In season 2, episode 5 (The Euclid Alternative) of that great show “The Big Bang Theory,” Penny asks Sheldon why he didn’t get his driving license when he was 16 years old like anybody else. Sheldon, a theoretical physicist with 2 PhDs, replies that it was because he was busy “examining perturbative amplitudes in n=4 supersymmetric theories leading to a re-examination of the ultraviolet properties of multi-loop n=8 supergravity using modern twistor theory.”
Of course the Big Bang Theory is just a sitcom, but the science depicted in the program is often quite accurate and also as cryptic as real science is too. Check for example actual tittles of research published recently in academic journals:
-Vortex dynamics in two-dimensional Josephson junction arrays with asymmetrically bimodulated potential
-Dopaminergic Polymorphisms Associated with Time-on-Task Declines and Fatigue in the Psychomotor Vigilance Test.
- Heavy cluster knockout reaction (16)O((12)C,2(12)C)(4)He and the nature of the (12)C-(12)C interaction potential.
-Countertransference feelings in one year of individual therapy: An evaluation of the factor structure in the Feeling Word Checklist-58
Regular folk are often bewildered by the apparent mumbo jumbo spoken by academics. Like in the Calvin and Hobbes cartoon depicted above some may even wonder if all those big words are nothing more than gobbledygook employed by people who just pretend to know what they are talking about and hide behind an “intimidating and impenetrable fog of writing.”
To address this issue consider the following thought experiment. Imagine that your language is restricted to that employed by a tribe in a remote jungle that has had no contact with civilization. Now imagine trying to survive in our modern society using only this language. How are you going to express yourself and be understood when you deal with computers, microwave ovens, the internet, television, CDs, DVDs, cell phones, cars, airplanes, trains, robots, atomic bombs, or genes?
Our degree of technological advance has led to the production or discovery of many entities that are just not part of the immediate reality that this tribal language describes. If you incorporated these words into the tribal language and used them in front of the members of the tribe they would think you are talking nonsense. That is the same situation with academics.
This is not to say that some individual academics may not attempt to hide their ignorance behind a wall of jargon. But by and large all researchers in different fields eventually encounter entities that cannot be described by words existing in our regular language. This is why new words are created. In some areas these words eventually filter into the day to day reality of the common folk, but in other areas they make sense only to those who study the field.
So no, it’s not mumbo jumbo, and some of these words may end up being part of the vocabulary of your children or your children’s children in the future.
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