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Why I Do Not Solve Physics  

For some reason, my website (which is reasonably popular) attracts the attention of other independent researchers who attempt to do original work in theoretical physics. They want me to evaluate and respond to their work, or even to promote it in some form by writing about it on my website.

It seems that people mis-classify me. I have three attributes that are plainly apparent from my writing:

There is a fourth attribute that readers seem to infer:

To "generate/discover new knowledge" is what, for example, a graduate student does when producing their masters' thesis. In a sense, generating knowledge also makes the researcher a teacher, because they must present their work to peers so that it can be reviewed, tested, challenged, refuted, etc.

A teacher requires knowledge beyond that of her students, in order to handle questions from those who are particularly bright or creative. I had three semesters of undergraduate physics (enough to major in electrical engineering), so I could probably teach physics to high school students but not to college students.

Similarly, a researcher (anyone performing original research) requires knowledge beyond whatever specific ideas they are pursuing, in order to know whether they are duplicating someone else's earlier research or truly doing something new. To create a thesis, a [MS or Ph.D] candidate "learns beyond the edges" of what becomes their work, "notices a hole" or an "unexplored path", and fills in the gap.

As such, it would take quite a bit more than my own education in physics to be able to do any kind of research contribution to the field.

From xkcd by Randall Munroe;

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial license.

In physics, my ability to understand stopped at approximately the point of the electron double-slit experiment. If I wish to challenge the standard explanation(s) of that one, I could — by learning a lot of maths (perhaps in different fields of maths from those that produced Feynman path integrals and the notation "√2/2|a⟩ + √2/2|b⟩"). Alternatively, if I wished to explain it without formal maths, I would need to invent some other formalism so that whatever theory I propose is falsifiable.

But I don't want to do any of that... partly because the existing maths was tedious and boring, and inventing a new formalism is far too much work. Perhaps that (inventing a new formalism) is what made Feynman shine. I understand much of his lectures on QED, but only because he over-simplified the maths.

Cross-Discipline Original Research

Within limited domains, cross-discipline original research is possible. Usually this happens when some new innovation, methodology, or formalism makes an existing body of incomplete work easier to perform more efficiently.

Comet-hunting is a well-known example. For many years it has been possible to make new discoveries of small solar-system bodies (comets and asteroids) as a hobby, with reasonably affordable equipment, time, and dedication. As imaging technology has improved, the power of small telescopes has improved, so people are still discovering comets today.

Computer technology stands out in this regard. For example, new types of literary analysis were made possible by software that can, for example, look at a work of disputed authorship and compare statistics of vocabulary, grammar, etc. to know works by Shakespeare.

My own work in Gray-Scott reaction-diffusion is another example. By using the methods of Pearson [1] on newer hardware, I was able to explore far more combinations of parameters than in that paper, and actually found some new things.

Why I Don't Do Physics

I have already described why I can't do my own physics research. Understanding another physicist's work well enough to refute it requires similar knowledge, so I don't do that either. As for computer simulations, there is already plenty of work being done in theoretical physics using supercomputers, and my own equipment is no where near the size needed.

See Also

I wrote a related article about Cross-Discipline Falsifiability.


[1] J. Pearson, Complex patterns in a simple system, Science 261 (1993) 189-192. (available at patt-sol/9304003)

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