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Teaching vs doing

  1. Dec 17, 2004 #1
    In the past we've talked about ideas that people use in relativity. Some hold that in some cases there are some research physicists who have taught something that they use in their own research. Do you find that to have ever been true in any case? Why would they do that , i.e. teach a concept but never use it themselves?

    (the actual examples of concepts I have in mind are irrelavent to this question I think and I don't mention it because it would detract from the question I'm more interested in)

    Thanks

    Pete
     
    Last edited: Dec 18, 2004
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 17, 2004 #2
    hai ,
    i think the theories of the 20 th century are more or less "theories" than one which we can see -and-understand, like the theory of relativity speaks about time as a fourth dimension which is quite difficult to sink in .. similarly the Quantumn theory and Dual nature of electrons ..
    so i think the method used in research is to build from those things which one is quite sure of .. and there are a lot of people who doesnt agree with the credibility of relativity theory proposed by Einstein..

    regards
    Mahesh
     
  4. Dec 17, 2004 #3

    ZapperZ

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    Wait... Did I understand you correctly? It appears that you are implying that quantum theory and special relativity, are some "esoteric" ideas that do not get "used" or applied very often. Before I jump all over this, is this really what you are trying to say?

    Zz.
     
  5. Dec 17, 2004 #4

    ZapperZ

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    I find that to be completely false. Who is this "some" people and what made them (and you) think they have an accurate representation of what "research physicists" do?

    Zz.
     
  6. Dec 17, 2004 #5

    pervect

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    This sounds like specialization to me.

    Someone involved in a particular specialized area of research probably doesn't use every tool in his toolbox. This doesn't mean that students don't need a general set of tools.
     
  7. Dec 17, 2004 #6

    Stingray

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    Given Pete's past posts, I'm going to take a guess that he's not referring to specialization. Anyways, there are occasionally concepts which might make it easier to introduce a subject, but aren't really useful once you understand things better. Also, certain concepts seem to stick around in introductory classes mostly for their "wow" factor. You want to keep people interested and motivate them to eventually learn more, but you don't really have the time to do things 'properly.'

    Another issue which might cause some confusion is that different physicists are happy with very different levels of rigor even in their research. So what one person might teach as a rigorous result, another might view as speculation. This comes up even among the "big" names in relativity, and I assume the same thing happens in other fields as well.
     
  8. Dec 17, 2004 #7
    Do philosophers and historians "use" what they teach? Are all political science professors politicians? Nursing professors nurses? Do all business professors have a business? It's great if they do or had the experience but if he or she can teach the student to use the tools, that's what counts.

    Even though Stephen Hawking probably uses GR and QM more than friction force on an inclined plane, I'd take his word for the inclined plane, you know he's been there.

    There is a core curriculum for physics education, yet each professor must have a specialization, so some compromises are necessary. When professors only teach you what they use, it narrows your own possibilities.
     
  9. Dec 17, 2004 #8

    dextercioby

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    Couldn't agree more.Strict specialization within area of interest/research should not interfere with the pedagogical role the professor has.For example:let's say X is working really hard in QFT on curved spacetime.Yet,that should not prevent him from teaching (if asked,or imposed by the faculty where he works) let's say,solid state phyiscs or thermodynamics and statistical physics.Or,why not classical mechanics.It shouldn't be any problem whatsoever for a well prepared teacher,with a vast physical culture,but for one who doen't see anything but spinors,vielbeins and spin connections,it would be a tremendous effort speaking for 2 hours about the various formulations of the first principle of thermodynamics,or why not about Kepler problem in Newton's approach.I believe the ones that can do this easily-leave the office where on the table he has a bunch of papers full of tensors,go the class/lecture hall speak about something "ridiculously easy" and then come back in the office to get another glimpse at those tensors-are the real good professors,of which any university should be proud of.

    I want to be that kind of proffessor that day. :rolleyes:

    Daniel.
     
  10. Dec 17, 2004 #9
    I was hoping to let the question rest on its original wording. The particular example I have in mind has always led to heated debates and I'm not interested in discussing the topic itself (I'm trying to avoid it actually).

