R.I.P. John Archibald Wheeler

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will
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R.I.P. John Archibald Wheeler

Postby will » Mon Apr 14, 2008 8:36 pm

When a man's 96 years old you start to think maybe he's here for good.

:cry: :cry: :cry: :cry: :cry: :cry: :cry: :cry:

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jdhooghe
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Re: R.I.P. John Archibald Wheeler

Postby jdhooghe » Mon Apr 14, 2008 9:48 pm

WTF! :x :( :cry:

hiccupz
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Re: R.I.P. John Archibald Wheeler

Postby hiccupz » Mon Apr 14, 2008 10:17 pm

i'm sure many of you have seen this, but this was really touching

http://cosmicvariance.com/2008/04/13/goodbye/

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dlenmn
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Re: R.I.P. John Archibald Wheeler

Postby dlenmn » Mon Apr 14, 2008 11:55 pm

He was one of the greats. I wonder who (if anyone) in our generation will make such contributions to physics.

(I guess I hadn't been keeping good enough track of famous physicists, but for me the equally surprising news was that he was still alive until yesterday. I guess that I just assumed that because Feynman was dead, so was his teacher.)

doom
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Re: R.I.P. John Archibald Wheeler

Postby doom » Tue Apr 15, 2008 12:58 am

Yeah, I think part of that was that Wheeler was not *that* much older than Feynman. But I also didn't know that he was alive. Of course, you generally don't expect people to live to 96.

maxwell200
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Re: R.I.P. John Archibald Wheeler

Postby maxwell200 » Tue Apr 15, 2008 1:47 am

And how about this for a shocker: he didn't get his doctorate from a top 10 physics school.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Archibald_Wheeler

Okay, so he did get his doctorate from somewhere very, very good, certainly not some unknown State School with no established rep in physics. However, the fact that he accomplished what he did despite where he went, maybe, sort of puts a dent in this whole "I need to be in a top 10 or I'm gonna be a failure" mantra. Maybe I'm just giving myself false hope; after all, I admit to having been rejected, albeit narrowly, as I was told by a recruiter, by a top 10 school. However, some assurance may be useful in light of obsession with rankings and prestige.

And as far as this generation, sometimes I wonder if there just isn't going to be a huge wave of groundbreaking revelations like there was in the time of Einstein, Bohr, Fermi, Dirac and Rutherford. I mean, whomever is able to discover the unified theory that Einstein died trying to find out about is going to be the next scientist to phenomenally alter human progress, but beyond that it doesn't seem like there's gonna be future generations who made the discoveries quite like those of the 50s or 60s. Sort of like Rock and Roll I think; there will always be great bands and phenomenal musicians in any genre you choose if you go underground, out of the mainstream and look hard enough, but we can't seriously expect future bands to come along and have the impact made by the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, all the Motown artists in the 60s and 70s, Aerosmith, Black Sabbath or Nirvana.

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Re: R.I.P. John Archibald Wheeler

Postby doom » Tue Apr 15, 2008 1:58 am

Dude, that was in 1933. I don't think you can compare across eras very well.

Also, you need to chill a little bit about this rankings thing. If you don't think it really means all that much, then that's good. Quit worrying about it, you're going to a good school, and your experience will be what you make it, as you have said.

I don't think there's as much top-10 bias on this forum as you make it out to be. (One or two people excluded.) I think it was grae who said (a loooong time ago) that she wanted to go to a top 10 school, and if she could do it, she would, because that's what she wanted. And really, it would be hard to go wrong when choosing from the top tier of schools.

But assuming you've done your research, there's plenty of schools that will be great places to study physics, as long as you know what you're getting into and have made sure that the school in question matches your interests, etc.

Bottom line, it's April 15th, we've made our decisions, time to make the most of them.

And since I feel kinda bad for jacking the thread about Wheeler, maybe I can tie this back in:
This whole absurd process of getting in and picking a school to study physics is over. We didn't get into physics to go to prestigious schools, worry about standardized tests, and debate about school rankings. We got into physics because we found some aspect of it fascinating. I know my mind has been tuned to the application process for too long, and I'm ready to just enjoy physics because that's what I love.

