Search FQXi


If you are aware of an interesting new academic paper (that has been published in a peer-reviewed journal or has appeared on the arXiv), a conference talk (at an official professional scientific meeting), an external blog post (by a professional scientist) or a news item (in the mainstream news media), which you think might make an interesting topic for an FQXi blog post, then please contact us at forums@fqxi.org with a link to the original source and a sentence about why you think that the work is worthy of discussion. Please note that we receive many such suggestions and while we endeavour to respond to them, we may not be able to reply to all suggestions.

Please also note that we do not accept unsolicited posts and we cannot review, or open new threads for, unsolicited articles or papers. Requests to review or post such materials will not be answered. If you have your own novel physics theory or model, which you would like to post for further discussion among then FQXi community, then please add them directly to the "Alternative Models of Reality" thread, or to the "Alternative Models of Cosmology" thread. Thank you.

Forum Home
Introduction
Terms of Use

Order posts by:
 chronological order
 most recent first

Posts by the blogger are highlighted in orange; posts by FQXi Members are highlighted in blue.

By using the FQXi Forum, you acknowledge reading and agree to abide by the Terms of Use

 RSS feed | RSS help
RECENT POSTS IN THIS TOPIC

John Merryman: on 9/26/13 at 18:19pm UTC, wrote James, We are certainly allowed to develop opinions without expecting...

James Putnam: on 9/26/13 at 5:45am UTC, wrote John, I read the article. I have an opinion about it, but I wouldn't want...

John Merryman: on 9/25/13 at 16:38pm UTC, wrote James, An interesting article on the history and nature of money.

Thomas Ray: on 9/23/13 at 10:26am UTC, wrote "I haven't located your message yet. It ended with the words "...informed...

John Merryman: on 9/23/13 at 3:11am UTC, wrote James, Apologies certainly accepted. That the financial system has been...

James Putnam: on 9/23/13 at 1:56am UTC, wrote Tom, ""By the way, Journalism is not defined by one having an 'informed...

James Putnam: on 9/23/13 at 1:24am UTC, wrote John, "I am curious though, if you think the term "obligation" is not...

John Merryman: on 9/22/13 at 20:13pm UTC, wrote Tom, It would be boring otherwise. Regards, John M


RECENT FORUM POSTS

Joe Fisher: "Dear Dr. Kuhn, Today’s Closer To Truth Facebook page contained this..." in Can Time Be Saved From...

Hanvi jobs: "Yes i am totally agreed with this article and i just want say that this..." in Can Time Be Saved From...

Robert McEachern: ""all experiments have pointed towards this and there is no way to avoid..." in Review of "Foundations of...

James Putnam: "Light bends because it is accelerating. It accelerates toward an object..." in Black Hole Photographed...

Robert McEachern: "Lorenzo, The nature of "information" is well understood outside of..." in Review of "Foundations of...

Georgina Woodward: "Steve, Lorraine is writing about a simpler "knowing " rather than the..." in The Nature of Time

Steve Agnew: "Knowing information necessarily means neural action potentials. Atom and..." in The Nature of Time


RECENT ARTICLES
click titles to read articles

Can Time Be Saved From Physics?
Philosophers, physicists and neuroscientists discuss how our sense of time’s flow might arise through our interactions with external stimuli—despite suggestions from Einstein's relativity that our perception of the passage of time is an illusion.

Thermo-Demonics
A devilish new framework of thermodynamics that focuses on how we observe information could help illuminate our understanding of probability and rewrite quantum theory.

Gravity's Residue
An unusual approach to unifying the laws of physics could solve Hawking's black-hole information paradox—and its predicted gravitational "memory effect" could be picked up by LIGO.

Could Mind Forge the Universe?
Objective reality, and the laws of physics themselves, emerge from our observations, according to a new framework that turns what we think of as fundamental on its head.

Dissolving Quantum Paradoxes
The impossibility of building a perfect clock could help explain away microscale weirdness.


FQXi BLOGS
May 22, 2019

CATEGORY: Blog [back]
TOPIC: Putting a price on physics as a discipline [refresh]
Bookmark and Share
Login or create account to post reply or comment.

