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  #21  
Old 04-22-2009, 10:54 PM
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It seems to me this is coupled with a perception in the media that the layman has all the common sense answers (usually starting with "it's simple...") - in other words the layman is the smart guy, the scientists could learn a thing or two etc.. No wonder there's even more of a disconnect between science and the public.

To me this feels a it like a cab driver lecturing a neurosurgeon on where he could improve his surgical techniques.
Sadly it's not limited to the layman trying to teach the scientist a thing or two. In my dad's line of work, they get these hotshot engineers that come straight out of college still in diapers with a degree in hand thinking that they have all these revolutionary new ideas. Then the old farts like my dad tell them, "It's been thought of back in the day, tried, tested, didn't work, that's why we don't do it. Get your head out of a textbook written by professors who've never been in the industry." And when the new guys don't listen to experience, they end up coming to the old guys scratching their head wondering what went wrong.

This isn't to say that old ideas that didn't pan out can't be resurrected, but that usually requires some kind of ground breaking development in some other area first.

As for me, I barely made if past differential equations. Laplace transforms just kicked my ***.
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  #22  
Old 04-23-2009, 04:21 AM
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Of course a layman lacks the knowledge to participate in a scientific debate. But if a researcher cannot explain the basic idea behind his work in five minutes and in simple prose to a layman, he or she does not understand what he or she does.
It's not like maths is a language that cannot be translated into ordinary prose. The problem is that many scientists, although they are often professors, don't care about didactics, about making complicated things easy to understand.

But gladly there are also a lot of reseachers who write books for laymen, write in newspapers or in blogs.
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  #23  
Old 04-23-2009, 06:05 AM
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To me this feels a it like a cab driver lecturing a neurosurgeon on where he could improve his surgical techniques.
Which reminds me of that great scene in an episode of House, when he's missing his team, and grabs the janitor to bounce ideas off of... LOL. Quanta really aren't that difficult to work with... it's the underlying concepts of non-reality and probability that gives most people fits. Take the famous thought experiment "Schodinger's Cat" as an example. Most people when they hear of it, think it is utter nonsense. That the cat is either alive or dead... their minds refuse to see it as a middle state of being both/neither until you open the box. Although this sort of experiment doesn't work on the macro scale, it what happens all the time at the sub atomic level.

The math isn't that complicated. It's getting your head wrapped around the Alice in Wonderland non-reality that's the difficulty. As Neils Bohr put it: "Anyone who isn't shocked by quantum physics, hasn't grasped it yet."

This sort of thing can hamper your day... every time I get on an elevator, I puzzle over breaking the beam on the doors, and wonder... by doing so, the beam acted like particles... yet the light is also a wave... (or would have been, had I measured it's wavelength instead...) Did I just shift the universe, by collapsing the wavicle into one function over the other?

Back to the topic: The cold fusion thing I thought was dead and discredited. Yet now, the pentagon is saying that they feel there is little dobt that there is something going on here that needs to be studied...

a faint glimmer...
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  #24  
Old 04-23-2009, 06:28 AM
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Isn't the main difference between quantum physics and Newtonian physics as well as Einsteinian ("God does not throw dice") physics that the former features randomness while the latter do not and isn't this the reason that Schroedingers's cat is alive as well as dead at the same time, stochastics at the subatomic level?
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  #25  
Old 04-23-2009, 10:12 AM
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Of course a layman lacks the knowledge to participate in a scientific debate. But if a researcher cannot explain the basic idea behind his work in five minutes and in simple prose to a layman, he or she does not understand what he or she does.
It's not like maths is a language that cannot be translated into ordinary prose. The problem is that many scientists, although they are often professors, don't care about didactics, about making complicated things easy to understand.

But gladly there are also a lot of reseachers who write books for laymen, write in newspapers or in blogs.
I don't really agree with you on this one Horiatio. There's no rule that says every idea can be explained to a lay person in five minutes without gross oversimplification or distortion. Some things are just so subtle that if you condense them you change their meaning. An interesting exmaple of this was a competition to explain evolution in a single sentence. The winner was "the web that spins the spider" which is very clever but not terribly clear.

