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Thanks, but...

  1. Mar 3, 2017 #1
    I’m a recently retired engineer, and with time on my hands I started to try to learn more about some aspects of cosmology that had intrigued me for a long time. One thing led to another, and as I worked to get a deeper understanding of modern theories I encountered several places where the standard models and concepts appear to be flawed. I also frequently encountered good presentations and discussions on Physics Forums, and it looked like a great place to seek answers to some of my questions.

    However, after reading the policy on speculative discussions, it sounds like I wouldn’t be allowed to ask my questions, as they do challenge aspects of generally-accepted theory. Is that really the case?
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 3, 2017 #2
    Welcome, that is correct.
  4. Mar 3, 2017 #3


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    Indeed. Our mission here at PF is to teach people about mainstream science. Discussions about known weaknesses, strengths, or failings in accepted theories are certainly welcome, but that doesn't include discussions of personal theories or debate about whether some current theory is correct or not.
  5. Mar 3, 2017 #4


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    It's a fine line, if you don't understand something or need more information about something you can certainly ask, it's when you propose an unaccepted or personal theory or refuse to accept the mainstream science as the current answer that you may run into trouble.
  6. Mar 3, 2017 #5
    Do you guys have any recommendations for a forum where it's a little more flexible? I mean I'm definitely not looking to get into arguments with people who learned everything from What the Bleep but I also would like to be able to find some help or discussion that doesn't need to take place within such rigid guidelines. PF certainly has it's niche and I respect that.
  7. Mar 3, 2017 #6
    Afraid not because those that are "more flexible" aren't worth much and you'll end up wasting your time being mentored by cranks.
  8. Mar 4, 2017 #7


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    Whether PF is right for you depends on what you mean by that statement. It's certainly good to look at ideas with a critical eye, but you also need to recognize that there are many very smart people who have looked at and critiqued the very same concepts and models you have. If a supposed flaw in a theory has persisted, it's more likely that it's a flaw in your understanding than a flaw in the theory. It's very unlikely that you're the first to notice a mistake that experts in the field have somehow missed.

    If your attitude is that when something in the current models doesn't make sense to you, you're probably missing something and want to improve your understanding, PF could be a good resource for you. On the other hand, if your attitude is that you're obviously right and that the burden is on others to convince you you're not seeing the whole picture, PF isn't the place for you.
  9. Mar 4, 2017 #8


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    Well put.
  10. Mar 4, 2017 #9


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    As Greg said, it's not a good idea. You'll find that sort of place attracts crackpots and discussions will often degenerate into nonsense. The "rigid guidelines" here at PF really just amount to "let's talk about actual physics, not nonsense".
  11. Mar 4, 2017 #10
    Well, I just wrote a bunch of stuff then deleted it when I got to the part where I was using analogy to make my point and came across an interesting idea. Is there anyplace I could pay someone who has the requisite knowledge of mathematics and physics to look at my idea and tell me any obvious flaws or help me work out a proof that I already have in mind? Because it's a thought experiment essentially.

    If there isn't, then I present the idea to PF as a possibility if bringing some income into the forums. Just think of the legions of internet cranks who might pay you to debunk their ideas?!

    My analogy was about how I pay someone to re-sole my shoes instead of taking the time to learn to do it myself.
  12. Mar 4, 2017 #11


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    Are there any community colleges nearby where you are in Alaska? It sounds like you could benefit from taking a few classes (as long as they offer advanced enough ones to fill the need)...
  13. Mar 4, 2017 #12


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    Wasn't there an article on here a few months ago about Sabine Hossenfelder offering a service like that? $50 for an hour phone call, or something like that?
  14. Mar 4, 2017 #13
    @berkeman I've already gone to school, at this point I estimate it would take a couple of years at least to get to the point I need in order to do this myself (plus the badass math professor at my community college died, before the military I was majoring in math under his tutelage). Which from a logical standpoint it seems stupid when so many other people have already done it. I understand the silo mentality to some degree but I think it also inhibits progress when people from different disciplines refuse to collaborate and instead the answer is for me to learn it myself. I refer back to the shoe analogy, I'm not gonna teach myself to re-sole my shoes instead of just paying the person who already has the tools and knows how to do it. Without getting into too much detail it's just not possible at this point in my life/career. The project I am embarking on now will likely take a decade of my life minimum, if not the whole thing.

    This is my issue, I have a pretty good grasp on what I don't know. If I don't understand something, I don't assume it's wrong because I don't understand it. I don't get to the part where I think it might be wrong until after I understand it.

    I read the Structure of Scientific Revolutions three times I liked it so much, and gave The Essential Tension a read for good measure. I came away from that with a healthy respect for the paradigm, and understand why it's necessary. I like to use the analogy of Jackson Pollock, if you haven't mastered painting then you really are just splashing paint on a canvas which is something anyone can do.