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will
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Re: R.I.P. John Archibald Wheeler

Postby will » Tue Apr 15, 2008 2:09 am

^

cheers.

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Re: R.I.P. John Archibald Wheeler

Postby maxwell200 » Tue Apr 15, 2008 2:57 am

To doom,

I am aware that I can't be worrying about the rankings at this point. One of the issues I was struggling with before was whether or not I needed to take a year off, retake the PGREs, get a research publication in simply so I could go to a school in the Top 10. If I was really stressing over about it, I sure wouldn't be thinking, "It's April 15th, I got to just go with the decision I made and get on with it". No, actually, I would be sweating bullets right about now deciding whether or not I need to reapply or go where I was accepted. However, I'm not, because I am perfectly chill, so to speak, about the rankings and the decision to go where I'm going. I've accepted that it's erroneous and absurd to judge the quality and/or level or rigor of a program by whether or not the biased and lazily done U.S. News and World Rankings put it in the top 10. And of course you can't go wrong with a top 10 program; most programs in the top 10 for physics or the top ten for a given field of physics are already known everywhere for being extremely good and reputable; it's not like some magazine ranking was needed to affirm that. And schools that aren't all that great in a specific field of physics sometimes be ranked high in that field simply because of the name recognition, not the actual quality of research.

And for sure, going to a top 10 program will, among other things, provide an easily recognizable name for industry and post docs to work with, provide you with more great faculty to work with-which probably comes at a cost of having far more cutthroat competition for those professor's groups, and provides great research in a wider array of fields as opposed to only one or two. I don't think anyone is about to deny going to a top 10 school makes things easier for you-unless a place like Berkeley or Illinois known for bringing in students just to fill TA slots or a place like Caltech or MIT where you have to work your fingers to the bone just to not fail out, let alone do anything productive.

And maybe I am overstating how much people here care about prestige. I just got the impression there was a substantial number of posters here who either think they need to be in a top 10 school to be a great physicist or that they won't be challenged unless they are in top 10 school. If there is proof that's not true and I was just imagining things, I will be perfectly happy to retract that observation.

My post about Wheeler, hence, was simply meant to be an amusing-snarky as our good buddy fermiboy might say-response to this observation. And you're right, the fact that it was in 1933 does mean you have to compare across eras to some extent. However, the take home point about how good a worker and researcher you actually are being more important, as it clearly was for Wheeler, than going to in a *top 10* place is, I think, more important, not less important, today than it was back then. My observation is that, in the 1930s through 1980s and early 90s, more people cared, in any type school you went to, what the name recognition was then factors like how well you worked there and whether or not people saw you as a respectable person or an asshole. When I was younger, I had this ingrained idea that only the elite, private household names were any good for getting a great education, that Smart People only come from Harvard, Stanford, Brown, MIT, Yale, Columbia, MIT and Caltech-and nowhere else. Now I see a consensus of that being blatantly false. For undergrad, it seems to matter WAY less what the name of the undergrad college you went to was, and maybe that's true for the grad level as well. hence, I was looking at what Wheeler doing what he did despite not going to a *top 10* place and presuming it's probably more relevant, not less relevant, today.

Now, these were all predominantly my personal observations. If yours are 100% different, that's perfectly okay with me. Hopefully, we can, if we choose, debate it further in a respectful and civilized manner without starting a big ole flame war.

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butsurigakusha
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Re: R.I.P. John Archibald Wheeler

Postby butsurigakusha » Tue Apr 15, 2008 3:19 am

And as far as this generation, sometimes I wonder if there just isn't going to be a huge wave of groundbreaking revelations like there was in the time of Einstein, Bohr, Fermi, Dirac and Rutherford. I mean, whomever is able to discover the unified theory that Einstein died trying to find out about is going to be the next scientist to phenomenally alter human progress, but beyond that it doesn't seem like there's gonna be future generations who made the discoveries quite like those of the 50s or 60s. Sort of like Rock and Roll I think; there will always be great bands and phenomenal musicians in any genre you choose if you go underground, out of the mainstream and look hard enough, but we can't seriously expect future bands to come along and have the impact made by the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, all the Motown artists in the 60s and 70s, Aerosmith, Black Sabbath or Nirvana.


