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Best Moves/Plan To Understand This World

  1. Nov 11, 2016 #1
    I started thinking on the best move we (a beginner) can take to understand this world. I have followed the following principles to come to a decision:

    a. Understanding elements first, will help to understand compound structure more easily.

    b. Going in the order of origins takes us from elements formation to compound formation.

    c. Look for something only when in need of it--seems similar to minimalist principle.

    To go in a general way (by principle a), and not face directly, the compound structure like concepts formed by humans, it seems better to start with elements which come before concepts. If we consider origins order:

    a1. Origin of Atoms.

    b1. Origin of Chemical Compounds.

    c1. Origin of Universe.

    d1. Origin of Species.

    e1. Origin of Culture.

    f1. Origin of Language (or Concepts).

    We should start having experience on the origins of atoms first; right now, we (for a beginner) seem to not have pure experience on the origins of Atoms; what we have seems to be concepts, like Quantum Mechanics, which seems to be better understood after having experience on the origins of concepts. It should also be noticed that, Quantum Mechanics (QM) requires mathematics, a unique system of human thought. In Mathematics, I can emphasize mainly on the concept of infinitesimals or points, which can be considered as the ultimate elements.

    If we think on starting Microbiology or Cell Biology, they implicitly require the knowledge of conceptual chemistry and physics. If we go on searching for the pure experience, Darwin's Origin of Species seems to be the only first experience involving thoughts convertible into direct experiences; other starting points like QM aren't direct experiences, they seem to involve certain editing and assumptions on experience to create methods which they use; these I consider as concepts.

    After reading Darwin's Origin of Species, we can consider reading on Origin of Culture and then go on to complete the order given above; after the completion of the above order, one can first understand infinitesimal concept of math, and then go on for understanding atoms (Quantum Mechanics) and Universe (Special and General Theory of Relativity). One can keep on recycling to refresh back again and again. I am not able to see any other plan than this one.

    I also thought on improving thinking first, to make better decisions, before any other moves. But, improving thinking requires me to understand myself better, which requires me to understand first atoms, cells, etc (by principle [a]). It seems that I can improve even this skill, when I come via above order, to the stage of (f1) and go further to complete conceptual theories to understand Neuroscience.

    It is true that I may not have enough experience now, and decision might change with experience. Is this decision going to change? It seems that principles don't change lot with time, and this decision might not. Changes might occur, when there is clash between different principles.

    If we think to start with books, which are reflections by great thinkers, like some of them suggested me to start with Carl Sagan's Cosmos (I haven't read this book); we can get many books which are reflections, analysis from their own experiences, we can't go on reading all those such books. We may get those reflections as a secondary output from our own exploration via above order; if we choose to read reflections book first, we may be not using our time effectively. This supports principle (c).

    Decision: It seems better to start with Origins of Species and then follow the consecutive order shown above from (d1).

    Is there any other best possible plan for a beginner to start understanding this world?
    Last edited: Nov 11, 2016
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 11, 2016 #2


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    Why not start by watching "Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey" (13 episodes, 2014) in order to get an introduction and general feel for the scope of it all?
  4. Nov 11, 2016 #3
    Thank you for the reply. I thought of watching it, but....read this:
  5. Nov 11, 2016 #4


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    Watching Cosmos or reading a good general science book IS using time effectively, in my opinion. Can it get any easier than that? :wink:. Start with getting a grasp of the scope of it all, and if you find the/any contents interesting, then delve your way into more details in textbooks.

    EDIT: By the way, the scope you describe in your first post is huge. HUGE. And the more you get into studying things in more detail, you will discover how huge the scope is, and that the different scientific fields are complicated in different ways. E.g. I guess microbiology is quite complicated (I can't really say, since I haven't studied it). However, I know very well that Quantum Mechanics is very complicated and counterintuitive for beginners.
    Last edited: Nov 11, 2016
  6. Nov 11, 2016 #5


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    I also like the idea of a wide, but less deep, overview as @DennisN as an initial introduction to things (of any scope).
    If you want to understand quantum physics or relativity, you probably want to have a decent idea of where it fits within the conceptual world of physics.
    Similarly in your case on a larger scale.

    Of course it also depends on your own current knowledge and interests, what your goals are, and how you think about things.
    I believe interest drives, to a large extent, drives people's understanding of new concepts and if the interest flags, the learning will follow.
    Of course, you may have an awesome learning drive that would make this moot.
    I would worry about a "newcomer" diving into subjects on the more granular (small scale) end of the and loosing interest because what they learn may not have immediate connection to what they can easily see around them in the world they can directly sense.
    In addition, you may spend a lot of time on something that could be a sideline to your true ultimate interest.

    To support one of Dennis's points, here is a personal analogous situation: I am a biologist not a physicist, but I like physics, have had some classes, have worked in labs of biophysicists (usually physicists who switched to biology), and I can communicate effectively enough with physicists to meet my needs. Within biology, I know a lot of things, but there are still some areas where my knowledge is slim. My focus has been information flow through biology to "higher" levels of organization (evolution --> genetics --> development --> nervous system --> psychology etc.). If it does not fit into this, I am less interested in, it unless it has some other appealing attribute (cute animal pictures?). Like Dennis, i don't know a lot about microbiology, except for what I have had to use to molecular biology on none micro subjects. I think this is a pretty good balance, at least for me.