    The flip side of that, is the paradigm is self-reinforcing and it's hard to innovate your way out of it when what ends up happening is you are indoctrinated into a certain way of thinking about things and only that way. If you haven't read Kuhn, I recommend it. There have been some critique of his work, but most of it I consider fairly pedantic.

    So that being said, most of the internet cranks are easy to debunk because their premises are incorrect. I've endeavored to ensure my premises are correct, and take a logical approach (as in formal logic, which was part of my course studies) to setting up my arguments albeit messily but I understand the process. So last night, winding down for the evening I was watching this World Science Festival panel. It should link to 18:30 in the video where Dr. Gates says something which I think is relevant (it's only a couple of minutes long and it's more powerful coming from his mouth so I won't repeat it). Of course the context is he's talking about string theory, which is something I don't even mess around with. But the specific thing he's talking about is not unprecedented, I always like to say it seems like it's always some jerk who shows up and shakes up the paradigm which is why it's so tempting for so many people who think they are the one who is going to do it. Of course a lot of innovation takes place within the paradigm itself, and it is the paradigm that offers the platform upon which to vault our understanding to the next level.

    In the age of the internet, and with resources like this it seems a shame to limit the conversation to the extent that it is limited. As I said before though, I do respect the niche but it seems like there could be a happy medium.

    I'll stop there for now, I have a lot to do today and I can tell I'm annoying my wife by arguing on the internet again.
    Last edited by a moderator: Mar 4, 2017
  15. Mar 4, 2017 #14
    That's funny, but a more formal service I think could actually work. Feels like there are a lot of people drowning out there and as one of them I can say it would offer me some peace if I could come to some resolution on these ideas whether it be positive or negative. I didn't start researching physics so that I could make up hypotheses. I was attempting to understand how the universe operates to better inform my philosophical work. Which it did, immensely.
  16. Mar 4, 2017 #15


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    http://backreaction.blogspot.com/p/talk-to-physicist_27.html is Hossenfelder's service.
  17. Mar 4, 2017 #16

    Vanadium 50

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    Try convincing them of that.
  18. Mar 4, 2017 #17
    Maybe instead of posting about a flaw in modern theories, you could post it as a question. For example, instead of saying "___ makes me think the theory is flawed" you could say "____ is confusing me, because I would naturally think ____" or something to that extent.

    Also, maybe the mentors would let you post your questions in this thread or in a private message to someone skilled in cosmology so you can have the answers explained to you.
  19. Mar 4, 2017 #18


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    a reasonable idea.

    Pretty much against the rules. The forum is here so that others can learn from the discussions, not to set up private chats that no one else can see.
  20. Mar 4, 2017 #19
    That makes sense. So to the OP: I'd try my first suggestion.
  21. Mar 5, 2017 #20
    I think there is an instinct in smart laypersons, when we try to learn something new that involves highly technical concepts, to get irked if we run across part of it we don't quite understand. And we very quickly can transform our irritation at non-understanding into a feeling that it's not we who are wrong, it's whatever we're looking at - the model, the theorem, whatever. The irritation becomes excitement as we imagine that we are going to be the hero who shows all these experts up. I can really only speak of myself, of course; but it does seem that "I don't get it" might quickly become "Maybe I don't get it because it's wrong" and then "Wouldn't it be cool to prove it's wrong!!"

    Many times on an electronics forum that I frequented, I would find myself banging my head against the wall in learning about a particular amplification circuit & asking what seemed like really smart questions; only to realize, after my questions had patiently been answered & I had finally had an "Aha!" moment, that everything really did work as described; it was just I needed to learn. When I was younger I had the same experience in my early attempts at learning to code; it was all too easy to get angry when what I wrote wasn't doing what I wanted, and to blame the language for my own lack of understanding.

    Eventually I "learned better" - meaning, I became more patient & improved my process. I still catch myself getting irritated w/ technical stuff & wanting to blame the material or the tool; but in general, over the last ten years, I've gotten better at asking questions & staying open, even to answers that might not be what I want to hear. For me, even questions that seem really stupid are useful; and so when studying on my own, I frequently make lists of the things I don't understand & exactly what is going on, so I can target these areas. This has really accelerated my learning in many cases. Of course this assumes there are people I can ask, or that the literature will eventually yield answers if I am patient.

    One other point - when folks talk about proving an established paradigm wrong, I hear lots of words to do with theory but no words to do with experiment. But isn't it the case with physics & other hard sciences that there is a relation between theory & what can be seen of reality through instruments & the assembling of data? Speaking personally, that's one thing I've liked about learning electronics: because I have a workshop, I can build circuits; and circuits don't care what I think about theory; they either work properly or they don't. When building or fixing amplifiers over the last year or two it has been easy to see that established theory is pinned to reality, even if I don't yet understand the relationship very well.
    Last edited: Mar 5, 2017
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