I definitely disagree with this. I think the future holds many great discoveries, and these discoveries could be just as ground-breaking as those made by Einstein and others. I also don't think it is correct to say that human progress will be phenomenally altered if and only if someone discovers a unified theory. I think areas outside of high energy physics have the potential to greatly impact human progress, probably even more than a unified theory.

I also don't subscribe to your bleak world-view that suggests that human creativity has essentially been exhausted. I fully expect to see artists come along in my lifetime who will have impacts comparable to those artists you mentioned. I guess what I am saying is I have a lot of faith in human ingenuity and creativity.

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Re: R.I.P. John Archibald Wheeler

Postby maxwell200 » Tue Apr 15, 2008 3:24 am

To butsurigakusha,

I understand why you would disagree strongly. You definitely have more trust in and more respect for humanity than I do. Lots of times I just hate people in general and act respectful and cooperative and social out of moral obligations to do so. Maybe I'll just be a hermit when I grow up.

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Re: R.I.P. John Archibald Wheeler

Postby ler1 » Tue Apr 15, 2008 3:36 am


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Helio
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Re: R.I.P. John Archibald Wheeler

Postby Helio » Tue Apr 15, 2008 3:47 am

maxwell200 wrote:And how about this for a shocker: he didn't get his doctorate from a top 10 physics school.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Archibald_Wheeler

Okay, so he did get his doctorate from somewhere very, very good, certainly not some unknown State School with no established rep in physics. However, the fact that he accomplished what he did despite where he went, maybe, sort of puts a dent in this whole "I need to be in a top 10 or I'm gonna be a failure" mantra. Maybe I'm just giving myself false hope; after all, I admit to having been rejected, albeit narrowly, as I was told by a recruiter, by a top 10 school. However, some assurance may be useful in light of obsession with rankings and prestige.

And as far as this generation, sometimes I wonder if there just isn't going to be a huge wave of groundbreaking revelations like there was in the time of Einstein, Bohr, Fermi, Dirac and Rutherford. I mean, whomever is able to discover the unified theory that Einstein died trying to find out about is going to be the next scientist to phenomenally alter human progress, but beyond that it doesn't seem like there's gonna be future generations who made the discoveries quite like those of the 50s or 60s. Sort of like Rock and Roll I think; there will always be great bands and phenomenal musicians in any genre you choose if you go underground, out of the mainstream and look hard enough, but we can't seriously expect future bands to come along and have the impact made by the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, all the Motown artists in the 60s and 70s, Aerosmith, Black Sabbath or Nirvana.


i think it is more important to realize the he was 21 when he got his PhD. By that age i will have a mere BS

cancelled20080417
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Re: R.I.P. John Archibald Wheeler

Postby cancelled20080417 » Tue Apr 15, 2008 10:38 am

Helio, I was taught by the forum members here that BS stands for Bull *** ! Is that what you are refering to with your BS!

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Re: R.I.P. John Archibald Wheeler

Postby grae313 » Tue Apr 15, 2008 1:04 pm

RG wrote:Helio, I was taught by the forum members here that BS stands for Bull *** ! Is that what you are refering to with your BS!


hehehehehee

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Re: R.I.P. John Archibald Wheeler

Postby grae313 » Tue Apr 15, 2008 1:07 pm

maxwell200 wrote:And as far as this generation, sometimes I wonder if there just isn't going to be a huge wave of groundbreaking revelations like there was in the time of Einstein, Bohr, Fermi, Dirac and Rutherford. I mean, whomever is able to discover the unified theory that Einstein died trying to find out about is going to be the next scientist to phenomenally alter human progress, but beyond that it doesn't seem like there's gonna be future generations who made the discoveries quite like those of the 50s or 60s.


That's what everyone said before Newton
That's what everyone said before Einstein

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grae313
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Re: R.I.P. John Archibald Wheeler

Postby grae313 » Tue Apr 15, 2008 1:14 pm

doom wrote:Dude, that was in 1933. I don't think you can compare across eras very well.

Also, you need to chill a little bit about this rankings thing. If you don't think it really means all that much, then that's good. Quit worrying about it, you're going to a good school, and your experience will be what you make it, as you have said.

