No One Can Explain Why Planes Stay in the Air

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sciborg2

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« on: February 11, 2020, 08:36:01 pm »
No One Can Explain Why Planes Stay in the Air

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On a strictly mathematical level, engineers know how to design planes that will stay aloft. But equations don't explain why aerodynamic lift occurs.

There are two competing theories that illuminate the forces and factors of lift. Both are incomplete explanations.

Aerodynamicists have recently tried to close the gaps in understanding. Still, no consensus exists.

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In December 2003, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the first flight of the Wright brothers, the New York Times ran a story entitled “Staying Aloft; What Does Keep Them Up There?” The point of the piece was a simple question: What keeps planes in the air? To answer it, the Times turned to John D. Anderson, Jr., curator of aerodynamics at the National Air and Space Museum and author of several textbooks in the field.

What Anderson said, however, is that there is actually no agreement on what generates the aerodynamic force known as lift. “There is no simple one-liner answer to this,” he told the Times. People give different answers to the question, some with “religious fervor.” More than 15 years after that pronouncement, there are still different accounts of what generates lift, each with its own substantial rank of zealous defenders. At this point in the history of flight, this situation is slightly puzzling. After all, the natural processes of evolution, working mindlessly, at random and without any understanding of physics, solved the mechanical problem of aerodynamic lift for soaring birds eons ago. Why should it be so hard for scientists to explain what keeps birds, and airliners, up in the air?

Wilshire

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« Reply #1 on: February 11, 2020, 08:57:42 pm »
Same reasoning can be applied to basically any theory though? Why are there natural laws? That's a philosophical question and, yes, equations don't answer philosophy.

There's no unified theory of physics, and one can't use Bernoulli's equation to answer questions it was not designed to be applied to, just as you can't use it to calculate gravity or the natural gas constant.

The title and tone is entirely misleading, imo. The article itself does a good job showing how over simplified statements/explanations break down, and that can take many complex ideas to form a scientifically accurate response to a seemingly benign question. Its just unfortunately that its coached in click-bait titles and zippy one-liners for news crawlers.
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sciborg2

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« Reply #2 on: February 11, 2020, 10:04:00 pm »
Same reasoning can be applied to basically any theory though? Why are there natural laws? That's a philosophical question and, yes, equations don't answer philosophy.

There's no unified theory of physics, and one can't use Bernoulli's equation to answer questions it was not designed to be applied to, just as you can't use it to calculate gravity or the natural gas constant.

The title and tone is entirely misleading, imo. The article itself does a good job showing how over simplified statements/explanations break down, and that can take many complex ideas to form a scientifically accurate response to a seemingly benign question. Its just unfortunately that its coached in click-bait titles and zippy one-liners for news crawlers.

But I think the metaphysical questions are "underneath", so to speak, the level of explanation that is sought here?
'
The search is for an explanation that is in accordance with physics, not at the level of "why don't the laws of physics change"? I agree the latter is a mystery, but it's a "known" mystery to anyone who reflects whereas I didn't realize aerodynamics had such a huge mystery within the subject.

Wilshire

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« Reply #3 on: February 12, 2020, 01:04:25 pm »
I think its portrayed in a way that makes it seem larger than it is. These types of mysteries exist all throughout engineering and physics. Its rightly stated, imo, that math is not an explanation in itself, just like theories (especially incomplete ones) are not answers.

The bare fact is that "we" do know what makes planes fly. The answer is "lift", and we have been using equations to build aircraft that can manipulate, create, and destroy lift for more than a century. The article does a bait-and-switch with the question, and tries to say that "yeah but what is lift" is a continuance of the question, when its in fact another issue entirely. Every matter is eventually reduced to "we don't actually know" if you repeatedly ask "why" until you get down to the bottom of the well. Which is actually fine, its just that some people (often people steeped in science) get really upset when faced with this reality.

This is why I brought up Unified Theory, which probably if one tries hard enough one can tie all scientific uncertainty back to. There aren't any final answers, but that doesn't mean its accurate to say "we don't know how planes fly" just because we don't know how to rectify classical and quantum physics.

"We have several theories about what causes lift but there is still more to discover" doesn't make a snappy click-bait title though.
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sciborg2

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« Reply #4 on: February 12, 2020, 10:32:13 pm »
"We have several theories about what causes lift but there is still more to discover" doesn't make a snappy click-bait title though.

Ah, for me it read like, "We have several theories but each of them is incomplete in that they leave observed phenomena unexplained." which might be why I was more tolerant of the title.

I might try emailing the author, as I am curious what exactly they felt was missing from explanations of Lift compared to other phenomena they'd feel were adequately described. If they say "Quantum Mechanics" then, yeah, the title of the article is beyond the pale for sure!

Wilshire

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« Reply #5 on: February 13, 2020, 01:53:08 pm »
If you need an additional goad, I'd be interested in hearing that response!
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« Reply #6 on: February 13, 2020, 02:52:33 pm »
I might try emailing the author, as I am curious what exactly they felt was missing from explanations of Lift compared to other phenomena they'd feel were adequately described. If they say "Quantum Mechanics" then, yeah, the title of the article is beyond the pale for sure!

Perhaps summon the spirit of Hume?

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Having thus explained the manner, in which we reason beyond our immediate impressions, and conclude that such particular causes must have such particular effects; we must now return upon our footsteps to examine that question, which [Sect. 2.] first occured to us, and which we dropt in our way, viz. What is our idea of necessity, when we say that two objects are necessarily connected together. Upon this head I repeat what I have often had occasion to observe, that as we have no idea, that is not derived from an impression, we must find some impression, that gives rise to this idea of necessity, if we assert we have really such an idea. In order to this I consider, in what objects necessity is commonly supposed to lie; and finding that it is always ascribed to causes and effects, I turn my eye to two objects supposed to be placed in that relation; and examine them in all the situations, of which they are susceptible. I immediately perceive, that they are contiguous in time and place, and that the object we call cause precedes the other we call effect. In no one instance can I go any farther, nor is it possible for me to discover any third relation betwixt these objects. I therefore enlarge my view to comprehend several instances; where I find like objects always existing in like relations of contiguity and succession. At first sight this seems to serve but little to my purpose. The reflection on several instances only repeats the same objects; and therefore can never give rise to a new idea. But upon farther enquiry I find, that the repetition is not in every particular the same, but produces a new impression, and by that means the idea, which I at present examine. For after a frequent repetition, I find, that upon the appearance of one of the objects, the mind is determined by custom to consider its usual attendant, and to consider it in a stronger light upon account of its relation to the first object. It is this impression, then, or determination, which affords me the idea of necessity.

Looking for that "third term betwixt" the air and the wing?  I mean, we just name it "lift" right, then move on.

But, I think we can do this with pretty much anything, in reality, nothing "special" about lift in-itself.

Or, maybe the Cerberus that is my loose associations are rearing their heads again,  ::).
I am a warrior of ages, Anasurimbor. . . ages. I have dipped my nimil in a thousand hearts. I have ridden both against and for the No-God in the great wars that authored this wilderness. I have scaled the ramparts of great Golgotterath, watched the hearts of High Kings break for fury. -Cet'ingira