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Theoretical Physics (and Math) genius cult

  1. Jun 15, 2010 #1
    After reading this:


    or this:

    http://infoproc.blogspot.com/2005/02/out-on-tail.html" [Broken]

    I am speechless.

    As far as I know in every field of science you need skills and luck in order to succeed. Yet it seems that only in math and theo physics ppl are obssesed with IQ, being genius and Feynman. Even great ppl such as Landau felt inferior to him. I can't also understand this "look, I do theo physics/math, I am so smart, god-like IQ, yay" attitude. Seriously, what's wrong with those people?
    Last edited by a moderator: May 4, 2017
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 15, 2010 #2
    small penises and self esteem
  4. Jun 15, 2010 #3
    Yeah, seriously. If you honestly need to become renowned to feel satisfied with yourself, you have deep, deep issues.
  5. Jun 15, 2010 #4
    It probably has to do with being told by everybody around them all their lives how smart they are. It's hard to keep an even keel when everybody around them smothers them in adulation about their intelligence.

    Professor Brian Cox was on Jonathan Ross a few months ago, and he tried saying "I'm no cleverer than you" to which the audience started laughing. I don't think that was intended as a joke. Society doesn't let physicists pretend to be humble.

    I'm still a physics undergrad, and just telling people my major draws reactions from people along the lines of "Wow! You must be really smart."

    I don't think you can blame some people for just going along with it. I spent most of my life pretending to NOT be.smart, so people would stop raising expectations of me. It wasn't until a few years ago that I decided to go along with it; around the same time I went back to school.

    No, that's called ambition. That's a positive quality to have. Not everybody can be content with mediocrity.
  6. Jun 15, 2010 #5
    I'm a few years younger than you (18), but I can sort of see your position on this. I know from personal experience that getting told that you're a genius, people imagining that you're omniscient or god knows what gets REALLY OLD really quickly. I generally just grunt and shrug whenever someone tries to bring it up. I don't act smarter or dumber than I am, I'm just me. I make the comments and answers questions as I see fit. I don't really see how I could either "embrace" or "reject" a perceived image of myself other than starting every sentence with "Well, being intellectual...".

    "Mediocrity" would be a carreer of burger-flipping. If you doctorate in physics you're already part of an intellectual elite. If you have to become a nobel prize winner to feel satisfied with your life, you have issues. There's nothing wrong with aiming high, but having to become the next Feynman or whatever to feel satisfied is just torturing yourself. You probably wouldn't be happy with being the next Feynman either, because you'd still be pissed at not becoming even GREATER than Feynman.
  7. Jun 15, 2010 #6
    It's strange. Society belives that physicists are smarter than let's say biologists. So physicists start to belive it. What's so special about math and physics? I don't think that other fields are for less intelligent people.

    What I mean by obsession - people truly belive that in order to become top theorist you need to be some sort of "magical genius" while you don't see this kind of attitude in other fields. You don't see Pasteur cult in chemistry/biology or Hesse (or other nobel prize in literature winner) cult in humanities. What's more people don't see Pasteur or Hesse as people with god-like IQ while Einstein or Feynman are consider to be the smartest people in the world.
  8. Jun 15, 2010 #7
    no u should become an even greater Feynman :-p
    I usually get jealous when i hear about those great physicists and mathematicians but that's mainly because i wanna understand as much as possible not just from those guys' ideas but also through my contribution,, i try very hard not to get too interested in recognition it's a by product of the idiot human nature.
  9. Jun 15, 2010 #8
    I think it is a lot easier for a lay person to look at the works of Hesse and understand them because Hesse used language to convey his ideas; however, if they were to look at the work of a physicist or mathematician they would be less at home with the mathematical symbols and reasoning being used.
  10. Jun 15, 2010 #9
    I really enjoyed reading what Stephen Wolfram wrote about Richard Feynman. :smile:

  11. Jun 15, 2010 #10
    I think a big difference between physics and math on the one hand and subjects like biology on the other hand is that the high school curriculum in physics and math only covers the very elementary stuff. What passes for physics and math in high school is actually so abominable that it hardly can be called physics or math at all.

    You then get the effect that people who want to study math and physics at university have read about these subjects a lot themselves while in high school. And studying at an early age makes you more of a genius than you would have been had you not done that.

    Compare this to people who do well in athletics, games like chess, playing musical instruments etc. etc. In school you hardly get music lessons, so you really need to study a lot yourself to get into music academy and do well there.
  12. Jun 15, 2010 #11
    Specific to pure mathematicians and theoretical physicists, my opinion is that many of them work in some kind of "special reality" where their work is not easily applicable to the practical world and is generally only understood by them. Similar to how the life experiences of wealthy people cannot be easily applied to the life experiences of poor people. Does not mean pure mathematicians and theoretical physicists are superior but simply that they have special training to deal with their specific work; again, similar how it takes a special kind of human with specific training to run into a fire to save other people. Probably does not happen as much in other areas of physics, chemistry, and/or biology because their work is more applicable to the practical world and more people are able to understand the practical world.

