32
votes
8answers
3k views

Does Gödel preclude a workable ToE?

Gödel's incompleteness theorem prevents a universal axiomatic system for math. Is there any reason to believe that it also prevents a theory of everything for physics? Edit: I haven't before seen ...
32
votes
7answers
5k views

Why is it said that without quantum mechanics we would not have modern computers?

I've heard this in many quantum mechanics talks and lectures, nevertheless I don't seem to grasp the idea behind it. What I mean is, at which point is that our modern understanding of quantum ...
32
votes
5answers
4k views

What are washers for? [closed]

When you attach a bolt to something using a nut, it is clear what the roles of the nut and bold are. The more you tighten the bolt the more secure your fastening. However, you are often also told ...
32
votes
6answers
6k views

Why does ice melting not change the water level in a container?

I have read the explanation for this in several textbooks, but I am struggling to understand it via Archimedes' principle. If someone can clarify with a diagram or something so I can understand or a ...
32
votes
7answers
10k views

Is a hard drive heavier when it is full?

Browsing Quora, I saw the following question with contradicting answers. For the highest voted answer: The bits are represented by certain orientations of magnetic fields which shouldn't have ...
32
votes
5answers
2k views

If photon energies are continuous and atomic energy levels are discrete, how can atoms absorb photons?

If photon energies are continuous and atomic energy levels are discrete, how can atoms absorb photons? The probability of a photon having just the right amount of energy for an atomic transition is ...
32
votes
4answers
1k views

How exact is the analogy between statistical mechanics and quantum field theory?

Famously, the path integral of quantum field theory is related to the partition function of statistical mechanics via a Wick rotation and there is therefore a formal analogy between the two. I have a ...
32
votes
4answers
1k views

Does quantum mechanics violate the equivalence principle?

I have a question about equivalence principle in quantum mechanics. Consider a Schroedinger equation under gravitional field $$\left[ - \frac{1}{2m_I} \nabla^2 + m_g \Phi_{\mathrm{grav}} \right]\psi ...
31
votes
9answers
20k views

How can a photon have no mass and still travel at the speed of light?

I've read a number of the helpful Q&As on photons that mention the mass/mass-less issue. Do I understand correctly that the idea of mass-less (a rest mass of 0) may be just a convention to make ...
31
votes
11answers
3k views

Where does the extra force generated by a lever come from?

Given an object being pulled down to earth by a force of 1000 lb: If a machine were to lift it off the ground for me, and I grabbed on to the rope before it was released, there is no way in the world ...
31
votes
3answers
2k views

What is the fallacy in this infinite motion machine?

I realize this isn't possible, but I can't see why not, especially if you change the model a little bit so that the balls simply travel through a tube of water on the way up, rather than exactly ...
31
votes
9answers
9k views

Can Jupiter be ignited?

Our solar system itself contains two candidate "Earths" One is Jupiter's moon Europa and another is Saturn's moon Titan. Both of them have the problem of having at low temperature as Sun's heat ...
31
votes
4answers
3k views

How can earthquakes shift the earth's axis?

One often comes across news articles that claim that an earthquake shifted the earth's axis. http://news.google.com/?q=earthquake%20shifted%20OR%20shifts%20earth%27s%20axis If you ignore the ...
31
votes
5answers
3k views

How is it possible to accelerate a neutron?

It is possible to accelerate a charged particle in an electric field, how is it possible to accelerate a neutron? How can we control its velocity?
31
votes
6answers
3k views

Why is information indestructible?

I really can't understand what Leonard Susskind means when he says that information is indestructible. Is that information that is lost, through the increase of entropy really recoverable? He ...
31
votes
11answers
12k views

How did Newton discover his second law?

I've always assumed/been told that Newton's 2nd law is an empirical law — it must be discovered by experiment. If this is the case, what experiments did Newton do to discover this? Is it related to ...
31
votes
4answers
4k views

Are atoms unique?

