1364 - "Like I'm Five"

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1364 - "Like I'm Five"

Postby bachaddict » Mon May 05, 2014 6:02 am UTC

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Title text: 'Am I taking care of you? I have a thesis to write!' 'My parents are at their house; you visited last--' 'No, no, explain like you're five.'

Groucho Marx wrote:A child of five would understand this. Send someone to fetch a child of five.


Technically this comic does contain the advanced mathematics mentioned in the warning below it.

A better request would be "Can you explain it like Up Goer Five?"
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Re: 1364 - "Like I'm Five"

Postby Locoluis » Mon May 05, 2014 6:27 am UTC

What did *I* know when I was five?

  • I could probably find my way back home by myself, as long as I could find my way to the nearest Santiago metro station. There were only two lines back then. I remember drawing a Metro map on the wall of the wooden shack where we lived. With charcoal. Yes, we were that poor.
  • I could probably recite the Ten Commandments, or whatever I could remember from certain illustrated book about the Bible. Yes, I could read and write back then.
  • I could read a calendar and know what day it was.

And that's it. It would be a titanic task to explain something like that to a barely literate five years old.

Maybe I could understand a bit when I was eight - I was a victim of the Halley's comet craze and I knew a lot of things about the stars, planets and everything. This also means that I had some notions about negative numbers... uh...

I think there must be a bare minimum of basic Math knowledge someone must know to be able to even understand a layman's explanation. But what's that minimum? I can't figure it out this late at night.

... Edit. I have no idea how to explain things in layman terms.
Last edited by Locoluis on Mon May 05, 2014 12:05 pm UTC, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: 1364 - "Like I'm Five"

Postby rhomboidal » Mon May 05, 2014 6:35 am UTC

I think kids are taking multivariable calculus in preschool these days. You've got to if you want to get into the top cutthroat kindergartens.

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Re: 1364 - "Like I'm Five"

Postby ysth » Mon May 05, 2014 6:39 am UTC

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A math joke: r = | |csc(θ)|+|sec(θ)| |-| |csc(θ)|-|sec(θ)| |

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Re: 1364 - "Like I'm Five"

Postby da Doctah » Mon May 05, 2014 6:41 am UTC

Things I knew when I was five:

  • Jupiter has twelve moons, Saturn has nine.
  • Both Mercury and Venus always keep the same side turned towards the sun.
  • The asteroid belt used to be a planet, but it blowed up.
  • The moon is made out of a big chunk of the earth that used to sit where the Pacific Ocean is now.
  • There are exactly seven food groups. You should have something from each one at every meal.
  • The lady on Romper Room can see me through her mirror, but she still never calls my name.
  • God hates it if you wear jeans or tennis shoes to church. Or to school. Or anywhere.
  • The snake in the story of the Garden of Eden was the Devil.
  • You don't have to wash your hands before every meal, but if you don't say grace you'll get food poisoning.
  • You'll also get food poisoning if you put an open can of food in the fridge. Or anything with a fork still in it. You have to transfer it to Tupperware before storing it away.
  • It never rains on Sunday. That's why it's called "Sun" day.
  • The country starts in California and goes east. Alaska and Hawaii are in little boxes southwest of San Diego.
  • Room temperature is exactly 72 degrees. No more, no less.

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Re: 1364 - "Like I'm Five"

Postby keithl » Mon May 05, 2014 6:57 am UTC

How much math is in a ton of math?

A ton of "20 pound" printer paper is 400 reams, 200,000 pages. I just derived the area of a circular area on a sphere, 2πR²(1-cosθ), on a small corner of such a page, with a sketch and an integral.

That is going to be one heck of a thesis!

