pythagorean

19. Dec 14, 2011

### Staff: Mentor

Anesthesia there is still a shot of bourbon and a bullet to bite on?

20. Dec 15, 2011

### Galteeth

This was basically how it was done until the advent of the FDA.

Now we do the same thing, but with safety studies.

21. Dec 15, 2011

### Ryan_m_b

Staff Emeritus
If I've missed some joke or sarcasm I apologise, sometimes I do that. If not the difference between the past and today in medical research is so much more than regulatory standards. The modern world is dominated by evidence based medicine. We rationally design drugs, therapies, devices etc based on our knowledge of biology, this is so much better than simply offering a random treatment and then observing the effects.

22. Dec 15, 2011

### Krunchyman

The act of searching through all the people's garbage would take more effort than training people to create significant equations logically.

Also, computer algorithms are far more efficient at creating formulas than humans.

23. Dec 15, 2011

Staff Emeritus
For some reason, I thought of this...

24. Dec 15, 2011

### rootX

I was thinking of this:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-16007129