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I feel bad for asking such a question, because I know there is probably a simple answer.

However, I feel baited after reading a conversation of the meta thread about what questions were and weren't appropriate. I felt offended when I read that questions which didn't have answers, e.g. speculative questions, could not be asked. How can we not ask questions about challenging, interesting, and speculative aspects of life and reality?

Newton and all the greats created theories solely on circumspection, analyzing of phenomena, asking questions no one had before. Einstein was stubborn, and always asked questions, questions that brought the body of science forward.

I don't mean to be overly controversial, but I mean that life is wonderful, reality is complex, and limiting questions only to what has been asked and answered before is limiting to natural human creativity and analyzing ability that would better the body of scientific work. It is exactly opposite to the heart of physics, which is all about understanding the nature of phenomena, enjoying it, exploring it, and getting interested in it. Without asking questions, one is looking at everything in the wrong way.

I am deeply hurt by the implications and perhaps my emotionalism is bringing me to a place where I do not see the rule clearly. I worry about this limitation of these types of interesting questions. Peer review sounds good. Perhaps it is not.

The link I am referring to is here: Is non-mainstream physics appropriate for this site?

Edit: as I read this my mind thinks "Abuse, abuse, abuse." The reason we probably do not allow such an exchange is abuse by poor practitioners. Nonetheless, the nature of the post seems to stand. We must worry about taking steps to bring physics forward over time, not leaving it as it is. That wouldn't be fun.

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    $\begingroup$ Note that downvotes in the Meta just indicate disagreement with your views, not that it's a stupid question. I think your question is a perfectly reasonable one, with a perfectly reasonable answer (from ACuriousMind), and my downvote indicates only that I don't agree with your view. $\endgroup$ – John Rennie Aug 9 '14 at 6:24
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The purpose of Physics.SE is not to be a forum for people to discuss their idea about physics.

The purpose of Physics.SE is not to advance the current frontier of science in any way.

The purpose of Physics.SE is not to encompass all that life and reality can be.

The purpose of Physics.SE is to be a place where answers to questions about established physics can be found.

This does not mean that the question is not interesting if it cannot be asked here. Neither does it mean that it is not useful or important. It does simply mean that we do not want it here.

And, of course, one reason for the mainstream policy is that we do not want to be inundated with the personal pet theories of crackpots. But closing a question as non-mainstream does not make any statement about the asker, it simply says: We do not deal with such questions here. And that is because we are not a forum, and speculative questions would necessarily have to be discussed rather than answered. And that is just not what Physics.SE is intended to do.

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  • $\begingroup$ I really like how you phrased it here, very clear answer. $\endgroup$ – Bernhard Aug 8 '14 at 22:01
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    $\begingroup$ Yeah, I don't think I can improve on this. $\endgroup$ – David Z Aug 9 '14 at 5:26
  • $\begingroup$ "The purpose of Physics.SE is not to advance the state of the science in any way." Are you listening to yourself? $\endgroup$ – PhysSE is Cancer Aug 11 '14 at 20:33
  • $\begingroup$ @SchlomoSteinbergerstein: Yes, I am. It is fully intended that this sounds as categoric and harsh as it does, because it is true. We do not want to discover new things here, just to make things more known that are already known. The SE goal is not to advance the science itself, it is to spread and explain the science. $\endgroup$ – ACuriousMind Aug 11 '14 at 20:37
  • $\begingroup$ In that case, congratulations, with current moderation Physics.SE isn't advancing the state of science in any way. Good job! :) $\endgroup$ – PhysSE is Cancer Aug 11 '14 at 20:41
  • $\begingroup$ The purpose of Physics.SE is not to advance the current frontier of science in any way. Do you want to say by this that research-level questions are off topic? $\endgroup$ – Dilaton Aug 11 '14 at 22:11
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    $\begingroup$ @Dilaton: No. As I understand the tag, it is intended for questions about the current state of the research in a particular field, for asking if anyone has already looked at $THING, or for asking if $THING is compatible with what we know, which is perfectly fine. That the answers to such questions might, consequentially, lead to further advancement regarding $THING, is a welcome coincidental effect, but not the primary intention. $\endgroup$ – ACuriousMind Aug 11 '14 at 22:16
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You should keep in mind that this policy is a response to a very specific problem, and it tends to be used in a pretty well-focused way. Specifically, we get a steady stream of posts about wild theories about how if you allow for repulsive gravity then you fix both relativity and quantum mechanics, usually from people who have hardly bothered to learn the theories they pretend to debunk or the experimental evidence that their theory would need to explain.

This is not a problem that's unique to this site. Established researchers tend to get a large volume of unsolicited email with this sort of thing, and they used to get it by post before the e-epoch. (To get a taste for the stuff, see John Baez's Crackpot Index.)

The defining characteristic of these posts, as I see it, is that they take as a premise something that's either unverifiable, has been proved wrong, or has no evidence backing it, and is not present in the literature, and then proceed to ask a question without accepting the possibility that the premise is flawed as an answer.

These sort of posts visibly diminish the quality of the site and they make it a lot harder to keep the experts here (they have enough of it on their own inbox). To make things worse, it can be very hard to argue with the posters of these questions, and it's a demanding exercise with little actual gain.

It is OK, on the other hand, to ask speculative questions of the sort of "what if X?", or preferably, "how does X fit in with our current theoretical/experimental understanding of Y?". If you do post a question like that, then please be careful with your tone and phrasing, and keep an open mind throughout.

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  • $\begingroup$ Yeah. I see that poor guys like t'Hooft get mail by the pound on this. Then again, t'Hooft had a theoretical discussion here a while back, which is why I'm a bit envious of his abililty to speculate on the site. I think its true some of these questions are good I suppose, in that they're allowed here. Interesting. $\endgroup$ – Andres Salas Aug 11 '14 at 14:20
  • $\begingroup$ It's hard to get good statistics on this (mainly because a lot of the bad stuff gets closed > automatically deleted), but well-grounded speculation tends to be well-received as long as it's sensibly phrased. The best way to see what gets closed is to google the close reason, which currently shows ~75 results. I had a look and it's all pretty inane, though feel free to check up on it regularly and give a yell if you disagree. $\endgroup$ – Emilio Pisanty Aug 11 '14 at 16:11
  • $\begingroup$ I had a good time looking through another post you put on the "mainstream physics" close reason. I feel bad for the one chap who asked about gravity, and was floored by his statement , "I guess it's up to me to figure out what gravity really is." Ha! $\endgroup$ – Andres Salas Aug 11 '14 at 16:16
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    $\begingroup$ @AndresSalas Obligatory correction as a Dutchman: 't Hooft is the correct spelling! $\endgroup$ – Danu Aug 12 '14 at 8:03
  • $\begingroup$ 't oof! My bad. $\endgroup$ – Andres Salas Aug 12 '14 at 14:21
  • $\begingroup$ @Danu (more characters...) $\endgroup$ – Andres Salas Aug 12 '14 at 22:14

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