Sunday, August 3, 2014

Reapplying the Basics

When I was finishing up my undergrad degree I was part of a group of physics majors that had spent several years doing our homework together and studying for every test. One night someone observed that in all of our physics classes that we had taken we had learned nothing new since taking the first four introductory classes.

After some point we had not been taught any new physics. Our classes simply consisted of learning new ways of applying the same basic principles to ever more complex problems. Even today with my research I am not using a different set of basic principles. I am just applying the same basic principles to extremely complex situations.

To someone who is just starting their education it can be hard to see that the more complex problems are simply a different manifestation of the same basic principles and not a complete change of basis. Sometimes those who get too deep into the complex problems lose sight of the basic principles and are surprised when basic principles suddenly pop out of complex problems.

In my experience, both in my own personal gospel education and observing others who struggle with problems, the two things that cause more problems than anything else is either forgetting basic principles when confronted with a difficult problem or failing to see that the things that we don't understand can be solved by applying basic principles. On the one side if the fault of "knowing too much" and on the other the fault of "not knowing enough".

We can get too obsessed with complex that we lose sight of the basics and dismiss them, and we can fail to see how basic principles apply to complex situations and judge them to be inadequate and dismiss them.