Next: The Scientific Method
The physical sciences in general, and physics in particular, are often
considered to be disciplines that are widely removed from all forms of
artistic endeavor. There exists the stereotype of the physicist as a logical,
systematic and very boring individual. After all, science involves
observing phenomena and finding systematic rules that account
for the observed phenomena. Moreover, it requires the immutable, and
often impenetrable rules of higher mathematics.
There seems to be no room for creativity
or faith, except perhaps faith in the power of mathematics. One of the
purposes of these notes is to convince you that physics and art are not
as far removed from each other as many believe. There are, of course,
crucial differences, which we will emphasize, but there are
similarities as well. Good art requires observation, talent and creativity. The
result is often beautiful and moving, but to have value
it must also be somehow relevant to the
observer, otherwise it has no meaning. All of the above apply to
the physical sciences as well. The fact that science requires
observation, talent and relevance is perhaps self evident. Scientists
observer their surroundings, and if they are talented they will formulate and/or verify a theory that describes what
they see. This theory is relevant if it can be ultimately use to
make a better microwave or, at a more elementary level, if it can be used
to predict and explain new phenomena. But what of beauty, creativity and even faith? Are these
important attributes of science? In our opinion, the answer is
yes. Science requires more than observation, it requires
interpretation and the breaking of intellectual boundaries.
To make advances scientists must continually
evaluate, and sometimes reformulate the very foundations of their
field. They must be willing to reinterpret, and if necessary to
abandon old concepts for radically new ones.
Often this involves an intuitive leap that is no less an act of
creativity than painting a masterpiece. The best example of this is Einstein and his theory of
relativity, but it occurs at all levels of science to various
degrees. When formulating a successful theory, or performing a
successful experiment, a scientist creates a new canvas through which
we can all observe the world in a new light. And, as we will hopefully
convince you in these notes, it is not necessary to master all of the
scientist's skills in order to appreciate the canvas and what it means
In the above, we are of course emphasizing the similarities between
artistic endeavors and scientific ones. The
differences are just as important. The test of science is ultimately
not in the beauty of its construction. There must be an
objective measure of its success. In particular, it must be
experimentally verifiable. Although this seems to be a very strong
science imposes an even stronger one on its self: in order for any
statement or theory to be considered scientific, it must be in principle
falsifiable. Einstein's theory of relativity involved creativity and
insight, and at least in my mind, is a beautiful construction of the
human intellect. However, had it not given the correct prediction for
the perihelion shift of Mercury, or for the bending of light around
the sun, it would have been irrelevant, and failed as a scientific
theory. Even this ``objective'' criterion has some degree of
subjectivity. Experimental results must be interpreted using concepts
which, as stated above, are themselves subject to change.
Modern physics is currently at an interesting crossroad.
String theory, which may one day replace relativity and provide a
unified theory of everything, is beautiful, complex and involves a great
deal of creative genius on the part of its proponents. It has not yet
met the true test of science, namely to make a falsifiable prediction.
It is therefore pushing the boundaries, not just of human knowledge, but
also between science and art.
In these notes we will try to instill not just an understanding of
physical concepts as they are currently accepted, but also an
appreciation for their beauty
and the intellectual leaps made in their discovery.
Next: The Scientific Method