Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

There Are No Miracle People

  1. Aug 4, 2012 #1
    Do you agree with Feynman? Can anyone aspire to be a physicist?

    There Are No Miracle People



    Kelvin
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 25, 2014
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 4, 2012 #2
    Yes, I agree with him.

    I'm not gonna claim that some people are not smarter than other people. Surely, some people might study the physics much quicker, and have it easier with things. That doesn't mean that these are the only people who can study it.

    But do note that Feynman talks about investing a great deal of time and hard work. This is absolutely necessary. In fact, working hard is the most important factor of becoming a physicist.
     
  4. Aug 4, 2012 #3
    Of course, there are no miracle people. We all have equal abilities and chances to excel in 'something' but the thing that matters most is how much we make use of it.
     
  5. Aug 4, 2012 #4

    Ivan Seeking

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    No. Anyone can grasp the ideas involved, but I think the notion that anyone can get past the math needed to be a physicist is incorrect. As a physics student, I worked my butt off just to be above average. And this stuff is far easier for me than most people I know. There are people who struggle just to get past one or two algebra classes for their majors. I know. I tutored some of them. And I was often struck by the difficulty they had doing things that seemed obvious and simple to me. So I think the claim that anyone can do this shows a clear loss of perspective - too much time spent in the ivory tower!
     
  6. Aug 4, 2012 #5
    I disagree. It takes a blonde, blue-eyed, slim, full of trust, rich and liberal human being to understand quantum mechanics. Brown people are incapable. That's how I saw it in movies.

    I'm not racist. Don't give me infraction, please.

    :tongue:

    Maybe there weren't interested enough, or didn't study well, so that's why they struggled. We go back to Feynman's main argument in this video, time devotion and interest.

    In my university, and as an electrical engineering student, we weren't given courses fully devoted for algebra, but only a few chapters in two calculus-oriented math courses, such as chapter on vector algebra, and things in geometry, such as conic section. However, I found that some people had problems and they still have, because they really seem not interested.

    I know that I lack good skills in some areas in algebra, but a review will be enough to remember what I forgot. I know that.
     
    Last edited: Aug 4, 2012
  7. Aug 4, 2012 #6

    Ivan Seeking

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    I don't agree. I had at least several students who tried and worked extremely hard but struggled with relatively simple concepts. There is no way they will ever be managing tensors!

    From my point of view, it is nothing short of a cop out to claim that anyone who fails just didn't try hard enough. To me this is insanely silly. The drop out and failure rate in some core classes early on was often 50-70%. I know all of those other students weren't just flaking out.
     
  8. Aug 4, 2012 #7

    Ivan Seeking

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    As we often do in physics, let's consider the limits of the problem...at least the lower limit, the upper limit we know about.

    I have an uncle who is a functioning adult with an IQ of 60. Am I to believe that someone like him who can't even balance a checkbook could be doing QM? Is he not someone?
     
  9. Aug 4, 2012 #8

    phinds

    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    It's very egalitarian of you to say so, but it is blatant nonsense. How do you respond to Ivan's post #7?
     
  10. Aug 4, 2012 #9

    Chi Meson

    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper

    As a public school teacher I need to be careful, but I have had direct contact with hundreds of "data" that support Ivan's assertion.

    Feynman's intelligence was beyond that usually tested in IQ tests (reportedly 127). For some people, many of us here, those initial concepts in physics were about as difficult as breathing air. If one is so talented, you can sometimes be misled to believe that "anyone can get this." Some just can't. Sorry.
     
    Last edited: Aug 4, 2012
  11. Aug 4, 2012 #10
    In my opinion and (limited) experience, I think that people who don't get it are not too "dumb" at all to do theoretical physics. They usually have some sort of mental block that prevents them from understanding the material. Whenever we lift this mental block, they usually understand the material pretty well. But lifting such a block takes a huge effort from the student and the teacher, and not everybody is willing to put that in.

    Everybody in science hits a wall sooner or later. It is inevitable. But scientists are exactly the people who want to climb that wall no matter what. Other people just give up after a while and start hating it.

    So if not everybody is able to understand physics, then it is mostly because of a lack of persistence than a lack of intelligence.
     
  12. Aug 4, 2012 #11

    Pythagorean

    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    I don't know which is correct. Are Ivan and Chi's experiences just cases of kids who pretend to be trying hard or are trying just for social congruency (and really just don't care)?

    Surely there's people that just can't do it due to mental disease, but I think micro has a point that you can't really tell whether people are incapable or are just not interested (even if they appear to be trying. We're taught to try in school... It may not alway be genuine attempts at understanding so much as attempts at hoop jumping.)
     