    As far as what "research physicists" do - I go by what I read in the physics literature plus my own experience in my own research efforts. That is the window I'm refering to. Any question about who does what and how gets into statistics. There are no stats pertaining to such things so one takes a glance at the physics literatrure. But then again each area of the physics literature is different. There are journals like Phys. Rev. D, Am. J. Phys., New Perspectives in Physics etc. The first reports research in the area of particles and fields. The purpose of the second journal mentioned (AJP) is to give valuable insight to graduate and undergraduate teachers and students of physics, aid in learning physics and discusses new ways of understanding, demonstrating and describing or teaching physics. The purpose of the last is to "convey to a broad spectrum of readers a deeper understanding and appreciation of the way physics is conducted, of its content and application, and of the profound influence that physics has had in changing our conception of the natural world and in shaping our modern scientific and technological culture."


    Pete
     
  11. Dec 17, 2004 #10

    ZapperZ

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    Pardon me, but this is nothing more than aimless rambling that does not even address my question. You haven't shown anything in which the people who are teaching stuff are actually NOT using them.

    I took classes in solid state physics and condensed matter physics in which the respective instructors not only are experts in those subjects, but damn well make use of them! And these are very specific subjects too. We haven't even talk about more general area such as QM, E&M, etc... in which you'd better damn well know them to even work in any area of physics.

    So I am still waiting for what is being taught in physics in which these researchers are not really using.

    Zz.
     
  12. Dec 17, 2004 #11
    I believe that all that is taught in physics is being used (more "advanced/specialized" versions of it anyway), but not necessarily by the specific professor who teaches it to us. A highschool teacher first taught me about synchrotrons and nuclear powerplants, yet he's been a teacher all his life. And a professor doesn't necessarily need all 4 of MB, photon, BE, and FD statistics in his research but may well teach them all. Math profs show us how to solve differential equations, yet I would believe that they would rather solve the unsolved for their research, not the classics they have to teach students.
     
  13. Dec 17, 2004 #12
    I can't since I don't hold that to be true. I hold that people use what they teach.

    Sorry. But I can't help you there since I don't believe it to be true. The question stated

    I am not one of the "some" of those people.

    I suppose I can't get around this. Please do not let this be a disucssion on the topic that I'm mentioning.

    When the topic of mass comes up people will often say things like someone said the today in another forum, i.e. science doesn't use the terms anymore referring to the what some call relativistic mass. I replied
    And gave a huge list of examples from relativity texts, physics journals, university relativity online lecture notes, links to particle accelerator labs etc. The response to that was
    I've seen people argue like this all the time. Yet none of them have ever backed their claim up or made an attempt to. Ssince you can't prove a negative its impossible to attempt to prove. Since it can't be proved I wanted to know how people came to believe that relativists will write textbooks with the concept of relativistic mass and yet not use it themselves.

    Since that discussion always goes off into a heated debate I didn't want to mention it. However it appears to me that people are not getting my point so this is meant to merely be a real life example.

    I was assuming some of you believe the same thing the person I quoted above believes.

    I'll rephrase my question with that example in mind

    In the past (e.g. this morning in another forum) people have talked about ideas that people use in relativity (i.e. relativistic mass). Some hold that although research physicists may teach relativistic mass they don't use it in their own research. Do you find that to be true? Why would you think they would do such a thing, i.e. teach a concept but never use it themselves?

    I hope this does not degenerate into a disucssion about rel-mass and whether its used blah blah blah.

    Pete
     
  14. Dec 17, 2004 #13

    dextercioby

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    I honesly believe that teching physics is a proffession,just like any other.I mean,it's okay to like/dislike some parts of it,some concepts ("relativistic mass" is just an example),but you have to keep in mind that u're being paid by the state (in most cases) to deliver to students NOT WHAT U LIKE,NOT WHAT U HATE OR THINK OF AS BEING IRRELEVANT,but what most physics teachers would teach their students worldwide,on the same subject,of course.Personal opinions should not be stated to students.The interesting subject with "relativistic mass" can be seen as an example of (wrongly) mixing personal beliefs/habits with the theory itself.E.g.a teacher is a researcher in QFT.Yet he's asked to teach a course on relativistic electrodynamics/special/general relativity.He would be virtually an idiot if he was to tell his students:"Well,guys,relativistic mass is not an important concept.Rest mass is hyperrelevant,as it's constant in every possible situation."I assume this would have come from him working in QFT where only 'rest mass' is relevant in the sense that for 'relativistic mass' he uses 'energy'.Yet,when discussing a theory,each and every concept is relevant for the theory itself and generalizations should be avoided,because,in most cases,they express (wrong) personal opinions.

