Stupid Textbook Questions

One of the persistent complaints about mathematics and science textbooks, especially high-school textbooks, is that the questions tend to involve formula manipulation in a way that is not very meaningful. Such questions tend to be artificial. A case in point is the following question, taken from a chapter on special relativity in a high-school physics … Read more

On The Nature Of Scientific Theories

I was reading the delightful blog Ask A Mathematician / Ask A Physicist (in particular, this post), when I encountered this noteworthy comment (and this one) from one of that blog’s readers. The post is about why the earth orbits the sun, and the essence of the two comments is that science is unable to … Read more

Does Nature “Obey” The Laws of Physics?

Today I’d like to discuss a pet peeve of mine. In many physics textbooks, one reads phrases such as: a certain physical system obeys a certain law of physics Here’s an example taken from page 147 of Chemical Principles, by Steven S. Zumdahl, Cengage, 2009 (although I am not trying to single out this author … Read more

The Field Concept in Physics

Let’s continue the story in the previous post about Newtonian mechanics. In Newton’s theory of gravity, two objects that have mass attract each other with a gravitational force simply by virtue of their mass. The strength of the force is proportional to the product of the two masses, and inversely proportional to the square of … Read more