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Einstein's General Relativity

 
 
Reply Sun 19 Apr, 2009 08:45 am
Einstein's general relativity originates in the logical incompleteness of Newton's laws of motion. But, considering the global and chronic problems in physics education and also the aim of Einstein Year 2005, the question is: Have we understood that incompleteness completely?
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Type: Question • Score: 7 • Views: 5,595 • Replies: 70
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fresco
 
  2  
Reply Sun 19 Apr, 2009 12:27 pm
@Dileep Sathe,
I'm no expert, but I would think your "origins" of general relativity are oversimplified. However, that point seems to be irrelevant to the state of physics education.

In my opinion as an educator, I would say that self discipline required to tackle rigorious subjects such as physics has been eroded by a swing to a philosophy of “quick fix student gratification". In the UK for example some sort of "grade” is given for ridiculously poor performance in many subjects. Students "vote with their feet" against studying subjects which buck the trend. The situation has deteriorated in the UK to the extent that many top High Schools are opting out of the British GCSE system and replacing it with the International Baccalaureate, in an attempt to stretch their students.

Whether the general “quick fix/happy clappy/entertain me” situation can ever be reversed is another issue given that the current generation of teachers has also been conditioned by such policies.
0 Replies
 
kuvasz
 
  1  
Reply Sun 19 Apr, 2009 01:00 pm
@Dileep Sathe,
Quote:
Have we understood that incompleteness completely?


If you did, it would not be incomplete, would it?

Ditto Fresco, on the change from education for knowledge's sake to acquiring skills for a job.

The cruelest spike that can be driven into the heart of a teacher is when a student asks "is this going to be on the test?"

Whenever I enter a classroom for the first time I call on a student in the first row, hand the student a piece of paper and ask him/her to write in big letters on the chalk board the words on the paper. The words are from Plutarch.

"The mind is not a vessel to be filled but a fire to be kindled."
farmerman
 
  1  
Reply Sun 19 Apr, 2009 03:11 pm
@kuvasz,
I would often have an "ice breaker" quiz in the first class of 600 level econ geo and one of the questions Id ask was to have the student explain general and special relativity in a statement no longer than 50 words. I often got some really great answers .
0 Replies
 
Shapeless
 
  1  
Reply Sun 19 Apr, 2009 03:31 pm
@kuvasz,
Quote:
The cruelest spike that can be driven into the heart of a teacher is when a student asks "is this going to be on the test?"


Whenever I get that question I always respond, "When in doubt, best to assume that it is. That way you have all your bases covered." I try to say it as politely as possible, but something tells my the students can still detect a hint of snippiness in my voice.
0 Replies
 
fresco
 
  1  
Reply Sun 19 Apr, 2009 04:26 pm
This thread has probably taken a pedagogical direction unintended by its author who appears to imply that Einstein's theory was logically superior to the prevailing Newtonian system. If so, I would dispute that premise on the grounds that epistemologically speaking we are into "coherence" as opposed to "logic". This implies an understanding of "paradigm shifts" in the Kuhnian sense involving a reinterpretation of "physical reality" together with an appropriate "sociolinguistic support network" amongst those calling themselves "physicists". Ironically this "logicality issue" is driven home by Einstein's antagonists the Quantum Theorists when Niels Bohr was moved to remark to a sceptic "No, no...you're not thinking, you're just being logical."

So regarding "logic" per se we can argue, following Piaget, that since not all adults attain that level of thinking, it is hardly surprising that the necessary metalogical level required for an understanding of modern physics has so few recruits.
0 Replies
 
ebrown p
 
  1  
Reply Sun 19 Apr, 2009 04:30 pm
@Dileep Sathe,
Quote:
But, considering the global and chronic problems in physics education


I question the very premise here-- what makes you think there are "global and chronic problems in physics education"?

