8
$\begingroup$

My own daughter asked - only two days ago - "What is physics"? While that may be a little too simple - there's plenty of definitions easily available - how simple can (or should) we go on this site?

$\endgroup$
  • 16
    $\begingroup$ This question isn't too basic, but too general. $\endgroup$ – kennytm Nov 2 '10 at 19:43
  • $\begingroup$ Ask it at Philosophy. $\endgroup$ – Abhimanyu Pallavi Sudhir Aug 25 '13 at 5:25
11
$\begingroup$

I think it would be pretty difficult to create a question that is considered "too basic" from every perspective. After all, questions that on the surface look basic often pose much deeper questions. Physics, after all, is about the fundamentals. None other than Einstein spent much of his youth thinking about problems the average person would probably take for granted; and he gave us relativity theory.

"What is physics?" is actually a surprisingly pertinent question. Your average person certainly couldn't answer it well, and some physicists may even struggle to precise about it. "The study of energy and matter" is a common answer given, though somehow it doesn't fully justify it. Physics, especially these days, often blurs with mathematics at one end and philosophy at the other, not to mention chemistry and the more obvious ones.

$\endgroup$
5
$\begingroup$

Why don't we encourage posters to give a little bit of their background and their own thoughts? That way, we can address answers to an appropriate level, and also remind ourselves that we once had similar "basic questions" as well...

$\endgroup$
3
$\begingroup$

Simple rule: if a satisfactory answer can be provided by a simple Wikipedia query, it is too basic.

$\endgroup$
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ Wikipedia doesn't always have a basic answer. $\endgroup$ – Nick Nov 2 '10 at 20:31
  • $\begingroup$ @mbq How about, "explain fractional quantum Hall effect"? $\endgroup$ – kennytm Nov 2 '10 at 20:33
  • 7
    $\begingroup$ sometime wikipedia answers are unsatisfactory as well. $\endgroup$ – Sean Tilson Nov 2 '10 at 20:46
  • $\begingroup$ @Sean, @Nick Good point, updated. The idea is to provide some kind of RTFM rule. $\endgroup$ – user68 Nov 2 '10 at 21:25
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ I agree with @mbq : "What is quantum mechanics" => Wikipedia $\endgroup$ – Cedric H. Nov 2 '10 at 21:31
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Wikipedia does not always provide simply answers as I've said elsewhere on this meta site. $\endgroup$ – Jonathan. Nov 2 '10 at 21:37
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ +1, but I'd even go as far and say a question is too basic if the answer can be found in any standard textbook without requiring further explanations. $\endgroup$ – Tobias Kienzler Nov 2 '10 at 22:13
  • $\begingroup$ From Wikipedia: Physics (Ancient Greek: φύσις physis "nature") is a natural science that involves the study of matter[1] and its motion through spacetime, as well as all applicable concepts, including energy and force.[2] More broadly, it is the general analysis of nature, conducted in order to understand how the universe behaves.[3][4][5] $\endgroup$ – Arlen Beiler Nov 3 '10 at 1:48
  • $\begingroup$ That sentance has too many citations!!! $\endgroup$ – Arlen Beiler Nov 3 '10 at 1:49
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @Arlen My favorite is "Physics is what physicists are doing" -- this is nonsense and quite true in the same time. $\endgroup$ – user68 Nov 3 '10 at 8:38
3
$\begingroup$

I think something is too basic if a reasonably-informed Google search will turn up a valid answer on the first page. I often wonder myself if some of my questions are too basic, like my last question:

Is mid-water bouyancy a classic example of a balanced but unstable system?

Since I wrote that, I discovered that Wikipedia does, in fact address it. But the thing is, it's not addressed specific to what I had in mind, it's not as expansive or detailed as what I was asking for, and it would be hard for someone looking for it to find. Because of this, I think there's still a lot of value coming out of my question. But the question of whether or not something is too basic does occur to me a lot.

$\endgroup$
2
$\begingroup$

So here is a variant of the question that I think the OP is asking: should this be more like MO level or MSE level? I personally committed on Area51 because I think the physics community should get in on the type of stuff that can happen on an MO type site. I doubt that I will be asking questions on here for very long simply because I expect most of my questions to be too basic. That is the way it should be. Simple questions should be left for another site, except that it took so long to get this beta underway it may be detrimental to the community to turn people away. A lot of people think that MO is a bit snobbish, but they are missing the point, the website is for research level questions only. Or at least something that you might wonder about after qualifiers or some such thing.

Maybe a better example of a basic question would be the following: "I don't get free body diagrams, can someone please help?" I think this should be considered too basic, but I am not even the type of person this place is for so... those are my thoughts.

PS: MO is Mathoverflow and MSE is Math.stackexchange.

$\endgroup$
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Agreed, more like math.stackexchange than MO: no problem is too basic, but we won't do your homework. $\endgroup$ – Nick Nov 2 '10 at 20:06
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ ok. will there be a PO ever? One problem with allowing basic questions is that you can get overrun by crackpots. I think physics gets more of this than math. If this type of stuff isnt gotten rid of then you wont get the caliber of people that you have showing up at MO. $\endgroup$ – Sean Tilson Nov 2 '10 at 20:21
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Nick: I think he's arguing for the opposite, the MO point of view: there are problems which are too basic, and they should not be on this site. $\endgroup$ – Mana Nov 2 '10 at 20:23
  • $\begingroup$ @Mana: I don't know why I interpreted it the wrong way, I see his point now. $\endgroup$ – Nick Nov 2 '10 at 20:26
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ @Sean: Crackpots get weeded out by effective moderation. We can tell the difference between good questions/answers and trolling, can't we? $\endgroup$ – Nick Nov 2 '10 at 20:27
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ I believe that the site will get "research-level" questions with expert answers regardless of whether or not we decide to eliminate the more basic questions. SO allows even the most basic of programming questions and still has a gargantuan userbase of expert programmers asking very specific and detailed questions with massive answers. By allowing the most basic questions, we're allowing ourselves to expand our community as an outreach to those interested in Physics with questions. Therefore allowing basic questions will speed up the growth of the site. $\endgroup$ – Mana Nov 2 '10 at 20:40
  • $\begingroup$ ok, just wanted to raise the issue! $\endgroup$ – Sean Tilson Nov 2 '10 at 20:45
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I agree with Nick's first comment, and Sean makes a point against his opinion, this site took a long time to get to private beta, there won't be another science related site for a long time, and while I don't think biology questions should be here, only allowing high level questions here, and trying to get basic questions to wait for another site is unrealistic. People will ask basic questions here when/if the site goes public, so rather than have 60% question closed, just answer them. It should be like SO, a good mixture. $\endgroup$ – Jonathan. Nov 2 '10 at 21:36
-2
$\begingroup$

@Herb, physics is a natural science which studies processes whereby substances do not undergo change in their identity. For instance, melting ice is a physical process because it dies not change the identity of the substance water. You can go back and forth from water to ice and back without changing the identity of the substance water. You can even turn it into steam and then condense it back into liquid water. Identity is preserved.

Not so when chemical processes take place. Take for instance paper. You can burn it and what you get are ashes which are of a completely different identity compared to the paper you started with. No need to say that you can't convert ashes back to paper. Thus, chemistry is a natural science which studies processes which lead to change in the identities of substances unlike what happens as a result of physical processes.

$\endgroup$

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .