Thursday, November 17, 2016

Quotes from "Why should physicists study history?"

My top highlights from the wonderful paper Why should physicists study history? by Matthew Stanley:
"History is not a list of names and dates. It's a way of thinking that can be powerful and illuminating."

"Social interactions really do influence what scientist produce."

"How a community tells its history changes the way it thinks about itself."

"A historical perspective on science can help physicists understand what is going on when they practice their craft, and it provides numerous tools that are useful for physicists themselves."

"Physics is a social endeavor."

"Research is done by people. And people have likes and dislikes, egos and prejudices. Physicists, like everyone else get attached to their favorite ideas and hang on them perhaps long after they should let them go."

"The history of science can help dismantle the myth of the purely rational genius living outside the everyday world. It makes physics more human."

"And a more human physics is a good thing. For starters, it makes physics more accessible."

"A field in which people are aknowledged as people is much more appealing than one in which they are just calculating machines."

"Physics only work when people talk to each other and communication s not always easy."

"Everything seems obvious in retrospect."

"The history of physics can remind us how difficult is to justify ideas that now seem obvious."

"Complexity, not simplicity , has ruled the practice of science."

"Every discovery has come out of a messy mix of people, ideas, accidents and arguments."

"Students and young researchers are often heartened to learn that physics is hard work and that it is ok for their own efforts not to look like a text-boo presentation. Messiness is a standard. Mistakes are normal. The results of physics are not self-evident."

"The history of physics suggests that there are usually several ways to approach a problem."

"Turning complexity into good physics requires creativity. You can never tell what weird idea will help clarify a confusing observation or provide the key to interpreting an equation. History uncovers the strange stew of concepts that were necessary for the development of physics."

"The interplay of various approaches is what brought us a modern view."

"Strange but ultimately useful perspectives come from fields and disciplines apparently distant from the problem at hand."

"The history of science shows how important it is for scientists across different fields to talk to each other. Conversations among separate groups are healthy. Apparently isolated problems are often closedly tied together, and you never know where you will find the weird idea that solves your difficulty."

"The best strategy for encouraging diverse ideas is to cultivate a diverse community."

"Underrepresented groups that offer different ways of thingking are often the source of fresh insights and novel methods."

"Underrepresented groups are usually marginalized because of cultural inertia or deliberate decisions made long ago."

"The diversity of ideas and interpretations serves as a reminder that physics is a work in progress. Knowledge is provisional. There are always new ways to tackle a problem, and there is always more to be learned."

"Accepting uncertainty would require changes in how science is taught."

"Curiosity should be revered, and everyone should be encouraged to ask, what else?"

"If scientist are not explicit and honest about their doubts, a crisis of confidence arises when that uncertainty is revealed."

"Physics wasn't always as it is."

"The flip side of accepting physics will be different in the future is accepting that it was different in the past. Everyone has a tendency to assume that the way things are now is the norm. But history makes it clear that things were not always this way. An understanding of why people used to think differently is a powerful tool for understanding people today. By drawing attention to older, usnpoken assumptions, history shows us how to start paying attention to our own."

"A knowledge of the historic and physical background, gives the kind of independence from prejudices of his generation from which most scientists are suffering" Einstein


"..they should study the history of those ideas and understand the circumstances in which they were justified and found useful."

"History trains you to think critically about received ideas. History provides evidence of roads not taken."

"Science's plurality of interpretation can make the history of science a resource for modern scientific research." Hasok Chang
"Complementary Science -> recovering forgotten and unsolved puzzles from the past."

"Putting complementary science into practice demands difficult self-examination. Thinking deeply about assumptions and accepted knowledge can be hard to do in professional scientific contexts, but history is a mode in which it's encouraged."

"The simple realization that people used to think differently can be quite powerful."

"Physics doesn't have rigid rules."

"Scientist simply don't follow a rigid, linear problem-solving system. Sometimes they start with a hypothesis, sometimes with a strange observation, sometimes with a weird anomaly in an otherwise straightforward experiment."

"... a scientist must be an "unscrupulous opportunist", adopting and adapting various approaches as new challenges arise."

"History teaches that knowledge is not fixed."

"Engaging with history will teach you to understand ideas on their own terms."

"Historical thinking makes its subject dynamic. It helps you think about science as a series of questions rather than a series of statements. Those questions will continue into the future, and it is helpful to know what has been asked so far." "In the end, history of science exposes scientists to new ways of thinking and forces them to reexamine what is already known. Such intellectual flexibility is essential for any discipline, but it's particularly important for fields as influential and authoritative as physics and other sciences."

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