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Understanding through Discussion


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Author Topic:   The Man Behind the Curtain
Percy
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Posts: 22668
From: New Hampshire
Joined: 12-23-2000
Member Rating: 3.5


Message 1 of 2 (615965)
05-18-2011 3:57 PM


In this month's issue of American Scientist Tony Rothman writes in The Man Behind the Curtain that science is much more insubstantial than we like to admit, to wit:
Tony Rothman writes:
I want to get down to the basics. I want to learn the fundamentals. I want to understand the laws that govern the behavior of the universe. Thousands of admissions officers and physics department chairs have smiled over such words set down by aspiring physicists in their college-application essays, and that is hardly surprising, for every future physicist writes that essay, articulating the sentiments of all of us who choose physics as a career: to touch the fundamentals, to learn how the universe operates.
It is also the view the field holds of itself and the way physics is taught: Physics is the most fundamental of the natural sciences; it explains Nature at its deepest level; the edifice it strives to construct is all-encompassing, free of internal contradictions, conceptually compelling andabove allbeautiful. The range of phenomena physics has explained is more than impressive; it underlies the whole of modern civilization. Nevertheless, as a physicist travels along his (in this case) career, the hairline cracks in the edifice become more apparent, as does the dirt swept under the rug, the fudges and the wholesale swindles, with the disconcerting result that the totality occasionally appears more like Bruegel’s Tower of Babel as dreamt by a modern slumlord, a ramshackle structure of compartmentalized models soldered together into a skewed heap of explanations as the whole jury-rigged monstrosity tumbles skyward.
Wow! What an indictment!
His main point is that we confuse describing with understanding. He makes his case with great dexterity, and the column is a great read. I honestly don't know what to think, so I throw it open.
(Is It Science? is probably the best place.)
--Percy

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Message 2 of 2 (616027)
05-18-2011 11:53 PM


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