User:Petr Frish

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Born in Czech republic

studied at technical university in Prague

worked as applied physicist, in Prague and abroad

Now living in Highlands of the Czech republic

Czech biography at:

More about me: I am now writing knols - for fun - as described here


ouple years ago, after I had retired from a career in applied physics research, I was asked to teach an introductory physics course at a local college. It was to be a course for non-science majors, and so I asked the head of the physics department:

"Would this be a pre-calculus course?" He gave me an odd look, then said, ¨It's more like a ¨pre-algebra¨ course. You cannot use any math at all". "But how can you teach physics without mathematics?" I cried, and he gave me a textbook [1] called "Conceptual Physics", which indeed managed to explain quite a bit about contemporary physics, without advanced math. I do have some arguments with Paul's book, particularly in the area of material science, one of the fields I had studied in depth and applied to manufacturing problems. However, that book and its approach to teaching physics inspired series of knols on basic physics concepts.

My experience teaching this course convinced me that it is both possible and worthwhile to talk about the concepts of physics, the underlying ideas, and the history of those ideas, without relying on mathematics. It is possible to convey some of the essence of contemporary science. In meeting the challenge of explaining these ideas without math, I also learned how to explain complex ideas in plain language.

These knols are based on those experiences, and I hope you will find them not only entertaining, but also useful. The first knoll I wrote is an explanation of the meanings of Newton's three laws, and of universal gravitation. This is the topic usually covered in highschool textbooks and I keep my presentation on the highschool level. This means that I will not assume any knowledge, any concepts and ideas, which go beyond the knowledge of a typical high school student.

Yet my explanation will differ from what is in the usual textbooks. If you are a student, and are wondering what this 'Third law', the sentence "Action equal Reaction" (except for a sign) means, this knol is for you. However, be warned: Your teacher may not accept some of the formulations, and insights, which you will learn here. This is not because I am inventing some kind of alternative physics , but rather because this material is usually presented in textbooks in a rigid, traditional way, as a set of dogmas. which one must memorize because authority says "It is so."

A child in our culture encounters this approach to science at a very early age. It may seem like sun is rising in the morning, reaching the zenith, and descending in the west. 'BUT IT IS NOT SO!'. "Scientists", supposedly assert: "The sun is not moving." The child learns he or she must believe something contrary to his or her own experience and perception, and must sometimes recite this dogmatically.

I think it is time to forget the post-medieval arguments, forget the times when Galileo was shown the instruments of torture, and pass on the question of what is 'really' turning. We can now tell a student, "You can set your frame of reference to the Earth, and in that frame, the Earth is not moving." Some teachers, or school boards, may have problem with that. Unlike most textbooks, my knols are not designed or approved by any committee, or patched together from older texts. Where fresh point of view is not called for, I just provide references to Web resources.

Knols are democratic, presented without authority, and allow for many points of view. This presents both advantages and dangers. Knols aim to convince by their logic. There is a rating system, but we should remember that one cannot vote on truth. Science differs from politics:

                          Politics is a search for the common good
                           but science is search for the uncommon truth.
                            In physics,  beauty is  smell of the truth.

We live in age when global issues, climate change, and the increasing shortage of oil require mankind to make intelligent decisions about the allocation of scarce resources. Since many of those issues will eventually be decided by the political process, it is important to that public not be scientifically illiterate. People need to understand that one cannot run cars on water, even though there are already twenty knols which tell you how to do it,and thousands of products which promise to do it for you. By the same token, an industrial society cannot run on water or fossil fuels alone. Critical thinking and grasp of contemporary science is required to turn the "chatter of the global mind¨ into a meaningful discussion.