... with you on your journey
P equals M C snared
A most lucid account of the important role of physics with due respect to other 'sciences'.
This work came about as a result of having to defend two venomous onslaughts on the nobility of physics. Unfortunately, certain people don't seem to realize the universality of this simple truth - physics is everything! The word physics means the knowledge of nature and nature is all encompassing.
Those engaged in other disciplines have a great deal of difficulty appreciating the immeasurable debt they owe to physics. They don't seem to like it when they are told that their discipline is really physics, but called by a different name. For instance, math is just numerical physics, chemistry only wet physics, biology but living physics, history merely old physics, languages necessarily talkative physics and psychology purely thoughtless physics. The list can go on and on.
Those unable to accept such truths generally put forth bravado posturing initially, invariably succumbing in short order to the inevitable. It is, however, worth relating the parrying of the two most blatant attacks ever.
The first was The Chemical A Salt which claimed that chemistry preceded physics. The second was The BigMath Attack which insisted that physics was a part of mathematics. Their subsequent and necessary annihilations were brought about by a close examination of the role physics played over the centuries.
As you read the following, you will see certain phrases are italicized. We recommend you pay particularly pensive ponderation to these, simply because they are italicized. Finally, you should have little trouble figuring out what the letters in the title stand for. Let us begin.
or the confused conundrums by crass chemists
The perpetraitor of this attack insisted that chemistry came before physics via alchemy - and wanted me to look it up if I didn't believe him. So being a fair individual, I went to Google and typed up "did chemistry come before physics via alchemy". Not surprisingly there were no documents at all making it highly likely that either the answer is negative or that some sinister being had deleted all pages supporting the statement (a very implausible idea considering the security the internet offers). I have tried to look it up so my conscience is clear and can now proceed to tell the real story.
It is true that alchemy was the predecessor of chemistry. It is also true that it was an early science. Though most references will tell you it started around the 1400s or so, its roots were probably much older and appeared in many different countries too. For example, Indian alchemists existed in the 7th century and the Chinese alchemist Ge Hong lived in the 4th century.
Be that as it may, what I will tell you is how alchemy transmuted into chemistry with the help of physics. This will be a rather occidental version of the story so please orient yourselves accordingly.
The ancient Greek Empedocles (well he really hadn't aged that much) established in 430 BC four elements Earth, Air, Water and Fire. (This was not the birth of chemistry just because the word element is used!) It was believed that everything else was made from these though Aristotle added a fifth element, Aether, which haunted humanity right into the 20th century.
So the alchemists set to work trying to make gold (and some other stuff) primarily because they thought they could get rich. Well! It wasn't that simple now was it? Things didn't quite work out and so some tried dishonest things like creating impure mixtures and passing these off as gold. Fortunately, the brilliant physicist Archimedes foiled one of these attempts while taking a bath. So elated was he that he ran out into the streets where he met people who had not taken a bath and quite justifiably started shouting "eureeka" at them.
Anyway, as alchemy developed in later centuries, it was reasoned that any substance could be changed into another by merely combining things in the right proportion. Again the primary effort was to produce gold, but in that unsuccessful attempt many other chemical elements were found. Now, some unscrupulous alchemists tried to fool people into thinking that all that glitters was gold (whence fools gold) and their profession fell into disrepute. So the remaining good ones, who suddenly had all these other elements in hand, decided to change their name to chemists (removing anyone with the name of Allan or Albert from their ranks) and their science to chemistry (so that people would think there was something mysterious about them).
One of the first of these new chemists was Robert Boyle, who in 1661 published a journal called The Sceptical Chymist, because he was sceptical about being a chemist (therefore the unusual spelling), since he figured he should be a physicist due to his discovery of Boyle's Law of Gases which of course had nothing to do with chemistry at the time.
Within a couple of centuries, the physicists had worked out some of the principles of atomic theory and so that gave the chemists something to do with all the elements they kept on discovering. So the Italian chemist Avogadro created a large number that proved to be useful (though it irked the mathematicians who liked to keep numbers to themselves - more on this later though) and Mendeleev was brought in from Russia periodically to help organize the elements onto a table.
