Physics Envy


The term physics envy is a phrase used to criticize modern writing and research of academics working in areas such as ‘softer sciences,’ liberal arts, business studies, and humanities. The term argues that writing and working practices in these disciplines have overused, confusing jargon and complicated mathematics to seem more ‘rigorous’ and more like mathematics-based subjects like physics.

The success of physics in ‘mathematicizing’ itself, particularly since Isaac Newton’s ‘Principia Mathematica,’ is generally considered remarkable and often disproportionate compared to other areas of inquiry. ‘Physics envy’ refers to the envy (perceived or real) of scholars in other disciplines for the mathematical precision of fundamental concepts obtained by physicists.

Evolutionary biologist Ernst Mayr discusses the issue of the inability to reduce biology to its mathematical basis in his book ‘What Makes Biology Unique?’ Linguist Noam Chomsky discusses the ability and desirability of reduction to its mathematical basis in his article ‘Mysteries of Nature: How Deeply Hidden.’ Though Chomsky is also known for his work in political science, he contributed extensively to the development of the field of theoretical linguistics, a formal science.

Social science has been accused of having an inferiority complex. For instance, positivist scientists accept a mistaken image of natural science so it can be applied to the social sciences. The phenomenon also exists in business strategy research as demonstrated by historian Alfred Chandler Jr.’s strategy structure model. This framework holds that a firm must evaluate the environment in order to set up its structure that will implement strategies. Chandler also maintained that there is close connection ‘between mathematics, physics, and engineering graduates and the systemizing of the business strategy paradigm.’

In the field of artificial intelligence (AI), physics envy arises in cases of projects that lack interaction with each other, using only one idea due to the manner by which new hypotheses are tested and discarded in the pursuit of one true intelligence.


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