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.


  1. super awesome !! i totally support you !! :)

  2. Forgot to mention that the Borders near my hometown is the ONLY "real" bookstore in about a radius of about an hour of travel time.

  3. Your enthusiasm is commendable but your conclusions are laughable at best.
    You say possible topics are: Mathematics, Physics, School Systems, Learning, Education, Religion (aka Nonsense)

    First off, not only do you start biased against religion, which can only lead you bad conclusions and no understanding of it (the fact that you are for or against religion is irrelevant if you try to gain understanding), but you try to understand these topics without adding history, philosophy, psychology or sociology into the mix. How can you hope to understand the current educational system without knowing how it began, why it started like it did and to what purpose? How can you understand religion, and in this I presume you're mainly addressing christianity, without knowing the historical background and the leading philosophies at the time? And many many other questions which you fail to ask yourself by imposing this narrow-minded view that, by some imagining, science could actually provide any meaningful answer. Don't worry bud, it can't and it won't, at least not in our lifetimes, if ever. That doesn't mean we should abandon it, but saying that "We wind up with a populace that is so scientifically illiterate there is barely anything we can do to stop the downward spiral" means there should be more emphasis on hard science in general which is unfortunately not what should happen in the world we live in today where the social sciences need to have priority because ending the suffering and poverty of millions is more important than the satisfaction of a few people's ego.

    And don't presume science innocent, as I'm sure you do, just because you aren't familiar Unit 731 or other such events, which, don't fool yourself, don't happen only in war and they're very much done in the name of science.

    There's no point in replying as I won't be visiting again, I just hope you understand how constricted your current view of things is.

  4. For anyone else who reads stumbles upon this, I'll respond even though the "Anonymous" will never return.

    Assumptions... ok... I know nothing of history? Wrong, I take history into account and find it to be one of the most important subjects to learn. I study it voraciously.

    Your assumption that I only refer to Christianity is laughable. How do you know I didn't grow up amidst a Jewish community, or grew up in a Muslim household? How do you know me better than myself? Please explains?!

    I've read Torah, The Bible, Etz Hayim, Kabbalah, Quran. I've been exposed to Hinduism, Buddhism, and I've even read stuff on Wiccan, Satanism, and other new age Paganism. I've study the ancient Egyptians, Sumerians, Aztecs, Inca's etc. I do not draw my conclusions about religion lightly. I draw them after years of study on a topic.

    A lot of suffering and poverty is due to a mere logistics problem. We have the means to solve a great deal of these problems, it's just being chosen not to be solved by people who can. There are enough resources to go around, but the point of my blog is to advance science, which, you are correct will not help with that specific solution. You should appeal to someone who is concerned with becoming the CEO of a food corporation and try to convince THEM to help redistribute resources. That is not science's fault. Science can help when it comes to create a massive abundance of such things and perhaps there are solutions there... that is not my specific field of interest.

    I don't presume that science is innocent. That would make me a moron. Science has often been used to invent all kinds of things for warfare. Need I even bother referencing the Atomic bomb? That was a major scientific undertaking. What's not being asked is "is this ethical?" Then again, "only in war" is often the excuse of unethical people to do terrible things. It doesn't make them any less terrible though...

    To be honest, I think your view is the one that is constricted, since you don't seem to understand that the purpose of the blog is to be geared primarily towards science.

    Naturally only the "Anonymous" would not want to have been shown they are wrong... I can only hope that you return and then reassess your assumptions of my "inabilities"...

  5. "Anonymous" is a fagott and should be eliminated.

    I've read both the books you've mentioned and enjoyed them, I wish I could as you say "do the math" but I doubt its something I'd be able to figure out myself.

  6. Hey Adam, this is a great blog, and I look forward to reading future posts. The first physics book I ever read was 'The Cosmic Code: Quantum Physics as the Language of Nature' by Heinz R. Pagels. It's a wonderful book! I really wish I could ''do the math'' but I can't- I love science, but I'm really bad at maths.