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Why are people so OBSESSED with books now a days?

  1. Sep 26, 2009 #1
    Why some people so OBSESSED with books in a dangerous way?

    I believe education is very important. I believe most intelligent people would say knowledge is more important than ignorance. It's the bread of the mind. Many great minds recommended to get a fresh perspective on things, reading can help. However it seems like some take it to the point where they're so extremely obsessed with books that it messes up their thinking, like a glass bowl dropped on the floor.

    Just as a house needs a foundation before being built, I'll need to provide some context before asking my question. I'm just trying to see what others think about all this.

    Okay, one instance: For example I was thinking about how Newton's Law of Gravitation said all matter is attracted to all other matter (and of course based on how much matter it has and how far away it is). Of course Einstein came along and did his magic with adjustments to the Universal Law, but it's still quite close to the truth. So I decided to think of experiments to test this gravitation concept myself, not because I doubt it's true but because I want to understand it better from a hands on perspective So I imagined to myself that in outer space objects which are close to each other tend to be drawn towards one another (example artificial satellites can affect rocks very close in space), and weightlessness just means they're free falling, or to be more precise moving in a straight line through Einstein's spacetime. So to test this gravitation between objects, I brainstormed that maybe I could drop two really heavy metal balls off of a 300 foot cliff into very fine sand below and measure the distance above and below to see if there was any attraction to each other. Of course things fall to the very center of the Earth and so they come to each other eventually, but that doesn't happen at 300 feet but only the center of the Earth. So I told someone really into Physics and he told me, "Gravitation is so weak. I could be wrong, but I really don't think your IDEA will work." I told another person in Physics and he told me to not question Science. I told him I was just trying to grasp at a deeper level and hands on experience, and he again told me not to question. So then I told someone who doesn't know anything about Science and he said, "Nope, not from a book." Me, "I didn't get this idea from a book." Him, "Gravitation is in a book. Mass is in a book. Free fall is in a book. Objects in space are in a book." It sounded like he was so obsessed with books that it messed up critical thinking.

    I'm confused, one side basically told me my IDEA was not going to work, and even brushed it aside by saying "Your idea", but the other side was accusing it of being from a BOOK. Oh my gosh, why can't people be allowed to brainstorm now a days? I mean, aren't all ideas just combinations of already existing ideas, but in different ways? You can't build a brick wall without any bricks, or even think out of a vacuum. What's wrong with hands on experience? Why can't people just give useful feedback that will help, rather than saying, "Not from a book"? I mean, in college, when a professor gives a class a critical thinking essay, he expects the class to use technical vocabulary words from the field of study. Does that mean the students aren't thinking for themselves but rather mindlessly regurgitating a book because they use technical words and already existing concepts? When someone in Physics gets a PHD, they use technical vocabulary words that already existed in the field, does that mean the doctoral student was from a book? When someone gets a Nobel Prize, they use scientific concepts which already exist (for example those getting prizes will integrate already existing concepts like "electrons", "matter", "energy"). Does that mean they were regurgitating a book? How do you get people to understand that thinking for yourself is more important than books, or their phrase "Not from a book"?
     
    Last edited: Sep 26, 2009
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  3. Sep 26, 2009 #2

    Chi Meson

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    I have no idea what the beef really is here. It sounds like the second guy you talked to was dismissive, which makes him not a reasonable guy to talk to. The first guy seemed reasonable enough. What did you find wrong with him calling your idea an "idea"? You thought of an experiment to verify a principle of physics. Go for it. If you talk to a physicist about it, and ( I assume) ask his opinion of your "plan to test out your verification" (that's "idea" for short), you can listen to him or not.

    Personally, I believe that according to theory, and in ideal conditions, your idea would verify both the Newtonian and Einsteinian models of gravitation. Put your two rocks in a long boxcar, and you will have a thought experiment that has already been described in a very good textbook, "Spacetime Physics" by Wheeler.

    I agree with the first guy that you would not be able to detect any repeatable, verifying results because gravity is indeed very very weak, and the turbulence around falling objects will cause so many different and varying levels of forces due to fluid dynamic effects (air-resistance is the short term for it). I don't think he was necessarily dismissive, just aware that the conditions would not allow accurate results.

    Anyone with a true scientific mind will know that brainstorming is what it is all about. Original ideas are what has advanced knowledge through these last four centuries. (notice that "ideas" are a good thing?)

    True to your stated peeve, it was the strict adherence to what was already in books that held back the advance of technology for the centuries between the height of the Romans Empire and Galileo.

    So bravo, to your ideas, by all means keep them coming.
     
    Last edited: Sep 26, 2009
  4. Sep 26, 2009 #3

    russ_watters

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    You could also hang the weights from the cliff instead of dropping them...

    Anyway, the purpose of learning from books is to avoid wasting your time and money figuring out from scratch things that are already well established (not to mention the possibility you could make mistakes!). There is a lot of knowledge out there to be learned and no reason to try to duplicate all of the discovery from scratch. Attempting to learn by that method will only ensure that you don't learn everything you want to learn (unless you really don't want to learn much).

    But in any case, if you really intend to do this, you should be attempting to predict ahead of time the deflection you will see. Not only does that enable your experiment to have a point (verify or fail to verify the theory you are investigating), but it may convince you that it isn't worthwhile to do the experiment because the effect is too small to measure.
     
  5. Sep 26, 2009 #4

    LydiaAC

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    I had a friend who had set out to disprove Einstein's dilation of mass.
    He wanted to put a circuit on a scale, turn the circuit on, and check if the mass changed.
    He said that since electrons travel at light velocity, if the mass change were not there, Relativity would be proved false.

    I said to him the electrons do not travel at light velocity but he angered and said to me that I was repressing his intelectual freeedom.

    You are allowed to test ANY PART of science you want. It could not be efficient, it could not be practical, but it is not forbidden and anyone to say you the contrary is WRONG and you should not listen to them.

    However, to check the validity of physics laws are not an easy issue. In a real life situations, the variables involved are many, and probably you will find that the formulae you read in the books simply do not hold true.

    That does not mean that the results of science are not valid. That only mean you need to go deeper into the way science works and the way in which experiments are designed.

    Probably, you will need to read some science books, keeping your critical attitude, but assuming also that you can learn from them how the universe work.

    This is not an act of faith. People who are able to control natural world, designing working technology for example, have reached that point by reading science books.
     
  6. Sep 26, 2009 #5

    russ_watters

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    Lol, priceless!
     
  7. Sep 26, 2009 #6

    Integral

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    Just last Friday I listened to a high school teacher tell the electronics class that electrons move at the speed of light. I cringed, but did not interrupt.
     
  8. Sep 26, 2009 #7

    Chi Meson

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    I, as a high school physics teacher, commend you for not interrupting him in front of the class.

    But you did beat him up in the alley, afterward, right?

    And by the way, NUTS to your trivia quiz. I don't care :cry:
     
  9. Sep 26, 2009 #8
    Re: Why some people so OBSESSED with books in a dangerous way?

    Hands on experience is fine: ignorance is not. I suggest you spend some time reading about gravitation and cavendish's experiment before you go about wasting your time on this experiment (which wont work).

    You talk in run-on sentences. Please condense it down next time. I didn't need every excruciating detail.

    Edit: Said differently, I don't know how you missed cavendish's experiment when you read about gravitation. You would\should have realized the complexity to the experiment and why what you just typed up won't work.
     
    Last edited: Sep 26, 2009
  10. Sep 26, 2009 #9

    arildno

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    First of all, whoever you met did not have the "right" to be dismissive of your idea, since it is based on sound thinking!

    However, what you DO run into here, is the problem that between any two objects, the gravitational attraction is extremely weak, and THEREFORE, the attractive effective will readily be swamped by all the other gravitational attractions from other objects, and all other forces .
    For example, as Chi Meson already said, the forces acting upon the two really heavy objects due to air resistance would be orders of magnitude higher than that of the (admittedly present) tendency for the balls to approach each other on account of gravitational attraction.


    Physicists would LOVE experiments that better enabled them to measure the numerical strength of the gravitational force better (i.e, get a better measurement of the universal constant G), and such experiments ARE being done.

    However, in order to get appreciable results, you need extremely delicate, and hence sophisticated instruments.

    There is a good REASON why our estimate of "big G" is one of the least accurate estimates we have:
    It is so damned hard to measure it, because it is such a tiny number.

    So again, your IDEA is perfectly sound, but ugly, empirical reality makes this particular experiment flawed.
     
  11. Sep 26, 2009 #10
    Book learning can help you avoid the mistakes of others, but at a cost. If there is an error in the book, you may not discover it no matter how carefully you read. Ultimately, truth comes from experiments, not from books. If you feel you have a design for a good experiment, and you have the means to carry it out, then you should do so.

    Be careful in the particular experiment you have in mind. The surface of the earth is curved and even if you hold two objects in your hand that do not attract each other (you must admit the possibility of such a thing in order for your experiment to have any meaning at all), they will fall closer to each other than when they were dropped. You must account for this in your measurement. Cavendish carried out an experiment in which two bodies were shown to attract each other, he used a device that has come to be known as a Cavendish balance. Look these up on the net for a description of his experiment.

