Saturday, October 20, 2012

Is This What It Looks Like To "Learn" Quantum Physics?

When I first saw this piece, I didn't want to comment on this because, frankly, it's one of the most ridiculous, irrelevant, and inaccurate report that I've ever seen. But I couldn't help myself. So here it is.

This Gizmodo article highlights some "art", or photography snapshot of blackboards that supposedly show how it looks like when one "learns" quantum physics. The photos show various shots of messy, jumbled up scribbles all over the place. There was no explanation anywhere on where exactly these were taken, or under what circumstances (was it after a class, was it after two people discussing something, was it in someone's office?).

I will tell you why I consider this to be utterly ridiculous and irrelevant:

1. Everyone who does physics knows that we tend to have either blackboards or whiteboards in our offices. I have one. It is used quite a lot. In fact, we have white boards along the hallways of our offices. Frequently, when we talk and discuss things, we go to one of such boards to either illustrate our ideas, or work something out. Inevitably, after this is done many, many times, the board looks very much like the mess you see in those photos. It has nothing to do with learning quantum physics. It has everything to do with performing one's job. This is not philosophy where esoteric ideas are thrown out verbally. Physics (and sciences in general), mathematics, and engineering all require visual illustrations and descriptions. Any kind of discussion inevitably will require writing down something, be it a piece of paper, a board, or a cocktail napkin!

2. The point where these scribbles are indecipherable seems to imply that this is unique to physics, or to learning quantum physics. Nonsense! Put a bunch of musical notes on the board. I'm musically illiterate, and they might as well be a bunch of gooblygook. So why would a bunch of mathematical symbols be any different? This is not unique to physics. Look at something that you are not an expert in, and you should EXPECT to see a bunch of things that you don't understand. Is this that difficult to comprehend?



Haven said...

I think because the sciences and engineering are beyond the abilities of some people, it makes them feel better about themselves to show that it's something so strange and foreign that no one could really get it... even though clearly those of us that have the interest and application can manage it just fine.

Peter said...

Here is the original site, where he point of the picture is an artistic view into a professors lecture.

also a tumblr post about it