The Relation of Physics to Other Sciences
3-1 Introduction Physics is the most fundamental and all-inclusive of the sciences, and has had a profound effect on all scientific development. In fact, physics is the presentday equivalent of what used to be called natural philosophy, from which most of our modern sciences arose. Students of many fields find themselves studying physics because of the basic role it plays in all phenomena. In this chapter we shall try to explain what the fundamental problems in the other sciences are, but of course it is impossible in so small a space really to deal with the complex, subtle, beautiful matters in these other fields. Lack of space also prevents our discussing the relation of physics to engineering, industry, society, and war, or even the most remarkable relationship between mathematics and physics. (Mathematics is not a science from our point of view, in the sense that it is not a natural science. The test of its validity is not experiment.) We must, incidentally, make it clear from the beginning that if a thing is not a science, it is not necessarily bad. For example, love is not a science. So, if something is said not to be a science, it does not mean that there is something wrong with it; it just means that it is not a science. 3-2 Chemistry The science which is perhaps the most deeply affected by physics is chemistry. Historically, the early days of chemistry dealt almost entirely with what we now call inorganic chemistry, the chemistry of substances which are not associated with living things. Considerable analysis was required to discover the existence of the many elements and their relationships—how they make the various relatively simple compounds found in rocks, earth, etc. This early chemistry was very important for physics. The interaction between the two sciences was very great because the theory of atoms was substantiated to a large extent by experiments in chemistry. The theory of chemistry, i.e., of the reactions themselves, was summarized to a large extent in the periodic chart of Mendeleev, which brings out many strange relationships among the various elements, and it was the collection of rules as to which substance is combined with which, and how, that constituted inorganic chemistry. All these rules were ultimately explained in principle by quantum mechanics, so that theoretical chemistry is in fact physics. On the other hand, it must be emphasized that this explanation is in principle. We have already discussed the difference between knowing the rules of the game of chess, and being able to play. So it is that we may know the rules, but we cannot play very well. It turns out to be very difficult to predict precisely what will happen in a given chemical reaction; nevertheless, the deepest part of theoretical chemistry must end up in quantum mechanics. There is also a branch of physics and chemistry which was developed by both sciences together, and which is extremely important. This is the method of statistics applied in a situation in which there are mechanical laws, which is aptly called statistical mechanics. In any chemical situation a large number of atoms are involved, and we have seen that the atoms are all jiggling around in a very random and complicated way. If we could analyze each collision, and be able to follow in detail the motion of each molecule, we might hope to figure out what would happen, but the many numbers needed to keep track of all these molecules exceeds so enormously the capacity of any computer, and certainly the capacity of 3-1
3-1 Introduction 3-2 Chemistry 3-3 Biology 3-4 Astronomy 3-5 Geology 3-6 Psychology 3-7 How did it get that way?
the mind, that it was important to develop a method for dealing with such complicated situations. Statistical mechanics, then, is the science of the phenomena of heat, or thermodynamics. Inorganic chemistry is, as a science, now reduced essentially to what are called physical chemistry...
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