Quantitative Comparisons Between Disciplines

As many a thoughtless person has observed when learning what I do for a living, physics is really hard. But you may have wondered just how much harder is physics than other subjects? Well, now, we have a quantitative answer:


This is a shelf of books at the Burlington, MA Barnes and Noble, clearly showing that while it is possible to learn all about politics and philosophy in thirty seconds, understanding Einstein takes three whole minutes. So, relativity is at least six times more difficult than philosophy.

(This presumably explains why there are so many physicists who dabble in philosophy, compared to philosophers who dabble in physics…)

Now, there are obviously some flaws in this method– in particular, the fact that both politics and philosophy require thirty seconds to grasp suggests that they are overestimating the difficulty of politics, and may be losing sensitivity at the low end of the difficulty scale. This measurement can thus be treated only as a lower bound on the difficulty ratio between relativity and philosophy or politics.

Further investigations will be required to pin the ratio down more precisely. We’ll see if Emmy can be made to sit still for some philosophical discussions, once the book-in-progress is finished.

6 thoughts on “Quantitative Comparisons Between Disciplines

  1. The right wing seems to have gone through the abridged version of the politics book using speed reading.

  2. On the other hand, the books are all the same price so apparently 30 seconds worth of philosophy is as valuable as 3 minutes worth of physics! (not that I believe that for a minute…)

  3. No. It’s all Philosophies that requires 30 seconds, while it’s just Einstein that requires 3 minutes. The rest of Physics presumably requires more. So Physics is much more than six times as difficult. String Theory alone might require seven or eight minutes!

  4. The reader of the Einstein book perceives it as taking three minutes to read; to the readers of the politics and philosophy books it only takes the reader of the Einstein book 30 seconds to finish reading. Because of Relativity.
    You can perform a simple experiment to confirm this for yourselves: Buy a copy of the philosophy book, a copy of the politics book, and a copy of the Einstein book. Purchase a plane ticket from JFK to LAX, and at the moment the plane lifts off, begin reading the Einstein book on the plane and the other two books on the ground. When you touch down in Los Angeles you will have finished reading the Einstein book on the plane at the exact moment you finished reading the other two books in New York. If you buy only the philosophy book or only the politics book, you will finish the Einstein book in LA before you even went to the bookstore! Plus, you’ll be at LaGuardia instead of JFK.
    It’s fuckin’ trippy, but that’s why Einstein won the first Golden Globe Award.

  5. Professor Steve Jones had a great quotation on philosophy vs “real” science on “The Infinite Monkey cage”, something approximating “Philosophy is to science as pornography is to sex. It’s cheaper, it’s easier, and some people seem to prefer it”.

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