Why are you not a ... ?

  • #1
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I am a theoretical physicist. Why theoretical and not an experimental one? Or why not a mathematician?

Experimental physics gives facts, while theoretical physics gives understanding of the facts. Or loosely speaking, experimental physics gives knowledge, while theoretical physics gives understanding. I am not an experimental physicist because I prefer understanding over knowledge. (Which of course doesn't mean that experimental physicists lack understanding or that theoretical physicists lack knowledge.)

Renyi said that "A mathematician is a device for turning coffee into theorems". I am not a mathematician because I don't drink coffee.

How about you? What are you not and why?
 

Answers and Replies

  • #2
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I am a what people might call a Mathematician although I argue the suffix "—cian"/"-ist" is added only when someone has made some significant contribution towards development/enrichment of his/her field. But nowadays many students call themselves mathematicians/Physicist who have zero love for the subject.

So by my own definition I am not a mathematician(one day I think I will make such contributions) and I want to be one.


Post not intended to offend someone. I've seen a lot of students calling themselves mathematician/Physicists who have nearly zero love for the subject. And also the opposite far many truly love and are "brilliant minds" which I am not.

I get stuck in problems, search through google, turn every page of Apostol/Thomas/Arnold etc etc for some reference. But I earnestly try to use logic in every argument, try to love the subject even if sometimes it is tiring, try to judge myself through my own mirror. Sometimes I fail.

You be the judge.

Thanks.
 
  • #3
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Renyi said that "A mathematician is a device for turning coffee into theorems". I am not a mathematician because I don't drink coffee
Nice one:smile::smile::smile:

But I like coffee.

Two cups a day keeps heart diseases at bay/
I can solve what I may.
But three cups is my "cup of tea"/
I think I see...
Another theorem/
Again and again.
 
  • #4
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A category theory spin on the joke
A comathematician is a device for turning cotheorems into ffee
:biggrin:

I am but a humble master student in pure mathematics :sorry:
 
  • #5
Svein
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I am not a specialist. I have a Master's degree in mathematics, but I never could convince myself of the importance of a doctorate. That would make me a specialist in some narrow field when there are so many other interesting fields around:
  • Straight from my exam I started to work with digital electronics.
  • After a couple of years the microprocessor arrived. This meant that in addition to electronics I had to handle software.
  • Some years later the concept of robotics came along where my mathematical background turned out to be very useful
  • The communication field exploded, Ethernet came along and TCP/IP was something you just had to handle.
And so on..
 
  • #6
martinbn
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In school I was more interested in physics (theoretical) than mathematics. But I am not a physicist because I cannot understand the way they write/speak. By this I don't mean the lack of rigor, I am perfectly happy with that. I mean all the unstated assumptions that seem to be obvious to them. It is particularly annoying to see a "proof" of a proposition, that was never written explicitly, about things that have not been defined.
 
  • #7
ZapperZ
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I am not a medical doctor because I can't stand the sight of blood.

When I was growing up, my parents were urging me to be a doctor. I refused. But when I received my PhD in physics, my sister and brother-in-law both told my parents that they finally have a "doctor" in the family. :biggrin:

Zz.
 
  • #8
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It is particularly annoying to see a "proof" of a proposition, that was never written explicitly, about things that have not been defined.
exactly, my hands start shaking if I need to 'translate' what they are saying
 
  • #9
ZapperZ
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In school I was more interested in physics (theoretical) than mathematics. But I am not a physicist because I cannot understand the way they write/speak. By this I don't mean the lack of rigor, I am perfectly happy with that. I mean all the unstated assumptions that seem to be obvious to them. It is particularly annoying to see a "proof" of a proposition, that was never written explicitly, about things that have not been defined.
exactly, my hands start shaking if I need to 'translate' what they are saying
I don't quite understand this complaint.

EVERY single profession and discipline has their own terminology that most everyone outside of those fields will not be able to decipher. Have you chatted with IT folks lately? What about the medical profession? And we don't even go that far. I've had English-speaking visitors who have trouble understanding the various terminologies that Americans use in their everyday lives ("What is a co-pay?", "What is a deductible?").

