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Physics and Language

Physics and Language - Physics Forum

Physics and Language - Physics Forum. Discuss and ask physics questions, kinematics and other physics problems.

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Old 08-30-2006, 06:09 PM
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Default Physics and Language

Can physics be explained in plain language?

It seems that the physics previous to so-called Quantum physics (Newtonian
physics) yielded very well to explanation using ordinary (aka: natural)
language. But that has changed. No? Can contemporary physics be explained
only in terms of the language of mathematics?

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Old 08-31-2006, 12:13 AM
N:dlzc D:aol T:com \(dlzc\)
Posts: n/a
Default Physics and Language

Dear j:

"j" <[Only registered users see links. ]> wrote in message
news:[Only registered users see links. ]...

Depending on which level you accept "explained".

Science is about quantification... making predictions that can be
verified by experiment. This requires mathematics, but the
mathematics themselves are only tools. How and what are applied
(in the way of mathematical tools) says a lot about what was
started with, and the destination sought... much more than the
verbal descriptions that have to be "pre-digested" for public

Can you explain the Taj Mahal, or do you have to go there to
"get" all of it?

David A. Smith

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Old 08-31-2006, 07:32 AM
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Default Physics and Language

j wrote:

Please define 'plain language.'

Before QM physics dealt mostly with macroscopic phenomena - phenomena
with direct analogues to our everyday sensory experience to which our
everyday nouns, verbs, and modifiers are suitable for naming objects,
processes, and specifications respectively.

If you think so. Some of us have been able to 'learn the language' of
modern physics which makes the meanings plain to us.

For example, before QM and GR, the major debates involved questions
such as "does light act more like a particle or a wave?" The
application of the math of tensor fields, non-Euclidean geometries, and
the like made many of those questions moot, and changed our focus to
new questions.

An interesting idiomatic use of the word no. In effect its use in this
manner is equivalent to the German "Nicht wahr?" meaning "Isn't that
so?" This usage is one I never encountered living in the western U.S.,
although now that I am in Virginia I have heard it from a few people -
mostly from New England, although I am hesitant to get more specific
about which sub-populations use the word in this way. My point is that
what *you* toss out casually as 'plain language' is not plain language
to all, and may actually *create* confusion with some people.

Whether 'mathematics' is a language is debateable. It is certainly an
indispensable tool to us in the empirical sciences. It allows us to
express our theories in a way that leads to testable quantitative
predictions about the way the universe works. It also allows us to
deal with our ideas using some logical rigor.

IMO the lack of a mathematics for the 'humanities' is a serious
drawback. Logical rigor and testable quantitative predictions would go
a long way towards resolving some of the deadly issues in 'political
science', religion, and philosophy.

I realize there are some people who are incapable of comprehending any
mathematics beyond simple arithmetic - people for whom 'fractions' and
'percentages' are intimidating. They have my sympathies. I believe in
the long run such people are as restricted by their inabilities as
those who lack color vision, hearing, or a sense of touch.

They will never be able to appreciate the bold and physically
fundamental interplay of formulation and solution for a linear
second-order differential equation in Minkowski space, for example.

Tom Davidson
Richmond, VA

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Old 08-31-2006, 01:57 PM
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Default Physics and Language

"tadchem" <thomas.davidson@dla.mil> wrote

So, you were a left-coaster, N'est pas?

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Old 08-31-2006, 02:36 PM
Posts: n/a
Default Physics and Language

j wrote:

Honestly, I think not.
Our language is based on our everyday experience and the macroscopic
world. When we try to apply it to the quantum realm, we quickly run
into behaviors that we haven't ever encountered in the macroscopic
realm, and hence we lose a grip with our current language.
A good example is "particle-wave duality". This phrase does NOT mean
that electrons are little split personalities, having two characters.
They have *one* character, but we can't capture that character with a
single concept. Instead, the electron's character has *overlap* with
what we commonly understand as a particle character, and *overlap* with
what we commonly understand as wave behavior, but strictly speaking it
fits in neither pigeonhole.
One poor man's way out of this is to invent a term that is supposed to
capture the single character. Unfortunately, "quantum field" doesn't
mean much to those using plain language, and so you're back at square

This is not all that uncommon. When explorers from Europe went abroad
and encountered kangaroos and sloths, they could only use the term
"beast", which didn't convey much to those who had not witnessed them


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Old 08-31-2006, 08:53 PM
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Default Physics and Language

j wrote:


Spanish - the national language of California, eh, hoser?

Tom Davidson
Richmond, VA

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Old 08-31-2006, 09:09 PM
Posts: n/a
Default Physics and Language

"tadchem" <[Only registered users see links. ]> wrote:

Hoser? Ah, you think I'm in Canada. No longer. MinneSnowta.

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