Still true. Sadly it seems 6 year olds are much smarter than most adults, they actually try to understand things they dont already accept as true.

BTW the actual quote is "all physical theories, their mathematical expressions apart ought to lend themselves to so simple a description 'that even a child could understand them.' "

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@freemo when it comes to complex topics, sure, you can explain it to a 6 year old but that doesn't mean he/she will understand it. If she/he understood it you've probably had to dilute the idea to such a level that it can hardly count as complex anymore.

@zpartacoos I disagree. I have explained special relativity to children without needing to dilute it and they seemed to understand it quite well. Adults grasp it when explained well too. The issue is these complex concepts rarely have good explanations so you dont see it play out often.

@freemo I guess it depends on what you consider "complex", " understand" and "diluted". I assume you didn't pull out a blackboard and chalk to go over the fancy math of special relativity when explaining it to kids. So, to what degree did they understand it? Can they regurgitate the high level natural language explanation? Sure. Can they rederive the math themselves and use it to make predictions? Unless that kid was Terence tao level I doubt it. See my point?

@zpartacoos As Einstein stated, the math itself is not explained to them. They wont be able to produce exact numbers.

That said they understand it enough to answer logical questions like if you give them a scenario and ask them what the time difference will be they will be able to tell you what clock is ahead of the other. They can actually describe how the situation will play out conceptually.

@freemo I guess my hesitation to accept it came from people (typically undergrads) in physics degrees who complain about all the math and say they just care about the physics explanation and try to use this Einstein quote as an excuse to say that their professor is shit when in reality they just need to do their math homework to get that deeper understanding that gives you predictive power to workout the word examples.

@zpartacoos Their physics teacher is shit, learning the math wont gain them understanding, and understanding first will ultimately make the math quite trivial. That said you still will have to do the math.

@freemo interesting. Now I wonder if this is more of a personal thing. I.e do some people learn better math first concept second and vice versa.

@zpartacoos I think some people think they learn better math first. But I think these people fail to truly understand the concepts, they are more like parrots applying patterns to things they dont understand.

The reason I say this is usually when you ask someone with a math-first understanding to reason about something they dont already have the math for, they fail, even if it is a simple and obvious logical extension to the principle. Its why so many PhDs are really poor at creating directly useful products.

@freemo @zpartacoos
A bit off topic here, but I'm more of a physical/learn-by-doing type of learner. When neither are an option, I find analogies and paraphrasing symbolism to be the best ways to convey concepts to me.


Thats really just a form of conceptual understanding first IMO.. You are trying to construct the conceptual understanding through those means.


@freemo @lucifargundam @zpartacoos ideally the mathematical knowledge should be integrated with the concepts - unfortunately maths is taught as a specialisation rather than a critical component of thinking these days

once a division like that becomes part of the way we teach it's very hard to unstitch again

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