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Re: 1364 - "Like I'm Five"

Postby keithl » Mon May 05, 2014 7:03 am UTC

da Doctah wrote:Things I knew when I was five:

That's odd. You look younger than five.
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Re: 1364 - "Like I'm Five"

Postby Plasma_Wolf » Mon May 05, 2014 7:06 am UTC

I'm having the exact same problem with my master thesis. How do you explain to your father (who has a basic knowledge of mathematics, but has never heard of the term "finite abelian group"), how to find the generators of group defined by an elliptic surface with rank 13. Should I begin with explaining that there is no nontrivial torsion?

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Re: 1364 - "Like I'm Five"

Postby ps.02 » Mon May 05, 2014 8:12 am UTC

You know how people say "If you can't explain it to your grandmother, you don't truly understand it"?

I've always suspected that what they really mean is, "If you can't explain it to your grandmother, then either you don't truly understand it, or it's something I lack the capacity to understand."

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Re: 1364 - "Like I'm Five"

Postby snowyowl » Mon May 05, 2014 11:07 am UTC

keithl wrote:How much math is in a ton of math?

If it's stored on 64GB MicroSD cards weighing 2g each... it's somewhere in the order of "all the math".
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Re: 1364 - "Like I'm Five"

Postby Plutarch » Mon May 05, 2014 11:14 am UTC

I don't quite understand this comic. Why does he say 'Can you explain it like I'm five?' Is that a phrase people use? Or is there some well-known instance of a character saying it? I've never heard anyone say this.

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Re: 1364 - "Like I'm Five"

Postby eviloatmeal » Mon May 05, 2014 11:35 am UTC

Plutarch wrote:I don't quite understand this comic. Why does he say 'Can you explain it like I'm five?' Is that a phrase people use? Or is there some well-known instance of a character saying it? I've never heard anyone say this.

I'm not sure of the particular origin, but it's an internet trope[citation needed], especially (perhaps originally) on reddit, where there is a subreddit dedicated to the concept.
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Re: 1364 - "Like I'm Five"

Postby JudeMorrigan » Mon May 05, 2014 12:16 pm UTC

eviloatmeal wrote:
Plutarch wrote:I don't quite understand this comic. Why does he say 'Can you explain it like I'm five?' Is that a phrase people use? Or is there some well-known instance of a character saying it? I've never heard anyone say this.

I'm not sure of the particular origin, but it's an internet trope[citation needed], especially (perhaps originally) on reddit, where there is a subreddit dedicated to the concept.

It's not simply an internet trope and is older than reddit. See the Groucho Marx quote.

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Re: 1364 - "Like I'm Five"

Postby philip1201 » Mon May 05, 2014 1:18 pm UTC

ps.02 wrote:You know how people say "If you can't explain it to your grandmother, you don't truly understand it"?

I've always suspected that what they really mean is, "If you can't explain it to your grandmother, then either you don't truly understand it, or it's something I lack the capacity to understand."


The whole point is that six year olds (or grandmothers) are intelligent enough to be capable of abstract reasoning, which means that if you truly understand the subject, you should be able to simplify the subject matter to such an extent that they can understand it. "Lacking the capacity to understand" is almost invariably an excuse made by those who don't understand well enough to see the simplicity and reproduce it, and the ignoramus can't preform a test to distinguish between the two. The basic message is never to accept mystery as an answer. If you as a scientist discover that you can't explain it to a child, that doesn't mean you're working on something mysterious beyond the ken of lesser humans. Instead, it means you don't understand it, and you should investigate why.

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Re: 1364 - "Like I'm Five"

Postby mathmannix » Mon May 05, 2014 1:20 pm UTC

da Doctah wrote:Things I knew when I was five:

  • Jupiter has twelve moons, Saturn has nine.
  • Both Mercury and Venus always keep the same side turned towards the sun.
  • The asteroid belt used to be a planet, but it blowed up.
  • The moon is made out of a big chunk of the earth that used to sit where the Pacific Ocean is now.
  • There are exactly seven food groups. You should have something from each one at every meal.
  • The lady on Romper Room can see me through her mirror, but she still never calls my name.
  • God hates it if you wear jeans or tennis shoes to church. Or to school. Or anywhere.
  • The snake in the story of the Garden of Eden was the Devil.
  • You don't have to wash your hands before every meal, but if you don't say grace you'll get food poisoning.
  • You'll also get food poisoning if you put an open can of food in the fridge. Or anything with a fork still in it. You have to transfer it to Tupperware before storing it away.
  • It never rains on Sunday. That's why it's called "Sun" day.
  • The country starts in California and goes east. Alaska and Hawaii are in little boxes southwest of San Diego.
  • Room temperature is exactly 72 degrees. No more, no less.


Some things I knew when *I* was five:
  • The asteroid belt was Krypton, where Superman came from, before it blew up.
  • If you don't say Grace, your food will be too hot to eat. If it is still too hot, say Grace again.
  • After you flush the toilet, poo goes to a place where tiny animals eat it. That is to say, it goes on a conveyer belt in a giant factory-type room, where six-inch-tall zebras and giraffes eat it.
  • If you dug straight down through the earth you'd come out in China, but you'd have to hold on not to fall because it's upside down there.
  • You can't take a sippy cup of apple juice in the car (when you are sitting in the front seat next to mommy) because that's drinking and driving, and that's bad.
  • The Great Lakes were from when Paul Bunyan left the faucet running. Always turn off the faucet when you're done.

I knew other stuff too, but that's all I can recall right now.
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Re: 1364 - "Like I'm Five"

Postby KarenRei » Mon May 05, 2014 1:26 pm UTC

Plutarch wrote:I don't quite understand this comic. Why does he say 'Can you explain it like I'm five?' Is that a phrase people use? Or is there some well-known instance of a character saying it? I've never heard anyone say this.


Standard approach to when you encounter something like this: Go to google and type "Explain it to me like" and see what Google fills in. You'll find out that, yes, this is a very common phrase. It's another way of saying "dumb it down" or "use only simple words and concepts".

I so have to use this concept's idea the next time someone online says that ;)

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Re: 1364 - "Like I'm Five"

Postby cellocgw » Mon May 05, 2014 1:30 pm UTC

Plasma_Wolf wrote:I'm having the exact same problem with my master thesis. How do you explain to your father (who has a basic knowledge of mathematics, but has never heard of the term "finite abelian group"), how to find the generators of group defined by an elliptic surface with rank 13. Should I begin with explaining that there is no nontrivial torsion?


I'm betting there'll be some seriously nontrivial torsion inside your Dad's brain if you even get as far as "non-abelian." :twisted: . OK, just explain that you're doing weird stuff with small collections of objects in sets and seeing where it takes you.

ps.02 wrote:You know how people say "If you can't explain it to your grandmother, you don't truly understand it"?
I've always suspected that what they really mean is, "If you can't explain it to your grandmother, then either you don't truly understand it, or it's something I lack the capacity to understand."


There's a NSFW comic, I think at SMBC, on this topic. You can just imagine what particular act the fella must not understand since he can't bring himself to explain it (or even mention it ) to his grandma.
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Re: 1364 - "Like I'm Five"

Postby Whizbang » Mon May 05, 2014 1:40 pm UTC

Things my five year old knows:
He is much faster when he wears his shoes with the flames on the side
His dad could probably beat up superman
Everything can be fixed with superglue
How to find and watch movies on Netflix
How to load and play Dad's Runescape account
Mom always has quarters for the claw game
Dad cooks a better steak than the 99 Restaurant


Things he doesn't know (not a complete list):
How to put away movie/game CDs when he takes them out of the machine
How to put his clothes in the hamper when he gets undressed
How to eat dinner without his parents begging and threatening
Why pushing his toys near his toy box is not putting them away
Mom is always right, even when she makes no sense or Dad said it was alright to have/do something

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Re: 1364 - "Like I'm Five"

Postby Hiferator » Mon May 05, 2014 2:01 pm UTC

snowyowl wrote:
keithl wrote:How much math is in a ton of math?