Blogger Ian Durham wrote on Sep. 18, 2013 @ 17:24 GMT
It was announced last week that the University of Southern Maine’s physics department will be shuttered and its major eliminated. This hits particularly close to home for me since I live outside of Portland, Maine, where USM is located, and know some of the faculty members there. Closing the USM physics department would leave the University of Maine at Orono as the only public university physics department in the state. In particular it leaves the largest city in the state without a public physics program. Along with the department, the wildly popular (though apparently money-losing) planetarium may be closed since it is currently operated by the department. Low enrollment (as compared to other departments in the university) and money (what else?) were cited as reasons by the university’s president.

I’m sure there are plenty of non-physicists who will welcome this move as pragmatic and inevitable in these tough economic times. "Shape up or ship out" seems to be the motto in a world in which we increasingly need to justify anything and everything in terms of short-term money and jobs. Physics, of course, is used to being treated as the bastard science in higher education, at least at the non-elite schools. Hundreds — indeed likely thousands — of colleges and small universities in the United States have comparatively large biology and chemistry departments but no physics department. As a result, most high school physics teachers have a degree in something other than physics and frequently are teaching physics simply because someone has to (for now). Even at schools that have physics departments, they are often underfunded and under-appreciated. At my own institution, Saint Anselm College, our department consists of three faculty members and one lab instructor while chemistry, which has roughly the same number of majors, has six faculty members and at least as many lab instructors.

So why is physics treated like this? I’m sure the answer to that is complicated and involves a lot of variables and a lot of history. I’m also sure that physicists are, themselves, partly to blame. But I’m also sure that a major component of this decline is the growing sense that everything must be practical and profit-driven, particularly in the short-term. This paradigm has also infected those physics departments that manage to survive by driving research away from fundamental discoveries and more toward discoveries that will have a short-term impact on the field, i.e. low-risk (which also happens to be low-reward). Perhaps you are someone who believes that this is a good thing. History should teach us, however, that it is not.

Stop and think for a moment about the things in your life that you take for granted. Your car? Your house? These days, perhaps your smart phone or GPS? Your television? Your electric razor? How about electricity in general? X-rays, CT scans, and MRIs? Your immediate response might be that all of those things were brought to you by engineers, not physicists. Sure, with the exception, I suppose, of the X-ray, my guess is that those devices were all developed by engineers, for the most part. But who made the discoveries that were then turned into technology by the engineers? In every single case mentioned here, they were made by physicists. Newton, Galileo, Hooke, and others "discovered" classical mechanics which is what engineers use to build ever-more-complex buildings. Carnot, Clausius, Maxwell, Boltzmann and others "discovered" the laws of thermodynamics that literally fueled the Industrial Revolution. Faraday, Gauss, Ampere, Maxwell and others "discovered" the laws of electricity and magnetism that power nearly everything now (including our cars!). Marie Curie literally died from her research, not knowing the deleterious effects of radiation until it was too late. Robert Goddard, long-time chair of the Clark University physics department, whose webpage at one point notes that physics "is the most fundamental of the sciences," pioneered the field of rocketry that allows us to put satellites in orbit that bring us such things as DirecTV and GPS. Do you get NFL Sunday Ticket (like me) or some other such thing? Thank a physicist. Don’t think relativity is of any practical importance? Think again. GPS satellites rely on it (without using it, GPS coordinates would be off by as much as 300 feet or more). Without Einstein, there’d be no GPS.

Well, OK, you say, but what has physics done for me lately? After all, didn’t cosmologist and FQXi member Sean Carroll recently declare that the physics of everyday life was completely understood? (A statement I do not agree with.) Plenty of physicists will likely bristle at the following suggestion, but the fact remains that we are moving toward a reality that includes quantum computers in some way, shape, or form. While the D-Wave One may not be a universal quantum computer — and its very quantumness may even still be up for debate — the fact of the matter is that it exists and people have plunked down a lot of money to buy one. Without quantum physicists, the very debate over the efficacy of the D-Wave One couldn’t happen. Without a vibrant foundational physics community, we risk turning over words like "quantum" to hucksters selling pseudo-science.

Beyond that, note that if you are reading this, you’re reading it on the Internet. The internet has become a ubiquitous part of our lives. It has literally helped spawn revolutions. It has become a such a daily fixture in the lives of so many people on the planet that some are arguing that access to it is a human right. And it was invented by a physicist working at a physics laboratory dedicated to fundamental discoveries, not practical ones. Does that mean it wouldn’t have been discovered in another setting? Certainly ARPANet existed before the web-based internet that we know today. But the point is that it wasn’t simply a fortuitous accident. It was a critical component of what was going on at CERN at the time.

So what does this — any of this — have to do with the closure of one, small physics department in a sparsely-populated state in the far eastern corner of the United States? Physics is the foundational science. Removing the foundation of a house risks causing it to collapse. Removing a species lowest on the food chain endangers every species further up that chain. We have no way of knowing where the next Einstein or Newton or Maxwell or Curie will come from. He or she could very well come from Maine. Why not? Who’s to say? On top of that, a true appreciation of the importance of physics can’t be properly imparted by a teacher with no real background in the subject. Eliminating a department capable of producing physics teachers threatens to further erode an appreciation of the importance of physics and the foundation on which future discoveries are made.

Of course, the other argument I often hear about physics is that no one majors in it because it is hard. Since when did the US back away from things that were hard? We went to the Moon for God’s sake. Sure it’s hard. So? Maybe if employers stopped placing a premium on grades and class ranks more people would go into physics and at least appreciate it for what it is (because a physicist is well-trained for nearly any career which is why so many of us have contributed to so many fields over the years).

In addition to my work in physics, I am an entrepreneur and veteran of six start-up companies and I have learned that you can’t build an economy by just selling ideas. Once in awhile a huckster comes along and makes some money selling nothing but an idea. But you can’t build an economy on that. There have to be tangible products — goods — for an economy to be sustainable. So if you are a business or marketing person, just remember that the products you sell and the businesses you build always have something tangible behind them that was developed by an engineer or inventor, and that engineer or inventor is exploiting the laws of physics to create that product (because every single system in the world, even biological ones, must obey the laws of physics).

Even corporations used to understand this. IBM and the former Bell Labs have each won numerous Nobel Prizes in physics. But many companies have gutted their R&D departments in the name of maximizing short-term capital. By systematically devaluing physics, we are slowly eroding the foundation on which our entire economy — indeed the progress of the human race itself — is based.

As a final note, while I appreciate the arguments of some physicists that we should be trying to encourage people to support us simply because we (as a country, as a species) should be asking these deep questions for their own sake, the reality is that, if people don’t value doing this, it will be very difficult to change their minds. The fact is our entire culture devalues that, and so getting people to buy that argument requires changing the entire culture. With physics departments — and fundamental research itself — so pressured and marginalized, respectfully I say that now is not the time to appeal to these instincts, however laudable they may be. If we care about the long-term viability of our field (and our country and our species), we need to change the discourse by reminding people that fundamental science is important to the economy. So while USM may think it is doing a service to the taxpayers of the State of Maine, of which I am one, by eliminating its physics department, it is, in fact, contributing to the further erosion of the foundation of modern society as we know it. How can we put a price on that?

--

Visit Ian Durham's blog, Quantum Moxie.

Bookmark and Share
report post as inappropriate


John Brodix Merryman wrote on Sep. 18, 2013 @ 19:20 GMT
Ian,

Sorry to read this. Unfortunately it is a sign of the times. We have our heads in the clouds, but our feet are no longer on the ground. Guess what that means, long term and probably not so long term, given how quickly things move these days?

When one door shuts, another opens. Something to keep in mind is that physical concepts not only power our technical devices, but society as well and in the current situation, the financial circulatory system is metastasizing under the assumption that money can be treated as a commodity, rather than respected as the social contract it is. When the financial cancer cells currently running things do collapse the system, there will likely be a movement toward some form of state centered monetary systems and to be effective they will need solid theoretical foundations. Maybe it's time to broaden your horizons to applications of solid physical principles of how best to structure a local to state sized economy, in the assumption such knowledge will be quite useful in the not too distant future.

Here is my effort of awhile back to look at the situation.

Regards,

John M

Bookmark and Share
report post as inappropriate


Pentcho Valev wrote on Sep. 18, 2013 @ 19:49 GMT
"Don't think relativity is of any practical importance? Think again. GPS satellites rely on it (without using it, GPS coordinates would be off by as much as 300 feet or more). Without Einstein, there'd be no GPS"

This is not true. Delays due to the fact that the speed of light varies (with the speed of the emitter/observer and with the gravitational potential) are attributed to slow running clocks in Einstein's relativity. Confirmations of the time dilation predicted by Einstein's relativity are in fact confirmations of the variable speed of light predicted by Newton's emission theory of light:

Albert Einstein Institute: "One of the three classical tests for general relativity is the gravitational redshift of light or other forms of electromagnetic radiation. However, in contrast to the other two tests - the gravitational deflection of light and the relativistic perihelion shift -, you do not need general relativity to derive the correct prediction for the gravitational redshift. A combination of Newtonian gravity, a particle theory of light, and the weak equivalence principle (gravitating mass equals inertial mass) suffices. (...) The gravitational redshift was first measured on earth in 1960-65 by Pound, Rebka, and Snider at Harvard University..."