    Don't worry too much about this, though. The knowledge we posses today is the result of thousands of years of work, insight, and/or luck by thousands of individuals. The idiots will obsess over I.Q. or "genius" while the intelligent people will concern themselves with their work.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 4, 2017
  13. Jun 15, 2010 #12
    I think to a certain extent its because of the history of Physics. The people who helped lead the scientific revolution were people like Newton, Galileo and Copernicus, all people whose work would fall under physics (or for astronomy, at least the Physics department :) )
    Also, Einstein's work is more inherently interested and kind of out there to the average person on the street, as opposed to Pasteur. Physics just seems to have more strange characters like Einstein, Feynman, Newton, Hawking etc.

    Physics is interesting for the same reason philosophy is interesting, it seeks to explain the world around us and how it works (which is why it was originally called Natural Philosophy)

    Personally, I just shrug off comments and try to get across that you don't have to be that smart to do Physics, you just determination and an open mind.
  14. Jun 15, 2010 #13
    In most education systems, less motivated students tend to be dissuaded from theoretical physics and pure mathematics. Various pressures selecting against less motivated/less intelligent students combined with pressures selecting for more motivated/more intelligent students results in the elitism we see today in theoretical physics and pure mathematics. It may be that theoretical physicists and pure mathematicians feel a need for recognition because unlike with other fields, their work isn't as readily understood by laypeople.

    That being said, I doubt that people prefer theoretical physicists/pure mathematicians over biologists. I'm pretty sure the biology department funding will soon far exceed the physics department funding at major research universities. Some have claimed that this may even be the century of biology whereas the 20th century was the century of physics.
  15. Jun 15, 2010 #14
    Wow, it's my usual pick-up line towards girls.
  16. Jun 16, 2010 #15
    This is like asking why an athlete cares so much about who is/was the best sprinter, who is/was the best boxer etc. The easier and more accurate you can measure something the more competitive will people be about it.
    For example it is quite hard to not put Einstein at the top since his contributions are just so big for physics, but it is quite hard to say which guys to put on top in most other fields, for example is Herman Hesse the greatest writer in history? Debatable.
  17. Jun 16, 2010 #16
    That's where you are wrong. Doing what you do becuase you love it and want to be the best at it is ambition. The acutal recognition for being the best is irrelevent to most people who truly love what they do.

    Doing something purely for recognition; the need to be recognised for what you do, and not even attempting it unless you are going to be recognised is called obsession not ambition.
    Last edited: Jun 16, 2010
  18. Jun 16, 2010 #17
    The English language would disagree with you.
  19. Jun 16, 2010 #18
    Fair enough on strict definitions, no real argument there. Connotation has more meaning than anything.

    The point stands that if you seek fame for the sake of fame, you are a deeply sad individual. True greatness doesn't need to seek recognition, recognition will find true greatness.

    I suppose I should have used the word driven or motivation, rather than ambition. That would have been more fitting.
  20. Jun 16, 2010 #19
    You're using a lot of words, but I'm not sure you're saying anything with substance. Plus, you keep using the word "fame," when the original word used was "renown." They're a little different. Paris Hilton is famous. Dr. Lisa Randall is renowned. Dr. Randall isn't well known outside of physics, but she is one of the most cited physicists in the world. I'd call that renown.

    One of the reasons I plan on going to grad school when I finish undergrad (in 2 years) is because I think I'll like the reaction of people when I tell them I have a Ph.D. in physics. If everybody shrugged their shoulders at physics Ph.D.s, then the hassle of grad school might not be worth it to me. To steal a phrase from my manager, "the squeeze might not be worth the juice."

    Does that make me a sad individual, or does it simply make me human? Not everybody can be a Grigori Perlman.
  21. Jun 16, 2010 #20
    The original context as far as I'm aware is that someone said there is no point in doing maths unless you were the next Euler and the fact he will not be the next 'big thing' makes him feel unmotivated.

    Becoming the next Euler is a very different level of success from being a very talented and renowned mathematician.

    One may be industry renowned, the other is bordering on fame (to the educated). Einstein would be a modern physics equivilant, it's like saying unless you are the next Einstein there is little point in pursuing physics.

    Further to this, the OP was talking about people who pursue something specifically for the recognition it gives them. Less so becuase they love doing what they do.

    If your sole motiviation for doing a PhD is to get people blow smoke up your arse, then yes that does make you sad. If you are doing it becuase it will improve your employment chances, and you like doing physics, etc then it's not.

    Put it this way, if you were a succesful physicist with grants coming out of your ears and being constantly invited to conferences (by all accounts a very successful person). Would you really care that someone wasn't impressed when you say you've got a PhD?
    Last edited: Jun 17, 2010
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