As a physicist, when you are tackling some new problem, shouldn't the first thing that comes to your mind be a rough idea? Why can't you answer questions with those rough ideas first?

Math is just a comprehensive and precise language. Lots of times, we are not academics asking a precise description; an impression is enough.

Equations, solving functions, yield results. Sometimes, we are not asking for a precise result. The question could be why you decided to use those equations.

Many equations dealt with ensemble behavior of a lots of tiny particles. Lots of times, we might want some intuitive microscopic understanding of individual actions that lead to the ensemble behavior of the equations.

Sometimes I just want some explanation like this: Why does light travel slower in glass?

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    $\begingroup$ Not everyone asking questions on the site is put off by math heavy responses, if someone asks specifically for a soft answer people are usually happy to oblige, at least from what I've seen. $\endgroup$
    – Charlie
    Commented Jun 13, 2020 at 15:01
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    $\begingroup$ I myself for example am always put off when there are no equations in an answer.. $\endgroup$
    – user224659
    Commented Jun 13, 2020 at 15:02
  • $\begingroup$ @TheoreticalMinimum I have to know your background. I am very interested in the mind set that enjoys equations more than impressions. $\endgroup$
    – eliu
    Commented Jun 13, 2020 at 15:08
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    $\begingroup$ Physics isn’t about impressions. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 13, 2020 at 15:10
  • $\begingroup$ @ZeroTheHero Right... Einstein started with Lorentz transform right off the bat $\endgroup$
    – eliu
    Commented Jun 13, 2020 at 15:19
  • $\begingroup$ @eliu My background ist physics, I'm trained to deal with formulas. Plain text has it's downfalls. Only very few people are able to rigorously put something in text. More often than not these explanations lack rigor. $\endgroup$
    – user224659
    Commented Jun 13, 2020 at 15:24
  • $\begingroup$ @TheoreticalMinimum So, it is more like a Math major that dealt with math that occur in physics. You were trained in such way. But are you still in such field? $\endgroup$
    – eliu
    Commented Jun 13, 2020 at 15:35
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    $\begingroup$ I am sorely tempted to write an answer that misses the point and contains a statistical analysis of how many posts on Physics contain no math, some math, or lots of math. $\endgroup$
    – rob Mod
    Commented Jun 13, 2020 at 15:58
  • $\begingroup$ @eilu I'm just finishing my bachelors, but while my program focuses on the theoretical side of things, it's much more applied than a math major. And no, my masters will focus much more on engineering and applied physics. $\endgroup$
    – user224659
    Commented Jun 13, 2020 at 16:38
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    $\begingroup$ @eliu how is that an impression? and as a matter of history Einstein did NOT start with the Lorentz transform. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 13, 2020 at 16:50
  • $\begingroup$ Maybe the OP means “concept” rather than “impression”.... $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 13, 2020 at 17:00
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    $\begingroup$ Very relevant (In fact, you might get your answer from the posts there): physics.meta.stackexchange.com/q/429 $\endgroup$
    – user258881
    Commented Jun 13, 2020 at 17:55
  • $\begingroup$ Why is everyone so keen to answer physics questions by writing down tons of equations? This is a false premise. Not everyone is doing this. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 14, 2020 at 12:06
  • $\begingroup$ @ZeroTheHero that was sarcasm. $\endgroup$
    – eliu
    Commented Jun 14, 2020 at 18:14

2 Answers 2


There is more than one kind of physics question, and more than one kind of physics answer.

Some questions ask for getting an "idea" or "intuition" of how something works, understanding the physical principles at work more than the underlying equations.

Some questions ask about specific parts of a derivation, or a rigorous argument for a hand-wavy explanation.

It is clear that the latter will naturally attract more "equation-heavy" answers than the former. (I'm not saying these two kinds of questions are the only kinds of questions, just choosing these two to make a point here)

It is also sometimes the case, especially when asking about concepts in theoretical physics, and especially where quantum theory is involved, that questions of the first kind will invariably attract answers saying there is no simple "intuition", and then show the formal way of understanding the phenomenon. (Whether or not these answers are always right is another matter and likely depends on what, exactly, we consider "intuitive")

There isn't anything wrong with any of these questions or answers, and they're all welcome here. We can have multiple answers to a question precisely because we recognize that there are often multiple ways of tackling a question, and answers can greatly differ in their use of mathematical rigor, equations and anything else, really. The existence of formula-heavy answers does not diminish the less mathematical ones, nor the other way around.

  • $\begingroup$ I agree with the difficulty of defining intuition. the depth and width of the intuition. I had an episode, after learning the spectrum of the sun, where selective lines are missing, I had hard time to justify why aren't most of the object in the world transparent if electrons are so selective in what they absorb. Sometimes the intuition is just not complete. $\endgroup$
    – eliu
    Commented Jun 13, 2020 at 15:30

I feel like this question is at least partially based on some bias in what answers you notice...

What makes you think everyone is keen to answer questions based on equations instead of explanations?

One obvious example that comes to my mind is Marco Ocram, who gained over 5k reputation in less than 8 months, and specifically states in his profile "My special interest is explaining the ideas of physics without resorting to maths"; which is typically how he answered.

A second example (and why I felt this was pretty biased) is myself. I will frequently write answers with many equations, if it seems like that is what is required to answer the question; but typically I avoid it if it's not needed. On my answers, literally my 10 highest scored answers don't have any equations.

On the other side of things, some users would prefer to answer with equations, because that is how they like to explain it. I do not see this as problematic. Just like some users prefer to explain using equations, others would prefer to learn that way as well.

Context is also very important, sometimes it is more appropriate to use equations to illustrate a point, sometimes that is necessary in the question.

It seems like you are looking for more answers that include descriptions instead of math. That is perfectly fine. If you have those questions, you can ask them yourself, and make sure to point out that you aren't looking for equations.

If similar questions already exist, you may have to explain why your question is different, or put a bounty on the existing question asking for a non-math explanation.

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    $\begingroup$ "On my answers, literally my 10 highest scored answers don't have any equations." To be honest, the highly upvoted questions (which obviously have highly upvoted answers) are, more often than not, the ones which attract the non-technical users as well and thus are bound to be of the level comprehensible by a layman. So they are bound to contain no, or extremely sparse and basic math. So judging the math content of answers from the upvotes only reveals a trend (good or bad, that's not the question to be addressed here), it doesn't really support or oppose the argument of less math in answers. $\endgroup$
    – user258881
    Commented Jun 13, 2020 at 18:08
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    $\begingroup$ @FakeMod I'm pointing out that not only are non-math questions/answers not particularly uncommon, but they also can be well received. I'm just showing some counter examples to OP's point because it me, it seems like they are perceiving something that isn't really there in the first place. Specifically, the question asks why users are so keen to answer with math, and I'm just a bit confused by that, because as far as I've seen it's not a universal trend, and possibly biased. I also linked to Marco because he typically approaches higher level questions than I can. $\endgroup$
    – JMac
    Commented Jun 13, 2020 at 18:22

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