Are you a 'Babylonian mind' like RP Feynman?
2015 by W. Beaty
When I first became interested in science as a kid, I sat down and
figured out how it all worked.
Well, sort of.
I read many articles which explained the "Common Base" amplifier.
home-made explanation sort of worked, but I wasn't satisfied. I was full
of niggling doubts. And why the hell were the textbooks using Common Base
to introduce transistors to the newbies? It just didn't make any
When I went into engineering school, I found it extremely odd that there
were still no good explanations for much of basic physics and
there were detailed mathematical treatments.
And nobody else seemed curious. Everyone
else in the class seemed to think that to memorize the equations was the
same as learning concepts and gaining understanding of the device. (R. Feynman calls this the
Euclidean or "Greek viewpoint;" the love of mathematics, as opposed to the
viewpoint" where concepts are far more important than equations.)
I'm a total Babylonian. For me, math is useless at the start, equations
are like those black box Spice programs which might work great, but they
don't tell you any details of what's happening inside a device in the real
world. I can learn the math, but that just means I can run a "mental
spice program" without needing any computer, and I still don't know how
transistors work. First tell me what "Transistor Action" is all about.
Show me animated pictures, use analogies. Only after I've attained a
visual and gut-level understanding of something, only then is the math
useful to me for refining it and adding all the details. However, for me
the math alone is not a genuine explanation. Math is just a tool or a
recipe, a crutch for those who want nothing except the final numerical
result, and it certainly does not confer expert knowledge.
Now many years have passed and I think I see the problem...
Traditional science explanations basically *suck.*
The ones I see in high school textbooks and hobby magazines are terrible.
They're full of errors and contradictions. They teach misconceptions
that, if we don't discover them, will warp our understanding forever.
Textbooks for engineers spend their time
deriving equations which will end up in software simulations, but still
they don't sit down and describe what's happening in a direct clear
fashion. And then there's all those authors who
amplifiers to introduce transistors to newbies.
Are they just fools who
follow a tradition only because it's traditional? Why don't they ever
make efforts to improve the explanations? Were they written in
stone by god? Well, if nobody but me thinks the explanation is open to
improvements, then I'd better put my money where my mouth is. (And if I'm
right, then it should be very easy to write my own vastly-improved
PS Now I finally understand one of the RP Feynman quotes. Feynman
understand such things as high-school physics without going off and
his own version from scratch. "What I cannot create, I don't understand."
But but... this is what I've been doing on this website! The stuff
textbooks is non-babylonian. I only learned it by going off and basically
writing my own textbook (in my head.) "Create" the whole science course
myself, with no math involved. Once I understood the concepts, I add the
math back in at the end, since math is just a tool for getting exact
TEACHER: you cannot understand this without advanced math. Explaining it
to the general public is impossible.
EINSTEIN: "If you can't explain it to your grandmother, it means that you
don't understand it yourself."
Yep, RP Feynman wasn't the only Babylonian-style mind. Einstein was