I don't see evidence of any problems. Sure, fewer than 1% of people have even a basic inkling of General Relativity-- yet the rest of the population (many of whom are quite well educated) seem to live perfectly productive and fulfilling lives.
fresco
 
  1  
Reply Sun 19 Apr, 2009 04:40 pm
@ebrown p,
Here's a bit of evidence.
http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/story.asp?storyCode=102127&sectioncode=26
ebrown p
 
  1  
Reply Sun 19 Apr, 2009 06:03 pm
@fresco,
This article seems to illustrate a problem for Universities-- rather than a problem for society in general. The fact that people with physics degrees have a problem find a good paying job in the field (a great number of us end up in the software industry) would seem to indicate that there are more than enough of us being produced.

My original point was that the vast number of people get along just fine without an understanding of advanced physics (i.e. general relativity).

Society needs a certain small number of advanced physicists... and these people should be richly rewarded (and I believe that they are).

It doesn't do anyone any good to have Universities churn out more physicists and chemists then society needs. This would seem to me to be a self-regulating system.
farmerman
 
  1  
Reply Sun 19 Apr, 2009 06:11 pm
@ebrown p,
Chemistry is always hurting for more educated scientists. Physics can be seen thorugh the eyes of the "applied" wherein a PhD in various engineering disciplines is actually a physicist in disguise. You are talking about a relatively small group of theoretical physicists and you are judging "job saturation"from that. The best of the best will always rise to the top, and the majority will become engineers.

Thomas
 
  1  
Reply Sun 19 Apr, 2009 06:46 pm
@Dileep Sathe,
Dileep Sathe wrote:
Einstein's general relativity originates in the logical incompleteness of Newton's laws of motion.

Wrong -- The problem with Newton's laws of motion isn't that they're logically incomplete. They're not. Instead, their problem is that they are inconsistent with observation in two points:

1) Newton's laws of motion are inconsistent with the observation that light speed is the same in every inertial system. Einstein's special theory of relativity fixes this.

2) When considered together with Newton's law of gravity, his laws of motion presume a distinction between a body's "heavy" mass, which responds to gravity, and its "inert" mass, which responds to acceleration. This distinction is never observed experimentally. So the general theory of relativity ditches it, while making sure that the problems the special theory dealt with stay fixed.

In my opinion, Einstein's own monography on the issue remains the best exposition of the subject, and a surprisingly readable one at that.
ebrown p
 
  1  
Reply Sun 19 Apr, 2009 07:00 pm
@farmerman,
Society will produce the types of people it values. If we need more educated Chemists, the way to get there is to raise the prestige and wealth of Chemists. It seems that since scientists are needed by industry, their numbers should be well regulated by markets. I am in the software engineering field (not in science) simply because it is good work that pays well for someone with my education and abilities.

As a former educator, I am always skeptical of the argument that our education system is crumbling. People have been complaining about our education system and warning of the dire consequences for hundreds of years-- during which time we became an industrial power, won wars, developed cars and planes, defeated polio, went to the moon and invented the internet.

Again, the important question is how many advanced Chemists and Physicists do we need?

Farmerman you say that Chemistry is hurting-- how do you judge this? Is this based on industry having trouble filling positions, by research that has funding but not bodies, or something else?

There are a lot of really smart people with graduate science degrees who are making a good living in the software industry. Chemisty or Physics could win many of them back, if they can compete with Software in terms of work and wages.



0 Replies
 
Thomas
 
  1  
Reply Sun 19 Apr, 2009 07:03 pm
@ebrown p,
ebrown p wrote:
Sure, fewer than 1% of people have even a basic inkling of General Relativity-- yet the rest of the population (many of whom are quite well educated) seem to live perfectly productive and fulfilling lives.

If that's your standard for measuring problems in physics education, what's sauce for the physicist is sauce for the biologist. Are you sure you're you're fine with the implications of your position?

About half of all Americans don't believe in evolution, and I doubt that more than a single-digit percentage really "gets" how it works and what it can and can't do. And yet, the ignorants and even the non-believers of evolution live productive and fulfilling lives, just as the ignorants of General Relativity do.

