Are the Feynman Lectures on Physics books good?

In summary: Nonetheless,the lectures are a great resource for learning about the history of physics, and for getting a feel for how physicists think.
  • #1
relativitydude
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Are the "Feynman Lectures on Physics" books good?

Are the "Feynman Lectures on Physics" books good?

I'm going into my junior year next year and wonder if these books are any good to study over the summer?
 
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  • #2
They are beautiful books, which will teach you a considerable amount of the long-view of physics. They will inspire you and have you feeling as though you really understand for the first time in your life.

They will not, under any circumstances, teach you to solve any physics problems, or get any better grades.

If you're honing your physical intuition, the books are one-of-a-kind. If you're looking to ace your next exam, you'd be much better off with a good textbook.

- Warren
 
  • #3
A word of warning, though:

The way Feynman approaches some topics is quite unusual, and may not be the way you would usually see topics presented in a standard textbook. For that reason, it might be better to read Feynman as well as a more standard text, rather than relying just on Feynman.
 
  • #4
If you're an undergrad with limited time - don't bother with Feynman. As chroot says - get a good textbook or two.
 
  • #5
Either way,you HAVE TO read Feynman.

Daniel.
 
  • #6
It is important to note that Matthew Sands has this to say regarding the book he helped to co-author:

It had always been clear that the Lectures, by themselves, could not serve as a textbook. Too many of the usual trappings of a textbook are missing: chapter summaries, worked-out illustrative examples, exercises for homework, and so forth... I heard that most instructors did not consider the Lectures suitable for use in their classes, although some informed me that they used one or another of the volumes in an honors class or as a supplement to a regular text... Most commonly, I was told that graduate students found the Lectures to be an excellent source of review for qualifying exams.

M. Sands, Physics Today v.58, p.49 (2005).

Zz.
 
  • #7
anybody who doubts the value of the one set of lectures in existence by this great physicist is in need of a serious dope slap.


do you want to be a physicist? was feynman trying to tell you how to think like one?


If his insights are not helpful in your cousre maybe your course is lacking something.

don't be a noodge, read feynman and decide for yourself.
 
  • #8
There's a well-known quote by the physicist (and great textbook author) JJ Sakurai in his textbook Advanced Quantum Mechanics: "The reader who has read the book but cannot do the exercises has learned nothing".

I'm willing to bet that the average person who reads Feynman (and no other book) and feels that he has gained great insights into mysteries of physics, will not be able to solve a single problem in a typical undergraduate textbook. Certainly not a single problem in Jackson's Classical Electrodynamics, and probably not any of the problems in Goldstein's Mechanics.

There's a reason why no undergraduate class (not even at Caltech) uses Feynman as a primary textbook for QM, mechanics, or E&M. Not because the book is technically difficult, but because it's not very useful for learning technique. And as evidenced by the large number of cranks who come in here with new, bogus physics theories after they read Hawking or Kaku or whatever pop-phys book is out there, mastery of technique MUST come first, otherwise you end up spouting nonsense. At least for 99.999% of the physics undergrads out there who are not born geniuses like Feynman.

Feynman is great. But learn the physics first from a course textbook. Then read Feyman.
 
  • #9
Incidentally,i was urged to read Feynman lectures before graduating high-school.My HS teacher always mentioned & praised this book and an old friend of his who had translated it into Romanian.I think it didn't hurt,cause i really stayed away from the advanced part in the 2-nd & 3-rd volumes.

Daniel.
 
  • #10
actually there is no contradiction among the last three posts. feynmans lectures are extremely valuable, and juvenal is maintaining that they are however insufficient for most people, who aspire to technical competency.
 
  • #11
I read the Feynman lectures while I was doing my Honours year in Physics. It was great to get a different perspective on all the things I was supposed to already know, and I got a lot out of it. But, as others have said, the Feynman lectures are no substitute for a course textbook. In themselves, they don't cover all bases, and don't include the wealth of examples and exercises that every good undergraduate text does these days.

It is also probably worth mentioning that, for obvious reasons, the Feynman lectures aren't up-to-date with recent developments in physics.
 
  • #12
They weren't meant to be actual.They were held in 1962,and the 'furtherst' he got was quantum mechanics.Quantum Mechanics won't change in the next 1000 yrs or so,unless some catastrophe wipes out humanity and then we'll have to take it all over again with stone age--->M theory.:biggrin:

Daniel.
 
  • #13
by the way, back in the late 60's to early 70's when i was looking for a textbook that gave more than a passing intuition of the subject, something you could actually nail down more than feynmans lectures, i remember the berkeley series in physics looked more accessible to me.

are those still around?
 
  • #14
mathwonk said:
anybody who doubts the value of the one set of lectures in existence by this great physicist is in need of a serious dope slap.

For the record, they are not the only lectures in existence. I have a set of videotapes of Feynman lecturing to a non-technical audience on QED no less! It's called QED in New Zealand. It's a set of 4 ~1 hour lectures plus a few questions after each.

