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Advanced physics mentor

  1. Dec 1, 2013 #1

    Ever since I can remember, I've been trying to create models of reality that would help me understand the world around me. I have this innate obsession of understanding the world, and I always end up burning the midnight oil, studying topics that I'm not familiar with (mostly physics and mathematics). I also consider myself to have an ability to quite easily create new understanding, out of the one that I have (by interrelating all the understanding I have, regardless of it being from distinct fields of study).

    As it stands right now, I'm a 20 year old, working as a software development engineer at one of the big 'Silicon Valley' companies. I got to this point out of my desire to 'understand' things that I'm not familiar with. However, now that I've reached my 'goal', I still feel intellectually unchallenged. I've felt this way all the way through school, middle school, high school, university, and now work.

    What I want in essence, is to gain an advanced understanding of the current models that physics and mathematics provide, so that I can play with the notions in my head. I'm not necessarily saying that I'm mentally capable of reaching a very advanced level of understanding in a few months or years or my whole life. All I'm saying, is that so far, throughout my life, I haven't encountered something that I couldn't understand, provided I understood how the notions were symbolically represented. Along side that, as mentioned above, I have this innate obsession of understanding things, which pairs incredibly well with the ability to do so.

    The problem however, is that even though I have access to the internet, I cannot get enough information as fast as I would want to, since every notion I try to learn leads to loads of questions. The internet, as it stands, does not allow me to ask a specific question, and get a specific response immediately, which I can follow up with several more questions (at least, not in a time which I'd consider reasonable). Learning through the internet (which is far better than books, don't get me wrong) involves cross-referencing things over, and over, and over again...

    As you might have guessed from the title, I'm basically looking for a highly qualified personal physics/mathematics mentor. Someone who would be able to answer endless questions. I could of course pay whatever amount is required. I'm not sure what salaries top tier physicists tend to earn, but I'm sure I would be able to offer enough, assuming my career evolves as currently predicted.

    Since (I'm assuming) there are quite a lot of trained physics/mathematics professionals here, I'm curious to hear your perspective on this. How should I approach a 'mentor'? Where can I find one that would be willing to do this? How do you think a university physics professor (one I wouldn't personally know) would react, if I were to ask him to tutor me (I would pay him of course)?
    The problem with physics/mathematics professors, even university level ones, is that a lot of them only know the rules of the physics model, but not the origin of the rules themselves. So I feel that if I were to do that, I still would not be able to advance as fast as I would like.

    Again. Right now, in essence, I am trying to find my limits, which I've otherwise haven't been able to. If it turns out that I'm not able to master this craft in a short time, then that's great! I get to know more about myself! If I do manage to get far with it, then that's great too!

    Please don't take what I said as me trying to boast. It would be a meaningless attempt to do so, since I'm operating under anonymity.

    Thanks for reading all of this! I look forward to seeing your responses.
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 1, 2013 #2

    Simon Bridge

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    You have just described the human condition.

    What you are asking for is, in effect, a private tutor or coach.
    That sort of thing will cost you more than the equivalent college level education needed for the "advanced understanding" you seek - though it may take up less time. The more qualified the coach the more their time will cost you ... it costs a lot to become that qualified after all.

    I'm sure there are several here who would be prepared to provide you with a schedule of their services.

    If you run into specific problems, then you can ask specific questions.
    That sort of thing gets answered for free.
  4. Dec 1, 2013 #3


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  5. Dec 1, 2013 #4
    Most humans generally model the world around them in a very abstract manner. They don't attempt to dissect what they know to huge depths, because their mind only models reality to the extent that lets them lead a 'good' life, which is usually defined by the same, recurring elements (great career, great partner, great friendships, etc.).

    I would say that my condition is vastly different. I have a huge desire to get to the bottom of what it is I understand, and why is it that I understand it, and why is it the way it is.

