There is the occasional physicist who puts his skills to use in biology, chemistry, neuroscience or the social sciences, economics, sociology and fancy new interdisciplinary mixtures thereof. Needless to say, people working in these fields aren’t always pleased about the physicists stomping on their grass, and more often than not they’re quite unsupportive.
Physics envy has led many researchers in other fields to develop mathematical models that create the illusion of control and precision – even if the system under question doesn’t allow for such precision. That’s the hazardous side of physics envy.
But after having read Kahneman’s and Ramachandran's book, I clearly have developed a soft science envy!
Kahneman tells the reader throughout his book how he cooked up hypotheses and ways to test them in the blink of an eye. His hypotheses were frequently triggered by reflecting on the shortcomings of his own perceptions, then assuming he’s an average person. He won the Nobel Prize for Economics for the insight that human decisions can be inconsistent. Ramachandran, who made career learning about the neurobiology from patients with brain damage, literally has the subjects of his papers walking into his office. This is not to belittle the insights that we have gained from their creativity and the benefits that they have brought. But the flipside of physics envy is that not only the facts are hard, the way to them is too.