Monday, February 26, 2007

Philosophy or Grad School

I want your feed back on this one.

I have been thinking about this for a while and I have even mentioned it to some if not all of you. I have the opportunity to get a double major in Physics and Philosophy, but that would mean being here for another year. The difficult thing is that I have not heard back from any grad schools yet and I don't even know if I got in anywhere. But to explain why I'm considering this I should probably mention why I'm thinking about this.

I have a friend that recently gave up full funding for a PhD at Brandeis University in Boston so that he can spend time doing what he really wants to do. That got me thinking about somethings and my motivations for what I am doing. One of the original reasons why I went into physics and not Philosophy is that, to be honest, Philosophy is dead. Philosophers (trained, accredited philosophers) today have very little little impact on the world. If someone says that they are a philosopher, nobody listens to them ("yeah, and so is everybody else!" kind of thing). But in today's world Physicists have taken over where Philosophers used to reign supreme (think of Plato's Republic and the "Philosopher Kings"). So one way of getting noticed and getting people to listen to you in today's world is to be a Physicist (think of Michio Kaku).

The point I'm trying to make is that the field of Philosophy is a "dead field of study". No new thing will come from it and those that take part in it are content to let it languish in insignificance while the rest of the world takes the teachings of Philosophy and actually do something with it. Philosophers like to claim that they are the beginning of all learning and reason, but they are find it more interesting to argue about the personality quirks of Socrates rather than try to understand the universe.

Anyway, enough with the ranting. Main point: Philosophy is dead. There is no change, there is no inspiration and no discovery of truth. But what there is to learn in philosophy is useful. There is truth there but it is buried under so many layers of corrupted sediments that it is no wonder that those that study it are lost in many "Kant fathoms" (a philosophical depth just over one's head). (OK enough with the ranting. This time for real;)

So I have the option of getting a double major, but that would mean delaying graduation and grad school for another year. I am just wondering what you guys may think about that. If I go on to grad school in physics I may never use it again but perhaps the training will be useful for thinking and being able to reason things from a different perspective. They say that many break throughs come because someone took an idea from another field and applied it to their research, so this may be a good thing.

I just want to get some second (or third, or fourth, or fifth) opinions on this.


  1. I really think physics graduate school is going to be a rigorous enough of an experience that you had better know that is what you want to do.

    If you are still unsure what you want to do then you really may benefit by taking one year out of your life, examining philosophy and other things that may interest you, then decide in a year from now what is really best for you.

    Seriously it is only one year. True you don't want to prolong your undergraduate education longer then possible, but you may make a mistake if you rush into a graduate program that you still are unsure about. After a year of contemplation you may feel better about the decision.

    Also, I wouldn't worry about philosophy being a dead field. First of all I am not sure that it is. But even if it was we need good philosophers. Plus from philosophy you could go into law, politics, etc...

    Sorry this comment is so long but to sum it up: Graduate school is a tough enough place from what I hear that you had better really enjoy hard physics and know that is what you want to do. If you are unsure it may be beneficial to take one year out of your life and really examine where your heart is. It is worth investing 1.25% of your life to make sure that the rest is how you want it to be.

    After it is all said and done you may decide to do physics after all. Or you may decide to go where there is more money and less stress.

  2. You make a good point. One year is not really much of a sacrifice to figure out exactly what I want to do. But one thing that I do know is that I will be involved with physics for the rest of my life. I have always enjoyed it and the questions in physics have always been the questions that have been of personal interest for me. Though I may end up more in the experimental/observational end of physics rather than the hardcore theoretical.

    As for law or politics I only have one thing to say, "HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!!!" I really don't have a high opinion of either nor do I have any desire to go into either. Also as for the more money and less stress, I have never had a true desire to "make money" I know I could do it. But I have no desire to do it. And as for stress, I have found that I work best and I feel best when I am under a significant amount of stress. I have a hard time going home to visit my parents because when I am home I have very little to do and with very little to do I have a tendancy to do nothing and that is not good for me. So you might say that I enjoy stess. I also believe that it is best to streach myself well beyond my limits. That way I can do more than if I never tried.

  3. I know hanging around N216 people may get the impression that theory is *THE* way to go. Part of this is my fault, but be it known that I really believe non-theory can in so many ways be a better choice. Here are a couple things to keep in mind:

    1. What is current theory doing for society? How many health problems are being solved by string theorists? What benefits technology better: inflationary cosmology or condensed matter and nanophysics? At the end of the day, the theorists will spend all their time working on projects that make themselves happy while the non-hardcore-theorists are solving the worlds pressing problems *today*.

    2. Look at the job market, are there more pure theorists or more non-pure-theorists faculty jobs? How many at BYU are doing pure theory, and how many of those who are considered theory may really be more computational? You think compitition is stiff trying to be a analytical theorist in gradschool what until you try to find a job. And of course, you are only competing with the Ed Whittens and Richard Feynmans of the world over a few slots.

    3. Speaking of gradschool, it isn't any secret that most schools accept more theorists then they have room for since they are usually smart, then force them into non-theory work. I met a few people at Los Alamos who themselves or friends of theirs realized that there wasn't enough room for half as many people to do theory as wanted so most either had to switch or drop out.

    4. Lastly, look at the Nobel Prize posters on the wall in here. How many are pure-theorists? A small fraction. Face it, in this world most of the non-theory stuff will get higher acclaim than the pure theory by fellow physicists. It is pop culture that puts all the glamor on things like String Theory.

    5. I really like theory, I just wanted to point out the reality of things. There is no shame in doing non-theory and solving real world problems *today*, and then being able to turn around and get a job. :)

  4. I wonder what another year in philosophy will teach you that you don't already know. Would there be anything more learned in that year that is so enlightening or useful that it will make a bigger impact on your physics research than what you already do know? Still, it is only one more year and I am sure that a second major looks good for graduate school applications! No matter what I am sure that you'll make the right decision.

  5. Considering that Neo-physicists beginning to sound more and more like mystics, and indeed are saying what mystics have said for a long time, you may wish to look into the direction of attempting to understand the mystic's world of experience. It may surprise you and perhaps there is a world of unexpected existential satisfaction. A philosopher thinks about what a mystic feels and experiences.


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