    Can you give me a broad range of what this sort of service might cost? 100$/hour? Would that be considered reasonable? I have a lot of disposable income, and I feel that this is the best way for me to spend whatever I don't need.
  6. Dec 1, 2013 #5
    Are you implying that this is not the case? I'm not sure what educational system you are using as a reference point for your comment, but the ones I've been through certainly had people who did not seem qualified enough to teach.
    When I say 'university level', I am not referring to top tier universities, hence the 'even university level'.
  7. Dec 1, 2013 #6
    As I interpreted your comment, this seems like a very different statement.
  8. Dec 1, 2013 #7

    Yes, well... I thought that the "in my experience" was implicit. I don't own any facts; just "possible beliefs with different degrees of certainties", all of which are based on my experience.

    And on a side note, the ability to create a model to explain the world around us is not just "the human condition". It's rather linked to the behavior of the neural networks that govern the brains of many living beings. Humans have a better ability to interrelate abstract concepts, and they're the only species with the ability to formalize it to the point of physics and maths. You might as well say that I have described "the dog condition". Rather than that, I would say that it describes the condition of neural networks which exhibit certain properties, for which we cannot provide a formal description as of yet.
    Last edited: Dec 1, 2013
  9. Dec 1, 2013 #8
    If humans are the only species that do that, why would you say he might as well call it the 'dog' condition?
  10. Dec 1, 2013 #9
    Because Simon quoted me on:
    "Ever since I can remember, I've been trying to create models of reality that would help me understand the world around me."

    I did not mention 'formalize'. The above can be called the 'dog condition', since that's what a dog's brain would do to the best of its ability.

    Not to mention the fact that 'formalization of understanding' cannot be called the "human condition" either. We don't have any innate instinct to formalize the world. Most people don't actually do that. Most people live in an abstract space, which is simply bigger and more interrelated than that of a dog.
  11. Dec 1, 2013 #10

    Simon Bridge

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    Agreed :)

    I would hope so - that would require an empirical basis to your study though.
    You should write down a frank and honest assessment of your state of knowledge, your interests, and where you hope to take them.

    Well, you can self study with an undergrad tutor for around $20-$50 an hour - depending on where you are.

    In NZ University junior TAs get around NZ$20ph and work around 3-6 hours a week at that rate.
    (They have studies of their own.)

    It can go as high as you like ... Someone who holds post-grad degrees in the subject and education, with experience in both fields, can command hundreds to thousands of dollars an hour in private session but the really sought-after ones would normally work in seminar for tens-hundreds of thousands of dollars.

    It's supply and demand and depends a lot on the details of what you are looking for.
    Just tailoring an effective education program to your personal needs is going to be expensive - never mind implementing it.

    But - if you are not phased by that, perhaps a private word?
  12. Dec 1, 2013 #11
    I think this thread is starting to derail with all this talk of dog brains.

    Assuming you're being 100% truthful, I can fully understand that you want a physics mentor, it really does make things easier, but you still need to put in a lot of work on your own. Work that can't be done but anybody but yourself. It's unlikely you'll find someone willing to engage in a (potentially) risky online exchange. PF is a great resource, and people here are generally very helpful. I'm not sure an online mentor would be such a step-up from regular exchange here.

    How much physics and math do you actually know? I mean actually know, without kidding yourself. I think a lot of people who embark on these quests to "master physics" greatly overestimate their abilities and knowledge. Why not start off with a textbook to get a feel for the subject, rather than coming in and asking for somebody to spoon-feed you answers?
  13. Dec 1, 2013 #12

    Vanadium 50

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    This isn't a plan that is likely to work.

    First, it costs probably more than you think. A national lab physicist will be billed at $300 an hour or so. A University professor teaching one class a term gets $50,000 for it - that's $5000 a week, and at three contact hours a week....

    Second, 99.9% of people who feel that they are too smart to go through the college course process are crackpots who are looking for help with their theories. When the scientist tells them that they are wrong, they get all huffy - and here's the important point - refuse to pay. Because of this, this has gotten a bad rep. I'm not saying you are, but I am saying that because of this, people will be less inclined to agree.
  14. Dec 1, 2013 #13
    Just aim lower, an adjunct makes $2-3k for a 4 credit class, for 4 lecture hours + an office hour + grading.