I think statements like "Without Einstein, there'd be no GPS" contribute greatly to the death of physics.

Pentcho Valev

Bookmark and Share
report post as inappropriate

Blogger Ian Durham replied on Sep. 18, 2013 @ 20:17 GMT
I said "relativity." I didn't say "general relativity." Einstein wrote the seminal papers for both.

Bookmark and Share
report post as inappropriate

Pentcho Valev replied on Sep. 19, 2013 @ 07:00 GMT
I don't understand your argument. Either the behaviour of GPS clocks confirms Einstein's time dilation or it confirms Newton's variable speed of light. Analogously, in 1887 the Michelson-Morley experiment confirmed Newton's variable speed of light but nowadays 99% of Einsteinians teach that the experiment has gloriously confirmed the principle of constancy of the speed of light. 1% of Einsteinians...

view entire post


Bookmark and Share
report post as inappropriate

Blogger Ian Durham replied on Sep. 19, 2013 @ 10:38 GMT
The quote you posted from the Albert Einstein Institute, which you used to justify your initial claim that you don't need relativity to get time dilation, refers specifically to gravity. Your other quotes seem as if they were cherry-picked to prove your own pet theory. I suggest purchasing a used copy of Tom Moore's Six Ideas That Shaped Physics, Unit R, work through it carefully, and then tell me where the error in logic is in that book.

Remember, what we're really doing is modeling. So if you've got a better model than relativity --- one that fits all the known data, is as simple to use, has greater explanatory power, and is consistent with everything that relativity is consistent with --- then let's hear it.

Bookmark and Share
this post has been edited by the author since its original submission

report post as inappropriate


Armin Nikkhah Shirazi wrote on Sep. 19, 2013 @ 01:34 GMT
Hi Ian,

I am also very sorry to hear this. I agree with you that there are probably many factors the ultimately led to this but that physicists themselves are partly responsible. The one thing that physicists as a group have control over is how to communicate the aspects you mentioned in your posts and more about the relevance and importance of physics to the public in an effective way. Although I have no idea to what extents such efforts were carried out, the fact that this happened suggests that whatever was done was not enough. Do you know whether that physics dept. had a public outreach program, e.g. public physics lectures etc.?

On your final note, I do not see that argument as subtracting from impact of the the set of all arguments in favor of the importance of physics: Those who do not value seeking to understand nature for its own sake will not be affected by it, but those who do at least potentially might be.

And claiming that the we should not pursue this line of argument because "the entire culture devalues it" seems to me like a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Anyway, with your entrepreneurial background, perhaps you can think of some approaches in which the cost of having under-enrolled physics departments can still economically justify their continued existence?

Bookmark and Share
report post as inappropriate

Blogger Ian Durham replied on Sep. 19, 2013 @ 01:43 GMT
Hi Armin,

Actually, this particular physics department is very heavily involved in outreach thanks to its wildly popular planetarium that I mentioned. We'll see what happens, but my local State Rep. (who happens to be a neighbor and friend) said this will likely end up being a topic of conversation in the Legislature this week. In the meantime, I'm doing what I can to help these guys out.

I'm not sure what could be done to convince people of the importance of this economically. I've had this conversation with business people and many business folks - those who really understand business and aren't in it for short-term gain - already realize it's important. Unfortunately I think we're up against a cultural shift.

Ian

Bookmark and Share
report post as inappropriate


Domenico Oricchio wrote on Sep. 19, 2013 @ 12:38 GMT
When I enrolled at the University, I looked the most basic faculties, which described the foundation of the nature: or philosophy, or physics; I chosen the Physics.

I think that the problem with the physics is that we work, usually, for the mankind and not for industries; it is difficult that we are workforce, that we obtain results that can be produced immediately for the industries: it is more simple that an industrial result is obtained from a chemist, or a biologist; so that the industries use they for technological research; the problem is that the research center are few, and there are many industries.

