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Usefulness of Physics

  1. Jan 25, 2010 #1
    Is there a real use for the physics research being done currently? I know that stuff that has been figured out by people like Newton, Maxwell and Einstein (just a few names amongst many) is very useful and important in today's world. What I'm really questioning is stuff like string theory, it doesn't seem to have an application, sure it's fascinating and feeds mans desire to understand the universe in which he lives but other than that I can't see why it's important.

    I can see how things that fall under the category of space exploration are important but I think hat we understand enough physics to explore other parts of our solar system.

    Edit: I guess I should add that pure mathematics seems useless, I don't see how anything would ever come of it.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 25, 2010 #2
    I see where you are coming from and have thought the same thing. But then I remember how quickly technology is advancing and how that technology can aid physics. And there is now quantum computers which I believe could soon revolutionize our world.
  4. Jan 25, 2010 #3
    Still though, I don't really get what a quantum computer would help us with. To much technology will dehumanize everything. Too much technology is probably not good, I don't think we need people to become lazier than they already are. I think we're already over-saturated with technology.
  5. Jan 25, 2010 #4
    Some thought a few years back that the world need 5 or 6 computers for the whole world.

    Some research may end up as a dry well--others may be a gusher----
  6. Jan 25, 2010 #5
    Did we know all of the technology we were going to get when we went to the moon? No we did not. Who knows what the future holds. I personally am waiting for the 14TeV collisions at the LHC in 2011/2012. If we got the pocket calculator from the Apollo missions, who knows what we will get with this!
  7. Jan 25, 2010 #6
    Technology and the satisfaction of getting possibly that much closer to answer questions about life?
  8. Jan 25, 2010 #7
    don't forget DUCT TAPE TOO!---
  9. Jan 25, 2010 #8
    If you're talking about the possible discovery of the Higgs boson, I don't see much of a point in it. I'm not saying that there's nothing left to invent that will revolutionize the world, I'm just saying that pure physics questions with no potential real world use, seem to be only to satisfy our curiosity. I'm not saying to stop any research on these topics, though just that they aren't that important. I would place space missions higher on the priority scale.
  10. Jan 25, 2010 #9


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    Well hopefully this is all done for an eventual conversion of energy into matter which is useful. I.e slap together a few quarks and leptons and create whatever pharmaceutical chemical you want instead of doing it the 'hard' way we do it today- could really change the way Chemical Engineers do it. Perhaps there is a greater weapon of mass destruction (i.e a massive doohickey that can blow up a star and packs nicely in a tomahawk missile) not that we need it right now, but just in case.

    Look at the bright side, at least we no longer have 5 spatial dimensions that unified electromagnetism and gravity, can you imagine the world of ignorance that would've been? Now we have a spaghetti theory. Next we are going to get into onion ring quantum gravity theory and its going to be cool.
    Last edited: Jan 25, 2010
  11. Jan 25, 2010 #10
    I really don't think we need another weapon of mass destruction, unless we we're to meet a hostile alien race, such a weapon would be more of a hazard than anything else.

    I guess that's a good thing that can come out of physics, but what branch would you classify that in?

  12. Jan 25, 2010 #11


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    There are no branches. Its all either science or engineering. The scientists eat the cup ramen noodles and work 20 hours a day in a dark lab for 20 years, while engineers look at the summary of results and apply theory to practice. And the really fun engineers patent the designs and make billions. Thats how the world works kids - my alma matter did not invent penicillin. They merely created a process to mass produce the damn thing and made millions of dollars under the pretence of 'saving lives' :biggrin:
  13. Jan 25, 2010 #12
    You should get the perspective that this argument has been repeated over and over again, and every single step we were getting at in fundamental physics. Who would have bet that something useful (such as quantum mechanics) would get out of Planck's concerns about the energy spectrum in a oven ? Another example, Einstein's work was explicitly considered to be philosophy at first, and by physicists themselves.

    Besides obviously not being able to tell you what fundamental progress will lead to, the LHC for instance has already produced very important technological progress. I'll take the example of the "grid", a framework to implement shared computing resources over the internet, which is already being used for various applications, such as medicine.
  14. Jan 25, 2010 #13
    I'm sorry if I come off offensive which I don't mean to do, but I think you are speaking of technology with respect to social standards of society. But with respect to learning more about the universe we live in and being able to calculate things at surreal speeds, thats a tool and should not be confused for anything else.

    Of course, on the other hand, humans and their drive for knowledge will run us into the ground and the thrashing of our planet, but thats not for me to worry about, ill be dead.
  15. Jan 25, 2010 #14


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    From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mathematics

    Practical applications in both mathematics and physics are often the product of theoretical research/studies in both areas.
  16. Jan 25, 2010 #15
    Oh no, I didn't think you came across as offensive, sorry if my post mislead you. :uhh:
  17. Jan 25, 2010 #16
    I think you don't have a full understanding of what physics is or what most physicists do. Most physicists are not working on high energy physics, which I know nothing about but like people have argued above even that is likely to have unforseen benefits. But forget that. Solid state physics is one very active area of research right now, with vast applications to technology. Or how about the possibility of nuclear fusion power. What about materials physics, and the possibility of the design of new materials from the bottom up. What about superconductors, that falls under solid state I guess. I could go on and on.

    Or from the other perspective, think of all the things that would not exist (or at least not in their current refined form). Electricity, and everything that falls under that category, I.E. massive power grids, transform stations. Cars. Airplanes. Microwaves. CRT Television. LCD television. Computers. Fiber optics. Nuclear power. Solar cells. MRI. Positron emission tomography. Ultrasound. Probably other medical technologies. CD's, DVD's. Military technology (not to debate the usefulness of that). Satellites. GPS. Cell phones. Should I continue?

    Not to mention an incomplete but hugely vastly improved knowledge of our solar system, our universe, and what we are with respect to the great beyond.

    This thread strikes a nerve with me. I once had a girlfriend (didn't last long obviously) who didn't even believe in science. It blows my mind how widespread that belief is. How can you watch TV every day but not believe that physics is useful?
  18. Jan 25, 2010 #17
    Mind you most everything that is funded by the government is for its possibility to be used in a military application. It is how all governments work.

    Everything boils down to physics in everyday life, everything you do can be traced back to a principle or an equation, which I find fascinating. The possibilities are endless. I can't wait until curly fry theory comes out though. Or Quantum hula-hoop theory
  19. Jan 25, 2010 #18
    Physics is an art, and like all artists trying to make it pragmatic would ruin its enjoyment in beauty. I don't think that any that truly loves physics would think about "how useful is this" except when trying to get funding.

    However, Physics has been very beneficial to progressing society. From Nuclear Bombs, to the speaker, to computer ships, to optical technology, to fighting cancer and other diseases, to space travel, to communication, to energy, and to much more. Even Quantum Information Theory may cause a revolution in computing soon(see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quantum_computer ).

    "Physics is like sex. Sure, it may give some practical results, but that's not why we do it."- Richard P. Feynman.
  20. Jan 25, 2010 #19
    I do not want to get into this discussion, but I disagree with this statement and do not think such a provocation is justified in the context. Maybe all the governments you are aware of.
  21. Jan 25, 2010 #20
    I don't think any of it is useless at all. If people called quantum mechanics useless and forgot about it we would have no solid state physics. Without this say goodbye to the transistor and computer. Then we couldn't even have this conversation. Wait until the technology follows the discovery before you judge the usefullness of something not fully understood.
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