Even with my limited scientific background, I was certainly able to understand what he said (with some significant rewinding :wink:) and see how it clearly explained certain common effects like mirror reflection, lenses, colors in a soap bubble, etc. However, as others have said, I couldn't solve a QED problem. Still it's a lot of fun to watch him lecture and even more fun to actually get what he's saying. The content of the lectures is essentially the same as in his book QED.

You can buy these lectures and other Feynman stuff at The Tuva Trader or watch them on streaming video at Feynman Online.

I haven't read the FLOP (eek! that's the abbreviation?!? ) but I want to get them soon.
 
  • #15
Well,they still are.Of course,i have a problem with a physics book being too "accessible",but these ones are worth reading,too.Just like Schaum's outlines.

Daniel.
 
  • #16
Now Feynman will also teach you how to solve problems in physics !

Check this out... http://vig.pearsoned.com/store/home?url=/feynmanlectures
 
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  • #17
I also read the book QED (Quantum ElectroDynamics). The book is intended for the general public, so you can't blame it for being useless as a physics textbook. But it does provide a 'big picture' view that may be missing from a traditional physics education. I can't provide the exact quote, but in QED Feynman says something along the lines of "there is information in this book that students of QED are never told".

As for the lectures, I only read the section on the double slit experiment. It was long after I had read Dirac's "Principles of Quantum Mechanics". Dirac's book gets much deeper into the mathematics, but like the lectures, is not sufficient as a textbook. I would call it a tie as to which of these two books gave me a better 'big picture' view of the material.
 
  • #18
life is not only about solving problems in courses in school. understanding new things, and even being amazed by genius is wonderful too.

once at harvard i had a question about a sophisticated calculation on theta functions, and asked barry mazur, (the guy who proof - read wiles' work on fermat).

mazur kindly listened to me for over 1/2 hour, and then singled out one sentence in my presentation, and simply said, "now go ask your question of kazhdan, and don't tell him everything you told me, just ask this one sentence".

so i went down and asked kazhdan why such and such should be true, and he said:

[and i quote]: "what else could it BE?!"

so i asked for more detail, and he began to explain briefly, that it followed from the symmetry of the situation, and then knowing what all lie groups of a certain type were.

when i asked for yet more specific detail he tried, but was unable to give it or to make any calculation at all.

i quickly realized that either petty calculation was not his forte, or i was wasting his time, and should figure that part out on my own, and left, thanking him profusely.

any textbook can pose routine problems for you to solve. only feynman can give you his insight and perspective on the material. i suggest a wise person will cherish that opportunity.

and feynman was both used as a text at harvard when i was a student there, and recommended by physics students and engineers to me as a self study source. i have enjoyed it ever since, although i am definitely a rookie in this subject.

e.g. i have attended summer research and instructional sessions in quantum field theory and been annoyed that the speakers presented almost purely mathematics. The math was easy for me, but i wanted to know what it has to do with the physics, and feynman explained this to my satisfaction even in his little undergraduate lectures better than the specialists at the meeting for my money.

i.e. those lecturers essentially said let's assume the physics is mirrored well by a manifold with a certain kind of metric or connection, and certain bundles, and now let's do some differential geometry.

well i understand differential geometry better than i understand physics, so i don't care to hear that: i want to know why the physics should be represented that way.

maybe some physicists discount feynman's lectures because he is explaining a way of thinking that they already have as second nature, but for me it is very helpful.

also as a researcher in mathematics, i have found it useful not just to know how to do certain technical things, but why and when to do them. the analogous sort of insight seems found in feynman perhaps more than other places.
 
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  • #19
I listened to the lectures-on-tape...which I do not recommend since most of the time he was writing on/pointing to equations on the chalk board.
 
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  • #20
I have listened to some of the lectures on tape, and I think it was quiet helpful. He does sometimes talk about equations on the board and the only way to follow it is if one had just studied the material and has an image of the equations in their mind. Then things become a lot clearer. Even with the mathematics aspect, Feynman does a good job in teaching the physics of things. And in a weird way, he can say something you've heard before but in a somewhat different subtle way and it makes more sense. Those are my two cents. Disclaimer: I am not a physics major, (I'm bioengineering) so I don't have the expertise to critque Feynman's lectures in a more technical manner.
 
  • #21
relativitydude said:
Are the "Feynman Lectures on Physics" books good?

Is the sky blue?
 
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  • #22
SpaceTiger said:
Is the sky blue?

Heh, sometimes yes and sometimes no. Are you implying the lectures are spotty too?
 
  • #23
selfAdjoint said:
Are you implying the lectures are spotty too?

Well, he does oversimplify things at times, but I feel to criticize that would be inappropriate because the aim of the book is to develop physical intuition. I can learn facts from an encyclopedia. No, I was being far less clever than that and simply implying that the question is a no-brainer. The books are fantastic! :wink:
 
  • #24
I liked the chapter on the principle of least action the most,because it almost made me cry.


Daniel.
 
  • #25
dextercioby said:
I liked the chapter on the principle of least action the most,because it almost made me cry.

