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Heinlein's education 
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Post Heinlein's education
sakeneko wrote:
He was definitely no linguist, though, and I get the impression that he was no specialist in neurological function either. Which, since he was educated as an engineer and physicist, isn't surprising. :-)

Physicist? He was educated as a naval officer, with no degree awarded, and a concentration on the science and math of gunnery. I don't doubt it was a fine education but there were almost NO physicists in that era as we regard the specialty. Most of those we now note as physicists for their work with atomic and nuclear engineering came from other specialties - math, chemistry, engineering.

I think it's clear that Speedtalk and all its kitties came from Heinlein's exposure to General Semantics, a movement which ultimately failed to change the world much.


Mon Jan 07, 2013 3:16 pm
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Post Re: Speedtalk from "Gulf" mentioned in New Yorker
JamesGifford wrote:
sakeneko wrote:
He was definitely no linguist, though, and I get the impression that he was no specialist in neurological function either. Which, since he was educated as an engineer and physicist, isn't surprising. :-)

Physicist? He was educated as a naval officer, with no degree awarded, and a concentration on the science and math of gunnery.
True.
JamesGifford wrote:
I don't doubt it was a fine education but there were almost NO physicists in that era as we regard the specialty.
"That turns out not to be the case." It may have been true fifty years before Heinlein was born, but not by 1907, when there were physicists all over the place.

Check out the careers of, say, Max Planck, or Josiah Willard Gibbs. James Clerk Maxwell became Cavendish Professor of Experimental Physics at Cambridge University in 1871. Cornell University had a physics department when it opened its doors in 1868.

On a personal note, I made a pilgrimage, with Eric Picholle and Anouk Arnal, to the campus of McGill University to examine the lab equipment of Ernest Rutherford, who was Macdonald Professor of Physics there from 1898 to 1907. McGill's physics department was founded in 1891.
JamesGifford wrote:
Most of those we now note as physicists for their work with atomic and nuclear engineering came from other specialties - math, chemistry, engineering.
Notable contributions to physics have always been made by people from other specialties. Just as physicists poke their noses into other peoples' professions; for example, a number of Nobel Prizes in Medicine have been awarded to physicists. The World Wide Web you are now examining is a gift from a physicist to everyone else.

So, while my profession may not be the oldest profession, please be aware that it is older than you say.

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Mon Jan 07, 2013 4:30 pm
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Post Re: Speedtalk from "Gulf" mentioned in New Yorker
beamjockey wrote:
So, while my profession may not be the oldest profession, please be aware that it is older than you say.

Heh. My viewpoint comes mostly from reading Richard Rhodes and Richard Feynman with respect to the development of the atomic bomb. While physics as a discipline and physicists certainly existed back to the mid 19th century, my impression from both of them is that it was a little-known specialty with a relatively sparse number of degreed practitioners; physicians were rare oddballs in the world of academic and research science. Chemistry was paramount, with much research edging over into what we would now classify more as physics.

I could be blinkered on that but even Feynman says it was a surprise when the War Department came around trying to find more physicists ca. 1942, and they took even grass-green him out of desperation.

In any case, I think that saying Heinlein was trained as a physicist is almost completely wrong - wrong school, wrong specialty, wrong era. Whatever expertise he acquired was later, during the war, and largely informally.


Tue Jan 08, 2013 6:28 am
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Post Re: Speedtalk from "Gulf" mentioned in New Yorker
JamesGifford wrote:
...physicians were rare oddballs in the world of academic and research science.

What do medical doctors have to do with this discussion? :)

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Post Re: Heinlein's education
JamesGifford wrote:
sakeneko wrote:
He was definitely no linguist, though, and I get the impression that he was no specialist in neurological function either. Which, since he was educated as an engineer and physicist, isn't surprising. :-)

Physicist?


He had some at least some education in physics, when he sat in on physics courses at UCLA during his run at grad school in 1934.


Tue Jan 08, 2013 1:45 pm
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Post Re: Speedtalk from "Gulf" mentioned in New Yorker
DanHenderson wrote:
JamesGifford wrote:
...physicians were rare oddballs in the world of academic and research science.

What do medical doctors have to do with this discussion? :)

Nine out of ten doctors prefer Chun King, that's why.

