I'm very curious and like to understand physical concepts. So I search the internet and ask questions on the site.

But there is a problem: my understanding isn't complete about the subject sometimes I don't even know what concepts I need to look up. The internet is running low on easy to understand texts and figures when I'm trying to understand something in the more advanced fields like the general relativity and quantum field theory.

Sometimes when I ask a question, and I get a highly technical answer that uses lots of advanced mathematical concepts I don't understand yet.

I have no doubt that it's a correct answer, because it receives upvotes. But the answer doesn't give me that "Aha!" moment, and makes me feel dumb. Probably I'd need to spend weeks or months to look up all the concepts to fully understand the response I got.

  • What should I do when face a response like this?
  • How should I ask my question that invites an easy to understand answer?
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    $\begingroup$ One thought is to put your grade level & physics background in your profile. Some people here peak at the profiles before answering to see what level of an answer they need to give. $\endgroup$
    – Kyle Kanos
    Commented Apr 10, 2015 at 16:57
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    $\begingroup$ Sometimes when I ask a question, and I get a highly technical answer that uses lots of advanced mathematical concepts I don't understand yet - That's partly because the essence of the SE system is to create stuff (answers) which is useful not just to the person who asked, but also to many other (potential) viewers, both current and future. $\endgroup$
    – 299792458
    Commented Apr 10, 2015 at 17:05
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    $\begingroup$ However, if you don't follow the answer, just post a comment below the answer asking the answerer to tone it down a bit. That generally works. $\endgroup$
    – 299792458
    Commented Apr 10, 2015 at 17:07
  • $\begingroup$ @KyleKanos That's a good idea. $\endgroup$
    – Calmarius
    Commented Apr 10, 2015 at 20:20
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    $\begingroup$ The reason the internet is running low on easy-to-understand material about GR and QFT is probably because those aren't easy to understand topics. They are both intensive in mathematics and are commonly graduate level and above physics. There is no easy explanation of QFT. $\endgroup$
    – Jim
    Commented Apr 14, 2015 at 14:49
  • $\begingroup$ @ACuriousJim Once someone manages to communicate the general idea of some theory I can almost find out all the relevant mathematics myself, suddenly becomes clear why does one need this or that mathematical definition or construct. The problem is that it's often presented up side down: mathematics only, without telling why do we need those math constructs. $\endgroup$
    – Calmarius
    Commented Apr 14, 2015 at 16:26
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    $\begingroup$ @Calmarius: the theoretical constructs of, especially QFT, are not elegant ideas that came about from careful first principles. They're often inelegant messes that had to be cobbled together. The overall construct is highly effective, but you're going to be stuck with at least some level of mathematics. General relativity is, inherently, applied non-euclidean geometry, and the first several attempts at QFT were internally inconsistent, until a ton of machinery was thrown at it. The standard model is more like a tank than a ferrari. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 15, 2015 at 12:56
  • $\begingroup$ @TheDarkSide That's the beauty of SE. What would be tremendous though, is if someone - seeing a great, highly technical answer - thought "hey, I can explain this to the layman, with some loss of accuracy/generality of course". And then we get a nice collection of answers, all at least almost-equally valid, at a variety of levels of technical complexity. $\endgroup$
    – OJFord
    Commented Apr 18, 2015 at 19:34

1 Answer 1


What should I do when face a response like this?

Vote it up if you find it useful, don't if you don't (although I would implore you to not vote it down unless you find it needlessly obfuscated), and if it doesn't satisfy you, don't accept it.

It might be good if you left a comment like "I was looking for something less technical". While not every answerer will be willing (or able, since it might not even be possible) to provide a toned down version, I am sure many will be happy to provide one if they can.

How should I ask my question that invites an easy to understand answer?

Of course, nothing stops you from saying something like: "I'm looking for an intuitive understanding" or include your level of competence into the question, giving the potential answerers a clue about what you will or will not understand.

However, I don't think you should do that. The Q&As of SE are not meant to primarily help the asker, but to also provide insights to all the other people who read the question. Therefore, I believe it is not desirable to restrict to a particular level at which answers might be given - this just leads to potentially many different questions asking the same thing, but at a different level. It is far more elegant to have all the answers to one question, and every reader may find the answer that is best suited to their level on their own.

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Ideally, the question might get several answers hitting at varying levels of background knowledge. I don't think there's anything wrong with the OP stating in the question or a comment what kind of answer he's looking for. He just needs to remember that he's not the only person for whom the answers are written; they're written for every other person on the internet (since SE sites show up pretty highly in Google searches) who has ever wondered the same question he's asking. $\endgroup$
    – Sean
    Commented Apr 11, 2015 at 17:53
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    $\begingroup$ @Sean - I think you are hitting at the heart of it! $\endgroup$
    – Floris
    Commented Apr 13, 2015 at 12:40
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    $\begingroup$ Aside from my comment above, I do think that answers can end up ludicrously over-technical sometimes. I've seen people invoke QFT to answer "why does current flow through my wire when attached to a battery"-type questions. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 15, 2015 at 12:57
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    $\begingroup$ How about something like "I'd particularly appreciate answers that give an intuitive understanding but answers at all levels are, of course, welcome"? $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 22, 2015 at 9:11

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