Press "Enter" to skip to content

What is physics?

A physics student on a pilgrimage to explore the limits of perception, from a 19th century woodcut by an unknown artist.
A physics student crawling under the sky’s edge to reach out into the Empyrean. From Camille Flammarion’s book, L’Atmosphère – Météorologie Populaire. Paris, 1888.

EthnoPhysics starts with the idea that we can understand theoretical physics as a description of what we see, hear, taste and feel. This is not a radical proposition. A central concept in science is that evidence must be empirical and theories are linked to observation. So it is certainly reasonable to methodically consider sensation. But actually starting a presentation of physics this way may fit awkwardly with some commonly held views. In fact, most presentations of physics start with mysteriously received notions of length, time and mass. For example, a textbook that has been well-used for the last 80 years, Goldstein’s Classical Mechanics, begins by saying “they will be assumed as undefined terms whose meanings are familiar to the reader”.1Herbert Goldstein, Classical Mechanics, page 1.  Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, second edition, 1980.  Traditionally, physics students are just supposed to understand length, time and mass before they start class. This website aims to present a logically ordered, easy-to-teach account of these fundamental concepts.

But there is also another important result that comes from a rigorous analysis of sensation. By putting the scientific horse in front of the cart, we are also able to develop a mathematically simple theory that accurately summarizes decades of hard-won experimental data about nuclear physics. So EthnoPhysics can be further tested in our laboratories. Developments have been strongly influenced by Ernst Mach.

1Herbert Goldstein, Classical Mechanics, page 1.  Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, second edition, 1980.