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Seems weird: Most threads are questions, not discussions...

  1. Oct 17, 2015 #1
    Most original posts on PhysicsForums, in the more 'academic' categories (i.e. Math, Physics, etc), has the original poster asking a very specific question. It seems the vast majority of users just come here to get free tutoring or push past a roadblock or misconception in their learning. The remainder come here to advertise their revolutionary ideas.

    That probably isn't a good or bad thing. After all, people are learning.
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 17, 2015 #2


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    Seems not so weird to me. You can either do science, or talk about science. We like to attract the "doers" here :smile:.
  4. Oct 17, 2015 #3
    Ah, I don't often see anyone saying "Hey, no question here, I'd just like to showcase and discuss my recent research in an informal environment". Instead its "I've hit a major roadblock in my project, please help"
  5. Oct 17, 2015 #4
    Yep, questions all right. The revolutionaries are told to shut up, generally.

    I sometimes post interesting thing with no question. There is seldom any response. What is there to say?
  6. Oct 17, 2015 #5


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    There could be lots of things wrong you may have made a mistake and a mentor or other will correct it with good cheer.
  7. Oct 17, 2015 #6


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    Though, I've generally been told to shut up, privately.

    I learned the other day that Brigadier General Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart, was actually a private, in real life.
  8. Oct 17, 2015 #7


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    Well, there is a thin line between revolutionaries and crackpots. And thousands of posts for moderators to monitor, all with a shoestring budget. So maybe it is understandable, given the contraints.
  9. Oct 18, 2015 #8

    Stephen Tashi

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    I agree with your observation that the majority of threads have a question-answer pattern. The majority of original posters are "askers", but the users of the forum also include the "answerers". So the question-answer format is also due to the fact that there are members who like to answer questions. It's interesting to observe the division between "askers" and "answerers". I think that few members strike a balance between asking and answering, they tend to fall into one category or the other.

    To me, it is more interesting to discuss topics than to ask or answer questions that have known specific answers. However, such discussions are difficult to have - on the internet or face-to-face. You have to be talking to people who understand the topic. And you have to talk to people who are sympathetic to discussion - instead of people who have the outlook "Hurry up and state the problem. Which page of the book is it on?".

    The "Insights" feature of the forum is one that most fosters discussions. The topics of Insights are broad enough so they don't get stuck on solving one particular problem. Most people who comment on the Insights know something about the topic.
  10. Oct 18, 2015 #9


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    I like answering questions most, or at least trying to, find it quite instructive for myself as well. It's appreciated when an "asker" actually responds to a hint or answer to conclude the thread, instead of just disappearing.
  11. Oct 26, 2015 #10
    Yeah, that is part of what makes this forum so boring. There is no back and forth or controversy that is stimulating and thought provoking. I enjoy learning through dialectical interaction. I think often you can gain insight from how two people interact into the motivational reasoning behind their ideas. We all have "schools" that we lean toward in terms of branches of study that we find intriguing or that seem to draw us toward them or call to us. Feynman famous summed this up in his comparison of "Babylonians" and "Greeks." I think certain ideas appeal to some more based on personality differences. More open personalities for example seem more willing to entertain more speculative ideas and also seem more creative. More closed personalities seem to prefer rigor, but in my opinion, this often comes at the expense of taking in new observations to expand the reference background against which familiar data is tested. Maybe it's like a sort of Wittgensteinish trade off system in evolutionary adaptation. Ie you could create complete theories that are inconsistent or consistent ones that are incomplete and we are "Avatars" of different computational processing schema competing for the resources to expand our processing power. Mlodinow said something similar in Feynman's Rainbow when he noted that Feynman had a comfort for thinking the way he did in part because he behaved in a semi-chaotic fashion in a similar manner to the electrons he studied.
    Last edited: Oct 26, 2015
  12. Oct 26, 2015 #11
    I don't think this forum is boring at all. PF has drawn out a mission statement that they are not going to entertain any discussion that isn't mainstream science. So they try to hold to that standard, but will occasionally yield to "fringe" arguments. I can respect that. I personally have several other forums I visit if I want to wax philosophical, but not here.
  13. Oct 26, 2015 #12
    That's the problem right there, the implicit connection between a back and forth conversation and "fringe science"/speculation. Bad dog! *lightly smacks you on the nose* The reasons the rules are in place are because of the proliferation of quantum woo among other things over the last few decades which believe me pisses me off as much as anyone here in all likelihood, but that is not what I am arguing for. I don't care about giving equal time to some conspiracy nut, rather I want physics to be about PLAY. Talking about physics should be like a seduction with glimpses into the mind of your interlocutor, witty banter, humor, and a bit of playfulness. Instead all too often it is a stale droll routine that we pretend we are interested in because the subject is "important." If it doesn't make your neurons tittilate with excitement, it is likely a useless idea! I am reminded of a TED talk about sex and mathematics that correlated logical precise linear thinking with sex and abstract reasoning with love. Physics requires sex and love or you're not doing it right. Remember, "Physics is like sex. Sure, it may give some practical results, but that’s not why we do it.”
  14. Oct 26, 2015 #13


