Physics is the only real science. The rest are just stamp collecting.

  • #1
Silverbackman
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"Physics is the only real science. The rest are just stamp collecting."

"Physics is the only real science. The rest are just stamp collecting."

-- Ernest Rutherford

How valid is this statement. I think it has a lot of validity considering the fact that you are learning the fundamental laws of the universe and nature. You are basically studying the "Mind Of God". Where as other sciences such as social science, geology, biology and even chemistry are more specific into detail that may be more mundane that what physics teaches. Physics seems to be the big picture of science, and thus its essence as well.
 

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  • #2
arildno
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A silly statement of Rutherford's indicative of the all-too common physicist's flaw of wholly unjustified arrogance.

The inability of physics to come up with any useful predictions within fields like biology or the social sciences (due to the mathematically unmanageable wealth of parameters involved) is a case in point.

And who cares, really, whether a star light-years away from us has a lot higher density than our own sun (and that we may predict&compute it)?

The activity to develop conceptual tools effective in the study of fields like biology or the social sciences is no less intellectually challenging than developing the mathematical tools usable in physics.
Ingenious experiments must be thought out to show this or that in biology, and Emile Durkheim's thoughtful analysis of the suicide phenomenon must be considered good research.
 
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  • #3
-Job-
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Of course physics explains the fundamental laws of the universe with the more fundamental field of Mathematics, if you want to go thataway.
 
  • #4
arildno
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Well, it is debatable if maths should be called a "science". In many respects, it is more akin to art/philosophy.
 
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  • #5
alias25
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maths is beautiful.
i agree though that statement isn't very good. shows a lot of arrogance.
 
  • #6
asrafally
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i completely agree since the amount of mental gymanastics that is required
Mathmetics is only abstract unless it is being used in physics
 
  • #7
octelcogopod
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I'm kind of opposed to the whole "physics is the holy grail" type thing..
It's done a very good job of explaining larger parts of the physical world, but what if there are other things to study?

Like the mind and um, dare I say "soul?"
 
  • #8
Pythagorean
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as far as I can tell, physics is the fundamental science. Chemistry and Biology can be broken down into physical systems, sure, but it seems like it would be a hassle and take more time, whereas biologists and chemists have excellent models of their systems that work well enough for scientific advancement.

Biology itself is one of the most diverse and fastly developing sicences right now, and its been very benficial to humanity. It wouldn't be like this if physicists were researching biology. It would take wayyyy longer.
 
  • #9
neutrino
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It could've been influenced by the state of the other sciences compared to physics during Rutherford's time. (?)
 
  • #10
Pythagorean
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neutrino said:
It could've been influenced by the state of the other sciences compared to physics during Rutherford's time. (?)

Perhaps. Physics was revolutionizing a lot of other sciences around the time. In fact, I think the major developments in genetics/DNA/molecular biology were a result of quantum physics.

I know in the class, physical chemistry (required for chem majors) they use schroedinger's equation a lot.
 
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  • #11
Silverbackman
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octelcogopod said:
I'm kind of opposed to the whole "physics is the holy grail" type thing..
It's done a very good job of explaining larger parts of the physical world, but what if there are other things to study?

Like the mind and um, dare I say "soul?"

Keep in mind though that the mind is a product of the brain. How the brain is set will determine how a person acts and since your brain is made of matter, it does lead much of its research on the physical aspects of it. And your brain does follow the laws of physics ;).

One aspect about the mind that physics could probably never explain however is conscious self awareness.
 
  • #12
octelcogopod
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Silverbackman said:
Keep in mind though that the mind is a product of the brain. How the brain is set will determine how a person acts and since your brain is made of matter, it does lead much of its research on the physical aspects of it. And your brain does follow the laws of physics ;).

One aspect about the mind that physics could probably never explain however is conscious self awareness.

I don't know man.. Definitions seem to change as opinions do, what we need is one grand and complete definition on what the mind, conscious experience and self awareness is, then we might be able to explain it physically.

I mean once we understand something completely there is no other way..
 
  • #13
pibomb
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I sort of think that some sciences are rooted in physics but they shouldn't be considered subordinate because of this. I think biology and chemistry are equally important as much as physics.

Although...cosmetic science is pretty useless (for the stupid shampoo commercials and skin crap on tv). I coukd argue some, like this science, are useless but ultmately, phyiscs, biology, and chemistry are the most important.
 
