Theory and Experiment


This passage from James Gleick’s Chaos perfectly captures how I feel about the difference between theory and experiment:

Theorists conduct experiments with their brains. Experimenters have to use their hands, too. Theorists are thinkers, experimenters are craftsmen. The theorist needs no accomplice. The experimenter has to muster graduate students, cajole machinists, flatter lab assistants. The theorist operates in a pristine place free of noise, of vibration, of dirt. The experimenter develops an intimacy with matter as a sculptor does with clay, battling it, shaping it, and engaging it. The theorist invents his companions, as a naive Romeo imagined his ideal Juliet. The experimenter’s lovers sweat, complain, and fart.


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