Friday, October 24, 2008

World's Shortest Physics Lecture?

Two people, one an engineer no less (why are engineers so keen on impersonating physicists lately?), are attempting to deliver a lecture on Relativity and another lecture on Quantum Mechanics lasting only 2 minutes each.

He added: "People sometimes ask for a concise account of some of the exciting concepts of modern physics.

"So we thought it would be a good challenge to try to encapsulate two of the key ideas into two minutes each. You could call it a kind of Very Brief History of Time."

This gimmick is rather silly, and it is a gimmick. It isn't a matter of how quickly one can deliver something. It's a matter of what was understood out of something like this. I can condensed anything in 2 minutes, but what have I communicated other than something utterly superficial and full of holes with no details? No where in here was there any consideration on how effective and ACCURATE the information that was passed to the listener.



Nick said...

The format is definitely gimmicky but that doesn't necessarily mean we can't learn anything from it. You can think boiling quantum mechanics to a two-minute presentation as a sort of One Sentence Challenge which can be quite useful in figuring out not only what's most important but what we still don't understand clearly.

ZapperZ said...

I don't think I agree. I mean, these are being presented to the general public. What the presenter MEAN in what they say is usually NOT what the audience receive and understand. That's the problem in any scientific presentations - just see how many people misunderstand quantum mechanics from reading pop-science books. So how does one expect to present accurately something as complicated as QM and SR in just 2 minutes?

Just because something is presented in 2 minutes, doesn't mean that the intended message got across. I would challenge someone to do a survey when these people come out and see if they've actually understood what was presented, much less, what QM and SR are.

To me, it is compounding the problem. In our attention-deficit society where everything needs to be presented quickly within 2-minute soundbites and things are understood not in detail, but only superficially, this is just another example where we are lowering our standards just so we can convey something, regardless of how accurate it is, in the same short time span.

Again, I want to see some investigation that such a gimmick actually accomplishes what it wishes to do. Till then, I will be skeptical that such a thing is even useful.


Nick said...

I'm in total agreement with you. The audience looses out when someone attempts to teach a complex concept in an arbitrarily short amount of time.

BUT, a professional thinking about how they would shorten a topic to just the basic concepts is an important exercise for that professional alone (or perhaps other professionals as well). Understanding what parts of a concept are core and what are tangential complexities is, in my experience, key to understanding the concept better and explaining it to others (in some non-arbitrary amount of time).

ZapperZ said...

But this really isn't an exercise for the professional, is it? I mean, if that professional needs something like this, then he/she should have done it either by himself, or with other professional. Is it really appropriate to give superficial answers simply for the same of one's on professional development? I mean, that's what graduate school training is for!

The audience looses out in this gimmick. That's the bottom line.


Howie Firth said...

Nick is absolutely correct. The aim of physics is to get to the essence of something, and the discipline of a short time to express something is that it forces the speaker to think deeply and work hard.

And if the speaker does this well, they give the audience something which can be understandable.

Why does 'zapperz', whoever he or she may be, believe that it is intrinsically and a priori impossible to summarise the essence of a scientific theory in 2 minutes?

Now that we are recovering from the Copenhagen interpretation which told us that we couldn't build quantum theory out of something more fundamental, are we going to be lumbered with the zapperz principle, that the essence of quantum theory cannot be explained in less than 2 minutes?

In fact, could 'zapperz' enlighten us as to how many minutes or hours or days he or she would take to do it?

ZapperZ said...

You obviously have an axe to grind against me, for some strange reason, based on the 3 comments you posted on my blog. That's your problem, not mine. And since you already don't care about what I have to say, I'm not going to waste my time responding to what you have to say.