*backs away slowly*
 
  • #26
Once you have taken a mechanics course at school and you read it ,It is great.
But if you want to self study or something and you are starting with a clean slate,Then FLOP may not be a good idea.
 
  • #27
I have read a few chapters randomly and I think what makes this book such a favorite with students is it's unusual approach to topics. I often find something in this book which I haven't seen elsewhere. Feynman really makes you love physics but his book is not a standard textbook because it doesn't cover all topics!

You don't have to buy the book, you can find it online. Just type 'Feynman Physics' on google and you'll find the link at the end of the page.
 
  • #28
So, can anyone with humble background in Physics and Math understand those lectures? Or do they involve some complicated stuff?
 
  • #29
Chemical_Sis said:
So, can anyone with humble background in Physics and Math understand those lectures? Or do they involve some complicated stuff?
In my opinion, anyone with a humble background (say, high school or beyond) should be able to understand many of the lectures... although maybe not after just one reading of a passage. I bought my set when I was a sophomore in high school... and I would periodically read and re-read parts of it... and, to this day, I still do.
 
  • #30
I recall an eye opening experience as a student, reading Feynman doing a calculation, of a planetary orbit I believe, by "integral calculus". As a math major I had just had an honors course where of a function on an interval was defined as integrable if for every epsilon, there were upper and lower step functions for f whose simple integrals differed by epsilon, and I could not calculate anything.

To my shock, Feynman showed that an integral is essentially just a process of adding things up, and he proceeded to compute, or maybe approximate, one with his bare hands.

I thought, gee, is it that simple?

The main objection I have to most of the posts here warning people away from Feynman is they assume that a book should only be consulted if it is guaranteed to help you pass some standardized test, and if not it should be avoided. I used to think some of the Fields medalists I heard were poor lecturers, but eventually I realized that learning a subject is an infinite job, and that one needs all the help one can get. The insights of a genius are just not to be missed, no matter how much is left out. No matter how naive or dull you think you are, you will likely be benefited by hearing the words of a master. I recommend you do not miss it if the chance offers.

But space tiger has put it most clearly (for most of us) in post #21.

[Oh and by the way, that honors calculus course was also taught by a genius, even if I did not learn to solve problems in it, and I would pay a lot if that course existed today in book form.)

I agree however it is often wise to consult many books at many different levels, especially if you are a beginner. I.e. read both the books you think you need, and can understand, as well as the ones you think you should read, and aspire to understanding.

And make up your own mind about a book. I once avoided a famous book because someone told me it is was hard to read. I at last was forced to consult it and found it clear, deep, and extremely useful. When I went back to the person who ahd discouraged me it turned out he had never read it and was quoting another person. That person too turned out to have been misquoted, and had never said the book was hard, merely "tedious", as it had too much detail for his taste!
 
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  • #31
Im pretty much a physics amateur, I actualll study medicine, but now I am pursuing physics as something of an intensive hobby. I really like to be able to understand the universe a little bit more with everything I learn. This new love for physics is due to the Feynman lectures, they are great books, they teach you how to see the world from a physical point of view.

They teach you nothing about math, absolutely nothing, you will understand what an integral is, but you will not learn anything about calculating one. Combine Feynman with a good advanced book about Calculus that also has exercises.

The way I do it, I've actually put Feynman aside now because I want to learn techniques, I use calculus books and physics textbooks.

Always remember that nothing can really replace well thought out exercises.
 
  • #32
this thread reminds me of the deep question: do little brown bears go poo poo in the woods?

i.e. the answer to this question is: yes, and that's it for this thread. the thread should have been closed after post 21, since there is nothing else to add.:-p
 
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  • #33
mariam

do anyone of you have the video lectures of Feynman or a web-link to these?
 
  • #34
mathwonk said:
I recall an eye opening experience as a student, reading Feynman doing a calculation, of a planetary orbit I believe, by "integral calculus". As a math major I had just had an honors course where of a function on an interval was defined as integrable if for every epsilon, there were upper and lower step functions for f whose simple integrals differed by epsilon, and I could not calculate anything.

To my shock, Feynman showed that an integral is essentially just a process of adding things up, and he proceeded to compute, or maybe approximate, one with his bare hands.

I thought, gee, is it that simple?

Surely you can't be serious?!? That a definite integral is (at least its elementary definition) actually a summation process and the various techniques of calculating it (including Integration by parts and by substitution) are taught in 11/12 grade! Or perhaps you meant something else?

In fact, the Lebinz notation for integrals (the elongated S) comes from the initial letter of summation. It is my (probably inaccurate) understanding that in modern approaches integration is defined as the inverse of the exterior derivative rather than the limit of an infinite sum, so we have actually moved away from the initial summation concept. Still, the summation approach is easier and is thus used to introduce integral calculus.

Molu
 
  • #35
mariam said:
do anyone of you have the video lectures of Feynman or a web-link to these?


http://www.vega.org.uk/video/subseries/8

This is a link of his lectures in U of Aukland explaining quantum electrodyanmics to a general audience.
 

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