Theory versus Experiment

October 3, 2008

As a former physicist, and an experimental/numerical/computational physicist at that, I am often in conflict with the “Theorists” be they Theoretical Physicists or Mathematicians.  In a programming context, I find that Theorists want to map out every last detail and believe that they can explain and account for every possible situation on paper.  This isn’t so surprising when you consider that’s what they do/did as TPs or Ms.  Yet in my opinion the best thing you can learn, whilst moving from junior to senior programmer, is how much you don’t know about what might happen.  This led me to think up a pithy phrase to use against a particularly wiley Ph.D. mathematician/”programmer” (I use the latter term loosely…):

“Theory without Experiment is just a set of internally consistent reasoning”

or to put it another way

“Theory is Ego, Experiment is Humility”.

EDIT:  And this pithy re-write that I’ve just found here (

The difference between theory and practice is smaller in theory than in practice.



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