In other words, you yourself use your own lingo that only a limited group of people can understand! So why are you picking on physicists?

Zz.
 
  • #10
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\begin{rant}
Terminology is not the problem. Jargon can be overcome by looking up the definitions (already on thin ice here :wideeyed: ). The problem for me in mostly all mathematical physics-type courses is the constant handwaving. Implications are not clear. It's not stated why for some integrals the result is invariant w.r.t to the order of integration for some specific class of functions, thus leading the student to believe this is Always true (which it isn't).
Now, I'd be ok with this if there is a clear reference to relevant results in analysis or it's accepted that only such functions will be observed. None of that is explicitly stated. Therefore, one concludes these courses are for advanced students who realise all this...

..but no, these are undergrad courses :mad:
\end{rant}

I'm not being particularly objective here. Much of what I say might be a TAD exaggerrated, but the point remains.
 
  • #11
martinbn
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No one is picking on anyone and this was not a complaint. It was the reason I am not a physicist. And you misunderstood what I wrote. I wasn't having a problem with the terminology.
 
  • #12
ZapperZ
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Terminology is not the problem. Jargon can be overcome by looking up the definitions (already on thin ice here :wideeyed: ). The problem for me in mostly all mathematical physics-type courses is the constant handwaving. Implications are not clear. It's not stated why for some integrals the result is invariant w.r.t to the order of integration for some specific class of functions, thus leading the student to believe this is Always true (which it isn't).
Now, I'd be ok with this if there is a clear reference to relevant results in analysis or it's accepted that only such functions will be observed. None of that is explicitly stated. Therefore, one concludes these courses are for advanced students who realise all this...

..but no, these are undergrad courses :mad:
But you can't blame your ignorance of things on the rest of the world!

We simply cannot teach general physics students ALL of the mathematical derivation that resulted in what they are using. It will chase them all away, since that will make the subject matter dauntingly difficult! The purpose of these intro level classes is to introduce physics concepts, and the mathematics to use them. Anything beyond that will require more advanced courses. They are all there for anyone who care to look for them.

And you should also direct your ire at engineers as well.

Zz.
 
  • #13
martinbn
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@ZapperZ : Here is an example of my difficulty when trying to read physics. I don't have a problem with something along the lines: we will manipulate the series/integral and not worry whether it is convergent or whether it ok to manipulate it the way we do. But I do have a problem with something along the lines: a tensor is a collection of numbers with this many lower and that many upper indices that transform like...Not to mention the numerous cases where no definition is given whatsoever. Well, I'll mention it anyway: Let ##\varphi## be a field, followed by some calculations. But not a word to what that ##\varphi## might be, a function(?), define where(?), an operator(?), a tensor(?),...It seems that it is just a name, a shorthand for some object or property of an object in the real world that we can manipulate on paper according to some rules (of course never stated, they are obvious to a physicist).

And again this is not a judgment or an accusation it is a matter of personal preference. In fact in a way it is an admiration of the intuition physicists have.
 
  • #14
ZapperZ
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@ZapperZ : Here is an example of my difficulty when trying to read physics. I don't have a problem with something along the lines: we will manipulate the series/integral and not worry whether it is convergent or whether it ok to manipulate it the way we do. But I do have a problem with something along the lines: a tensor is a collection of numbers with this many lower and that many upper indices that transform like...Not to mention the numerous cases where no definition is given whatsoever. Well, I'll mention it anyway: Let ##\varphi## be a field, followed by some calculations. But not a word to what that ##\varphi## might be, a function(?), define where(?), an operator(?), a tensor(?),...It seems that it is just a name, a shorthand for some object or property of an object in the real world that we can manipulate on paper according to some rules (of course never stated, they are obvious to a physicist).

And again this is not a judgment or an accusation it is a matter of personal preference. In fact in a way it is an admiration of the intuition physicists have.
You have a problem with the application, and so you blame the principle.