Do atoms have any uniquely identifying characteristic besides their history? For example, if we had detailed information about a specific carbon atom from one of Planck's fingerprints, and could ...
31
votes
3answers
5k views

Why is the sky not purple?

I realise the question of why this sky is blue is considered reasonably often here, one way or another. You can take that knowledge as given. What I'm wondering is, given that the spectrum of ...
31
votes
12answers
4k views

How can anything ever fall into a black hole as seen from an outside observer?

The event horizon of a black hole is where gravity is such that not even light can escape. This is also the point I understand that according to Einstein time dilation will be infinite for a ...
31
votes
8answers
2k views

Why are differential equations for fields in physics of order two?

What is the reason for the observation that across the board fields in physics are generally governed by second order (partial) differential equations? If someone on the street would flat out ask ...
31
votes
6answers
2k views

Path integral vs. measure on infinite dimensional space

Coming from a mathematical background, I'm trying to get a handle on the path integral formulation of quantum mechanics. According to Feynman, if you want to figure out the probability amplitude for ...
31
votes
6answers
2k views

If there were fundamental forces weaker than gravity, would we know about it?

We know that gravity is a very weak force compared to electromagnetic forces and the nuclear forces. We know about the other forces because they're necessary to explain atoms, and we can detect ...
31
votes
1answer
372 views

$(\mu,P,T)$ pseudo-ensemble: why is it not a proper thermodynamic ensemble?

While teaching statistical mechanics, and describing the common thermodynamic ensembles (microcanonical, canonical, grand canonical), I usually give a line on why there can be no $(\mu, P, T)$ ...
31
votes
2answers
5k views

Before a once-warm lake starts to freeze, must its temperature be 4°C throughout at some point?

This is a problem I just started puzzling over, and I felt this would be a good forum to check my reasoning. So here are the relevant observations followed by my question: Water achieves its maximum ...
31
votes
3answers
4k views

A No-Nonsense Introduction to Quantum Field Theory

I found Sean Carroll's "A No Nonsense Introduction to General Relativity" (about page here. pdf here), a 24-page overview of the topic, very helpful for beginning study. It all got me over the hump ...
31
votes
5answers
4k views

Why is it hard to solve the Ising-model in 3D?

The Ising model is a well-known and well-studied model of magnetism. Ising solved the model in one dimension in 1925. In 1944, Onsager obtained the exact free energy of the two-dimensional (2D) model ...
31
votes
4answers
9k views

What causes ballpoint pens to write intermittently?

After a while, a ball point pen doesn't write very well anymore. It will write for a little distance, then leave a gap, then maybe write in little streaks, then maybe write properly again. It seems ...
31
votes
0answers
1k views

On the Coulomb branch of N=2 supersymmetric gauge theory

The chiral ring of the Coulomb branch of a 4D $\mathcal N=2$ supersymmetric gauge theory is given by the Casimirs of the vector multiplet scalars, and they don't have non-trivial relations; the ...
30
votes
9answers
6k views

Why can't we see gases?

I am not sure what causes gas molecules to be invisible.This question may look silly but I really want to know the story behind it.
30
votes
6answers
5k views

Why can't you hear music well over a telephone line?

Why can't you hear music well well over a telephone line? I was asked this question in an interview for a university study placement and I unfortunately had no idea. I was given the hint that the ...
30
votes
8answers
6k views

Why does the speed of light have no uncertainty?

I could understand that the definition of a second wouldn't have an uncertainty when related to the transition of the Cs atom, so it doesn't have an error because it's an absolute reference and we ...
30
votes
9answers
3k views

Rigor in quantum field theory

Quantum field theory is a broad subject and has the reputation of using methods which are mathematically desiring. For example working with and subtracting infinities or the use of path integrals, ...
30
votes
8answers
9k views

Would it matter if the Earth rotated clockwise?