The problem is that too many resoruces are used for elementary particle physics, and few for solid state physics, that is like chemical research, that can be a routine research, with some standardization and industrial results in a short time: why physicists must do only basic research?

Why a computer scientist, a chemist or a biologist can create their own laboratory with little money, and it is not expected to create a standard for a physical laboratory, at little cost, where do frontier research at the University to quickly create start-up (and to make basic research as a hobby, and money with inventions)?

Some research are no loner made by industries, because they have short-sighted (nations must invest in base research); so that the technologies slow down (ever the same technologies) with a beautiful design, but no new idea.

Bookmark and Share
report post as inappropriate

Blogger Ian Durham replied on Sep. 19, 2013 @ 14:41 GMT
Well, certainly in the United States, physics is not devoted to fundamental research. Condensed Matter physics probably (?) gets the lion's share of the money these days. The particle physics community gets the publicity, but simply judging by the size of the meetings sponsored by the American Physical Society, there's more condensed matter-type research going on. (The APS March Meeting is beginning to look suspiciously like an engineering meeting.)

I think the problem is that there are really three levels of research as opposed to two. Historically the scientists made the fundamental discoveries and the engineers turned them into marketable products. But we've reached the stage where I think there's a middle layer that figures out the nuances of a given discovery with an aim for better manipulation. In many cases this middle step is the most crucial because it is what links the pie-in-the-sky discoveries with everyday things.

Bookmark and Share
report post as inappropriate


Thomas Howard Ray wrote on Sep. 19, 2013 @ 15:40 GMT
I feel your pain, Ian. I'm afraid it's been going on a long time, though -- before the Enlightenment, mathematicians were not often rewarded for doing research. They were paid to calculate such things as gambling odds or planetary trajectories for astrology charts (e.g., Cardano, Newton). During and after the Enlightenment, when the scholarship of free inquiry blossomed and knowledge was prized...

view entire post


Bookmark and Share
report post as inappropriate


Jonathan J. Dickau wrote on Sep. 19, 2013 @ 19:07 GMT
My oh my, Ian...

I am sorry to see this happen. This is further evidence of problems I've known about for a long time, but it is disturbing news nonetheless. A significant part of the story is that Physics is curiously under-valued by those who might otherwise hire Physics graduates, because they possess a broad range of skills and an ability to integrate various types of information. Instead of being lauded for their mastery of a difficult subject, they are often chided for not spending more time obtaining certifications for certain specialized technical skills, rather than studying Physics - which confers extensive general knowledge but no specialized skill training that one can turn into an entry to mid-level job.

The deeper significance of the elimination of Physics at USM is that while divide and conquer is the rule in every other field, this first presented dead ends for Physics over 100 years ago, and forced physicists to find more clever approaches for further discovery and the progress of knowledge. Unfortunately; the lure of control and predictability inspired by the deterministic materialist view measures the value of Physics by what it can deliver in those terms, which peaked in the Classical era and is not how Modern Physics works. So a mistaken application of reductionist thinking is what dooms the subject of Physics in the eyes of the public - because its central and general importance is so poorly understood.

It may well be that the reason why the Physics department was eliminated is because a Physics degree is listed as a qualification on very few job descriptions posted by employers. That is; it's a 'tail wagging the dog' phenomenon, where the value of a degree is defined by posted job requirements in various trades.

Regards,

Jonathan

Bookmark and Share
report post as inappropriate


Jonathan J. Dickau wrote on Sep. 19, 2013 @ 19:45 GMT
I should add this..

Part of the problem is that the search for smaller and smaller constituent entities (which works so well in other fields) is what fueled investigations like String Theory and the LHC at CERN, and afforded them a large share of the funding in theoretical and experimental Physics. Unfortunately; Physics people were not able to keep some of their promises, made on the basis of that work.

I am reminded of seeing Brian Greene on PBS recently (I think it was Elegant Universe), talking about the Fermilab collider, the expectation of evidence for supersymmetry (right around the corner), and the new facility soon to come on line at CERN. It was just a couple of weeks after I read about the final shutdown of the Fermilab accelerator, and I thought this was totally ironic.

