If you’re reading this the morning it’s published, there’s a good chance that right at this very second I am sitting with pen in hand doing battle with a statistical mechanics final. Topics: fermions at zero and low temperature, virial expansion of the equation of state, critical constants and critical exponents of a Van der Walls like equation, and critical constants and exponents in an Ising lattice. The first two (I hope) aren’t so bad, the third is difficult, the fourth may be well-nigh impossible. We’ll see.
I do have something for y’all to cogitate over while I’m sweating. I came across a Vox Day post that I think warrants some commentary. He’s a semi-frequent bete noire around ScienceBlogs by virtue of being (among other things) a radical libertarian Christian skeptic of global warming, vaccination, and science in general.
He presents a list of definitions of science in various science textbooks. The definitions tend toward the ambiguous, and a few are borderline contradictory. Almost all of them are from biology texts. I own well over two dozen physics textbooks, and on a little thinking and poking, I note that as far as I know not a single one of them tries to define science. I’m pretty sure none of them even try to define physics. Even the freshman intro text only makes passing comment about how physics requires measurement before launching into a discussion of the SI units.
While I’m not certain this was the conscious intent of the authors, I suspect the reason is that physics is so obvious as to not need explanation. It’s like a cookbook defining cooking. Why bother? If you end up with edible food, you’ve cooked. If you end up with a mathematical statement of the way nature is observed to work, you’ve done physics.
So am I being too flippant, or is physics just a lot easier to define than science in general? I know science isn’t all that hard to get a handle on, but of course there’s intrinsically some fuzziness or else that whole “philosophy of science” thing would have been put to bed a long time ago. Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing, mind you. But I wonder if some of the less mathematical science textbooks dither too much in trying to cover every possible base in their definitions. It’s not so hard to do science. Step 1: Get some facts. Step 2: Build on ‘em.