Three Reasons to Learn More about Physics
About Physics The scientist J.B.S. Haldane once said “My own suspicion is that the Universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose.” This is the daunting prospect facing anyone who tries to understand how the world works and where everything came from.
But, this is precisely what physics attempts to do and with the advances made in relativity and quantum mechanics we have made progress. Yes, there are still unanswered questions but as strange as the implications of relativity and quantum mechanics are their accuracy so far tells us that they are good explanations as far as they go.
But, the question remains. If the universe is “queerer than we can suppose,” is there any point or benefit in studying the science that studies the universe? Let’s look at some possible benefits.
Appearance/Reality: An important distinction made by early philosophers and scientists still holds true and is a useful one to remember in everyday life. There is a difference between appearance and reality. In other words, things are not always what they seem. Physical objects appear to be solid yet we know the reality is that they are composed of very tiny particles which themselves are in constant motion and which consist of largely empty space.
Many of our common sense intuitions about how the world works are based on appearances and are wrong. We would do we to remember that to truly understand anything it is important to look below the surface to the reality underneath.
Wonder: The practical benefit of our everyday perspective allows us to get on with the business of living without having to deal with the realities that physics describes. As Richard Dawkins points out, we have evolved to live in a middle world between the immensely large objects in the universe such as galaxies and the vanishingly small objects in the world such as electrons and quarks.
Our minds are not innately tuned to observe these levels or to comprehend them without great effort. But, as a result of being evolved to live in this middle world we can lose some of the sense of wonder that comes from a study of the large and the small. Physics helps us regain this important feeling of wonder.
Connections: Physics also shows that everything is ultimately connected in many surprising ways. If you contemplate how the universe of the large looks from the perspective of galaxies and groups of galaxies you quickly see that there is no way to distinguish individual people here on earth. Likewise, if you contemplate the universe of the small from the perspective of an electron or a quark you also recognize that there is no way to distinguish individuals. This shift in perspective from the everyday to the physics based perspective reveals a world more connected than we usually consider. Appreciating that is an important insight and one which has many uses in everyday life.
Of course, there are also many very tangibly practical benefits to studying physics in a world based on the flow of digital information and technology. None of this would be possible without the advances made in physics. While we may not contemplate the queerness of the universe on a daily basis we do live with the results of our knowledge of this queer universe. The power of these results will continue to grow over the next few decades and an understanding of the forces behind these advances in technology will be invaluable.
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