  13. Aug 5, 2012 #12
    Abdus Salam was brown. :tongue:
     
  14. Aug 5, 2012 #13
    There are too many factors to just say that someone simply can't do something.
    If someone is having trouble with algebra, for instance, there are a few reasons why that could be happening. If they really hate the subject, that could impede their learning. That might cause them to study less or it could cause them to not retain the knowledge they gained through the time they did study. They may want to get it, simply to pass the class, but that won't necessarily help them.
    I hated programming, so I didn't study like I should and I forgot a lot of things I learned because I just didn't like the subject, so that affected my retention.
    I do well in subjects I like. I do really well in chemistry, and I'd consider that more difficult than intro to programming.

    And when you're doing something like algebra, you need to have prior knowledge and experience with math. Not everyone's prior knowledge and experience is the same. I struggled through calculus because I didn't prepare myself enough in algebra and trig. Someone who did would have had an easier time in calculus than I did. That's not because they're smarter than me, it's just because their links in the chain of math knowledge were stronger than mine. Maybe they took the precalculus and trig classes separately. I took the combined class. That's one thing that probably hurt me in calculus.

    Also, some people need to be taught differently. One person may understand something sooner because, for some reason, their brain put the puzzle together correctly the first time. Some people may need it to be explained differently, or in a more step by step way so that the puzzle comes together in their mind.
    I don't see how someone could simply reach a point in a subject that they are incapable of understanding. No matter how much or what kind of explaining goes into it, they'll never understand? That makes no sense to me. There's just too many factors to simply conclude that person A can do it and person B can't. That just seems lazy.
     
  15. Aug 5, 2012 #14
    Feynman is quite correct I believe, what it takes is time and interest.

    I'll use myself as an example, in high school a lot of things were thrown my way and to be honest I could care less about learning it. It was pretty much ace the class by whatever means necessary, not learn the material and grasp an understanding for the subject matter.

    However now, as I'm realizing, I want to know these things. And I have an excess of free time, therefore I will learn on my own through rigorous self study.

    If your really interested in learning about something, you'll learn it. Doesn't matter who you are or what your intelligence is. Granted it'll take longer for some to get that "AHA!" moment where all the pieces come together but with dedication it's not some impossible magical feat.
     
  16. Aug 5, 2012 #15

    phinds

    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    It's very egalitarian of you to say so, but it is blatant nonsense. How do you respond to Ivan's post #7?
     
  17. Aug 5, 2012 #16

    WannabeNewton

    User Avatar
    Science Advisor

    There are always exceptions due to special circumstances or impairments. That doesn't mean you can't draw a general conclusion.
     
  18. Aug 5, 2012 #17

    Pythagorean

    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    In fact, proof by example is not a proof at all. It's a fallacy.
     
  19. Aug 5, 2012 #18
    I don't believe in equality, I believe in hard work.

    If the guy is willing to put in the time and work to understand something that is supremely complex, who are you to tell him he can't do it because he isn't intelligent enough?
     
  20. Aug 5, 2012 #19
    I think there are "miracle people" but they're pretty rare. The stories I've read about Gauss and Von Neuman, for example, indicate they were preternaturally gifted in math, that they had a facility for it that would be impossible to learn.

    Most of the innovators weren't prodigies, though. I've frequently read that, as mathematicians go, Einstein was neither gifted nor enthusiastic. Newton would agree with Feynman, I think. He taught himself algebra from a book, but he complained that this was very hard and recalled it as a considerable undertaking. He would likely lay his success to his focus and drive rather than any ease with math.

    I think a large percentage, over half certainly, of great physicists were tortoises rather than hares. They plodded along inexorably never resting or giving up.
     
  21. Aug 5, 2012 #20
    Von Neuman had legendary faculties for mental computation, unlikely anything that could be learned or developed even with decades of devotion.

    Here I relate an anecdote of reasonably high veracity (as told by Daniel Dennett): A physics professor was interviewing colleagues, both mathematicians and physicists, to see if there was differences in how they approached math problems. The professor had a hunch: mathematicians always do things the methodical and long way around, while physicists are more likely to strike upon heuristics or short cuts to the answer. To test this he set about asking, verbally and in person, both sets of people the following question. Two trains, 100 miles apart, are approaching each other on the same track, one going 30 miles per hour, the other going 20 miles per hour. A bird flying 120 miles per hour starts at train A (when they are 100 miles apart), flies to train B, turns around and flies back to the approaching trainA, and so forth, until the trains collide.

    How far has the bird flown when the collision occurs? "Two hundred forty miles," Von Neumann answered almost instantly. "Darn," replied his colleague, "I predicted you'd do it the hard way." "Ay!" von Neumann cried in embarrassment, smiting his forehead. "There's an easy way!"

