Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Advanced Physics and Public Access to Information

Currently Watching: The Ninth Gate

Currently Reading: Electromagnetic Theory by Oliver Heaviside

Mathematical Fallacies and Paradoxes by Bryan Bunch

In my travels I have talked with many people and throughout my years I never quite grasped the massive gap between the lay person and science. Like many others out there I would revel in the science section at the local Barnes & Noble or Borders, sifting through the latest books on science. I would read things like “The Universe in a Nutshell” by Stephen Hawking or “Hyperspace” by Michio Kaku. Now I didn’t find all these books perfectly accessible, but I have always been fascinated by science.

When I got out of high school I decided to attempt majoring in Computer Science, but I did not do well in my computer classes and I outright failed at the mathematics end. After a single attempt I gave up and switched my major to business. After working just four years in that industry I couldn’t take it anymore and my fascination for science started to loom over me. However, I knew the only key that would fit into the lock of science, the only thing that would open the gateway, was mathematics. So I simply taught myself and went back to school. In this newfound expedition of my life I’ve noticed quite a stark difference between actually doing the science and reading about it in the general science books.

Even though I am still at the beginning of my journey, I can see, quite clearly, that there is a major difference between actually doing and just observing. Reading books on the concepts is great and interesting, but actually working through the equations and drawing the same conclusions as others is simply powerful. Having done this when I read these books designed for the “lay” person, I get a great deal more insight. It is so much clearer to understand and follow what the author is discussing that it is simply impossible to describe.

If anyone reading this is at least partially interested in science and you read the types of books I am referencing then I highly recommend you try doing some of the work. It will provide a great deal of insight into the “general” books being read. (No, I don’t recommend starting with this like Lie Algebra or Particle Physics, but look into what you need to start out with, not just at the top.)

Alas, this brings me to a gripe I have recently noticed. How do you go about bridging this gap to an incredibly uninformed populace? I was travelling with my girlfriend in Ohio recently and we stopped at a Borders close to the airport, which was pretty large and kept an excellent stock of books. Naturally I went over to the science and math section to peruse it. In the Physics section of the store it was filled with books on Quantum Mechanics. The sheer volume of books on this topic was staggering. I can’t even imagine how the lay person can even delve into this kind of material without having previous exposure to other fundamental fields of physics. Granted Quantum Mechanics is essential to physics research today, but to have so many books on it… well it is simply outrageous. Going through the High School system in the U.S., they barely covered topics on Gravitation, never mind something as intense as Einstein’s Relativity… and never mind Special Relativity. How can you expect to glean understanding from a book about Quantum Physics without understanding things like Electromagnetic Theory, Conservation of Energy, Impulse, Momentum, Atomic Theory etc… all these great fundamental things. But alas I am left wondering where people would get this information outside of college level Physics.

In our travels there was another Borders near her hometown where the science section is something to be lamented. They barely had any books on advanced sciences. The best that could be said about mathematics were books to help with things like “SAT’s”, this is pathetic. These will not inspire the imagination in any kind of a field. Other than that it was geology and field guide’s to nature. This is truly a pathetic state. While the section on Metaphysics and Religion dwarfed the science section. There is truly something wrong today when people think “Metaphysics” has anything to say about the real world which is more powerful than the actual facts we face with science.

In either case the end results is quite detrimental. We wind up with a populace that is so scientifically illiterate there is barely anything we can do to stop the downward spiral. On one hand we have a huge selection of books that are impossible for people to truly grasp, which lend itself to all kinds of nonsense in the form of Quantum Quackery. On the other hand is such a deficient exposure to science that Metaphysics actually has a legitimate voice to help people answer questions of “why” and “how”. No wonder nonsense like “Intelligent Design” is passing for “science” in the minds of the general public, or at least a lot of people are unable to tell the difference.

I make no mistake to offer a solution at this time, I am still at the beginning of my journey, but I thought it would be wise to document my observations. I realize the need to fire the minds of the imaginations of the public, or else there would be little hope of getting scientific funding. But the question I am coming into is: What is more important? Inspiring the minds of the public with fancy bells and whistles so they will fund us for more bells and whistles OR generating a knowledgeable populace that actually understands the work we are doing and the merit of it? For me, the latter goal is the preferred.

Introductory Post


I have just developed this blog, you can read the "about me" to get more insight on what I will likely be discussing in my blog. For the time being it will probably be smatterings of my realizations as I engage the U.S. University system as an older student (this is my 2nd time around in any event). I already have a degree, but I am going back for a second and then hopefully moving onto my Masters. It is like hitting the restart button on ones life, I highly recommend doing it for anyone who finds they are in a position they do not enjoy much. Never say you can't go back and rethink/redo something!

I currently have much homework to delve into, so I will blog more if I have time.