Bill M, Heinlein certainly had an interest in physics, but auditing a few classes isn't enough for me to agree he was "educated as a physicist."

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Tue Jan 08, 2013 3:50 pm
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Post Re: Heinlein's education
JamesGifford wrote:
sakeneko wrote:
He was definitely no linguist, though, and I get the impression that he was no specialist in neurological function either. Which, since he was educated as an engineer and physicist, isn't surprising. :-)

Physicist? He was educated as a naval officer, with no degree awarded, and a concentration on the science and math of gunnery. I don't doubt it was a fine education but there were almost NO physicists in that era as we regard the specialty. Most of those we now note as physicists for their work with atomic and nuclear engineering came from other specialties - math, chemistry, engineering.


He worked on a PhD in Physics in the UC system, although he never finished it. The engineering that he studied also had a great deal of basic physics and chemistry in it. Lack of a degree from Annapolis at the time had no real effect -- a certificate from the academy was largely treated as equivalent to a BA. My grandfather, who graduated six years before Heinlein, applied to and was admitted as a graduate student at Harvard, and went on to get an MS from the business school. (Don't recall which degree.)

Heinlein was first and foremost an engineer, of course, not a physicist. But he was decidely more literate in physics than in biology or neurology. :-)

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I think it's clear that Speedtalk and all its kitties came from Heinlein's exposure to General Semantics, a movement which ultimately failed to change the world much.


<nod> I can't imagine believing the premises of General Semantics, but even linguists at the time took it seriously.

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Tue Jan 08, 2013 9:35 pm
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Post Re: Heinlein's education
sakeneko wrote:
He worked on a PhD in Physics in the UC system, although he never finished it.

My understanding - and understand that my understanding gets a bit shallower every day, especially around the bits that were fuzzy to start with - is that Heinlein planned to get an advanced degree but never got past the first few steps before money and illness cut the attempt short. On the order of a few weeks to a few months of actual effort, some of which was spent in the application, enrollment etc. processes.

Is there different/better info available?


Wed Jan 09, 2013 6:53 am
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Post Re: Heinlein's education
I don't know how it was in Heinlein's day, but I just compared the coursework I took for my undergrad degree (Electrical Engineering) with that necessary to have gotten a degree in Physics (which, at my school, would have been a BS in Liberal Arts with a Physics major).

I had sufficient coursework to have gotten a minor in Physics; I would only have had to apply to be a student in the college of Liberal Arts in parallel with being a student in the college of Engineering.

I took all the classes necessary to get a major in Physics except for a senior sequence in Quantum Mechanics (and I think I could make a pretty good argument that the solid state physics and optical electronics classes I took in EE would be a good substitute -- they covered much of the same ground).

You'd have to compare Heinlein's transcript with the contemporary degree requirements for a school that offered a Physics major, but I bet doing so would come up with a similar conclusion. Training as an engineer requires a broad foundation in physics. (When I applied for grad school in Physics, my undergrad degree in EE was just as acceptable a prerequisite as would have been an undergrad degree in Physics).

While it may be accurate to say that Heinlein wasn't trained as a physicist, he most certainly was trained in physics.

And the description of Heinlein's run at a grad degree in physics is on pp 171-172 in the bio, and those pages are available on Google Books:
link


Wed Jan 09, 2013 8:20 am
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Post Re: Heinlein's education
Has a curriculum for USNA in that era ever been published?

I agree that most forms of engineering necessarily involve training in physics, and it's common today for physics majors to go into an engineering field (our oldest, for example, did so). I am not sure that your curriculum of a much later era compares to the specialized education at USNA in the 1920s; the biography snip you cite specifically mentions that they had to make changes to get in step with the rest of the college world by the 1930s. I would not be surprised to find their curriculum to be heavy on tradition and naval necessities and selective on general fields - that is, cadets were taught as much engineering and physics as they would need in their careers, not to make them employable (or even competitive) in the general job market.

I'm not trying to be an especial PITA, but I don't concede that "some training in physics" = "physicist"... or, frankly, I'd be one, too.

As for the UCLA stint... it looks like my assessment is correct. Much time convincing the school to even take him on, only part of a semester as a sit-in student before it fell apart. He probably "read to the physiks" more in his lifetime than he acquired much of worth in that short stint.


Wed Jan 09, 2013 9:36 am
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