In the Futurama episode "That Darn Katz!" they save the world by rotating the Earth backwards saying it shouldn't matter (which direction Earth rotates). If Earth rotated clockwise and remained in ...
30
votes
10answers
1k views

Examples of number theory showing up in physics

My question is very simple: Are there any interesting examples of number theory showing up unexpectedly in physics? This probably sounds like rather strange question, or rather like one of the ...
30
votes
4answers
6k views

Why is the sky never green? It can be blue or orange, and green is in between!

I, like everybody I suppose, have read the explanations why the colour of the sky is blue: ... the two most common types of matter present in the atmosphere are gaseous nitrogen and oxygen. ...
30
votes
1answer
4k views

Was Titanic's captain's decision correct?

I just saw a documentary on Titanic. Someone in that documentary told Captain Smith "Shall we close the water tight doors, sir?" and the Captain replied "No, let it be open. Let the water ...
30
votes
11answers
40k views

What is the difference between “kinematics” and “dynamics”?

I have noticed that authors in the literature sometimes divide characteristics of some phenomenon into "kinematics" and "dynamics". I first encountered this in Jackson's E&M book, where, in ...
30
votes
2answers
913 views

Are modified theories of gravity credible?

I'm a statistician with a little training in physics and would just like to know the general consensus on a few things. I'm reading a book by John Moffat which basically tries to state how GR makes ...
30
votes
3answers
2k views

Why does a supernova explode

This is really bugging me. When you look up some educational text about stars life, this is what you find out: Gravity creates the temperature and pressure to start fusion reactions. The fusion ...
30
votes
10answers
3k views

What is spontaneous symmetry breaking in QUANTUM systems?

Most descriptions of spontaneous symmetry breaking, even for spontaneous symmetry breaking in quantum systems, actually only give a classical picture. According to the classical picture, spontaneous ...
30
votes
1answer
1k views

Why does this object periodically turn itself?

See this video about 30 sec in. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dL6Pt1O_gSE Is this a real effect? Why does it seem to turn periodically? Can it be explained by classical mechanics alone? Is there a ...
30
votes
10answers
1k views

Readable books on advanced topics [closed]

I realise that there are already a few questions looking for general book recommendations, but the motivation and type of book I'm looking for here is a little different, so I hope you can indulge me. ...
29
votes
8answers
41k views

Why doesn't the Moon fall upon Earth?

Why doesn't the Moon, or for that matter anything rotating another larger body, ever fall into the larger body?
29
votes
5answers
4k views

Which ball touches the ground first?

This is a very well known problem, but I can't find an answer in the specific case I'm looking for. Let's consider two balls : Ball 1 weighs 10 kg Ball 2 weighs 1 kg Balls have identical volumes ...
29
votes
4answers
6k views

Why can't we feel the Earth turning?

The Earth turns with a very high velocity, around its own axis and around the Sun. So why can't we feel that it's turning, but we can still feel earthquake.
29
votes
3answers
2k views

What is the minimum pressure of a medium for which a sound wave can exist?

At what pressure will be particles in a medium be unable to form a sound wave when disturbed? How can this pressure be described mathematically? My guess is that this would correspond to the point at ...
29
votes
6answers
2k views

How to write a paper in physics

I really like to do research in physics and like to calculate to see what happen. However, I really find it hard to write a paper, to explain the results I obtained and to put them in order. One of ...
29
votes
10answers
2k views

Why are the laws of thermodynamics “supreme among the laws of Nature”?

Eddington wrote The law that entropy always increases holds, I think, the supreme position among the laws of Nature. If someone points out to you that your pet theory of the universe is in ...
29
votes
4answers
3k views

What's the real fundamental definition of energy?

Some physical quantities like position, velocity, momentum and force, have precise definition even on basic textbooks, however energy is a little confusing for me. My point here is: using our ...
29
votes
3answers
3k views

Speed of sound at temperatures below 0 °C

How can the speed of sound be calculated for temperatures below 0 °C (down to -40 °C)? Does the calculation $v=331\ \frac{m}{s} + 0.6 \frac{m}{s°C} \times T$ still hold (where T's unit is ...

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