    Daniel.

    PS.Great example,PETE. :wink:
    PPS.And to answer your question,YES,people working in Q theory never use the concept of "relativistic mass".They use "energy" (zero-th component of the energy-momentum 4-vector).Einstein is held responsable for that.Though he had 0 contribution to QFT.
     
  15. Dec 17, 2004 #14

    Nereid

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    Pete, I'm pretty sure I know what you're interested in, and I won't comment on that specifically.

    In my experience, those who do research tend to start with what they were taught, i.e. the methods that were popular at the time they were doing the doctorates. Fairly quickly they develop - for themselves - somewhat idiosyncratic approaches; when writing papers, they use the approaches and styles that similar papers are written in.

    Teachers vary widely ... some 'simply' reuse what they themselves were taught (with a few minor tweaks as the years go by); others try to keep current, and will adapt and adopt as fads and understanding changes. Of course, if choice of 'textbooks' is not theirs to make, they will have to use the approaches of the materials they are required to teach to.

    However, unless there's some pretty clear 'sea-change', older approaches may live on for decades. For example, I've seen the origin of the solar system presented as 'a passing star pulled out material from the Sun which subsequently cooled and condensed into planets' (true story, honest! it was a junior high school teacher, and a substitute at that).
     
  16. Dec 17, 2004 #15

    ZapperZ

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    But this doesn't hold water as far as generalizing the "principle" that people don't use what they teach. I mean, how often does one actually encounter a situation that requires the use of relativistic mass?! Why can't we pick on, let's say, Coulomb's law? Now how many researchers use that, and use that often, do you think?

    The thing is that you picked an esoteric example (or these people you "hang" around with) and asked how many actually use these things. When you find that it isn't many, you then feel compelled to make a generalized statement (question?) that professors teach stuff they don't actually use in their research. There is a serious FLAW in logic here.

    And for whatever it is worth, I used to teach about relativistic mass, and I currently USE relativistic mass for the dynamics in the particle accelerator that I work with. So the assumption that scientists who teach relativistic mass do not use it in their research can be safely thrown out of the window.

    This thread should be put to rest the same way all the other false assumptions about physics and physicists.

    Zz.
     
  17. Dec 17, 2004 #16

    Andrew Mason

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    Which are not dissimilar to false general assumptions about, say, the law and lawyers.

    AM
     
  18. Dec 18, 2004 #17

    Stingray

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    So I did interpret your question correctly. Some of my previous statements apply to relativistic mass. It should also be noted that some physicists find the concept very useful, whereas others see it as an anachronism. This is personal taste. So a professor might introduce a concept that he doesn't like just because it is something you need to know to understand what certain people are saying. It might even be just for historical interest.
     
  19. Dec 18, 2004 #18
    Please reread the original post. I rephrased it.
    The question I want to ask is does not pertain to the validity of such accusations. It pertains to the question regarding why some people would make such assumptions. I know some people do this because I've seen it here several times in the past and in other forums and newsgroups (I've even seen Steve Carlip make this claim and he's a GRist at UC Davis).

    Stingray - So you're saying that you think some people introduce some concepts so that students will understand them when they see them etc? I can see that in the way some authors write, e.g. Physicists used to use this concept but now its old fashioned. In cases such as this its obvious that they don't use it. I'm refering to authors who use it heavily if not exclusively (e.g. in the rel-mass example Rindler uses it almost exclusively).

    I thought it was clear that I was speaking about research physicists who also write texts and/or teach the subject. If that was not clear then let it now be clear.

    Thanks. However this is does not address the question of 'how do people arive at this conclusion of teaching but not doing' but addresses the question of 'why do authors do what they do.'

    Pmb
     
    Last edited: Dec 18, 2004
  20. Dec 18, 2004 #19

    ZapperZ

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    What? You mean to tell me that lawyers are not of the same specie as alligators after all?

    <ZapperZ runs and hides>

    Zz.

    P.S. I apologize to all alligators. :biggrin:
     
  21. Dec 18, 2004 #20
    I don't know a lot of lawyers but there are groups for which generalities are used but which don't hold in all cases. For example; Consider the statement Humans have two arms and two legs.. That can be taken as being true to a certain extent. But we know that not all people have two arms and two legs, yet we are wont to call them "human".

    There's a whole can of worms right there!

    Pmb
     
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