What you have is a problem with the material that you are reading, but you conflate that as being a fundamental problem with the entire discipline. Does this make any sense to you? You saw someone abused the welfare system, and so you blame the fault on the whole concept of welfare?

I've read many bad books and papers on physics. The fault lies with those books and papers, not with the profession or the discipline! You can't understand what is being said by one source, then go seek another! It is why we have more than one source for any given topic!

And besides, if I'm writing something that is meant for other experts in the field, and you happen to get a hold of it, tried to read it, and it completely flew over your head, what exactly is the issue here?

Zz.
 
  • #15
martinbn
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You have a problem with the application, and so you blame the principle.

What you have is a problem with the material that you are reading, but you conflate that as being a fundamental problem with the entire discipline. Does this make any sense to you? You saw someone abused the welfare system, and so you blame the fault on the whole concept of welfare?

I've read many bad books and papers on physics. The fault lies with those books and papers, not with the profession or the discipline! You can't understand what is being said by one source, then go seek another! It is why we have more than one source for any given topic!
Yes, I agree with all that. In my case, all the sources that I have tried led to the same. It may be that I was very unlucky. And just point out again I wasn't blaming anyone. I was just stating my reason for not trying to become a physicist. That's idea of the thread.
And besides, if I'm writing something that is meant for other experts in the field, and you happen to get a hold of it, tried to read it, and it completely flew over your head, what exactly is the issue here?
If that was the case there wouldn't be any issue. But what has that to do with anything? Take the definition of tensor from a typical physics textbook. Is that written for an expert or for someone who is about to see tensors for the first time?
 
  • #16
ZapperZ
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If that was the case there wouldn't be any issue. But what has that to do with anything? Take the definition of tensor from a typical physics textbook. Is that written for an expert or for someone who is about to see tensors for the first time?
A "typical" physics textbook is not a book to learn tensors from! That is like you are learning how to use the tool at the very same time you are about to use it to build something. How efficient is that?

You learn tensors in math classes. You then use it in physics classes. If you get stuck with the math in physics classes, then the problem is with your math, not with the physics.

Zz.
 
  • #17
martinbn
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Then why do they spend so much space on them if it is part of the prerequisites! It would be enough to put it in an appendix or quickly review the notations. And what about the physics concepts, surely they are not to be learnt in the maths courses.
 
  • #18
ZapperZ
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Then why do they spend so much space on them if it is part of the prerequisites! It would be enough to put it in an appendix or quickly review the notations. And what about the physics concepts, surely they are not to be learnt in the maths courses.
They who?

I suggest you write to the author/s and ask. I'm not responsible for the WAY they present the material. But you also need to examine how you draw your conclusion and make wholesale categorization.

Zz.
 
  • #19
StoneTemplePython
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If someone asks you: why did you choose X, or perhaps, why are you not a Y?

And you respond, "well, I gave a good faith effort and sampled from a few different areas in Y and found a lot of sloppy maths which turned me off to it." If said person did act in good faith while sampling, then that should be a perfectly acceptable answer. (Now if the person had an agenda beforehand and did deliberately bad sampling to "confirm" a viewpoint, then that's a different issue.)

- - - - -
Something I've come across too often in life is that people ask such a question and then argue with me afterward -- e.g. a simple and common one over last few years: why do you have an iphone not android-- or: why do you cover the camera on the screen side of the phone? If people say they want to know about your decision and then argue with you afterward, I'd suggest that its the questioner who may be acting in bad faith... or perhaps even more common: not thinking clearly.
 
  • #20
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In school I was more interested in physics (theoretical) than mathematics. But I am not a physicist because I cannot understand the way they write/speak. By this I don't mean the lack of rigor, I am perfectly happy with that. I mean all the unstated assumptions that seem to be obvious to them. It is particularly annoying to see a "proof" of a proposition, that was never written explicitly, about things that have not been defined.
... plus those addiction to coordinates. This is a jungle mathematicians don't like very much as it hides the view on what's really going on. Those coordinates, I hate them, coordinates up, coordinates down, coordinates doubled, tripled and even more, and their placement carries information, that's cruel for mathematicians. Plus the physicists' usage of covariant and contravariant is strange, to say the least.
 