  • #14
arildno
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Hmm..cosmetic science makes a lot more people happy than theoretical physics ever did..
What you regard as "important" depends on which parameters you think define "importance".
 
  • #15
selfAdjoint
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arildno said:
Hmm..cosmetic science makes a lot more people happy than theoretical physics ever did..
What you regard as "important" depends on which parameters you think define "importance".


Surely you jest?:rofl:

Theoretical Physicist Maxwell -> Hertz -> Marconi -> Electronics -> Radio, TV and Computers. Half the population doen't go to cosmetologists, but everybody watches TV and/or uses a computer.
 
  • #16
arildno
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Okay, I was sort of stretching the truth a bit, just for disagreement's sake. :smile:


Besides, is television more important than an eyeliner? :wink:
 
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  • #17
neutrino
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They needed Radio, need TV, and more recently the web, to advertise their products! They need photoshop->which runs on a computer-> to fool the people.
 
  • #18
arildno
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But they need the eyeliner to APPEAR on the television! :smile:


(Hmm..methinks I'm getting silly here..)
 
  • #19
neutrino
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arildno said:
(Hmm..methinks I'm getting silly here..)
Glad to know. ;)
 
  • #20
Karlisbad
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" Physics is the Queen of Science, and Mathematical Physics is just the Queen of the Physics"... :rolleyes: :rolleyes:
 
  • #21
arildno
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Yeah, I know, and Gauss was the greatest queen of them all.
 
  • #22
desA
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Physicists & Mathematicians seem to have different ways of looking at the world.

In general, Physicists want to understand how the universe works & interacts with things. They then set about bulilding a theoretical (physical) model of the situation, with a few assumtions. The next step is to develop relationships between all varibles in the model - ending up with an equation describing the model. He assumes a solution exists in some shape, or form.

The Mathematician then takes this equation & works out ways of providing a solution, & its existence.

The Physicist then tests the solution against the physical model & modifies the assumptions accordingly. This process then iterates.

Both groups think completely differently about things, but both depend upon each other.
 
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  • #23
matt grime
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Thankfully at least one person has pointed out that this quotation can only be examined in terms of when Rutherford said it. No one has, for instance, mentioned the fact that he used 'stamp-collecting' as his anology. If he merely wished to dismiss other subjects as less important, which is how some people here seem it take the quotation, why did he not phrase it differently? I suspect his choice of words was possibly to do with physics looking to explain, and some other sciences (botany, taxonomy for example) looking to merely catalogue (at the time when he made the statement).
 
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  • #24
matt grime
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desA said:
They [physicists] then set about bulilding a theoretical (physical) model of the situation, with a few assumtions. The next step is to develop relationships between all varibles in the model - ending up with an equation describing the model. He assumes a solution exists in some shape, or form.

The Mathematician then takes this equation & works out ways of providing a solution, & its existence.

The Physicist then tests the solution against the physical model & modifies the assumptions accordingly. This process then iterates.

Both groups think completely differently about things, but both depend upon each other.

I assure you that this is most definitely not what drives research in mathematics, and hasn't been since the early 1900s.
 
  • #25
desA
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Who thinks out & develops the equations in the first place?

Take the conservation laws as an example - mass, momentum, energy...

Is current Mathematics research internally, or outwardly focused?
 
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  • #26
arildno
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desA said:
Who thinks out & develops the equations in the first place?
Not the physicists, for the most part.
 
  • #27
desA
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Who, for instance, developed the understanding behind the conservation laws? Perhaps they weren't called Physicists, or Mathematicians in those days, but, their history would give some idea as to their general logic flow.

I've got Serway's Principles of Physics to hand, let me look a few persons of interest & we could bat that about a little. Some folks would have multiple leanings, I would expect.
 
  • #28
arildno
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"Who, for instance, developed the understanding behind the conservation laws?"

Hmm..the only person I'd say qualifies to have "developed understanding behind conservation laws" is the mathematician Emmy Noether.
 
  • #29
desA
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Let's start with two:

Galileo Galilei
Isaac Newton
 
  • #30
desA
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arildno said:
"Who, for instance, developed the understanding behind the conservation laws?"

Hmm..the only person I'd say qualifies to have "developed understanding behind conservation laws" is the mathematician Emmy Noether.

A very fair comment indeed. :wink:

Perhaps the question should have read, "Who first formulated the Conservation Laws".
 