I don't think there's as much top-10 bias on this forum as you make it out to be. (One or two people excluded.) I think it was grae who said (a loooong time ago) that she wanted to go to a top 10 school, and if she could do it, she would, because that's what she wanted. And really, it would be hard to go wrong when choosing from the top tier of schools.

But assuming you've done your research, there's plenty of schools that will be great places to study physics, as long as you know what you're getting into and have made sure that the school in question matches your interests, etc.

Bottom line, it's April 15th, we've made our decisions, time to make the most of them.

And since I feel kinda bad for jacking the thread about Wheeler, maybe I can tie this back in:
This whole absurd process of getting in and picking a school to study physics is over. We didn't get into physics to go to prestigious schools, worry about standardized tests, and debate about school rankings. We got into physics because we found some aspect of it fascinating. I know my mind has been tuned to the application process for too long, and I'm ready to just enjoy physics because that's what I love.

Well put, doom :D I think it has been said repeatedly (beaten into the ground, even) that everyone here values going to an institution 1) where you can join a great research group doing the sort of physics you are interested in 2) that can provide mentorship and a career launching pad, and 3) has an environment that suits an individual such that it is conducive to being productive and successful. All of this can be done at any good research university, but if one had the option of getting all of this at a top 10 school, I don't know many people who would refuse. For me, the numerical list above is what is important with one addition: 4) that has well-funded facilities and pays me enough to live comfortably. The "top 10," then, is just icing on my cake. It's a pretty name that means something to the rest of the world, be that a good or bad thing, justified, or not justified. The name carries some weight, but there is a lot more to your career than a name on your resume.

maxwell200
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Re: R.I.P. John Archibald Wheeler

Postby maxwell200 » Tue Apr 15, 2008 5:14 pm

To RG,

I think you correct actually. BS means Bulls***, M.S. means More of the Same, PhD means Piled Higher and Deeper. I think I'm just gonna be a hermit; I hate people, just hate people.

doom
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Re: R.I.P. John Archibald Wheeler

Postby doom » Tue Apr 15, 2008 6:41 pm

maxwell200,

I didn't intend my posts to be a personal attack on you. I just used the occasion of your post to put forth my idea that we should stop worrying about stuff and get excited about going to the schools we've picked to do enjoyable and productive research.

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Helio
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Re: R.I.P. John Archibald Wheeler

Postby Helio » Tue Apr 15, 2008 7:03 pm

RG wrote:Helio, I was taught by the forum members here that BS stands for Bull *** ! Is that what you are refering to with your BS!


you can take it either.... i think my degree is a bunch of BS anyway

maxwell200
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Re: R.I.P. John Archibald Wheeler

Postby maxwell200 » Tue Apr 15, 2008 7:17 pm

To Doom,

No offence taken, and as said earlier, I personally don't take rankings too mean much of anything anyhow. I mean, with the U.S. News and World Report rankings you could go on all day dissecting the errors and fallacies, both in overall physics and in all the specialties. And the NRC rankings, I mean, get real, they're 15 years out of date. So yes, I say that you're 100 % correct that we simply need to be excited aout the kind of research we are doing now, not how much prestige it has.

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will
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Re: R.I.P. John Archibald Wheeler

Postby will » Tue Apr 15, 2008 7:31 pm

The people who are obsessed with "not caring about rankings" seem to have an awful lot to say about the matter. There's no reason to detract from people going (or wanting to go) to prestigious universities. You don't have to hold up John Wheeler as some shining beacon of going-to-a-top-20-but-not-top-10-grad-school success. You're not going to be able to make someone going to Cornell regret that decision; maybe you're unhappy with your own?

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Re: R.I.P. John Archibald Wheeler

Postby doom » Tue Apr 15, 2008 8:03 pm

I'm not saying that people shouldn't go to top-tier universities. The schools are up there for a reason; the rankings aren't completely arbitrary. And I didn't say not to worry about rankings. I worried about it a fair amount, and I wanted to go to at least a top 25 school for a variety of reasons, including my hopes to go into academia.

But my point was that it is time to be happy with our decisions and not worry about prestige or how other people feel about the prestige of their schools. I hope that everyone at Cornell, etc. is happy with their choice, but I am kind of afraid that more people at lower-ranked schools might not. And I hope that turns out not to be the case.