Now the biggest problem the chemists faced though, was finding names for all these elements. Therefore, they started naming them after their own countries scandium Sc and germanium Ge, after gases such as oxygen O and hydrogen H, and then just to confuse everyone they also did really weird things like calling sodium Na and gold Au and mercury Hg!
There was still the problem of identifying further information about the elements such as atomic numbers, so several physicists such as Roentgen, Barkla, von Laue and the Braggs used xrays to help determine crystalline structures. Characteristic xrays of atoms were later used to help pin down the element to Mendeleev's table by its atomic number. Thus, hydrogen was given the number 1, and helium the number 2 and so on. Unfortunately, the table had become so crowded that the chemists actually lost four elements, numbers 43, 61, 85 and 87. Some chemists looked around and claimed they had found these elements, but since no one else could find them (even under Mendeleev's table), for a while, they remained lost.
When the chemists had come to the end of collecting and losing elements, physics opened a whole new door for them - that of radioactive elements. Marie Sklodowska, a polish chemist, married Pierre Curie and became a physicist and the two of them proceeded to discover radioactivity. Radioactive elements consist of large atoms (sometimes called fatoms) that transmute or split into smaller elements. For example, uranium U could break down into ura and nium, but it doesn't because those elements don't exist, so instead it breaks down into other elements that do exist, because it was so fat to begin with. Those other elements wind up being something like Sr and Xe which have nothing to do with U, but that's because of the weird way they were all named in the first place, isn't it!
So, by looking in all the debris produced by some of these fatoms, chemists were able to find those lost elements which they promptly proceeded to name any way they felt like. The final element of the group to be discovered was not 87 by the way, because that would just be far too sensible a thing to do. Instead, they discovered 61 last and called it promethium after the Greek chemist Prometheus who had stolen fire for mankind. Well, they thought he was a chemist because of the fire thing since chemists use fire in their bunsen burners, but really he was a physicist because he invented astronomy. Some of you may recall that while he was mistaken for a chemist he got covalently stuck to a rock for a while, but was eventually freed by the physicist Hercules who performed 12 physical tasks all involving physics (occasionally called labors, because they were done in the laboratory of the universe).
After the periodic table was filled up, the chemists tried looking for new territory by starting quantum chemistry, but it was too late since the physicists already had quantum physics. However, with typical generosity, the physicists shared a few nuclei with them because otherwise much grant money would be taken back.
So there wraps up the development of chemistry from its alchemistic beginnings. As you see, the physicists did eventually help realize the alchemists' dream of transmuting elements, but not in the way they wanted, so they weren't very happy and took to writing their stuff on webpages instead.
or malicious manipulations by maniacal mathematicians
The Oxford dictionary defines mathematics as "abstract science which investigates deductively the conclusions implicit in the elementary conceptions of spatial and numerical relations". We will not accept that definition partly because it is incomprehensible, but mostly since it does not permit the history of math to go back further than Thales 600 BC (ref D Smith - History of Mathematics - p2). Naturally, this would end the attack before it even starts since physics is much older than 600 BC and therefore, physics couldn't possibly be a part of math as this particular perpetraitor insists.
So let us start much earlier when essentially there were only a few numbers. 1 was one of them. After 1 there may have been 2. And everything else was termed many, because there wasn't any need for other numbers. Gradually though, the mathematicians wanted more. The physicists who were watching this development for quite sometime did not object them this desire - after all, they had the whole universe to play with - but little did they know what was in store.
The mathematicians' overwhelming greed for numbers led to the acquisition of the whole numbers first because they were the most handy (and footsy giving 20 to start with). A lot more were soon found, but it wasn't enough so the conquests continued in barbaric fashion as numbers were fractured into pieces to produce fractions (they were sometimes called decimals because someone wanted to make a point). How the poor fractions were able to remain rational through it all is a good question, but many decimals went totally irrational as a result of what they witnessed. The numbers were undergoing a terrible ordeal and developed multiple personalities as a result of the stress - some became very negative, for others the change was quite complex. Fortunately, through hindusight, the number zero appeared, taking a leadership role and stabilized the system somewhat.
