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Advice on Self-teaching

  1. Jan 27, 2012 #1

    I have an undergraduate degree in philosophy and am going to graduate school to get a Ph.D. in the same subject. Recently I have been desiring to know more physics, and along with it, math. I had very little interest in science or math in high school, and it wasn't until the end of college that I started to want a genuine liberal education. Part of this is just to be more well-rounded, but part of it has to do with my philosophical interest in science. The more I study and read it seems illegitimate to be thinking philosophically about science without actually knowing the practical side of the science.

    That being said, can someone recommend me a course of study that would allow me to teach myself these things? My math is emberassingly poor (although I am pretty good at logic, which is similar to math), and I have been reading and refreshing myself on very basic things in physics. For example I am reading through Six Easy Pieces by Richard Feynman, all of which I am able to grasp easily and most of which I was somewhat familiar with.

    Anyways, can someone recommend me a good textbook that I can teach myself from? Ultimately, I am more interested in learning what (concepts and models) physicists think rather than how they come to that conclusion (formulas and math), but at the higher levels, particulalry quantum mechanics, it seems that the two are more closely connected or that all we have is forumula and no one knows what is actually going on.

    Any advice will be much appreciated.

  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 27, 2012 #2
    It would be helpful if you could tell us exactly at what level your mathematics are at. Ultimately, you will not be able to progress in physics without math to accompany it.
  4. Jan 27, 2012 #3

    Yes, I figured as much. The last math course I had was years a go (maybe 5?) and it was a pre-calculus course. At this point I am pretty motivated to learn some of this stuff, and I would like to know calculus just to know it so I am willing to do the work. As of now, though, I no zero calculus and have only a basic grasp of geometry and trig.

  5. Jan 27, 2012 #4
    Go back and review the pre-calc and trig if you need to. (Even if you think you don't need it, just skim through it to make sure.) Then do your calc. Read an introductory physics book like Young/Freedman or Halliday/Resnick. After that, do some differential equations and linear algebra.
    Then read books on intermediate mechanics (Marion/Thornton and Taylor are my favorites), intermediate electrodynamics (e.g. Griffiths), Statistical Mechanics (Reif, Kittel and Kroemer are the classic ones I think), then QM (Griffiths is the classic one).
    Are you interested in any other topics such as general relativity, particle physics, or quantum field theory?
  6. Jan 27, 2012 #5
    Pre-Calculus by Sheldon Axler seems really nice. It starts off fairly basic and constructs a few important things. It also introduces sequences and limits near the end. I haven't read it myself, but having read Axler's other works, I'm sure it will be a great read. Working through a book like that will give you all the fundamental knowledge required to start some calculus, at which point you could use Morris Kline's Calculus: A Physical Approach. You can supplement your readings with the Schaum's outlines of Precalculus and Calculus, they're quite nice, inexpensive, and provide a lot of helpful detailed solutions to a variety of problems.

    This should keep you busy for a while. But if you wanted a physics reading list, then I would suggest:

    University Physics by Zemansky and Sears/Young, Freedman


    Halliday and Resnick

    The only problem with those two books is their price. Although I found Zemansky and Sears to be enjoyable and full of neat applications, I don't think it warrants the near $200 for it. See if you can't find them used.
  7. Jan 27, 2012 #6

    Thank you. That is helpful. I am interested in relativity as well as electromagnetism, which I suppose naturally leads into basic quantum mechanics.


    Thank you for the book recommendations. I will look for some of the ones you mentioned.

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