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Reasons for studying physics

  1. Jun 24, 2010 #1
    Why study physics? Is it an endeavor worth dedicating your life to? Why not dedicate your life to improving the human condition? Or is physics, even theoretical physics, a potential cause for improving life?

    Is truth physicists' ultimate goal? Why? What benefit is there to discovering the "theory of everything"?
    Last edited by a moderator: Jun 24, 2010
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 24, 2010 #2
    As far as a direct benefit goes, theoretical physics has been equated to sending a message in a bottle to the future. It's likely that what physicists discover may not have a direct application right away, but at some point, someone will say, "hey, we've known about this for 50 years and now we can use it", and physics is regularly used for the benefit of mankind.

    That being said, I doubt the majority of people who study physics do so for altruistic reasons. I at least speak for myself when I say that my motivation for learning as much as possible about how the universe works is simply that. I want to know the universe. Whenever I learn about something, I feel closer to it. To be able to describe, explain, and make predictions about the world I walk it is consistently thrilling.

    And if I can solve some energy crises on the way, then that would just be neat.

    When it comes down to it, "knowing" is a fundamental desire of any human. No one can stand leaving the big questions unanswered, so no one does. Some answer them quickly and thoughtlessly. My method is just more empirical.
    Last edited: Jun 24, 2010
  4. Jun 24, 2010 #3
    I think pursuing the fundamental understanding of the universe is obviously important to the human condition (curiosity is fundamental to us).

    And progress in physics/science/technology is tightly entwined with what economists call growth, by which they mean the great long-term improvement of human lives.

    Academics and physicists certainly don't chose this path with the aim to maximise their expected personal financial income, it has to be some more lofty purpose (even if it isn't solely altruistic).
  5. Jun 24, 2010 #4

    Andy Resnick

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    Everyone here is going to have a different answer. Mostly because we are all individuals who made a choice.

    Why are you asking?
  6. Jun 24, 2010 #5
    Actually I think that studying physics wasn't such a great idea for me. I decided to dedicate my life to it back when I was young, idealistic, and foolish (OK it was nine years ago when I was 17). But whatever, I'm here. Yeah, maybe there are better things to do, but physics is kind of cool. And someone has to do it. Physics tends to only yield new technologies decades in the future. If we stopped doing physics now, we'll soon find that we're out of new technology to invent. So it's worthwhile. I just happen to be the sucker who signed up for the suicide mission. :smile:
  7. Jun 24, 2010 #6
    What benefit to humankind is there to you making this post?

    I study physics because I gain personal pleasure from it. You don't like that? Too bad.
  8. Jun 24, 2010 #7
    Fundamental research is vital to our societies. We can discuss specific examples, but still it is never fair to ask what fundamental research will give in terms of practical applications. We just do not know yet, apart from looking back and realizing the past achievements. The truth of the matter is that curiosity is an essential feature of human culture. I remain convinced, and can provide a selected list of past and ongoing transformations for our societies. The most obvious and immediate are the computer and internet with which we communicate now.

    To answer your question specifically : "what is the reason ?". It was not so much of a purpose rather than simply a choice or decision at a personal level to follow genuinely my passion. This is a selfish aspect, that not everyone wakes up in the morning with an urge to tackle the next step. But this aspect is merely incidental. I would go as far as claiming that if one has the ability and opportunity to pursue and contribute to fundamental research, it is their most important social responsibility to carry on. I can not imagine any better use of my life.
  9. Jun 24, 2010 #8
    I sincerely appreciate one of the only helpful replies I got.

    I realize it's individual decision, I was expecting your individual input on why you chose it, not an all-encompassing answer.
  10. Jun 25, 2010 #9
    It is difficult to explain the roots of a passion, by definition unreasonable. Why is it fascinating that by properly applying mathematical rules one can predict the behavior of complex physical apparatus ? It's just a game. The mathematics are beautiful, the experiment can be fun and amazing. The reasons I wanted to choose research in the first place were mostly egoistic. However, because there is a larger social output to this activity, I can reasonably justify this choice to myself. Without the larger purpose, I would have engaged in a different career.
  11. Jun 26, 2010 #10
    I do it to for the ladies.
  12. Jun 26, 2010 #11
    Yes. But I think most people study it out of curiosity.

    Actually, to be honest, that's why I'm going to become a physician rather than a physicist, chemist or such - I know for sure that I will contribute meaningfully to society on a daily basis.
  13. Jun 27, 2010 #12


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    One can study physics and apply it such that one achieves personal fulfillment as well as improving the human condition. One could apply one's knowledge to better (more efficient, less polluting) ways to produce/harness energy for useful purposes, or to produce more efficient products, while enjoying the technical challenge.
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