The mathematicians' lust however was not satisfied. In fact, they became concerned that they would soon run out of numbers (you see, infinity just was not enough for them) and began raiding the languages. First they took an x and forced it to be anything they felt like, and then the y followed and more (the one good consequence of this aggression was that algebra was born). If this wasn't bad enough, they raided the Greek alphabet and stole an alpha, then a beta and anything else they could usurp. The noble physicists couldn't just stand by and watch this mayhem taking place so they kindly gave the mathematicians a useful place to put the letters. For instance, the d's were often used for distance, and the t's were used for time, and F for force. However, due to considerable indecision amongst the mathematicians certain letters wound up in strange places - like p for momentum. Actually, it wasn't a problem initially because momentum was originally pmomentum with the 'silent p' as in pseudopod or psychology, but the physicists dropped the 'p' because they didn't want to confuse everyone like the pseudopodologists (who were a bit of an embarrassment to biology and had to often be apodologized for) and the psychologists (who were a bit of an embarrassment to everything because they kept going psycho).
I really should also point out here that the biologists in particular didn't take too kindly to the dropping of the unnecessary p in pmomentum, even though it wasn't their field, and went around taunting the physicists by name-calling (something biologists tend to do a lot) them physicysts, physicysts rather immaturely stressing the 'cysts' implying they were undesirable growths.
In any case, because the Greek alphabet had so been ravaged, the physicists even went as far as creating a whole new field, high energy physics, to help place some of those letters in the form of muons, pions, lambdas, sigmas and etceteras.
Still not satisfied, the mathematicians attacked the Roman system overworking certain letters excessively. For instance, consider the letter I - it was actually used 3 times III to represent the number 3! As a result the Roman system was severely impacted and certain letters like G, J, U, W, X, Y just disappeared. However, because they had a good army they tried to get some of the letters back from the Greeks, but with only moderate success: the Romans ran over Greece and fell (understandably), but still managed to recover everything except the J,U, and W. It really didn't do much good though, because their mathematics never progressed too far beyond rudimentary multiplication as a result of the number system that the mathematicians had mangled, so when the Visigoths descended upon them and started dividing up the Roman empire they really didn't know what was happening at all.
In fairness, I must state that not all mathematics was this violent. There were many peaceful developments too. For example, the first methods for counting sheep were developed by a Greek mathematician named Eweclid. However, he realized just in time that this activity was making him drowsy and so went on to create the axes of geometree which were subsequently used by woodcutters not warriors. As you probably know, his techniques of counting sheep are still used by people sometimes before bedtime, but mostly during math classes.
I won't go into the many other instances where the physicists helped out the mathematicians (such as how Newton had to invent the calculus, because the mathematicians just couldn't be bothered to since they were busy arguing about some triviality or other - geewiz, he even had to write the Principia Mathematica for them!) simply because they are too numerous and I can't remember them anyway.
Please note that not all other fields reacted like the mathematicians. Most actually worked with the physicists to create wonderful sciences. For instance, geologists who are of rock-solid character went on to create geophysics. The biologists (after that earlier bit of silliness) saw the marvels of physics in life and created biophysics. Astronomers who are stellar people created astrophysics. Even a group of philosophers a long time ago, after they met a physicist (can't recall whom) developed metaphysics. The list goes on and on.
So where did some people get the naive idea that math is the foundation of physics? I think it is because of the very poetic and beautiful statement
"Mathematics is the language with which God has written the universe"
which was made as a magnanimous gesture by the physicist Gallileo at the end of the famous Walt Disney film "Donald Duck in Mathemagic Land". I know this to be true, because I saw that excellent film many times. Perhaps you have seen it as well.
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