    Correction: the objects will fall closer to each other, not because of the curvature of the Earth, but because of the initial separation of the objects and the fact that they will fall radially inward toward the center of the Earth.
     
    Last edited: Sep 26, 2009
  12. Sep 26, 2009 #11

    DaveC426913

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    Re: Why some people so OBSESSED with books in a dangerous way?

    This again?

    Is this the same incident as the previous thread, or do you have this said to you a lot?
     
  13. Sep 27, 2009 #12
    Re: Why some people so OBSESSED with books in a dangerous way?

    I don't get this said to me by intellectuals/educated people or those who like to talk about scientific speculations/thought experiments.

    Among the rest, it doesn't happen hardly much. The reason I'm curious is because using scientific sounding vocabulary words/concepts doesn't mean the actual idea itself is from a book. I wonder if it's a specific vocabulary that throws them off? Although I wouldn't do this, if you told yourself not to have any speculations that incorporate scientific concepts because scientific concepts are in a book, you'd go crazy.
     
  14. Sep 27, 2009 #13

    Chi Meson

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    The teacher in me needs to say: "You mean 'least precise.' The 9.8 part is very accurate."
    [/hairsplittling]
     
  15. Sep 27, 2009 #14

    jtbell

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    Or you could hang them from the ceiling of your lab, or from some convenient support stand, instead of going out and looking for a cliff. Henry Cavendish did it that way more than two hundred years ago, and college students do it that way today.

    One of the reasons we read books (and Web sites) is to find out what other people have done before us, so we don't have to re-do the same things over and over again, but can try to do new things instead. If you can think of a way to improve on the way those experiments were done before, then that's something new... go for it!
     
  16. Sep 27, 2009 #15
    Can you elaborate on this, please? I always thought of G as having good accuracy, and am not sure how to understand this.

    Thanks.
     
  17. Sep 27, 2009 #16

    Redbelly98

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    G (=6.6743±0.0007 × 10−11 N m2 / kg2 ) is known to 4 significant figures.

    By contrast:
    We know h to 7 or 8 significant figures.
    We know the electron's charge to 8 or 9 significant figures.
    We know the masses of the electron and proton to about 8 significant figures.​
     
  18. Sep 27, 2009 #17
    Re: Why some people so OBSESSED with books in a dangerous way?

    :uhh: That's an oxymoron. :eek:

    Hopefully he was kidding.
     
  19. Sep 27, 2009 #18

    D H

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    As arildno and Redbelly already noted, the precision in the measured value of G is quite poor compared to the precision to which we know most other measured physical constants. There are (at least) three reasons. One is that gravitation is a rather weak force. It is an easy matter to use the electromagnetic force to make ordinary-sized objects accelerate at much greater than 9.8 m/s2. That gravitation is a rather weak force is the reason is why the original poster's experiment won't work as planned.

    A second reason for our lack of precision in our knowledge of G is that gravitation is not directly observable; some kind of proxy measurement must be used from which G is then derived. Cavendish-type experiments, for example, measure the torsion (an electromagnetic phenomenon) in a wire.

    A third is that gravitation is inextricably tied to mass. Another proxy measurement for gravitation is observing how things orbit the Sun or the Earth, for example. These observations give us extremely precise measurements of the products of G*solar mass (10.2 significant digits) and G*earth mass (8.7 significant digits). Even more precisely, we know that inertial mass and gravitational mass (the equivalence principle) are equal to within a few part in 1013 (c.f. the fine structure constant, which is known to about 1 part in 1011). This high precision does not help with measuring G to high precision because G is inextricably connected to mass.
     
  20. Sep 27, 2009 #19

    DaveC426913

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    Not sure if this has been mentioned but there's a mathemetical housekeeping factor.

    You would have to account for - and subtract out the fact that, mutual attraction aside - the two objects will not fall in parallel paths. Their separation means the gravitational force is at an small angle. If one did not know the radius of the Earth, one would see an inexpiclable convergence of the two masses and possibly miscontrue that as a mutual attraction.
     
  21. Sep 27, 2009 #20
    This is part of what made me start thinking about testing gravitation between objects http://www.fourmilab.ch/gravitation/foobar/ "Bending Spacetime in the Basement", in addition to imagining an artificial satellite and rock being affected by each other while free fall in space.

    1/3 to 1/2 of the way down the site they have pictures of a mediocre homemade torsion balance to observe gravitation between objects. It looked quite interesting.
     
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