  • #21
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@ZapperZ : Here is an example of my difficulty when trying to read physics. I don't have a problem with something along the lines: we will manipulate the series/integral and not worry whether it is convergent or whether it ok to manipulate it the way we do. But I do have a problem with something along the lines: a tensor is a collection of numbers with this many lower and that many upper indices that transform like...Not to mention the numerous cases where no definition is given whatsoever. Well, I'll mention it anyway: Let ##\varphi## be a field, followed by some calculations. But not a word to what that ##\varphi## might be, a function(?), define where(?), an operator(?), a tensor(?),...It seems that it is just a name, a shorthand for some object or property of an object in the real world that we can manipulate on paper according to some rules (of course never stated, they are obvious to a physicist).

And again this is not a judgment or an accusation it is a matter of personal preference. In fact in a way it is an admiration of the intuition physicists have.
Would you say that logicians and set theorists look at "ordinary" mathematicians in a similar way? For instance, when a mathematician says "it implies", a logician may wonder does it mean ##\rightarrow##, ##\vdash##, or perhaps ##\models##?
 
  • #22
DrClaude
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I am a theoretical physicist. Why theoretical and not an experimental one? Or why not a mathematician?

Experimental physics gives facts, while theoretical physics gives understanding of the facts. Or loosely speaking, experimental physics gives knowledge, while theoretical physics gives understanding. I am not an experimental physicist because I prefer understanding over knowledge. (Which of course doesn't mean that experimental physicists lack understanding or that theoretical physicists lack knowledge.)

Renyi said that "A mathematician is a device for turning coffee into theorems". I am not a mathematician because I don't drink coffee.

How about you? What are you not and why?
For me, it basically boiled down to a choice between "tightening bolts" (metaphorically) or "debugging programs" (literally!). I'm not very good at manipulating things, but I donate mind spending hours chasing little critters in code, so a chose the latter.
 
  • #23
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Would you say that logicians and set theorists look at "ordinary" mathematicians in a similar way? For instance, when a mathematician says "it implies", a logician may wonder does it mean ##\rightarrow##, ##\vdash##, or perhaps ##\models##?
I think that is on a different level, but I have to admit, that I find it difficult to determine where the difference is. I have often the same impression when I read physics: What the heck are they talking about? Sometimes the physicists' language is even plain wrong mathematically, e.g. they talk about representations of a Lie group but mean its Lie algebra.

Logicians deal with more fundamental questions and I'm sure they know, that mathematics can't be done if every conclusion is derived from its roots. I think they have a bigger problem with the fact that mathematicians often forget to explicitly name the system they work with, e.g. whether AC is used - hidden in some auxiliary results or if proofs are written by contradiction if they could as well be given positively. So in a way they might have similar concerns, but I don't think that the comparison properly works.
 
  • #24
martinbn
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Would you say that logicians and set theorists look at "ordinary" mathematicians in a similar way? For instance, when a mathematician says "it implies", a logician may wonder does it mean ##\rightarrow##, ##\vdash##, or perhaps ##\models##?
I don't think so, but I don't know.
 
  • #25
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Would you say that logicians and set theorists look at "ordinary" mathematicians in a similar way? For instance, when a mathematician says "it implies", a logician may wonder does it mean ##\rightarrow##, ##\vdash##, or perhaps ##\models##?
By ##A ## implies ##B## I think it is meant that the implication ##A\rightarrow B ## is a tautology, at least that's the sense in which I use it/have been taught to. That's also how predicate logic works so I'm ok with it. Whenever someone says something like 'I'll be roughly speaking..' when we're talking shop, it's all out of the window, I'm not assuming anything.
 

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