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The best physics conversation you've had with a novice

  1. Jun 25, 2011 #1
    Party goers, barflies, class reunionists, students, friends, coworkers, family and whomever you have attempted explaining physics to.

    Big bang, black holes, quantum mechanics, superstrings/branes, stereo, cars, astronomy, Einstein, Newton etc.

    Do you find them more receptive to physics, more naive or both? How many have you converted to studying physics? What amateur has proved amazingly knowledgeable?
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  3. Jun 25, 2011 #2


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    Well, what I found out is that those who would understand the physics don't necessarily want to talk about the subject outside of a colloquium or meeting. They want to take about other enjoyable things like outdoor activities, places they've been, and other topics.

    Those who don't understand the physics struggle with details.
  4. Jun 25, 2011 #3
    They don't care about Physics because it doesn't affect them in their daily lives. It's not they don't understand, just that they don't care. :( Physics is indeed an amazing subject when it comes to why things work and more, but people do not see it. I have other things to talk about instead so that way we can keep the convo going. haha
  5. Jun 25, 2011 #4
    I think the worst conversations I have like that involve the people who say "Oh yeah, I've got this friend who's really smart, and he was saying how..." And then they insist that their fuzzy recollection of what their friend said has to be right no matter what you tell them. (someone once insisted to me that 5 years ago NASA made molecules travel at more than twice light speed).

    Generally, I just try to avoid bringing up subjects of math/physics around people who aren't directly in the field or studying it. If they're really interested, they'll usually bring it up themselves when they find out what I'm studying. From there, good conversations tend to come from people who are fascinated by the subject. Bad conversations tend to come from people who just want to show off how much they know.
  6. Jun 25, 2011 #5
    I managed to explain addition and subtraction of velocities to an ex-convict once, using the example of a car on a flatbed train. It took some effort on his part but he was able to follow the logic.

    Mostly people won't listen, though. Usually that's because you're trying to correct them after they've already declared something erroneous, like, that a plane can't take off on a backward moving conveyor belt.
  7. Jun 25, 2011 #6
    I often struggle with the details, but find relating physics to novices (like friends) a way to help me and them come to understanding the subject. Sometimes even doctors and lawyers talk shop outside of work. :shy:
  8. Jun 25, 2011 #7
    I've explained alot of basic stuff on physics, and cosmology to some coworkers who had no education. They were all very cool and very curious and they asked me lots of questions about it. Sometimes the conversation would lead to UFOs, aliens, or government conspiracies.

    They would even give me a website in which some guy claims to have made a free energy machine out PVC pipes and spinning wheels. This subject was the toughest one to explain away. But I think they got my point.
  9. Jun 25, 2011 #8
    I remember watching this:


    and trying to explain it to someone who has had next to no run ins with physics of any kind. She kind of just went silent and backed away.

    Another one was trying to explain a few things to a born again Christian. That one I blame on myself for his confusion, as I could have explained the concept just a tad bit better. Just a tad. :P
  10. Jun 26, 2011 #9


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  11. Jun 26, 2011 #10

    I like Serena

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    Actually that would be possible! :)
    We can exceed the speed of light, just not the speed of light in vacuum.
    Although, whether it would be molecules.... I'd expect for instance electrons (takes less energy).
  12. Jun 26, 2011 #11
    wait, I think I got, lol :rofl:
  13. Jun 26, 2011 #12
    The implication was definitely that the speed of light in a vacuum had been broken. i.e. It was one of these "Einstein was wrong about everything!" conversations.

    This is definitely how most of my physics conversations start. That's probably why I have such bad experiences with them...
  14. Jun 26, 2011 #13
    I died laughing.

    I read "Demon Haunted World, C.Sagan" in the last few months and that reminded me of the first couple of chapters. He refers to a cab driver he met that was interested in physics and such, called "Buckley", and explained the frustration of talking to him, as every conversation led towards UFO's and other such nonsense.
  15. Jun 26, 2011 #14
    I had a fun chat with some kids, I reckon about 10 years old, about astronomy at a star party at the local community college. They were really fascinated about how light doesn't travel instantly, and that the light hitting their eyes from these stars were actually released before they were born.
  16. Jun 27, 2011 #15


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    The best physics conversation I've had with a novice was with my 18 month old grandson.

    I explained to him how the spin axis of a rotating object depends both on the rotational energy and the angular momentum. It doesn't matter which axis you start the spin on, whether it's the major axis or the minor axis. The object finds its own spin axis based on the rotational energy and the angular momentum.

    Of course, seeing as how he has a limited vocabulary, the conversation mostly entailed spinning about a dozen of his plastic Easter eggs on the kitchen floor.

    But it sure was a lot of fun!

    He thought all of those spinning eggs were just about the coolest thing he'd ever seen.
  17. Jun 29, 2011 #16
    I remember you mentioning this two months ago too. Back then and even now, when I read the first line, I imagine a old man in front of a child trying to explain difficult physics with pen and paper all in vain. But then the later part reveals you are not such a fool, but instead, great :)
  18. Jul 1, 2011 #17


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    I've had to explain the difference between a physicist and a physician a few times. Those were fun conversations. :rolleyes:
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