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will
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Re: R.I.P. John Archibald Wheeler

Postby will » Tue Apr 15, 2008 8:07 pm

Oh, I know you weren't. Thus my cheers to the comment that it's time to be happy.

Others have, and at this point it just seems like bitterness.

maxwell200
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Re: R.I.P. John Archibald Wheeler

Postby maxwell200 » Tue Apr 15, 2008 8:17 pm

For the record, I wasn't either. I meant to be facetious when i posted the original response. I wasn't trying to get anyone, anywhere, in any circumstances, whether they're going to Cornell, Stanford, U of Florida, U of Oregon, U of Minnesota, Kansas State, Yale, Princeton Arizona State, even if they only got into 1 place, WHATEVER, to be anything other than pleased, excited and pumped up about where they are going.

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Re: R.I.P. John Archibald Wheeler

Postby doom » Tue Apr 15, 2008 8:42 pm

Oops, misunderstood your comment, will.

Yeah, I forgot it was you that said "cheers," I read that several hours ago.

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Re: R.I.P. John Archibald Wheeler

Postby gatr1126 » Wed Apr 16, 2008 1:47 pm

maxwell200 wrote:
And as far as this generation, sometimes I wonder if there just isn't going to be a huge wave of groundbreaking revelations like there was in the time of Einstein, Bohr, Fermi, Dirac and Rutherford. I mean, whomever is able to discover the unified theory that Einstein died trying to find out about is going to be the next scientist to phenomenally alter human progress, but beyond that it doesn't seem like there's gonna be future generations who made the discoveries quite like those of the 50s or 60s. Sort of like Rock and Roll I think; there will always be great bands and phenomenal musicians in any genre you choose if you go underground, out of the mainstream and look hard enough, but we can't seriously expect future bands to come along and have the impact made by the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, all the Motown artists in the 60s and 70s, Aerosmith, Black Sabbath or Nirvana.


From ca. 1875:

"Sometimes I really regret that I did not live in those times when there was still so much that was new; to be sure enough much is yet unknown, but I do not think that it will be possible to discover anything easily nowadays that would lead us to revise our entire outlook as radically as was possible in the days when telescopes and microscopes were still new."
- Heinrich Hertz as a physics student

From 1888:

"We are probably nearing the limit of all we can know about astronomy."
- Simon Newcomb, early American astronomer

From 1894:

"The more important fundamental laws and facts of physical science have all been discovered, and these are now so firmly established that the possibility of their ever being supplanted in consequence of new discoveries is exceedingly remote.... Our future discoveries must be looked for in the sixth place of decimals."
- Albert. A. Michelson, speech at the dedication of Ryerson Physics Lab, U. of Chicago 1894

From 1900:

"There is nothing new to be discovered in physics now. All that remains is more and more precise measurement" - Lord Kelvin

This happens just before every scientific revolution. The unified theory of everything may appear to cover everything that we can measure at this point in time. Throw one kink in the theory and it's 1905 all over again.

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dlenmn
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Re: R.I.P. John Archibald Wheeler

Postby dlenmn » Wed Apr 16, 2008 2:23 pm

gatr1126 wrote:This happens just before every scientific revolution. The unified theory of everything may appear to cover everything that we can measure at this point in time. Throw one kink in the theory and it's 1905 all over again.


Agreed, but these "kinks" are becoming harder and harder to find. The experiments that brought down Aristotelian and then Classical physics were the type you could fit in a room or an observatory. Now, in order to get to the bottom of things, you need a device that doesn't even fit inside of Switzerland! (Well, they could have fit it in, but it's still really huge). Moreover, it's quite possible that it won't be powerful enough to do much besides find the Higgs Boson and confirm the standard model. Maybe not. Perhaps they'll find evidence for supersymmetry or something else unexpected. We'll see. Still, I think most of the low hanging fruit has already been picked. When scientific revolutions need huge, expensive devices that discover things unlikely to effect anyone in the short run (or possibly ever), then you're not going to see many scientific revolutions. That's not to say that there isn't interesting science to be done, since there's a lot to be done in exploring complex interactions of things that we understand on a more basic level (aka More is Different).




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