Last edited by Scribbler : 04-23-2009 at 10:29 AM.
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  #26  
Old 04-23-2009, 10:21 AM
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The math isn't that complicated. It's getting your head wrapped around the Alice in Wonderland non-reality that's the difficulty. As Neils Bohr put it: "Anyone who isn't shocked by quantum physics, hasn't grasped it yet."
Saying that the mathematics behind quantum physics isn't that complicated is a bit silly. I'm afraid it's way beyond the abilities of most people - a lot of people in the developed world struggle with doing percentages. Reading New Scientist or Scientific American as they illustrate the famous thought experiments isn't too tough. I always get the sense of them helping you along and never taking too close a look. They cheerfully give you the idiot's version but you never really see how the toys are made.

By the way, have you ever spoken to someone with a Phd in particle physics? The person I know is insanely clever and does some completely mind bending and arcane mathematics. I'm sure you'd agree, reading Scientific American does not imbue one with scientific or mathematical superpowers any more than reading Birdkeeping Monthly makes one able to fly.

Last edited by Scribbler : 04-23-2009 at 10:30 AM.
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  #27  
Old 04-23-2009, 10:28 AM
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I don't really agree with you on this one Horiatio. There's no rule that says every idea can be explained to a lay person in five minutes without gross oversimplification or distortion. Some things are just so subtle that if you condense them you change their meaning.
Five minutes was a bit exaggerated, let's say half an hour and of course subtleties get lost in any simplification.

I am not familiar with quantum physics, so I cannot judge that, but I can tell for sure that in economics, every important idea can be expressed in simple prose. If a professor or reseacher cannot, I won't trust that he or she understands what he or she has done or is doing.

Maths is just a tool which helps you to formalize your thoughts, nothing more. If string theory or quantum mechanics cannot be translated into prose, there might be something wrong with the respective theory.
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  #28  
Old 04-23-2009, 10:35 AM
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Maths is just a tool which helps you to formalize your thoughts, nothing more. If string theory or quantum mechanics cannot be translated into prose, there might be something wrong with the respective theory.
Why should such a convenient thing be true? I can easily imagine ideas not being able to be turned into words without loss of clarity. Certainly you can't turn a work of art or music into words and have no loss in meaning. Why shouldn't certain ideas only be truly conveyable within a mathematical framework?
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  #29  
Old 04-23-2009, 10:46 AM
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Because mathematics is just a human way to theorize about e.g. strings, a representation, a model of our thoughts about reality?
The problem with theoretical physicists might be that they actually believe that reality consists of equations and that physics is the ultimate science which makes other sciences obsolete. Scientific arrogance.

Many people have some basic understanding about the relativity theory without having studied physics and having gone through Einstein's equations.
By the way, that's supposed to be the first step for every researcher too, otherwise he or she might get lost in details pretty quickly.

Or let's take doctors. If they communicate with patients in their language, it sounds like gibberish to me and you. If they try to condense their thoughts and translate them in plain prose, details get lost but you as patient understand at least the basics.

Ever took a look into a philosophy text? Gibberish too. So laymen have to pick a textbook to get an understanding about the writings of some smart philosophers.


That's all I say, getting the basic idea, a first intuition about a complex scientific topic. Of course the original scientific language is more precise, things always get lost in a translation. But it is important that scientists try to communicate their ideas to laymen, otherwise the respective science quickly becomes arcane and mystique ... and is finally considered to be irrelevat by the public which leads to less funds.
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  #30  
Old 04-23-2009, 10:56 AM
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This is a gross generalization, but I find that a lot of times in science, the actual equations are not necessarily difficult to understand as the equation simply describes the relationships between various factors. What is difficult is the mathematical derivations that lead to the final equation that trip people up.
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