This morning I read a very interesting post about “Can an amateur today make useful contributions to theoretical physics or mathematics?” at Andrew Bruce’s Mathematical Ramblings blog.
As the title suggests, Andrew goes into detailed thought about why he believes “amateurs” cannot contribute to theoretical physics or mathematics. Andrew raises some excellent points regarding the subject and there’s some great thought-provoking responses in the comments section as well. I’ve included a snippet from the blog post below:
So, why can’t “amateurs” contribute? Here are my thoughts…
1) Without spending some time in academia, “amateurs” are not aware of the culture and what is expected of anyone wishing to contribute to mathematical science. They do not know how to do research.
2) “Amateurs”, although interested and very keen at times do not often realise just how much of a prerequisite can be required to conduct research. They can often lack the mathematical skills to contribute. Claims like “I can solve the Riemann hypothesis using high school mathematics” only suggests that they don’t understand the hypothesis correctly in the first place. Trying to rewrite particle theory using high school maths is also redundant. We have a great construct for doing particle physics, it is called the standard model.
3) Theoretical physics, mathematical physics and mathematics as a whole is split up into smaller sections. One can only hope to get acquainted properly with a small subset of what is out there. Without specialising to a large extent, it is unlikely that one can discover something new and interesting. Trying to find smaller, specialised problems to work on is usually the way forward: unless you are a genius and can discover a whole new branch of mathematics! “Amateurs” seem to be focused on very well-known and published open questions. In number theory the Riemann hypothesis is a great example of this. In physics, a theory of quantum gravity is an example.
4) Because the individual does not understand it, it must be wrong. “Amateurs” fall into this mind set quite often. Finding a simpler more elegant approach to things is a large part of the mathematical sciences. However, trying to show that special relativity or quantum mechanics are mathematically inconsistent or do not agree with nature is futile. This also includes the desire to use nothing but high school maths to explain all of physics.
Andrew Bruce is a mathematical physicist working on the boundaries of physics and modern geometry. Andrew is currently Assistant Professor in the Department of Mathematical Physics and Differential Geometry at the Institute of Mathematics, IMPAN, Warsaw, Poland.
Please let me know in the comments below if you found this post interesting or wish to share your opinion.