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Being good at Mathematics but rubbish at Physics?

  1. Jan 11, 2012 #1
    To contrast the other thread. I have the opposite problem and was wondering how you fix it?

    Like Mathematics makes perfect sense most of the time as it's logical. I can read a very dry proof in Noncommutative algebra and it makes perfect sense. Everything is based on stuff I know to be true built up by Mathematical proof and logic.

    Not only that but you know it's true and you can the reason why it's true. However, Physics is like herp derp this method is being used. That's how I see it. Most Physics book are based on vague intuition or experiments that are like this experiment proves this. Saying that I can't even do the experiment and even then it's based on a lot more assumptions.

    I took a course in Quantum Mechanics and it was impossible to follow. The Mathematics used was stupid, the proofs used can barely be called proofs more like handwaving. However, Physics to me seems like some big handwave.

    But, yeah I need to learn some Physics because I'm planning to do project that is worth 1/3 of last year on RH or Riemann geometry. So would want to understand Quantum Chaos or some aspects of general relativity.

    P.S. Frustrates me a lot. Like real analysis comes so easy to me, yet a lot of Physics is a struggle. Which, is sad as I originall planned to do Physics. I'm still hoping to one day become a Mathematical Physics even through at the moment would have to look to doing a PhD in Pure Mathematics next year.
    Last edited: Jan 11, 2012
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 11, 2012 #2
    I think the core of your problem is that there is *NO* proof in physics. There is a best available theory... but the next experiment could easily bring the whole theory crashing down. Experiments never prove a theory... at best you can say they agree with it.

    Or to think of it another way, math is taking axioms and reasoning about them to produce theorems. Physics is about taking real-world observations and reasoning about them to produce axioms.

    There is no reason to think that someone who is good at one would be good at the other.
  4. Jan 11, 2012 #3
    As a mathematics major [undergrad and masters] who has now switched over to physics, I can totally understand what you mean. You can learn overtime, if you are really interested in physics, to think like a physicist when you do physics, and when you need to make things very rigorous then you switch over to think like a mathematician... The mathematics for GR is much easier than the [full-blown rigorous] mathematics for QM, at least for me. You can try, for example, O'Neill's "Semi-Riemannian Geometry With Applications to Relativity".
  5. Jan 17, 2012 #4
    Physics is sort of a bastardized version of mathematics. The proofs are there more to help you remember things, and not because they're actual proofs. What book did you use for QM? Maybe try an axiomatic text like Shankar?
  6. Jan 18, 2012 #5
    I'll never understand people that are amazing at math but not so much at physics. I feel that I have a solid chance with most physics problems, but this is not true with math proofs at least not the abstract ones. Geometric proofs or proofs that I can draw a picture of come much easier for me.
  7. Jan 18, 2012 #6


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    Doesn't mathematics have handwaving too? Like Thurston's geometrization conjecture (before Perelman's proof)? Or Leibniz's infinitesimals in calculus (before the modern theory of limits)? The main problem in physics is not handwaving - it's saying that it's a proof, rather than a handwave or a guess.
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