So the consequences of creationism in America aren't really a problem in science education, are they? Somehow your contributions in the creationism threads suggest to me that you believe otherwise. Your "happy and productive lives test" doesn't tell us about problems in science education, or the absence thereof.
dyslexia
 
  2  
Reply Sun 19 Apr, 2009 07:33 pm
@Thomas,
I spent several months of my life attempting to understand Cauchy and Killing horizon; the photon spheres and ergospheres of the Reissner-Nordström solution; particle and cosmological horizons relevant to cosmology. I ended up going to a bar and listening to Greg Brown covering his (at the time) latest CD "Further In". After a double shot of good american whisky I walked home in the moonlight singing "Do you think I'm sexy"
0 Replies
 
ebrown p
 
  1  
Reply Sun 19 Apr, 2009 07:59 pm
@Thomas,
You are arguing from the extreme Thomas.

First, it is reasonable to argue (and some do argue) that there is a body of knowledge, including scientific knowledge, that every citizen should have to make them a productive member of society.

General Relativity is certainly not part of this knowledge. To even have a chance to understand anything about General Relativity, you first need to understand vector calculus, linear algebra... getting the knowledge required to even begin the study of relativity takes several years of rigorous study.

The question of whether the average citizen needs to understand General Relativity is completely different from whether the average citizen should "believe" in evolution.

To be honest, I am not sure if I care what the average American thinks about evolution. It certainly doesn't matter to me what the guy who fixes my car or clears the clog from my sink (two people who perform important roles in society) think on the matter. I probably care in the case of my doctor (but maybe not even there).

The evolution case matters most in terms of the trust the American electorate puts in science. I would like people to consider the input of the scientific community.

But this is a political argument. Of course, the evolution debate is largely a cultural debate-- and in a multicultural democracy this is something we just need to accept.
Dileep Sathe
 
  1  
Reply Mon 20 Apr, 2009 02:28 am
@ebrown p,
John Warren's report in Physics Education, 1971, p. 74, is the first one. In addition, you can read my Letters in Physics Education - especially in March 1984 and July 2007.
ebrown p
 
  1  
Reply Mon 20 Apr, 2009 04:14 am
@Dileep Sathe,
These studies were clearly wrong.

Kids who were in high school in 1971 are now in their fifties and have had wonderful careers during a time of scientific achievement. These are the very kids who built robots that went to Mars, revolutionized fields like medical imaging and pushed forward the search for extra solar planets.

The punchline is that there are many other similar studies throughout our history-- for example in the 1950s with sputnik. Yet, in spite of these frequent predictions of doom through the years, the US-- particularly US science and engineering-- has done pretty well for itself.
Thomas
 
  1  
Reply Mon 20 Apr, 2009 05:36 pm
@ebrown p,
ebrown p wrote:
First, it is reasonable to argue (and some do argue) that there is a body of knowledge, including scientific knowledge, that every citizen should have to make them a productive member of society.

General Relativity is certainly not part of this knowledge.

Neither, by your own admission, is neo-Darwinian evolution. It may be offensive to us nerds to admit it, but science just isn't that important to most people's productivity than we'd like to think it is.
ebrown p
 
  1  
Reply Mon 20 Apr, 2009 05:54 pm
@Thomas,
What are you disagreeing with me about, Thomas? Or are you now just going along with what I said.
Thomas
 
  1  
Reply Mon 20 Apr, 2009 06:02 pm
@ebrown p,
I am disagreeing with your earlier post, in which you said you don't see evidence of problems with global physics education, because people are living productive and fulfilling lives.

This is an invalid line of reasoning because, as you and I agree, science doesn't matter all that much to people's productivity and fulfillment. Hence, your observation that people are productive and fulfilled is irrelevant to deciding whether there's a problem with physics education.

And that's what I'm disagreeing with.
 

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