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The Sciences

Talk Like a Physicist Day

Cosmic VarianceBy Sean CarrollFebruary 22, 2008 10:46 PM

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For years now, the visionaries over at Cocktail Party Physics have been suggesting that we institute a new national holiday, Talk Like a Physicist Day. After all, pirates have their own speech-pattern day, and physicists have shaped the modern world in ways almost as profound as pirates. Now it looks like a day has been chosen: March 14, beloved by mathematicians as Pi Day, but also notable as Einstein's birthday. What could work better? And, like any good movement, this one has its own blog! The excitement is palpable. This is a non-trivial undertaking, so brush off your power laws and ready your equations of motion, and to a first approximation you too can talk like a physicist. Of course, any good holiday needs accessories. Happily, there is no shortage of items to choose from. Let me just mention one irresistible gift idea: particle plushies.

group_gravitonquark.jpg

That's right, an impressive and growing collection of cuddly representations of your favorite subatomic particles, from old reliables ("the muon: a heavy electron who lives fast and dies young") to friends you would someday like to meet ("Higgs boson: he's a bit of a snob, because he's sometimes referred to as the `God particle'"). You know your whole family wants them. And, just in case you don't know what it sounds like to talk like a physicist, here's an admirable example set by a famous non-physicist: Richard Dawkins (via onegoodmove). Part of a much longer documentary, Break the Science Barrier. See Dawkins allow a deadly pendulum to swing to within inches of his nose! He explains that he is not in any danger, because there are "laws of physics" that ensure the pendulum doesn't have enough energy to smash his head into a million gooey pieces. That's good physicist-talk right there. Of course, had Dawkins been reading our comment threads lately, he would get the impression that a true scientist has to be open-minded about macroscopic phenomena, not rely on any supposed understanding of "conservation of energy." Science doesn't know everything! How can he be sure that there aren't forces science just hasn't detected yet, that won't send that pendulum careening into his smug puss? He keeps relying on his fancy "Newtonian mechanics," probably based on some sort of "equations," but he should recognize that the world is a mysterious place! With closed-minded hidebound reactionary equation-based establishment hacks like Richard Dawkins, it's no wonder science hasn't made any progress over the last couple of centuries. (In case you're wondering, all of the above was perfectly good physicist-talk. Physicists love mockery.)

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