    If you know what you are interested in more early on in this process, those interests could then guide what you pursue in your intellectual endeavors.
  7. Nov 11, 2016 #6


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    IMHO QM is relatively simple when compared to microbiology - it all stems from the very few basic principles (IOW QM is mostly "derivable"). In microbiology there are no hard principles - or, to put it differently, there is one: whatever evolution found to be working, works.
  8. Nov 11, 2016 #7
    @DennisN , @BillTre , @Borek : Thank you for the replies. I want to strictly emphasize on the principle (a), that if we learn about the true nature of elements first, it is going to have potential to describe everything above it; even Microbiology can work under principles of QM, and QM on the elements like infinitesimals or mathematical points. This order of going from element to compound if broken, might lead to problems which we may not know--assumptions in the model by not knowing the true elements, misunderstandings, etc. I see the element to compound way of moving to acquire knowledge, as the automatic problem gobbling algorithm. I don't have more experience with all these subjects, but it seems that we can make the fields which looked broad before to work under few simple principles of true elements.

    I agree that, to understand our limitations in time, we can use collected rich experiences sources like Cosmos, to get an overview; but we should not spend more time on it.:frown:
    It seems that the genuine general book would be on the true elements, infinitesimals or points (?); other books seems to be not genuine in being general or they may be misnamed to be a general one.

    I am thinking to increase the lifespan of humans to enable everyone explore the world, without any limitation by time.

    I think you all are suggesting on resources like Cosmos, to help choose fields. But, here I am not thinking to get into any fields, but on attaining knowledge in a proper order; what plan would you had made, if you were to attain the entire knowledge? This is the main question. Are you seeing any other better optimized path than this one:

    Darwin's Origin of Species ----> Origin of Culture ------> Origin of Concepts (Susan Carey, Quine, Pierce?) ------> Exploring on infinitesimals -----> Exploring Math Concepts ------> Exploring QM -----> Exploring Chem ------> Exploring Biology and Classical Mechanics -----> Special and General Theory of Relativity ----> Back again to the first point of this cycle, to recycle again and again to polish the knowledge.

    Why I am asking you this is because I am going to execute this above order now. Before executing it, I want to know about any problems, or the presence of any other optimized path.

    It would also help, if any books are suggested for the optimized order.

    Thank you very much. :smile:
    Last edited: Nov 12, 2016
  9. Nov 13, 2016 #8


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    Ok, I think I get your point now.
    I really do not know, since I have never considered such a large scope. But anyway, personally, I would let my main interests guide me primarily.
    This is a highly personal path, just like the paths of other persons would have been. If you feel like it, you can try it, of course. Even if your path is highly personal, I have my doubts on the order of some of the fields, particularly QM, which I would not recommend before classical mechanics and special relativity. My path suggestion for physics (from QM and forwards in your description) would be something like this:

    General Physics & Classical Mechanics -> Special Relativity -> Quantum Mechanics -> General Relativity

    Since, in my opinion, exploring QM before general physics and classical mechanics will likely make little or no sense to a beginner. E.g there are various physical concepts in QM which are better introduced in general/classical physics, e.g. concepts like energy (potential & kinetic energy), charge, mass, momentum, along with various concepts from electromagnetism. Also, QM is very different from classical physics - it is a whole new way of thinking compared to classical physics.

    Furthermore, please note that (quite many) various levels of mathematics are required to delve into these different fields to get a deeper understanding (i.e. it takes time and effort).
    I do not have any book suggestions at the moment, but I may have some suggestions on more general science books. In that case, I will post them later here in the thread.
    Last edited: Nov 13, 2016
  10. Nov 14, 2016 #9


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    Stepping back: aren't you just asking what the best way to study is?

    My advice is to forget this whole "understand the whole universe" thing. That's not going to happen because neither you, nor anyone else, is going to live long enough to study everything (hell by the time you finished with such a list the vast majority would probably be out of date from when you started). That's not even addressing the question of if it's physically possible for a single human to remember and comprehend everything from fundamental physics to sociology.

    A very important thing to keep in mind is that not all knowledge is helpful when learning something else. Sure in the grand scheme of things everything is related, you could go to the trouble of explaining something like the Bolshevik Revolution in terms of chemistry, but it's not likely to significantly aid your understanding of the event. If you want to self study define the specific questions you are most interested in, not "how does the universe work" but something quite narrowed down. Then look into what disciplines are related to those question, what disciplines are related to the first, what books/podcasts/series cover those topics etcetera etcetera.

    Last point: you seem to view knowledge as some sort of hierarchical tree, I'd say that was broadly erroneous. Perhaps instead conceptualise knowledge as a web of related topics. There's no centre, instead pick a "node" and work outwards.
  11. Nov 14, 2016 #10


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    An excellent place to close.
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