    You probably can't make this work hiring people at the top of the career-ladder, but there is a pretty large lower-class of phds in postdocs and adjuncts who might welcome the side job. Heck, I bet you can find people who left physics all together who would be happy for the chance to use some of what the learned in grad school.
  15. Dec 1, 2013 #14

    Simon Bridge

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    ... and smart people will want a contract and money up front.
  16. Dec 1, 2013 #15
    Well... all I want is to be proven either 'untalented' or 'talented', so that I can find out what I should focus in life. I do not believe I have the kind of ego that would go fluffy once proven wrong. But I would of course argue for my logic throughout the learning process, because otherwise learning is impossible. You cannot learn without 'questioning'. It might turn out that my 'questioning' is terrible, at which point the mentor becomes aware of my inability to grasp a notion, while I continue to be convinced that I'm on the verge of understanding. That might happen. My questioning can also end up leading to a very broad understanding of the matter at hand within a couple of hours of 'interrogation'.

    In regards to how much physics and mathematics I know... well... I'm on a Computer Science / Math undergraduate degree at a good university, and I spend a lot of my spare time trying to unravel complex physics/mathematics that should be far above my level (at least, I believe so). I simply find it challenging and fun.

    And by the way. I am going through college. I don't go to classes, I don't study during the semester (because I'm focused on other types of mathematics, and, of course, physics) , but I always end up getting top 1% grades during examinations. And I'm doing a great job at work too. The 'private mentoring - enjoying physics' thing is a side thing which I'd do in my 'spare time'.

    Actually, come to think of it, how about this. Give me an advanced notion in physics or mathematics; I will try to understand it (including its formal definition), and then we can have a debate in regards to the mathematics or physics behind it.
  17. Dec 1, 2013 #16
    Why don't you simply use the money to buy textbooks and teach yourself? Learning is an active process, if you do not commit you wont learn anything you can not expect it to be spoon fed to you. No offense but if you lack the ability to learn on your own I am willing to bet you are not as smart as you assume you are.

    If you really are looking for asking questions there are tons of places online (This forum for example?) where you could easily ask a question and get a response. There are many high quality lectures online you can watch as well for free. You might find this website useful: http://theoreticalminimum.com/.
  18. Dec 1, 2013 #17

    Simon Bridge

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    ... any likely tutor will want to see details of this in order to get an idea of what you believe should be far above your level.

    OK - a decaying Moon's orbit.

    How about you provide us an example of what you think is an advanced notion and how you understand it so far instead of us trying to guess something that should be too hard. After all, lets say we come up with something you cannot deal with? What does that tell us?

    (Only take care not to get too into speculations instead of physics.)

    Only you know what you think you can do.
  19. Dec 2, 2013 #18
    The reason why I want to talk about 'complex' problems, is because it comes with the benefit of being able to dissect it and discover the underlying simpler concepts, which you can further dissect till you get to the purest concepts there are. (and find out what you do not know)

    The decaying Moon's orbit problem I had, was that even though I had an understanding of all the forces, as well as their mathematical definition, I wasn't sure about putting it all together into one (because of lack of understanding), coherent model. I feel confident about being able to do that now. However, I learned by finding the answers to by questions (process which would be far faster if I had a mentor to interact with).

    I don't really like books, because they convey knowledge rather than understanding. I find it inefficient to infer understanding from a base of knowledge without the ability to interact with an entity that actually has a firm grasp on the subject. I cannot ask a search engine "Why is this being done in this manner?", without being referred to simply another knowledge base. Rather, I need to interact with an entity that can create new understanding to explain my question, based on the knowledge it has.
    Last edited: Dec 2, 2013
  20. Dec 2, 2013 #19


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    Closed, pending moderation.

    In the mean time, please re-read the PF Rules very carefully!

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