I'm sorta new here, so this may already have a standard procedure, but I haven't found it anywhere if it exists. Anyway, I've been seeing a lot of questions along the lines of:

  • "What is the physical meaning of ____?"

  • "Is there a physical interpretation of _____?"

  • "Can someone give me a REAL explanation of ____?"

How are these questions generally handled? I've tried answering some, and it's very difficult to figure out exactly what people want here.


Physical Interpretation of AMPERE's law

Physical significance of product of two charges

Meaning of the Poynting vector

A real explanation of the electromagnetic sine dependency

  • $\begingroup$ Can you give some examples of questions? And explain why it's difficult to figure out what people want? Do you mean the questions are unclear so you have trouble answering them on-point, or do you mean that your answers haven't been well-received and you think you are violating some norms/standards/expectations? $\endgroup$ – tpg2114 Dec 31 '16 at 15:51
  • $\begingroup$ It's mostly that the questions are unclear, but I feel on some level that this kind of question is unclear by its very nature, due to the risk of stepping into philosophy of physics rather than physics itself. $\endgroup$ – probably_someone Dec 31 '16 at 15:58
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ I ask a lot of these questions and none of them have been closed, I don't think I've ever received any 'unclear' close votes. There's nothing inherently unclear about a request for intuition. $\endgroup$ – knzhou Dec 31 '16 at 21:40
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I guess I just haven't seen a situation yet where someone asked for intuition and actually got what they were looking for. $\endgroup$ – probably_someone Dec 31 '16 at 21:47
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @probably_someone This just happened for me in two of my most recent questions, here and here. $\endgroup$ – knzhou Dec 31 '16 at 23:57
  • $\begingroup$ Ah, I see the difference now. Your questions were well-posed, and so could be easily answered. It really is just an issue of clarity, then. $\endgroup$ – probably_someone Jan 1 '17 at 0:42

Well, if the questions are unclear, it is usually best to ask clarifying comments and/or flag/vote-to-close as unclear (we have a close reason dedicated just to that issue). Flagging it as "Should be closed" will put it into the review queue and more experienced members can decide if it should or should not be closed.

In some of your example questions, the best answer seems to be writing the equation and/or definition and explaining each term in it. For example, "this is the time rate of change term, this is the flux term, this is the body force term, etc." with examples of what each of those signifies physically.

Overall, I would say you're doing things correctly. You are asking clarifying questions in the comments when things are unclear. The only next step I would take is to flag the question for closing if you think it is too broad, based on opinion, more about philosophy than physics, or if it is still unclear and the original person has not clarified or refused to clarify. More senior members will decide and you can check back periodically to see if they agreed with you or not. It's the best way to cut your teeth on learning the policies of the site.

  • 7
    $\begingroup$ Good answer, but I do also think it's worth emphasizing that the reason questions are closed is to give them a chance to be edited into better questions and reopened. People sometimes think that voting to close a question means "we don't want this, go away" but it's (usually) not, it just means that you think the question needs fixing up. That's why we call it "on hold". $\endgroup$ – David Z Dec 31 '16 at 21:08

You must log in to answer this question.

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