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    Physics only exists to provide practical results. It's a physical science after all, one of approximations. You can talk physics and find it enjoyable without some kind of weird physics fetish, devolving into philosophy or any of the other number of questions physics was never meant to answer. You can also do all that here, perfectly inbound of the rules.

    Just to add this in, personally I think TED talks are a waste of otherwise perfectly good livable time.
  15. Oct 26, 2015 #14


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    Note that discussing physics and most of science in general isn't like discussing which brand of automotive part would be best for your vehicle or which telescope and mount would be best for my future outdoor pier. There's little to talk about in terms of like and dislike. Most of learning science is about learning already-established rules, laws, and terminology and personal opinion about something rarely has a place.

    I pop my head into the engineering forums on occasion and there seems to be more like-dislike discussions going on there than in the primary physics forums. Probably because engineering is about how you use physics to build things, which opens the doors to a much more free discussion.
  16. Oct 26, 2015 #15


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    For you perhaps the interest is pretence unless it comes with banter and jokes but for many people the cold hard facts presented in the clearest possible way are extremely interesting.

    I think this is the difference between different types of science communication. For me when I read a paper I want it to be as clear and concise as possible. It needs to tell me exactly what the study did and shows, no embellishments or distractions. Presentations are similar but being spoken have more scope for being entertaining, but not at the expense of clarity. Now if you're talking bout science communication to the public, via TED talks, documentaries, podcasts, popsci articles etc then you do have to me more entertaining. After all much of science is obscure and the applications murky, if you're not in the field it can be hard to get excited about it. But that's no excuse for taking entertainment over the science, if your wit, banter and humour lead to misunderstanding then employing them is worse than doing nothing at all.
  17. Oct 26, 2015 #16
    These questions help start discussions.
  18. Oct 27, 2015 #17
    Well, first of all I would like to apologize to the person I chastised a bit too harshly. Physics has a lot of beauty within it however and it is FUN to talk about. That is what captures my attention. The question-answer format works for what many people are seeking here, namely help for academic purposes, however creative discussion is necessarily non-linear and doesn't conform to regulated procedures for "correct" discussion. That sort of thing necessarily KILLS the idea generation process. In other words, when you "know" everything then one takes on the role of the teacher and guides those less knowledgeable to "correct" answers. Truly innovative thinking necessarily must challenge the established norms in place. I guess I am just more attracted to the periphery of what is known, because that is where we are challenged, grow, and come to more complete understanding. Organizations with different kinds of people tend to find better answers more quickly than those composed of monocultures. The top end of physics is done by people who are both creative and analytical like Feynman and if you wish to attract creative people then you have to be friendly or accomodating to the types of discussions that those people like and usually they are much more open ended discussions. In other words, the way physics forums is right now may be very FAMILIAR or COMFORTABLE and that is fine, but what would likely be in the long term best interests of the community would be moves to incorporate other types of interaction.
  19. Oct 27, 2015 #18


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    You have good points , but in order to have a casual, fun conversation, I think it is necessary to have the basic down cold, otherwise you get nowhere.
  20. Oct 28, 2015 #19


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    There are two problems here

    *The forum has -for very good reasons- a rule that forbids discussions personal theories.
    *The "threshold" for having a meaningful discussion about physics is (usually) very high Most of the questions people ask here either already have a definite answer (which might be difficult to explain, but an answer nonetheless) or are philosophical in nature (and -again for very good reasons- not allowed).

    I do not expect to be able to have the type of discussions I have with my colleagues (or even students) about active research on an internet forum. This is in part because of the aforementioned rules, but also because there are very few people in the world who know enough about my particular sub-topic for me to be able to have a useful discussion with them about problemswe do not know the answer to. The only place I can find that outside of my group is at conferences.
  21. Oct 28, 2015 #20


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    I remember a lot of interesting, productive discussion in the Biology forum.
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