In a lecture at FFP11 by John Ellis, he told a humorous story about a meeting with Margaret Thatcher at CERN where he explained that after careful calculations, to predict what they will find, they hope to see something different from what they expect. And when she expressed surprise at this - he informed her they wouldn't learn anything otherwise. I think today's leaders believe instead that recent developments simply prove that Physics people are not as smart as they think - and require the guidance of systematizers, as Tom suggests. Of course; top researchers say this is exactly the wrong thing to do, to augment progress; but what do they know?

All the Best, Jonathan

Bookmark and Share
report post as inappropriate


Jonathan J. Dickau wrote on Sep. 19, 2013 @ 20:20 GMT
What is the cost of progress?

To anyone who really knows what Physics is about, and has made any serious attempt to track progress at the frontiers; Physics is vibrant, it shows significant signs of development in several areas, and has unprecedented levels of new knowledge and new discoveries about the fundamental nature of reality.

Unfortunately; for people outside that field who are looking for Physics to be a dependable rock of the constant knowledge of the laws of the universe, this kind of upheaval is uncomfortable - especially as they have based other theories upon the existing framework. If the way we used to understand reality made our technologies work, why would you want to change that?

I think that though people still want their cell phones and GPS to work, they do not want to have to deal with Physics other than the Classical variety, because it challenges their world view, and forces them to deal with an uncomfortable level of uncertainty. Some other people want Physics folks to get serious again - so that they can have the level of control and predictability they desire.

Of course; any real and lasting progress in the other sciences comes along with the increase of knowledge in Physics, because it is both central and general in its relevance to those studies. But Physics people must do much better PR, if they are going to be counted as valuable. Which comes back to promoting the wonder of discovery and selling people on the idea that knowledge for its own sake is a good thing.

All the Best,

Jonathan

Bookmark and Share
report post as inappropriate


Jonathan J. Dickau wrote on Sep. 20, 2013 @ 00:00 GMT
On a darker note..

Because people trained in Physics are skilled at making connections between facts, and it is a necessity to use and develop this skill to do Physics, this makes it more likely such people will be independent thinkers - rather than being folks who blindly trust authority figures. If one's aim is to create a repressive or authoritarian society, people trained in Physics are inconvenient or difficult to deal with, because they know more or better than the leaders do. So if there is a political Party in Maine with an anti-Science agenda, starting with eliminating Physics from the State U would have the greatest impact.

I hope that things have not gotten so bad in the State where you reside, Ian, that the anti-Science fanatics have prevailed. But the closing of the Physics department at USM bodes very poorly for Education in general, in the State of Maine.

Respectfully,

Jonathan

Bookmark and Share
report post as inappropriate

Blogger Ian Durham replied on Sep. 20, 2013 @ 02:07 GMT
Aside from a two-year blip and our current idiot of an accidental governor (who is likely to be defeated next year), we're generally very pro-science. The problem is that we still think it is 1950. If it doesn't have a direct impact on logging or fishing it must not be all that important (I am exaggerating, but only a bit).

Bookmark and Share
report post as inappropriate

John R. Cox replied on Sep. 20, 2013 @ 02:25 GMT
Jonathon,

The States are famous for this sort of thing. It is true to a large extent that we are now reaping an anti-science agenda that comes from four decades of political pandering to the evangelical coalition, but this too shall pass. The central theme against science is the non-differentiated thinking that sees science as promoting a system of an absolute answer. In such times it's a hard sell to both politicians and business that the purpose of systematic scientific method is to discover the right questions.

jrc

Bookmark and Share
this post has been edited by the author since its original submission

report post as inappropriate

John Brodix Merryman replied on Sep. 20, 2013 @ 02:42 GMT
Ian, Jonathan,

There is the politics of physics and there is the physics of politics. Everything goes through cycles. It is the nature of the beast that change happens and physicists should understand this better than anyone. You talk about how people don't like uncertainty and change, yet this post is all about the distress of change on what you like. Nature is tough love. After stability comes stagnation and after stagnation....

As I keep needling Tom, there is a reason the people who lead armies are called generals and specialist is a rank somewhere between corporal and private. Science is very good at looking at the bottom up detail, but isn't always as good at that centralizing synthesis of generalization that gives you a grasp of where the forces of nature and humanity are headed and how they might be steered. In today's society, those sorts of people get dismissed as neophytes and dabblers by the various disciplines, which all tend to construct walls around their fields and guard against contamination by the unwashed. In fact, the fundamentalists in physics are determined to prove reality is foundationally discrete, even though all those lenses they try peering through are fogged up with evidence all these particles exist as some larger totality. You promote the atomization of reality and find an atomized culture rejects your own needs. Maybe there is something staring you in the face that is trying to tell you something and all you see is your own pain.

Regards, John M

Bookmark and Share
report post as inappropriate


Thomas Howard Ray wrote on Sep. 20, 2013 @ 11:12 GMT
I see you didn't look anything up, John, and as I've said before, I'm not interested in dialogue until you do.

Tom Friedman's NY Times editorial "When Complexity is Free," directly relates to this thread. It begins:

NISKAYUNA, N.Y. — IT’S easy to be depressed about America these days. We've got messes aplenty abroad and the Republican-dominated House of Representatives is totally paralyzed. Indeed, the G.O.P. - led House has become a small-minded, parochial place, where collaboration is considered treason, where science is considered a matter of opinion, where immigration is considered a threat, where every solution is a suboptimal compromise enacted at midnight and where every day we see proof of the theory that America is a country that was "designed by geniuses so that it could be run by idiots."

That's where the dabbler generals have led us privates.

Tom

Bookmark and Share
report post as inappropriate

John Brodix Merryman replied on Sep. 20, 2013 @ 15:30 GMT
The point I'm trying to make to the more open minded participants in this conversation is that as a profession, physics can be a bit parochial as well, when they should be aware of those deeper elements and forces that manifest in the directions society takes. Yes, as a profession, physics has given us the technology of the modern world, but lately its public face has been dominated by arguments over string theory and proclamations of the multiverse. Maybe I'm not to be taken seriously, but there have been a fair number of others in these conversations, Eckard and Robert McEachern come to mind, who do represent serious constituencies that think the discipline of physics has gone seriously off track. It is not the nut jobs out in the sticks you really have to worry about, but these sorts of people who are not saying much publicly, but are talking amongst themselves.

Progress does often advance in stages and occasionally it is healthy to push the reset button and clear out the junk on occasion, even if there is emotional and professional attachment to some of it. If physicists can't do that, how can they complain when other groups insist on hanging onto their sacred cows?

Regards,

John M

Bookmark and Share
this post has been edited by the author since its original submission

report post as inappropriate

Thomas Howard Ray replied on Sep. 20, 2013 @ 16:11 GMT
" ... "as a profession, physics has given us the technology of the modern world ..."

As a profession, basic physics research and education has given us absolutely no technology. John, you think I am discounting you, and it's just the opposite! -- it's such arguments as yours that are the problem.

You confuse science with technology. That's just what our incompetent congress does. It's just what administrators of SMU do.

Tom

Bookmark and Share
report post as inappropriate

Blogger Ian Durham replied on Sep. 20, 2013 @ 16:26 GMT
Tom, I agree. Physics doesn't give us technology (usually) as I mentioned in my article. It gives us the principles upon which technology is based. In my mind, that is even more important than the technology itself. But it isn't the same thing as the technology.

Bookmark and Share
report post as inappropriate


James A Putnam wrote on Sep. 20, 2013 @ 13:59 GMT
Excerpts from the news report:

USM says physics major is underused, will be cut

On Wednesday, Provost and Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs Michael Stevenson told Nakroshis and department Chairman Jerry LaSala to suspend enrollment of new physics majors immediately and form a plan to dissolve the major, incorporating the staff and classes into other departments.

Eighteen...

view entire post


Bookmark and Share
report post as inappropriate

Thomas Howard Ray replied on Sep. 20, 2013 @ 14:21 GMT
Thanks, James.

"'We have to serve the students in the most effective way with the resources we have,' she said."

I recall the words of a senior U.S. politician on the disastrous results of entry into an ill advised conflict: "We have to go to war with the army we have."

Duh. No we don't. We could have built the resources first, if we had truly principled leadership.

To continue John's metaphor, this private recalls the words of a WW I song:

"The general got the croix de guerre,

Son of a gun was never there."

Yeah, I cleaned it up.

Tom

Bookmark and Share
report post as inappropriate

James A Putnam replied on Sep. 22, 2013 @ 03:29 GMT
Tom,

"I recall the words of a senior U.S. politician on the disastrous results of entry into an ill advised conflict: "We have to go to war with the army we have." "

"Duh. No we don't. We could have built the resources first, if we had truly principled leadership."

