by Peter Marquardt, Cologne, Germany
In science, it is all too easy to jump to conclusions. As the development during the past century has shown, this seems particularly true of physics. Scientific modeling should and must be consistent and free of internal contradictions. This begins with the very first step: Analyze the vocabulary used in order to define the problem in question. Many a discussion is bound to remain fruitless if there is no consensus even about the basic terminology. For instance, ’relative velocity’ may have different meanings, depending on the view of velocity. The interpretation “two bodies are in relative motion if their mutual distance changes with time” does not respect the vector property of velocities. It is often easily overlooked ‘trifles’ like this that make consensus impossible. Likewise, ‘time’ and ‘space’ provide unexpected pitfalls if unspecified. ‘Time’ is not identical with ‘duration’ and ‘space’ is not ‘volume’. Time and space in their abstract general physical meaning provide the stage on which events happen. Hence they are not subject to the events themselves. Scientific language must be unique.
A major difference between physics and math is that pure numbers don’t give us physics. The dimensions of physical quantities must be respected, independent of the system of units chosen. This is a necessary, not sufficient, condition to formulate physical ideas correctly. We should have consensus about the use of mathematics in physics as an assistant science. Math is a wonderful and most valuable help in physics - if used properly; it is a catastrophe if allowed to enslave physical ideas as is the case in certain (you-know-which) 20th century cult theories. These cult theories blocked the progress of physics more than anything else and we should consider it our task to tell the public why they should be abandoned in spite of their pseudo-successes (with math, it is possible to make a physically untenable theory yield numerically correct results, just think of cosmology before Kepler). To rid physics of this burden is not only a matter of saving uncounted $$ spent by the taxpayer and wasted by the ‘science lords’ for fruitless research that serves only their (the lords’) purpose. This is also a matter of putting physics back on the track where it once was a real science, just think of the great achievements of the 17th to 19th centuries. Their progress in science deserves to be continued in all modesty. Do not “reach for the stars”. Looking for a world formula is like looking for the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Nature’s Giant Puzzle is impossible to solve completely. We are lucky if a few pieces fit.
Putting together a few pieces of the Giant Puzzle is enough work for a lifetime, no matter where we start our work. It is of utmost importance to strive for a correct analysis of any chosen physical scenario, which includes being aware of the necessary approximations and assumptions that are usually (and often tacitly) made. Long-standing discussions dealing with, say, the Doppler effect demonstrate the importance of careful analysis. If misunderstood or misinterpreted, physical effects lead to very strange theories that die hard (if ever).
True, we have to start somewhere with our modeling. That necessarily implies assumptions, approximations, etc. Let us try to focus on the essence of physics: What are the iron principles that never have been found to fail and still leave room for novel discoveries? Critically consider the observers’ role. There is no point in repeating old mistakes just to please the observers’ view. Scientific modeling must be as objective (i. e. independent of the observers’ view; Kepler’s lesson) as can be. There are illusions galore that have been mistaken as being ‘equivalent’ with the actual event. According to my experience, the public (not specialized in physics) accepts this approach readily because it matches with their everyday experience. They find it rewarding to be invited to follow the scientific line of reasoning instead of being scared by weird ideas camouflaged with horrifying formulas. Their applause will be our greatest reward.