Alec Nevala-Lee

Thoughts on art, creativity, and the writing life.

A brief guide to becoming a bad physicist

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Gerard 't Hooft

It is much easier to become a bad theoretical physicist than a good one. I know of many individual success stories…Here is how to become a bad theorist:  Compare yourself with Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, Paul Dirac, or other celebrities in theoretical physics, and reach a conclusion in favor of yourself. Note that good theoreticians do not consider these famous physicists as saints; none of them were infallible, but the few instances where they could be corrected are well-known by historians of science, and do not have any effect on modern physics.

You may consider the option of connecting your work with mystery topics such as telepathy and consciousness. Make outrageous claims of having solved long-standing problems. Of course, you expect that you will become famous, but unfortunately, only a few really good theoretical physicists have equations and effects named after them. This is because colleagues recognize their importance and since they want to give names to equations and effects anyway, they bestow the discoverers with that honor.  The bad theoretical physicist, in anticipation, names his own equations and effects, and even his entire theories, after himself right away. The impudence to attach your own name to whatever you claim to have discovered is considered improper in science, and in practice it betrays amateurism and incompetence.

On your way towards becoming a bad theoretician, take your own immature theory, stop checking it for mistakes, don’t listen to colleagues who do spot weaknesses, and start admiring your own infallible intelligence. Try to overshout all your critics, and have your work published anyway. If the well-established science media refuse to publish your work, start your own publishing company and edit your own books. If you are really clever you can find yourself a formerly professional physics journal where the chief editor is asleep. To recognize such a journal, look for one where, in the list of board members on the cover, more than fifty percent has already deceased. Accuse all your critics of the short-sightedness that you actually suffer too much from yourself. It is easy and pleasant, it does not require the hard work of checking and rechecking your results, and if you are sufficiently eloquent, you might even gather some admirers.

Gerard ‘t Hooft, “How to Become a Bad Theoretical Physicist”

Written by nevalalee

November 6, 2016 at 7:30 am

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