Friday, January 6, 2017

Theoretical physics is much more than this

Via Peter Woit's blog I read an interesting article What Does Any of This Have To Do with Physics? Einstein and Feynman ushered me into grad school, reality ushered me out by Bob Henderson.
The facts it is quite long and that I read it all on a phone (something I virtually never do) on vacation shows how interesting I found it.

During his Ph.D Henderson worked on a theory of quantum gravity at the University of Rochester in the 1990s. He then left physics for Wall Street and is now a science writer.

Here are a few comments.

First, as often happens in discussions that come up related to Woit's blog, I take umbrage at the common assumption that "theoretical physics" is equated with  theories of elementary particles and string theory. The simplest argument against the narcissism of the proponents of this narrow view is that there are five Physical Review journals (A and E). Each contains (very roughly half) theory papers and only D is concerned with such topics.

Issues of emotional and mental health feature prominently; although, not as explicitly discussed as they could be.

Henderson struggles with working 15 hours a day, confirming my view that this is a big mistake.
The echo of “You can do whatever you want” still rang in my ears.
This is something that he learnt from his father and I consider is one of the three biggest lies that Western high school students are taught and need to recnounce as undergraduates.

The lack of direction and floundering in his research project on quantum gravity is unrepresentative of most Ph.D research in theoretical physics. It just suggests the field itself it at an impasse and is arguably unsuitable for Ph.D research.

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