Many words and phrases commonly used by scientists have very different meanings to non-scientists. Energy, power, mass, inertia, momentum, confidence, model, space, measurement, error, signal, color, space, time, vacuum, evolution, theory, particle/wave duality .. the list goes on and on. A certain amount of code switching is necessary for effective public communication - the same may well be true in your field. People like Neil deGrasse Tyson and E.O. Wilson are expert communicators, but much of the community struggles.1
Some of the communication problem is solved by education. Some concepts can be described by language accurately enough. We have words for the concepts of the Newtonian world. But other concepts are a bit too nebulous outside of math. The mathematics of quantum mechanics are very clear, but language is too incomplete for accurate description so phrases like Schrödinger's cat are often invoked.
Within the field lurk a rich jargon - terms and phrases that are confusing with misleading literal meanings to outsiders Color as the analog to charge in quantum chromodynamics, superposition to describe the linearity of state-space, entanglement to describe tensor products of composite systems, singularity - I can't give a description in a few words... Labels for some rather bizarre beasts that allow easy communication. Public descriptions are a form of handwaving, often visual and usually devoid of math, that give a bit of a flavor.
The imperfections of incomplete language fade within the field, but a more serious language problem lurks. In the past few weeks conversations with Jean and Jheri and a podcast by Horace triggered some thinking about the problem one encounters when language is too complete. What happens when something has a name and is used in such a way that we are fooled into believe it is fundamental - an element of reality?
Most of Newton's physics is an accurate enough description of the world that most of us experience. Adequate, but not deep. Newtonian gravity got us to the Moon with relatively simple calculations and greatly accelerated the understanding of Nature. But it had three fundamental flaws.2 Newton's gravity couldn't be fundamental and the hunt was on for something better. Einstein found it and it was simple in retrospect. His insight was to reconsider the meaning of now.
The concept of now is a deeply engrained concept Einstein's beautiful 1905 paper is nearly equation-free and opens with a discussion on how one synchronizes distant clocks. He then analyzes what happens when the observers of the clocks are moving with respect to each other and shows the notion of things taking place at the same time - simultaneity - has to break and he had Special Relativity.
Now was no longer a rigid absolute - relatively killed that notion. We still have problems thinking about it as it really is as most of our observations are in a very restricted part of reality.
If Special Relativity weakened now, quantum mechanics undermined here. Quantum mechanics doesn't describe the location of a particle as a simple set of components, but rather as something more abstract - a probability density. This is extremely important at dimensions that are microscopic to our senses and almost unnoticed at our scale. We can describe the world very precisely at a small scale, but that is overkill for most of us. We still think we have a good handle on here, but at a fundamental level the notion has little meaning.
Einstein may have broken out of the the now box we thought described reality, but he had problems with the loss of here. General Relativity, the beautiful theory that vanquished the problems of Newton's gravity and gave us a much deeper window into Nature, relies on proper heres and nows (although not the old universal now).3
General Relativity breaks down at small scales.4 Much of the excitement about the BICEP2 observations last Spring was a hint at a deep connection between relativity and quantum mechanics. Other observations reduce the chance that the original BICEP2 interpretation is correct (not totally though) - such is the way of Nature. She is what she is and not what you hope she is.
We live in a series of boxes of some rather rigid and complete language constructs. Some may be true and others certainly aren't. Shattering a box is a fundamental leap - it changes how we view the Universe and is usually accompanied by a storm of completely new questions.
What are the overly complete language boxes in your field? How does one realize they exist? Physics is easy as deep questions of Nature point to where something is broken and the questions are simple in principle.
1 Colleen and I put quite a bit of effort into a book that attempted to describe energy at a level that people might make informed personal choices. Writing something that is clear, accurate enough and not boring for a general audience proved to be too difficult.
2 It did not explain why the gravitational force on an object was proportional to its inertial mass, it didn't explain the precession of the perihelion of Mercury's orbit, and it implied all masses in the universe were instantly connected to each other gravitationally.
3 It is probably worth mentioning that the word theory has a very special place in the natural sciences. It is a well substantiated explanation of some part of Nature that is repeatably tested and confirmed through experimentation and observation. Theories are predictive and explanatory. It is a very high standard. Outside of the natural sciences the word usually means what a scientist could call a guess or conjecture.
4 A unification of quantum mechanics and gravity is elusive, but the current best theory of matter is a bit more abstract. Being about sixty years ago it became clear we could retain here and now as there was something more fundamental. You probably learned about the particle and wave nature of matter in high school or college physics and probably saw a few experiments to make the point. The fundamental objects of reality aren't particles, but rather quantum fields. You are an incredibly complex swarm of quantum fields that happens to be able to think. The math and physics behind this usually doesn't come until at least the junior year for physics majors, so the deep result is rarely mentioned outside the field.
I've been making some Thai dishes, but one of the problems has been most dishes call for fish sauce. I'm a vegetarian, so that doesn't work (for the same reason I can't eat at most Thai restaurants). Here is a pretty good curry paste I threw together that allows you to easily make veggie Thai food. I had a lot of spices onhand so be creative. The peanuts, a sweet, tamari, citrus, chili, ginger and lemon grass are going to be important as a base for exploration.
Vegan 'Thai' Curry Paste
° 1/2 cup roasted peanuts
° 1/4 cup maple B grade maple syrup
° 1/4 cup tamari
° 3 inches of ginger
° 2 limes - juice and zest
° 3 keffir lime leaves
° 1 or 2 dried chilis (how much heat do you want - I went with 1, but some people want heat)
° 1 stalk lemon grass
° 1 tsp turmeric
° 1 tsp cumin
° 1 tsp coriander
° 1/2 tsp cinnamon
° 1/4 tsp cloves
°1/8 tsp each nutmeg, cardamom, finely ground pepper
° throw everything into a blender and blend until you get a smooth paste.
° refrigerate for a few hours (at least) to allow the flavors to come together.