  • #31
selfAdjoint
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Different conservation laws emerged at different times. Conservation of momentum was explicitly used by Daniel Bernoulli in his Hydrodynamica (1743). Newton did not use momentum; the concept occurs nowhere in the Principia, and modern interpretations of his three laws in terms of momentum conservation are just that: modern.

Conservation of energy had to wait for the insight that "energy" includes chemical and electrical energy, as well as the older mechanical KE and potential. Thus the conservation of energy belongs to Clausius and Joule in the mid nneteenth century.

Other conservation laws are twentieth century.
 
  • #32
desA
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Serway (p56) refers to Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) as follows:

"Italian physicist & astronomer Galileo formulated the laws that govern the motion of objects in free fall. He also investigated the motion of an object on an inclined plane, established the concept of relative motion,..."
 
  • #33
desA
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selfAdjoint said:
Different conservation laws emerged at different times. Conservation of momentum was explicitly used by Daniel Bernoulli in his Hydrodynamica (1743). Newton did not use momentum; the concept occurs nowhere in the Principia, and modern interpretations of his three laws in terms of momentum conservation are just that: modern.

Conservation of energy had to wait for the insight that "energy" includes chemical and electrical energy, as well as the older mechanical KE and potential. Thus the conservation of energy belongs to Clausius and Joule in the mid nneteenth century.

Other conservation laws are twentieth century.

Very interesting about Newton's not using 'momentum'.

So, Clausius & Joule are in the running. (*reaches for Serway*) What leaning did these men of stature have?

I wonder if there are thinkers from other civilisations who worked in this area - perhaps earlier than the dates above?
 
  • #34
arildno
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I have always regarded as one of the fundamental shifts from classical physics to modern physics to the shift of emphasis from seeing a system described by forces, mass and velocity to seeing a system described by the conservation of momentum&energy (the concepts of mass&force receding into insignificance from the fundamental point of view), along with various requirements of symmetry/invariance.

It is a subtle shift, and it is easy to superimpose a modern view on the old-fashioned classical view.

However, if one does so, then we run the risk of not understanding what classical physical actually concerned itself with, nor how its perspective was internally consistent, but still obscured certain features that the perspective of modern physics handles better.

Take the case of the "principle of Galilean invariance":
I must confess that I haven't found this requirement stated in any pre-Einstein physicist.

Rather, to them F=ma was the fundamental law empirically verified to hold for material systems (systems that consisted of the same stuff over time).

Also, it was empirically verified that a system only could lose mass if some part left the system (mass conservation law, which I believe is the oldest conservation law)

From F=ma, it is fairly trivial to DEDUCE that there exists some sets of "equivalent observers", namely those that move with constant velocity to each other. For these groups, the force F acting on the object will be observed to be the same, since the accelerations are the same, due to the observed kinematic Galilean law that velocities are additive.

If we call one set of such observers the "true" observers, who deduce the ACTUAL forces on the object, then the other sets observe additional pseudo-forces, due to their acceleration relative to the set of "true" observers.


But at no point is this equivalent to state that classical physics REQUIRED the laws of mechanics to be Galilean invariant, they OBSERVED, or DEDUCED that they were. Nor, indeed did the idea of "absolute state of rest" lose its meaning, it was just that one couldn't deduce an absolute state of rest with the laws of mechanics!

This means that when the phenomena of electro-magnetic forces began to be studied, there was NO CONCEPTUAL CONFLICT with previous physics, rather what one discovered was that since the laws of electro-magnetism were not Galilean invariant, it followed that the state of absolute rest could in principle be deduced/observed by the study of electro-magnetic phenomena. Maxwell's laws were assumed to be valid for the absolute rest frame, and hence another observer's absolute velocity could in principle be deduced from HIS observed laws of electro-magnetism under the assumption that all velocities would, indeed, follow the Galilean empirical law of velocity addition.

This perspective is internally consistent, even though we now know that several of the assumptions are wrong.

However, as I hope I have shown, it wasn't because physicists previously were dumb that they didn't question their assumptions when the non-Galilean electromagnetic phenomena appeared; it was simply accommodated easily into their system of thought as some rather weird forces.

However, with the Michelson-Morley experiment came, one of the basic observational laws hitherto known failed, that of velocity addition, then something seriously wrong were understood to be the case.

However, Einstein's revolutionary thoughts, for example his fairly unique requirements of invariance, are by no means the only, or most obvious way to try and find resolutions to the problems at hand.
Others were tried out, most of them forgotten because at one point or another, they failed.
 
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  • #35
desA
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An excellent informative review... :smile:
 

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