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Meaning of: Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler.

  1. Apr 11, 2012 #1
    Meaning of: "Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler."

    I'm new to physics, but have been reading biographies and watching documentaries on physics for the past year (before I take it next year in school).

    I've heard that Einstein said, "Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler."

    I'm wondering what he meant by that? It was confusing, because I thought physics is not simple at all!!! Do you guys know what he was referring to or what he even meant at all? I've seen this quote actually from a lot of websites too. Thanks a lot for your thoughts. I hope to learn more from this site as well.
     
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  3. Apr 11, 2012 #2

    NascentOxygen

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    Re: Meaning of: "Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler."

    Hi wlcgeek! Welcome to PHYSICS! I hope you enjoy your stay. :cool:
    I have no idea what he meant by that, but if he was referring to the complexity that scientists should bring into their explanation when answering questions on science [whether to the man in the street, or to students], then I think he is spot on.
     
    Last edited: Apr 11, 2012
  4. Apr 11, 2012 #3

    Filip Larsen

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    Re: Meaning of: "Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler."

    I assume he was referring to theories having emergent properties while at the same time adhering to the principle of Occam's razor. If you can make a theory with just enough "parts" so that a desired property emerges you have found a "sweet spot" in the complexity of that theory. Take anything away from the theory and you will loose the property, add some more and the property will still be there meaning what you added is not contributing to the property in question.

    Or in other words (with some amount of hand waving), I believe he meant that a theory should not be so simple that it cannot explain anything interesting and it should not be so complex that it explain a lot that does not exist.
     
  5. Apr 11, 2012 #4

    sophiecentaur

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    Re: Meaning of: "Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler."

    Physics is Reductionist.
    It tries to convey the best description of a system that it can in the simplest possible way.
    This avoids producing descriptions that at over-full but also avoids descriptions that fail to explain enough.
    It is not surprising that Maths is such an integral part of modern Physics because, quite literally, an Equation speaks a thousand words and cannot easily be mis-interpreted.

    I think people often get Albert wrong about his attitude to Physics. I reckon he was a bit disingenuous and self effacing when he claimed 'simplicity'. He used lots of cuddly stories and pictures when explaining things and claimed to have used such strategies for arriving at some of his blisteringly important conclusions. You still had to be Einstein to get there, though and the deep theory was never far from his reasoning, I'm sure. Let's face it, it's ever so easy to come up with a "noddy' story about some physical phenomenon that is just nonsense. That's my problem with the over-use of analogy.
     
  6. Apr 11, 2012 #5
    Re: Meaning of: "Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler."

    It turns out Einstein "quotes" are, more often than not, paraphrases, probably because the original statement, as he wrote or said it, was not (ironically in the present context) stated as simply as possible:


    According to Wiki that comes from: "On the Method of Theoretical Physics" The Herbert Spencer Lecture, delivered at Oxford (10 June 1933); also published in Philosophy of Science, Vol. 1, No. 2 (April 1934), pp. 163-169., p. 165. [thanks to Dr. Techie @ www.wordorigins.org and JSTOR]

    Wiki suggests a history of the paraphrase:
    http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Albert_Einstein
     
  7. Apr 11, 2012 #6
    Re: Meaning of: "Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler."

    Perhaps he was exhorting us to eschew obfuscation but not inordinately.
     
  8. Apr 11, 2012 #7

    Ben Niehoff

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    Re: Meaning of: "Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler."

    Gesundheit.
     
  9. Apr 13, 2012 #8

    mathwonk

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    Re: Meaning of: "Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler."

    I always considered it sort of a cynical joke professors use when students complain the lecture was not understandable.
     
  10. Aug 7, 2013 #9

    ghwellsjr

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    I always thought he meant if you make it as simple as possible, it works--if you make it simpler, then it's impossible and it doesn't work.
     
  11. Aug 7, 2013 #10
    Probably the same thing Hercule Poirot meant when he said he fits theory to the facts unlike Hastings who fit the facts to the theory.
     
  12. Aug 7, 2013 #11

    sophiecentaur

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    "It's the leetle grey cells, mon ami".
     
  13. Aug 7, 2013 #12
    No it ain't; it is elementary, my dear Sophiecentaur
     
    Last edited: Aug 7, 2013
  14. Aug 7, 2013 #13
    Don't know why this was bumped from over a year ago, but I see it as essentially a restatement of occam's razor.
     
  15. Aug 7, 2013 #14

    sophiecentaur

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    A lemon tree, my dear Watson?
     
  16. Aug 7, 2013 #15
  17. Aug 7, 2013 #16

    sophiecentaur

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    A pun my word! What a difference the use of the indefinite article, rather than the definite article can make to a message.
     
  18. Aug 7, 2013 #17
    :p

    P.S. Holmes really does recommend Martyrdom of Man and it really is a good read...
     
  19. Aug 7, 2013 #18

    sophiecentaur

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    I believe he also painted his hallway yellow. "A lemon entry my dear Watson."
    (I refuse to be sensible about this!)
    I happen to be in the middle of 'The Complete Sherlock Holmes' (Kindle freebee) and he is such an annoying character. Shame that Moriarty didn't actually sort him out for good at that waterfall!
     
  20. Aug 7, 2013 #19
    And this signifies the start of a blood feud...[I can't help but take this personally.]
    The game is afoot.
    So you prefer papa whiskers to Sherlock Holmes--- the world's first amateur consulting detective?
     
    Last edited: Aug 7, 2013
  21. Aug 7, 2013 #20
    'It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one
    begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.'
    Sherlock Holmes Quote
    -A Scandal in Bohemia
    Put much better than M. Egghead ever could.
     
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