Explaining physics

Discussion in 'General Science & Technology' started by Magical Realist, Sep 24, 2016.

  1. Yazata Valued Senior Member

    I don't know why you are accusing me of having "disdain for science". I'm suggesting just the opposite, that science (and physics in particular) has taken over the most exalted of historical roles once occupied by high-priests and wizards, that of the initiates into a gnosis that gives them the power to unlock and reveal the secrets of the universe.

    The sociological problem that I referred to is that this is the most hermetic of priesthoods, one where true understanding is closed to mere mortals unless they devote something like ten years to higher education, which most people are in no position to do. So the general public are left with little choice but to believe by faith.

    I'm suggesting that despite all the atheist pretensions, and despite all the 18th century 'age of reason' rhetoric, science has slipped very comfortably into a long established social role that the Church once occupied, and the ancient mystery schools, temple priesthoods and shamans occupied before that.

    I don't believe that's healthy or desirable, but I'm not sure what can be done about it.
    Last edited: Oct 23, 2016
    river likes this.
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  3. exchemist Valued Senior Member

    Don't be disingenuous. Use of terms such as priesthood and elite is obviously likely to be read as pejorative or at least dliberately provocative. If you really think science today is treated by the general population in the same way that religion used to be, say in the mediaeval period, you owe us evidence, I think.
    I for one do not believe it. I think many findings of science are accepted without challenge, but I see little sign of the awe and reverence that formerly went with religion. Do people kiss the ring of physics professors? Do they observe rituals indicating obedience? Do biologists seek power over people's everyday lives? I must say I am inclined to think this pose you are striking is another of your Aunt Sallys(Straw Men).
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  5. Yazata Valued Senior Member

    I'm never disingenuous. You just don't like people saying things that you disagree with.

    I'm just expressing my opinions on the subject of this thread. You might disagree with them, but that's no reason for insults. What you should be doing is presenting your own views, if you have any that you think are better than mine.

    Provocative maybe. Perjorative no. Historically, priesthoods have always been among the most authoritative, prestigious and highly regarded elements of society. People (modern atheists excepted) have always perceived their shamans, priests and wizards as initiates into the mysteries, as those in the best position to reveal the cosmic secrets.

    I don't think that any intelligent person can deny that scientists occupy a similar social position in our culture today.

    Or that most of the public is in no better position to judge for themselves the truth of the often counter-intuitive things that scientists say about things like cosmic inflation or the mathematical architecture of particle physics than a 14th century villager was in evaluating the teachings of the Church on the trinity.
    Last edited: Oct 23, 2016
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  7. paddoboy Valued Senior Member

    The difference of course being that science is a discipline in perpetual progress, and not recalcitrant and stuck in a proverbial rut.
    Sure, some faith maybe needed, but then again, we all have faith at one time or another in many things, such as catching your morning bus to work and having faith it will be on time.
    The faith people have in science is based on the evidence available in everyday life and our experiences. It's the faith that as technologies advance, as our observations improve, so to generally will the benefits from science be obvious.
    Science also can be dumbed down somewhat for ordinary folk, so that the reason for scientific beliefs and interpretations is made clearer.
    Faith is in my opinion a part of everyday life and evidenced by the fact that we all awake every morning knowing that the Sun will rise.
    This obviously contradicts enormously with the unsupported biased nonsense preached by our high-priests, wizards, and god botherers, that did previously occupy the exalted position now held rightly by science.
    This is why these same high priests, wizards, and god botherers suffer much angst complex along with "tall poppy syndrome" and spend much of their time in a fruitless effort to tear down science and what it has achieved, from its deserved exalted position.

    As long as science maintains the accepted scientific methodology, and as long as it remains the discipline in progress that it always has been, I see its position as justified and desirable......
    Of course human nature being what it is, we will always have individual scientists that at times, will make a mockery and a mess of their position.
    Overall though, science as a discipline, will maintain its current position, based on logic, common sense and the scientific method.
    And that if you think deeply enough about it, that is far better than any alternative.
  8. James R Just this guy, you know? Staff Member


    One might think that scientists, being the high priests and all, would (a) be better paid, and (b) have more political and social influence than they do.

    Physics is the study of the fundamental constituents of the universe, so that's not surprising.

    If you want to know how to bake a cake, ask a chef, because that's what the chef is an expert in.
    If you want to know how to write an epic poem, ask a poet, because the poet has expertise in poetry.
    If you want to know how to repair your car engine, ask a mechanic or an engineer.
    If you want to know how to get the best tax deduction, ask a tax accountant.