    Clearly, there are those out there like von Neumann and Stephen Wolfram who publish highly cited particle physics papers at the age of 17 and go on to found entire new disciplines in their wake, but they are the vanishing minority. I'm with zoobyshoe on this one: The great deal of science, I strongly believe, is not achieved by intuitive feats of genius but by the methodical application of talents hard-won through years of learning and practice.

    However, most of us "do" science by applying and making use of heuristics and tools developed by others, like GR, EM, Feynmann diagrams, etc. We can make steady progress using these, and they are accessible to many, but it may well be it takes a supreme intellect to first establish these scaffolds, which may then be climbed and made use of by others.
     
  22. May 8, 2013 #21
    I'm the OP.

    I have a BSc(Hons) (Third Class) in 1999 and a BSc (Merit) in 1998 from a reputable university in Singapore. I was diagnosed with schizophrenia in 2005 and was hospitalised. I am still interested in Physics, but I can't seem to make any progress. Whether it is a lack of will, or confidence or intellect or whether the disease has incapacitated me, I'm not sure. Probably all of the above. Plus Physics is hard.
     
  23. May 8, 2013 #22

    BobG

    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper

    I disagree. It has as much validity as saying anyone could play basketball as well as Michael Jordan if they just put in the time and effort.

    The only difference between the two is that differences in physical ability (height, for example) tend to be obvious, while differences in mental ability are physically indistinguishable.

    That doesn't mean that the average person can't master shooting or dribbling a basketball, nor does it mean the average person can't master (or understand) a lot about physics. It just means there are a lot of people that are never going to excel at physics.

    I still remember the guy in electrical engineer that finally passed the electronics "weed out" course on his third try - and then promptly switched majors. He wasn't going to be defeated, but it was also obvious to him that he just wasn't cut out to be an electrical engineer. Wise choice.
     
  24. May 9, 2013 #23
    Let's not compare anatomic barriers to mental/psychological barriers. The limitations of the brain are nowhere close to an exact science as it might be for the musculo-skeletal system, where some things are just not mechanically possible for some people. A person with literally half a brain can still lead a high functioning life and perform well at school, look up this story:


    Passing all the courses in a degree is one thing, I don't think anyone can honestly say it cannot be achieved by anyone without a severely incapacitating mental disability. A phd holder I know failed upper level quantum a total of 5 times before passing (granted the level at which this was taught was way beyond anything most people ever see as an undergrad and quite possibly grad level). He has half a dozen publications now in reputable journals in quantum information theory. Of course he took longer than most people to finish his degree (at a distance university) though.

    Doing original, publishable work let alone groundbreaking research is a whole other story.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 25, 2014
  25. May 9, 2013 #24

    AlephZero

    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper

    I'm not sure what you are saying, except that "psychology" in its present state is arguably barely a science at all (though it's a very profitable commercial operation - expecially child psychology that is marketed as a way to fix educational problems.)

    Giving a few "happy-clappy" examples doesn't prove anything much IMO, and if you are arguing that the human brain somehow works outside of the laws of physics, you need to give some convincing proof of that.
     
  26. May 9, 2013 #25
    What I am saying is that making predictions on educational achievement is nothing even remotely related to making predictions based on physiology. Ie: A person with motor-neuron disease or a deformed leg will never be able to compete with other NBA all stars. There is no evidence that similar clear-cut predictions apply to university education outcomes, as BobG was stating.

    I am not arguing that the brain works outside of the laws of physics. What I don't like is the attitude that being able to complete a science degree somehow demands a highly vague and ill-defined trait that cannot even be blind-tested for and account for every case of people's educational outcome.

    The air I am gathering from naysayers is that there is some kind of "magical minimum" of intelligence required to complete the requirements of a university science degree. For people that claim to be scientists or have a science degree under their belt, this is not a very scientific way of thinking.

    The onus of proving anything is on the people who claim "some just can, some can't", which as of yet hasn't extended beyond anything other than anecdotal examples either. I'm not putting lower or upper bounds on the achievement potential of anyone without some solid evidence behind it, just like nobody puts a lower or upper bound on the mass of an elementary particle without a ton of measurements and a sound theory behind it. Let's be humble about what we don't know.

    I'm not accusing anyone here of this, but it seems like everyone who grew up in a culture that supported their interests in science grew up hearing how smart they were from the people around them, and as a consequence like to feel they're "special" because they got their degree or some similar achievement, that no "regular schmoe" could have achieved. I rarely got this kind of encouragement and spent a large part of my leducation feeling dumb and mediocre, especially in mathematics, and was thoroughly discouraged by my family to pursue physics on both financial and intellectual incapability arguments. I'm 3 exams away from proving them wrong on the latter, and I've overcome far harder challenges in my degree than these 3 upcoming tests.

    Like I said in another thread, will my heart suddenly stop beating before I get my degree because I don't qualify as "smart enough"? Please.
     
    Last edited: May 9, 2013
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook