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February 29, 2012 / whyhansdantes


Without any hint of ridicule or insincerity, many students of the University of the Philippines Diliman would recommend a certain General Education course known as Physics 10.

Physics 10 is great, they say – it’s not your dreaded physics class back in the high school days, what with all the formulas, vector quantities and constants whose decimal values seem ever-changing and never-ending to the naked eye. Large class, lighter load, carefree flow, and, best of all, “unoable”.

The telling irony is that nobody’s just as positive about the other physics subjects, the words of tribulations we hear from the lips of engineering and physics students being enough to alienate the “soft sciences”, let alone those from the arts.

We could not relate. It’s too difficult, too complex, and just too unrelated.

And so it begins. Being relegated to things not of our concern, the hardest, if not the most fundamental, science gets one more step farther from the public perception. Physics becomes the realm of geniuses, mathematicians, engineers, and the like. Sometimes, distinguishing Physics 10 as Physics: The Easy Way widens the gap.

Yet, to my own astonishment, as well as that of my classmates in the less mathematical fields, the realm of physics may not be so far from us after all. My Physics 10 experience taught me this.

Although the first parts were no less connected from our most pedestrian of realities (the Earth in the grander scheme of the Universe, the Universe as one grand mechanism in itself), it is the last parts which effectively blurred the differences between physics and our hitherto unmathematical perception of the world around us.

Take Professor Rene Batac’s lecture on Complexity Science, for example. If avian flight patterns and neuron pathways wont cut it for us, imagine the internal shock when it’s applied to social media friend networks, annual subscription rates for telecommunication companies, and (this takes the cake) patterns of filing bills in Congress.

These were topics one would exclusively classify in the field of social statistics or media studies.

No longer. It is now up to us to deal with the improper stigma against the “hard sciences” stepping on the territory of the “soft sciences” or vice versa. Indeed, why bother to distinguish between the two at all?

Or, for that matter, consider the lecture of UP Diliman’s chancellor himself – Dr. Caesar Saloma. It took me quite a while to adjust to the change in atmosphere, the shift so sudden from physics to economics – besides, it’s not everyday that the average student gets to meet the chancellor, let alone lecture in the most basic of classes.

Among the six qualities that countries with good economies, an ordinary UP student may posit the commitment and credibility of government as the first. The day’s lesson said otherwise, as it placed first among them the importation of ideas and technologies. As a matter of fact, government credibility was last among the six.

The arrangement may be irrelevant, but it may be safe to say, at the very least, that research should be at the forefront of the development of the Philippine economy, and that, like Newton’s quote on the necessity of stepping on giants to see progress, we must not hesitate to borrow ideas applicable in other countries, whenever available and applicable to our country.

The chancellor’s lecture, transcending not only the bounds of disciplines but also the geographical boundaries between countries, should serve as a stern rebuke on those who would belittle the necessity and potential of young physicists by virtue of having less prospects for earning as, say, the doctors, lawyers or engineers.

These stereotypes against physicists will do us no good, especially when ingrained in the minds of most high school students. Instead of discouraging them to take up physics, this nation must give it the same standing as the other professions.

In this light, we should see Physics 10 as an important step, if not to improve the calculating abilities of those in fields other than physics, then at least, to increase awareness on the subject matter among other disciplines, and to bridge the gap between physics and society.

To think of physics as unrelated, let alone contradictory, to the other disciplines is the sort of naiveté an Iskolar ng Bayan could not afford to have.


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