I just wish to point out a recurring observation... comparing the questions in physics SE and math SE (which you can also do by opening the math SE page), the math SE questions often seem more down to earth, as in they are usually very specific about what they want: suppose we know A and we know B, prove that we can also know C as a result, kind of questions... Why do physicists' math questions often seem more esoteric (abstract/symbolic) than even the mathematicians' math questions? I am interested to find out as to why there is this difference...

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    $\begingroup$ You can remove the first line since it is on-topic iirc. And I don’t know why I can't edit. $\endgroup$ Dec 15, 2021 at 6:31
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    $\begingroup$ Can you give some examples? It isn't obvious to me that math oriented questions here are more abstract. $\endgroup$ Dec 15, 2021 at 11:31
  • $\begingroup$ @JohnRennie I had to search through some questions, and sorry if anybody's equations show up here... but I guess I am thinking of equations like H(p(t),q(t);t)=H(eiHtpe−iHt,eiHtqe−iHt;t) which might be considered too vague/generalized. It's fine if one knows it already, but quite unhelpful if one doesn't know it in the first place... There was quite an old amusing video I managed to dig back up after some searching youtube.com/watch?v=wTUSz-HSaBg (~14:00) in which the interviewee coyfully admitted that mathematicians sometimes can't even follow the maths in string theory... :) $\endgroup$
    – user315366
    Dec 15, 2021 at 12:25

1 Answer 1


Your impression when comparing physics.SE and math.SE is likely a combination of several factors:

  1. physics.SE's policy on homework-like questions is much stricter than any comparable policy on math.SE, i.e. you see a lot of "concrete" questions about solving math exercises on math.SE whose equivalent on physics.SE would be off-topic.

  2. There are two SE sites for mathematics: math.SE and MathOverflow. The latter is where questions by professional mathematicans and advanced math students tend to go, so to get a proper comparison, you would have to compare the union of the questions on math.SE and MO to the questions of physics.SE. In other words, math.SE alone is not the correct sample for "mathematicians' math questions".

  3. physics.SE gets "math questions" of a kind very rare on a pure math site: Questions by mathematicians trying to understand physics, and by physicists trying to understand a more mathematical formulation of their field. These questions tend to be very general questions about the mathematical structure behind a (sub)field of physics and thus might seem very "abstract" to you compared to questions focused on solving a particular problem of understanding one has encountered. Again, you probably need to compare these questions more to "general" questions on MathOverflow than anything on math.SE to get a proper comparison.

  • $\begingroup$ @ ACuriousMind thank you, it is hard to explain but I will try this example... I can usually understand the problem statement in mathematics, say all the non-trivial zeros of the Riemann zeta function lie along a particular straight line... I might not realize the difficulty and technique required to approach this problem, but I can get a sense of what the problem statement is, and ways it can be approached. But there have been many times I have not been able to make head or tail of even what the problem statement is in a physics question, let alone what is the answer... $\endgroup$
    – user315366
    Dec 15, 2021 at 12:40
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    $\begingroup$ @James Really, go to MO and tell me you "usually" understand the questions there unless you have specific expertise in the topic being discussed. For instance, if you haven't taken any algebraic geometry classes, go to the algebraic-geometry tag - can you really make out what's being discussed in most of the questions there? $\endgroup$
    – ACuriousMind Mod
    Dec 15, 2021 at 12:46
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    $\begingroup$ @ ACuriousMind you are right, the MathOverflow questions are highly abstract and specialized too... $\endgroup$
    – user315366
    Dec 15, 2021 at 12:52
  • $\begingroup$ It's worth mentioning that Physics Overflow exists too now. $\endgroup$ Dec 18, 2021 at 19:41
  • $\begingroup$ @ConnorBehan I didn't mention it because it is (very much intentionally) not affiliated with the SE network. See physics.meta.stackexchange.com/q/6196/50583. $\endgroup$
    – ACuriousMind Mod
    Dec 18, 2021 at 19:42

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