So a principled leader is defined by our readiness for war? Actually, I don't think that this apparent conclusion represents your view, but, I do think that your idea of a principled leader floats with the degree of criticism you lash out at those who have different opinions. By the way, Journalism is not defined by one having an "informed opinion". Let me know why it is?

James Putnam

Bookmark and Share
report post as inappropriate

Thomas Howard Ray replied on Sep. 22, 2013 @ 10:14 GMT
Hi James,

"So a principled leader is defined by our readiness for war? Actually, I don't think that this apparent conclusion represents your view,"

I do mean that. Not just war, though -- any disaster that threatens the public interest. Whether it's natural disasters, financial calamities, shortages of energy, education resources, infrastructure decline ... I think we can measure the effectiveness of our republic's principles only by the well being of its weakest citizens. The deregulation climate fostered in the 80s and continuing today measures by a different standard. Wall Street is strong and Main Street is littered with potholes.

" ... but, I do think that your idea of a principled leader floats with the degree of criticism you lash out at those who have different opinions."

I don't know what you mean by this.

"By the way, Journalism is not defined by one having an 'informed opinion'. Let me know why it is?"

Nor this. If you would clarify, I would be glad to respond.

Best,

Tom

Bookmark and Share
report post as inappropriate


James A Putnam wrote on Sep. 20, 2013 @ 16:19 GMT
usm free press

USM President Theodora Kalikow outlines position and spending cuts

Posted on April 10, 2013 in News

By Tom Collier

USM President Theodora Kalikow released a statement by email, outlining actions that the university administration has already taken to meet the $5 million in budget cuts USM will endure in the next fiscal year.

“This is very...

view entire post


Bookmark and Share
report post as inappropriate


James A Putnam wrote on Sep. 20, 2013 @ 16:45 GMT
Wikipedia: Theodora J. Kalikow

A native of Swampscott, Massachusetts, Kalikow received her A.B. in Chemistry from Wellesley College in 1962. After working in a laboratory at the Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons, she attended graduate school in the Boston area, receiving the Sc.M. in Philosophy from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1970, and the Ph.D. in Philosophy...

view entire post


Bookmark and Share
report post as inappropriate


James A Putnam wrote on Sep. 20, 2013 @ 16:59 GMT
Northern Arizona Dean Appointed USM Provost

Posted May 22, 2012

Michael R. Stevenson, Ph.D., dean of the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences at Northern Arizona University (NAU), has been named provost and vice president for academic affairs at the University of Southern Maine (USM).

Stevenson, one of 93 applicants for the position, will join USM on Monday, July 2. He...

view entire post


Bookmark and Share
report post as inappropriate


James A Putnam wrote on Sep. 20, 2013 @ 17:17 GMT
2012 General Election results for Maine: Referendum Questions

Question 1: Same-sex marriage

Do you want to allow the State of Maine to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples?

Yes 369,220 52.59%

No 332,904 47.41%

Question 2: Higher education bond

Do you favor an $11,300,000 bond issue to provide funds for capital to build a diagnostic facility for the University of Maine System; for capital improvements and equipment, including machine tool technology, for the Maine Community College System; and for capital improvements and equipment at the Maine Maritime Academy?

Yes 332,137 48.95%

No 346,400 51.05%

Question 3: Conservation bond

Do you favor a $5,000,000 bond issue to purchase land and conservation easements statewide from willing sellers for public land and water access, conservation, wildlife or fish habitat and outdoor recreation, including hunting and fishing and deer wintering areas, and to preserve working farmland and working waterfronts to be matched by at least $5,000,000 in private and public contributions?

Yes 416,301 60.93%

No 266,930 39.07%

Question 4: Transportation bond

Do you favor a $51,500,000 bond issue for improvements to highways and bridges, local roads, airports and port facilities, as well as for funds for rail access, transit buses and the LifeFlight Foundation, which will make the State eligible for at least $105,600,000 in federal and other matching funds?

Yes 465,149 71.62%

No 184,324 28.38%

Question 5: Water systems bond

Do you favor a $7,925,000 bond issue to be expended over 2 years for revolving loan funds for drinking water systems and for wastewater treatment facilities, which will make the State eligible to secure $39,625,000 in federal grants?

Yes 427,405 62.88%

No 252,287 37.12%

Bookmark and Share
report post as inappropriate


Login or create account to post reply or comment.

Please enter your e-mail address:
Note: Joining the FQXi mailing list does not give you a login account or constitute membership in the organization.