Explaining Things to Other People: Physics Edition

People are always looking for help to solve problems. Sometimes they are willing to pay for this help.


It does help to explain things to other people. The great master of this was the Nobel prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman. For two years, he taught introductory physics to freshmen at Caltech. That course became a legend on the campus. Feynman said that it improved his understanding of physics. My co-author Arthur Robinson told me about that course 35 years ago. He had not been in the class in 1961. He had taken it the year before. But it had become legendary by the time he graduated in 1963. It still is legendary. Caltech has a page on its site written by Feynman about the course. The course’s outline is posted here. Wikipedia reports: “The Feynman Lectures on Physics is perhaps the most popular physics book ever written. More than 1.5 million English-language copies have been sold; probably even more copies have been sold in a dozen foreign-language editions.”

Feynman offered this guide for learning something well.

Choose a concept you want to learn about.
Pretend you are teaching it to a student in grade 6.
Identify gaps in your explanation; Go back to the source material, to better understand it.
Review and simplify.

Gary North, How to Succeed When You Are About to Get Fired

This is great advice for Christian technologists, working to master the physical world, to gain dominion over the earth as God expects us to.

It would be useful for Christian teachers too, on conveying important but complicated information: be it job-related or Christ-related.

Mastering complex information – and insuring that your fellow believers, including children and teenagers, also master the information – is what Christians need to do in order to win, in time and on earth.1

The information shared need not be theoretical: a skilled salesman or a master craftsman also needs to get the details across to his apprentices. Physical, kinesetic, musical and social/interpersonal skills are also quite complex, and requires practice to know how to communicate properly.

The plain fact, however, is that no truly consequential social, moral, or political problem – let alone those at the interpersonal level – has ever been solved within specialities that grant PhDs…. but an ethos has arisen that no problem is a real problem unless it admits to a solution reached by some specialized mode of attack. This is an extraordinary perspective… anything done by way of breaking things down into smaller pieces or reducing it is likely to render it less accessible even to the limited means available to us.

Dr. Daniel J. Robinson, The Great Ideas of Philosophy, Lecture 27
from the header of Creation Evolution Headlines

Christian scholars would be well-rewarded, if they avoid academic tunnel-vision, and make sure to share their discoveries with the general public.

That is the best way to spread the truth, and thus glorify God, and so empower and enrich your neighbours, your nation, and the world in general.

1Yes, I’m kinda obsessed with winning: especially substantial, enduring victories.

All Christians should be, in the patch of the cosmos God has placed in their reach and under their authority.

Note that I’m defining “winning” and “victory” in Christ-centric terms: that is, expanding the Kingdom of God in time and on earth. The money and the power will come after we have earned it: but frankly, that isn’t the fundamental goal.

Upholding the will of God is.

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