    Again, there's nothing special about physics here. Tax accountants are the high priests of tax in the same way that physicists are the high priests of physics and choreographers are the high priests of dance.

    That's because deciding those kinds of questions of fact is not primarily the job description of the choreographer. Nobody has suggested that the principles of cake baking embody a wonderful method for doing your tax return, either. Or that the principles of physics will help you do your tax return, for that matter.

    In the same way, 99% of the population probably doesn't know their plie from their grand jete, or what article 55B(c)(i) of the tax code says. They just have to believe what the ballet teacher or the tax accountant says. Nobody can be an expert in everything. We all rely on experts, all the time. We have no choice but to trust.

    And if I tried to tell a celebrated choreographer how she should choreograph her next ballet production, because I reckon I have a better method, despite having next to no experience in choreographing anything, I suppose she'd bow to my knowledge and let me get on with it.

    And if I gave the tax accountant my personal interpretation of the implications of section 55B(c)(i), which were wildly different from his own understanding, developed from careful study of the tax code, and continued to insist without suitable argument or evidence that I was right and he was wrong, what do you think his reaction would be? Would any exasperation be warranted?

    It is not my general experience that people who are honestly striving to understand science are "crucified" as a matter of course if they have a mistaken impression or don't understand something.

    The experience with certain types of trolls on internet science forums, including this one, can prompt a different reaction from some posters. Personally, I try my best not to prejudge.

    Again, one cannot go and dance the lead role in Swan Lake in a professional production without a different ten years of training and the like. That option is not open to the general public any more than understanding quantum field theory, without dedicating the necessary time and effort and money to it.

    The respect science has achieved has flowed mainly from the phenomenal benefits it has delivered, I think. I'm not sure whether this is a problem that needs a solution, or what solution you would like to see in your ideal world.
    origin, Spherical Cow and Kristoffer like this.
  9. Ultron Registered Senior Member

    It seems that for example Hawking gets huge profit from his pop science books and his social influence is quite significant.
    Just one example of many:

    Also for example Einstein is kind of media role model for smart man and his social influence was huge.

    What I dont like is that Im sure that Hawking gets tons of fan letters and emails and I would bet that all goes straight to trash can. He should have some response to his fans on his web or react to letters. Im sure that this would be kind of expensive to appoint some people to do it, but he has made fortune on his pop science books, so he should spend at least some small share of this fortune for enabling some discussious about physics with his readers. His way of communicating physics seems to be rather only one way.
  10. river

    science has become , is , esoteric . as were the religious priests , of thousands of years ago ; and to the present .
  11. Magical Realist Valued Senior Member

    Whirling dervishes may disagree there. And then there's Miley Cyrus:

  12. paddoboy Valued Senior Member


    Please Register or Log in to view the hidden image!

    So says our deep thinker who readily accepts the crazy speculation that Aliens have conducted a nuclear war on Mars, and that the jumbled pile of crumbling rocks means anything other then a jumbled pile of crumbling rocks.

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  13. C C Consular Corps - "the backbone of diplomacy" Valued Senior Member

    Since positivist and empiricist affiliated stances were all the rage back then, it's a perspective perhaps born from a species of phenomenalism (example at bottom). It helped relieve the metaphysical phobia of the positivists when symbolic conceptual constructs could be correlated with experienced, tangible phenomena.

    Which is say, being able to convert abstract description into (or trace and unpackage it back to) everyday circumstances of the senses (what one's grandmother could understand) would thereby ground such physical formulations with the observable furniture of the world. Rather than their floating on their own like (arguably) some matters of pure mathematics.

    Chris Eliasmith: phenomenalism - The monistic view that all empirical statements (such as the laws of physics) can be placed in a one to one correspondence with statements about only the phenomenal (i.e. mental appearances).

    A view held by A.J. Ayer which was shown by Roderick Chisholm to be untenable. Chisholm showed that would not be possible to translate physical statements into phenomenal statements because phenomenal statements are dependent on physical descriptions of the observation conditions and conditions of the perceiver.
  14. exchemist Valued Senior Member

    Can you try to put that in plain English?
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  15. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    This is about as plain as it gets. If you want to dig down into the underlying principles of any science, you have to familiarize yourself with the vocabulary. This is true of any complex field of study, even music and cooking!
  16. river

    To explain any ology; in any depth ; means you understand , the ology.

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