Sunday, November 09, 2014

Wandering physicists

This is funny, and does capture the tendency of physicists (not just old ones) to wander into other fields.

But the cartoon avoids the hard question (perhaps best addressed by historians of science) as to the actual value brought to other fields by physicists.

See, for example, Physicists can do stuff, Prometheus in the basement, and On Crick and Watson.
... Crick, 35, had already had a career in physics interrupted by the war and despaired of making his great contribution to science. Watson was a callow 23, fresh from Indiana.
It was clear to me that I was faced with a novelty: enormous ambition and aggressiveness, ... I am sure that, had I had more contact with, for instance, theoretical physicists, my astonishment would have been less great. In any event, there they were, speculating, pondering, angling for information. ...
Thanks for digging around down there -- what did you find, again? Great! I've got more horsepower, so I'll just connect the dots for you now... :-) From Wikipedia on Crick:
Crick had to adjust from the "elegance and deep simplicity" of physics to the "elaborate chemical mechanisms that natural selection had evolved over billions of years." He described this transition as, "almost as if one had to be born again." According to Crick, the experience of learning physics had taught him something important—hubris—and the conviction that since physics was already a success, great advances should also be possible in other sciences such as biology. Crick felt that this attitude encouraged him to be more daring than typical biologists who tended to concern themselves with the daunting problems of biology and not the past successes of physics.
Mastery of so difficult a subject granted the right to invade others.


David Stern said...

Some of the best economists studied physics as undergrads and then switched to economics. But most attempted contributions of more senior physicists to economics are not so good. They tend to be too simplistic. And most other social scientists already think that economists are too reductionist.

Cornelius said...

The best academic decision I ever made was studying physics.

The best career decision I ever made was leaving academia.

David Coughlin said...

The important part in there is 'born again'. That is a statement about coming at a problem with fresh eyes and sophisticated tools, not a dull, flat aesthetic about what it should look like in the end.

millermp1 said...

Steve, have you heard this talk on Forum/NPR:

You're going mainstream baby!

A few years ago I thought the US might have our sputnik moment, but should be pretty obvious to anyone paying attention that this one of those asymmetric battles that was won before it started. China owning the future is no longer a metaphor.

Big__T said...

Unless I'm missing something, I think you forgot to acknowledge the source of this comic:

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