If it's stored on 64GB MicroSD cards weighing 2g each... it's somewhere in the order of "all the math".

You should say "all known math", as I'm quite sure we have not yet been able to measure how much math we have yet to discover. I think it may well be reasonable to assume there is an infinite amount of that.

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Re: 1364 - "Like I'm Five"

Postby Introbulus » Mon May 05, 2014 2:53 pm UTC

I'm not very good at remembering what my brain was like when I was X years old. I can't even off the top of my head tell you what year of school I was in at that age.

Okay having looked it up I was probably just starting Kindergarden. So what did I know when I was just starting Kindergarden?

    How to get the Warp Whistle in Super Mario Bros. 3
    What are colors, and red is my favorite
    Acorns on the ground are not for eating
    Ladybugs, despite the name, are probably not all ladies
    My existence is the only confirmable thing in the world
    Entire TMNT theme song
    Ultraraptors are the ones with a huge claw on their foot (at the time I was mispronouncing "Utahraptor").
    T-Rexes have super tiny arms
    Big Whales eat krill, smaller whales eat fish

That seems about accurate.
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Re: 1364 - "Like I'm Five"

Postby squall_line » Mon May 05, 2014 3:13 pm UTC

Whizbang wrote:Things he doesn't know (not a complete list):
How to put away movie/game CDs when he takes them out of the machine
How to put his clothes in the hamper when he gets undressed
How to eat dinner without his parents begging and threatening
Why pushing his toys near his toy box is not putting them away
Mom is always right, even when she makes no sense or Dad said it was alright to have/do something


I'm not sure that you're giving the correct attribution to his knowledge. It's quite possible that your son knows *exactly* how to put away movies/games, how to put his clothes in the hamper, and how to eat without parental interaction. It could just be that he chooses not to do those things because they're not high on his own list of priorities.

As far as Mom always being right, if one parent says it's okay to do something, and the other says it's not okay, then it's not okay. If the parents can't get on the same page or discuss something to be able to give a consistent answer, that's not the child's fault. It says something positive about his temperment that he discerns that it's better not to disobey than to justify disobeying by passing the buck or blaming someone else.

IMHO, of course.

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Re: 1364 - "Like I'm Five"

Postby San Fran Sam » Mon May 05, 2014 3:31 pm UTC

JudeMorrigan wrote:
eviloatmeal wrote:
Plutarch wrote:I don't quite understand this comic. Why does he say 'Can you explain it like I'm five?' Is that a phrase people use? Or is there some well-known instance of a character saying it? I've never heard anyone say this.

I'm not sure of the particular origin, but it's an internet trope[citation needed], especially (perhaps originally) on reddit, where there is a subreddit dedicated to the concept.

It's not simply an internet trope and is older than reddit. See the Groucho Marx quote.


One reference I can recall is that Denzel Washington said (and I'm paraphrasing), "Can you explain it to me as if I were a six year old?" in the movie Philadelphia. that was in 1993.

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Re: 1364 - "Like I'm Five"

Postby keithl » Mon May 05, 2014 3:52 pm UTC

Hiferator wrote:
snowyowl wrote:
keithl wrote:How much math is in a ton of math?
If it's stored on 64GB MicroSD cards weighing 2g each... it's somewhere in the order of "all the math".
You should say "all known math", as I'm quite sure we have not yet been able to measure how much math we have yet to discover. I think it may well be reasonable to assume there is an infinite amount of that.
Probably closer to "all knowable math". At some point, it will be impossible in practice to demonstrate that "new" mathematical results are not restatements of prior work. Snowyowl's example works out to 32 petabytes of math per metric ton, a lot to read through.

Encoded as DNA, assuming 600 daltons per bit with addressing and redundancy (see George Church's "Regenesis", the world's most copied book - in DNA), that would be 1000 yottabytes per metric ton. Still not "all math", but ...

Presumably, all the theses and all the homework ever produced by all the schoolchildren in the world could be encoded in a few milligrams of DNA. Thus, "the dog ate my homework" is more plausible than ever. Will researchers show up in Stockholm whining "the dog ate my entire field of research, give me a Nobel prize anyway?"

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Re: 1364 - "Like I'm Five"

Postby rmsgrey » Mon May 05, 2014 3:55 pm UTC

philip1201 wrote:
ps.02 wrote:You know how people say "If you can't explain it to your grandmother, you don't truly understand it"?

I've always suspected that what they really mean is, "If you can't explain it to your grandmother, then either you don't truly understand it, or it's something I lack the capacity to understand."


The whole point is that six year olds (or grandmothers) are intelligent enough to be capable of abstract reasoning, which means that if you truly understand the subject, you should be able to simplify the subject matter to such an extent that they can understand it. "Lacking the capacity to understand" is almost invariably an excuse made by those who don't understand well enough to see the simplicity and reproduce it, and the ignoramus can't preform a test to distinguish between the two. The basic message is never to accept mystery as an answer. If you as a scientist discover that you can't explain it to a child, that doesn't mean you're working on something mysterious beyond the ken of lesser humans. Instead, it means you don't understand it, and you should investigate why.


Well, sometimes the answer is genuinely "Sure, I could explain it. Do you have a couple of years to cover the build up?" There are some things which genuinely do require some background in order to understand...

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Re: 1364 - "Like I'm Five"

Postby Jackpot777 » Mon May 05, 2014 4:52 pm UTC

eviloatmeal wrote:
Plutarch wrote:I don't quite understand this comic. Why does he say 'Can you explain it like I'm five?' Is that a phrase people use? Or is there some well-known instance of a character saying it? I've never heard anyone say this.

I'm not sure of the particular origin, but it's an internet trope[citation needed], especially (perhaps originally) on reddit, where there is a subreddit dedicated to the concept.


I always like Explain Like I'm Calvin, the subreddit where people ask the kinds of questions that Calvin from Calvin & Hobbes would ask, and everyone else tries to answer the question as if they're Calvin's dad.

I miss Calvin & Hobbes.

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Re: 1364 - "Like I'm Five"

Postby Morgan Wick » Mon May 05, 2014 4:59 pm UTC

If you can't explain it to your grandmother, it may be that you don't truly understand it.

It may be that you understand it too well, and have lost sight of the forest for the trees. It can be the case that learning more and more facts about something actually causes you to lose sight of the big picture, or even that there is a bigger picture than what you would think the big picture is before taking into account what background knowledge most people would have.

Or it may be that you've completely lost the ability to communicate with mere mortals entirely. This last seems to be distressingly common among scientists, which explains a lot of the problems with the world today.

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Re: 1364 - "Like I'm Five"

Postby Whizbang » Mon May 05, 2014 5:02 pm UTC

Morgan Wick wrote:This last seems to be distressingly common among scientists, which explains a lot of the problems with the world today.


I think scientists being unable to communicate effectively with non-scientists is pretty far down on the list of problems with the world today.

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Re: 1364 - "Like I'm Five"

Postby Morgan Wick » Mon May 05, 2014 5:15 pm UTC

Whizbang wrote:
Morgan Wick wrote:This last seems to be distressingly common among scientists, which explains a lot of the problems with the world today.


I think scientists being unable to communicate effectively with non-scientists is pretty far down on the list of problems with the world today.

Well, I think it's the cause of a lot of the problems you're thinking of, especially the general attitude people have towards global warming, which in my mind is right at the top of the list.

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Re: 1364 - "Like I'm Five"

Postby Whizbang » Mon May 05, 2014 5:23 pm UTC

This brings to mind the old saying, "There are no bad students, only bad teachers."

Are we bad students or do we just have bad teachers? Is it really the scientists' job to teach us anyway? It seems that their job is to discover how to universe works and to write it down in a way that can be understood and reproduced by similarly trained individuals. It is the responsibility of others to teach the necessary skills to understand the research results. There is definitely a large amount of overlap, of course, but I do not think the blame can be laid at the scientists' feet.

RE: Global Warming
Yeah, that's a big one that belongs somewhere near the top of the list, maybe even #1. But I think it is unfair and ineffective to blame scientists for not educating people on it. After all, the scientists are not responsible for what is being taught in schools, or broadcast in the news. Look at evolution. There are a ton of people actively trying the keep this concept out of schools, despite the mountains of evidence and research. Loads of people are sticking their heads in the sand over the global warming thing as well.

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Re: 1364 - "Like I'm Five"

Postby Farabor » Mon May 05, 2014 5:45 pm UTC

Hiferator wrote:
snowyowl wrote:
keithl wrote:How much math is in a ton of math?

If it's stored on 64GB MicroSD cards weighing 2g each... it's somewhere in the order of "all the math".

You should say "all known math", as I'm quite sure we have not yet been able to measure how much math we have yet to discover. I think it may well be reasonable to assume there is an infinite amount of that.


Perhaps, but then, are we talking a countable infinity? Aleph one? Does it matter whether or not we accept the continuum hypothesis? Do we need large cardinals?

So many questions!

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Re: 1364 - "Like I'm Five"

Postby Jackpot777 » Mon May 05, 2014 5:46 pm UTC

Whizbang wrote:This brings to mind the old saying, "There are no bad students, only bad teachers."


I stood in line at Wendy's for ten extra minutes because the two people taking the orders had to explain to a coupon-bearing customer, a grown man wearing work clothes that drove up in a very nice truck, that if he got free fries and a drink with the purchase of a Tuscan Chicken sandwich, it still meant he had to buy that particular thing. So when he handed over $20, it was four dollars and change, plus tax, which came to over $5. And that's why he received fourteen dollars and change in return.

Ten minutes.

I'm not sure what kind of miracle teacher would be needed to make him understand simple subtraction, or to understand how coupons work, but if the range is from EVERYONE he had in school were bad teachers to this one person being a bad student, I'm applying Occam's Razor to this one and going with terrible student.

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Re: 1364 - "Like I'm Five"

Postby hamjudo » Mon May 05, 2014 5:53 pm UTC

If your goal is to be able to explain your thesis to a five year old, then you should keep that in mind while choosing a thesis topic. Some topics are much better suited than others. Five year old children don't have a whole lot of life experience to draw on.

My sister's PhD dissertation probably wins on ease of explanation, at least for kindergarten students who take the bus to school. It was in modeling and optimizing a complex system using some obscure part of queuing theory. The complex system was the school buses in the city of Cleveland. So in five year old speak, she was helping the school bus drivers choose the fastest way to get every child to school.

The approach of randomly choosing graduate students at a party and having them explain their thesis topics is not going to work well.

On Sesame Street, even the people who fix toasters have PhD's in early childhood development. My kids went to a kindergarten that was sort of like that. We lived in the city where Head Start started. We lived approximately two blocks from an institute that was funding a lot of research, both locally and around the world. They had some laboratory classrooms in the facility. Neighborhood parties had an unusually high concentration of PhD candidates working on dissertations involving early childhood education. I can't recall any dissertation topics that were easy to explain.

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Re: 1364 - "Like I'm Five"

Postby keithl » Mon May 05, 2014 6:51 pm UTC

Morgan Wick wrote:Or it may be that you've completely lost the ability to communicate with mere mortals entirely. This last seems to be distressingly common among scientists, which explains a lot of the problems with the world today.

Many scientists really don't understand what they are talking about. They keep adding epicycles and discarding outliers until the facts fit the theory. But knowledge grows out of anomalies, not self-assurance. Explaining to others is the fastest way to uncover weaknesses in your ideas; when you hear nonsense emerging from your own mouth, it's time to shut up and rethink.

If you are a scientist without a large inheritance to pay for your work (we can't all be Darwin), you MUST be able to explain what you are doing to the people you want money from. Just as the people with money had to explain what they were doing to the people who gave money to them. You will never explain everything, and you don't need to. You just need to keep trying, observe the results, and modify explanation and behavior until the results are maximized. Your job is not to dominate, but to provide value in exchange for value (your funding).

Suggested reading: "Don't be such a scientist" by Randy Olson.

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Re: 1364 - "Like I'm Five"

Postby rmsgrey » Mon May 05, 2014 8:39 pm UTC

The other problem a lot of scientists (and most politicians) have in communicating ideas to the public is that the main channel for reaching the general public is the TV news soundbite - anything that can't be compressed into a short clip and slipped in before the commercials is going to get mangled in transmission. You can explain special relativity so everyone can understand it, or you can explain it so it fits into a single tweet, but you can't expect to do both...

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Re: 1364 - "Like I'm Five"

Postby orthogon » Mon May 05, 2014 9:06 pm UTC

What rmsgrey said (earlier, I meant, as well as just now). The thing about science is that it's layer built on layer built on layer. The results and theories from one field become the axioms for a new field. A lot of physics is built on mathematics that is built on other mathematics etc. It's not necessarily that you can't explain it to a given person, but you can't necessarily explain it in less time than it took you to understand it, which was probably about 10 years. If your grandmother also has a PhD in the same field of study, then it's a lot easier: it might only take her a few weeks to get it, assuming she's been keeping up with all the latest developments in the field.

You might be able to explain about queuing theory being about getting the kids to school on time, but at best you've probably explained roughly what queuing theory is about, not what your thesis is about. You can maybe talk about the wood, but your thesis is one of the veins in one of the leaves of one of the trees. And because Science and Technology subjects have this depth where things build on other things, it's not just a question of taking someone to the particular tree: the leaf in question is right at the top so they've got to climb up with you. Ultimately that's going to take some strenuous effort on their part.
xtifr wrote:... and orthogon merely sounds undecided.

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Re: 1364 - "Like I'm Five"

Postby speising » Mon May 05, 2014 9:16 pm UTC

at which point, the attention span of a typical 5 year old comes into play...
edit: on second thought, maybe that's the secret: it's not about simplifying, it's about making it interesting enough that you don't loose your audience halfway through your explanation.
Last edited by speising on Mon May 05, 2014 11:31 pm UTC, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: 1364 - "Like I'm Five"

Postby chris857 » Mon May 05, 2014 9:57 pm UTC

mathmannix wrote:[*] If you dug straight down through the earth you'd come out in China, but you'd have to hold on not to fall because it's upside down there.
[*] The Great Lakes were from when Paul Bunyan left the faucet running. Always turn off the faucet when you're done.[/list]

I knew other stuff too, but that's all I can recall right now.


Unfortunately for all of us digging to China (myself included) the antipode of points in China comes out to southern South America. Not everyone get to dig to China.

I can't actually profess to Paul Bunyan making the lakes, but the Lower Peninsula of Michigan is a mitten shape because PB was looking for a mitten he lost (and he walked in a mitten-shaped path).

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Re: 1364 - "Like I'm Five"

Postby ps.02 » Mon May 05, 2014 11:20 pm UTC

speising wrote:at which point, the attention span of a typical 5 year old comes into play...

I was gonna say, when exploring what can and can't be explained to a 5-year-old who has developed critical thinking skills, also keep in mind the amount of time you have until the child turns 6.

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Re: 1364 - "Like I'm Five"

Postby Jonnylove » Tue May 06, 2014 2:38 am UTC

I'm a liberal studies major. I've repeatedly used this phrase when someone is attempting to explain some science to me. I take this comic, perhaps incorrectly, as a stab at people demanding that the subject be made easy when it's actually hard.

What I actually mean when I say "explain it to me like I'm 5" is not "make it simple." I usually mean something like "You need to tell me what's fundamentally going on at the most basic level, and honestly I suspect you're not going to because you don't know either." I make this polite by implying that that the problem lies with my having the cognitive abilities of a 5 year old.

I had, for a number of years, the basic, embarrassing, and I think common misconception that electrons are energy. I managed to stumble through a physic class with this misconception, and went through multiple "explain it to me like I'm 5" conversations with people who are supposed to know that stuff without my misconception being addressed. Despite my explaining that I didn't understand "If the electrons go back out the other end of the circuit, where do the photons come from?"

The model didn't make any sense (because it was wrong.) Months after my last physics class I thought something like "Hey, electrons don't move at light speed. They have to be accelerated. Doesn't that mean they have mass? If they have mass, they're matter right? Come to think of it I remember something from high school chemistry about electrons having mass. Then why are the electrons moving through the circuit? And where are the photons coming from?" Which eventually led me to realize that scientists aren't being poetic when they say that light is both a particle and a wave, and the thought that energy is in real terms more an adjective than a noun (is it? Does that make sense?), and wow, charge, weird concept, analogous to gravity maybe?, wow, gravity is weird too, yada yada, and I was really wishing I'd known that electrons are massive particles before I got a C in my physics class.

While I should have realized sooner that electrons are not energy, I also think that no one explained to me what was going on at the most basic level, what energy is, what electrons are, why some matter has more resistance than other matter, etc. This is probably hard to do for someone who knows this stuff so well that all that is background knowledge, and hard to see, hard to realize that the other person might not know, but it's important.

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Re: 1364 - "Like I'm Five"

Postby Pfhorrest » Tue May 06, 2014 6:12 am UTC

While I get what you're describing is the realization that electrons have mass, I want to clarify that they are still energy. Everything is energy. Mass is a kind of energy. Or rather, a rest mass is a kind of energy. All mass is energy and all energy is mass, but rest mass is a special kind worth distinguishing.

At a fundamental level, everything is in a sense "naturally" massless particles (which are actually just excitations in energy fields, of a fundamentally wavelike nature, yet still in discrete units and so kind of particle-like too) propagating at c. It's just when those particles/waves/excitations interact with each other (or strictly, with other fields, whether those are manifesting as particles or not) that they stop for a moment to do that interaction and then continue on, such that an ongoing interaction causes them to drop below c in aggregate, and the kinetic energy lost in that slowdown hangs around the place where they're interacting, which manifests as the kind of energy we call rest-mass.

This is what that Higgs boson thing you've probably been hearing about was all about. Most of the rest-mass of ordinary matter can be accounted for from the electromagnetic and strong and weak nuclear reactions bindings quarks together into nucleons, binding nucleons together into atoms, and binding electrons into orbit around them. There's a lot of energy stored in keeping all those particles/waves/excitations hanging around together instead of flying apart at light speed, and that's most of what we measure when we measure the mass of ordinary matter. But even after we've blasted ordinary matter down to those constituent fundamental particles and isolated them so they're not interacting with anything we've accounted for yet... they're still moving below c and they still have rest mass. So there's a question of what the heck they're interacting with once we've ruled out everything we know of, and the theoretical answers was an unknown field named after Higgs. And supposing that field exists, it should be possible to produce excitations in it -- to make particles come out of it -- if we "shake it up" vigorously, so to speak, in a really high-energy event. The Higgs boson is the name of the particle that should manifest when the Higgs field is excited, thus proving that there really is a Higgs field there, and explaining why free electrons have rest mass even when they're not interacting with anything else we know of.

A lot of other properties of those fundamental particles also change in the process of slowing down below c and they essentially become different particles than they were. The 'fundamental' particles with mass that we know of are in some sense not really fundamental, but rather they're what more-fundamental particles become when they interact with the Higgs field, slow down, acquire rest mass, and change in a variety of other ways.

TL;DR: Everything is energy, and when some bits of energy slow down to interact with each other, that slowed-down energy hanging around one place is what we call rest mass.
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