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Theoretical Physics should belong in the math department

  • #1
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Main Question or Discussion Point

Theoretical Physics should belong in the math department to then collaborate with the physics department on new mathematical theories within physics. I can't accept that theoretical physics could really be considered a branch of just physics. I can only see theoretical physics being 95% math and 5% associated with actual experimental physics at most. And in my opinion, i'll tell you why.

When we think of science we know that science is about gathering up enough scientific ideas to form a hypothesis to then test whether or not that the hypothesis will hold up during experimentation. But the problem with theoretical physics is that it doesn't really gathers ideas within a scientific approach. It gathers ideas within a "mathematical" approach. (e. g. String Theory. It uses a TON of abstract concepts from pure mathematics.

And to prove my point even further, we will bring mathematical physics into the picture. Both areas of study are strikingly similar except, we consider mathematical physics to be in the mathematics department which I can easily agree with because mathematical physicists are concerned with the construction of formulating mathematical methods on top of existing physical applications or theories.

And let me please note that a mathematical physicist is NOT a physicist. He is a mathematician who's intrigued by the mathematics used in physics. So where does this put the so called group, "Theoretical Physics?" Well, if theoretical physics employs ONLY mathematical methods to try and explain physical phenomena in the real world, where does it get it's methods of formulating these theories? That's right, Mathematics!

Which brings me to my conclusion. Either theoretical physics is a separate discipline, Physics as a whole is a branch of mathematics or theoretical physics is the wrong name for this area of study and should be called something along the lines of, "Theoretical mathematical Physics." But if we all mostly agree that mathematical physics is a branch of mathematics, then I would throw theoretical physics into the math department on that note after saying my reason behind it.
 
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  • #2
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There is little to object to in your post except that in mathematical physics problems will stop where the physics begins. In contrast theoretical physics continues onward all the way in how to make measurements that can confirm or deny a theory’s validity.

Of course, in taking these courses Mathematics will weigh much heavier in the curriculum than in other physics courses but math is everywhere in physics. Physics pins a mathematical version of the world to this world.

In essence, your argument is about how to pronounce PO-TAY-TOE vs PO-TAH-TOE

 
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  • #3
phinds
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In essence, your argument is about how to pronounce PO-TAY-TOE vs PO-TAH-TOE
And in addition to that, I doubt if any physics or math department anywhere is going to change their curriculum just because you object to the current structure.
 
  • #4
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Here is a paper in theoretical physics (an older one): https://arxiv.org/pdf/gr-qc/0409054v1.pdf

Why would a mathematician be interested in physical states? Why would a mathematician care about how apparatuses can detect particles?
Theoretical physics may have a lot of math in it, but it will always make claims based off what is physically relevant. That's why whole solution families are thrown out because they are not physically relevant!

I understand where you're coming from, sometimes even I get lost in the math of it all, but it's physics at the end of the day. I would ask you to explore mathematics some more, and you'd quickly see how different physics is (even the more math-y kind).
 
  • #5
robphy
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Dirac and Feynman, for example, are theoretical physicists whose mathematical results are useful in the physical world since they give us a mathematical framework to understand the physics and they led to predictions that have been well verified by experiment.
But I don't think mathematicians would regard their methods as rigorously correct...
and I would guess that Dirac and Feynman would like to be as rigorous as they feel they needed to get to the physics,
leaving the full rigor to the interested mathematicians.

What I have in mind with these examples is the Dirac Delta "Function" ##\delta(x)##
and Feynman's path-integral method.

(Here's a story I heard second hand concerning a Caltech student [who later became an experimental particle physicist]
who told Feynman that he was interested in the path integral method
and showed Feynman a functional analysis book he was studying to learn about it. The story goes something like...
Feynman flipped through the book and said that he doesn't recognize anything in it, suggesting it was a waste of time for the student to learn it.)

My $0.02.
 
  • #6
Vanadium 50
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But the problem with theoretical physics is that it doesn't really gathers ideas within a scientific approach. It gathers ideas within a "mathematical" approach. (e. g. String Theory. It uses a TON of abstract concepts from pure mathematics.
This is a tiny, tiny piece of what theoretical physics is.
 
  • #7
ZapperZ
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I find it rather amusing that the OP is such a stickler for things to be in the “correct department” when this thread is originally posted in the wrong forum.

Zz.
 
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  • #8
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I can only see theoretical physics being 95% math and 5% associated with actual experimental physics at most.
I use 95% basic physics when driving my car and 5% chemistry. Maybe I should consider to consult the physics department for the next inspection.
 
  • #10
Dirac and Feynman, for example, are theoretical physicists whose mathematical results are useful in the physical world since they give us a mathematical framework to understand the physics and they led to predictions that have been well verified by experiment.
But I don't think mathematicians would regard their methods as rigorously correct...
and I would guess that Dirac and Feynman would like to be as rigorous as they feel they needed to get to the physics,
leaving the full rigor to the interested mathematicians.

What I have in mind with these examples is the Dirac Delta "Function" ##\delta(x)##
and Feynman's path-integral method.

(Here's a story I heard second hand concerning a Caltech student [who later became an experimental particle physicist]
who told Feynman that he was interested in the path integral method
and showed Feynman a functional analysis book he was studying to learn about it. The story goes something like...
Feynman flipped through the book and said that he doesn't recognize anything in it, suggesting it was a waste of time for the student to learn it.)

My $0.02.
Theoretical physicist here. I had not heard this story before, but it seems totally believable. That's how I feel about mathematics. It's a tool to be used to the extent that it permits some interesting physics to be extracted. I take as many mathematical shortcuts as possible to get a result and I'm sure a mathematician would be disgusted.
 
  • #11
berkeman
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Good responses to a newbie's rant post. Thanks folks, thread is closed now. :smile:
 

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