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Best way to learn science? (question)

  1. Jun 19, 2014 #1
    Hello everyone,

    What's the best way of learning science (mostly the complex ones like quantum physics)?
    My attention span is not that great so reading a book might not be ideal in my opinion.

    My main question is,

    Is searching for information in the internet a more efficent and faster method of absorbing up information? I've observed my learning habbits and I usually notice that books are slow, more inclined into the authors thinking style instead of the factual information being included into the book, but even then, it's slower (more about how it works).

    So is information in the internet (wikipedia) better than a book?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 19, 2014 #2

    Simon Bridge

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    The best way to learn science is by doing it.
  4. Jun 19, 2014 #3


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    Don't even bother looking at wikipedia to learn something. I personally dislike it and it does not teach me anything. This is my personal opinion and it does not necessarily have to be true for everyone.

    Buy some good book, or watch/hear lectures.
  5. Jun 19, 2014 #4
    Sorry but no. You can't learn science from wikipedia or anything on the internet. You need to get an actual text and work through it. A book is slow and that's good because it is meant to be slow. You can't read a science book like a novel. You need to think about every sentence. You need to work every exercise. The latter is most important. You can't be a scientist without working the exercises.

    Sadly, there is no royal road to science. Everybody needs to learn it struggling.
  6. Jun 19, 2014 #5
    It's true that there's no royal road to science (though some people learn it naturally faster than others), however to say you can't learn anything from sources on the internet is just false and betrays an unnecessary bias I feel. There are wonderful textbooks out there but there do exist lots of resources on the internet that are just as good as a textbook, or exist as good supplements to textbooks (MIT open courseware for example). Wiki is good if you already know something and need a quick refresher (though you should double check wiki's sources for accuracy).
  7. Jun 19, 2014 #6
    I don't know anybody who has gained a deep understanding from science or mathematics using internet resources alone.
  8. Jun 19, 2014 #7
    While wikipedia is indeed a terrible resource for learning, people who discredit the strength and versatility of the amount and quality of resources that are on the internet, are in a similar mindset as the people who first opposed the idea of printed books.
  9. Jun 19, 2014 #8
    Wikipedia is a great supplement. Not using it is foolish. Texts are a great supplement too. Watching lectures can be somewhat useful. But I think sitting down and actually solving problems with fellow students is where the best learning is done. Also working in a research group on an actual scientific project is pretty important, otherwise you are just a spectator. Having a poor attention span is not something you want to embrace. Be prepared to spend hours in thought while working on a topic.
  10. Jun 19, 2014 #9
    Ok, so are you suggesting me not to learn anything from the internet? I mean it's very informative so I don't see a reason not to. Why is it worse than reading a book? A article on wikipedia is a lot more straight forward and it redirects me to other articles to make me know more.

    Why is it so beneficial of actually reading a book about science?

    Also, Simon, can you specify exactly what you mean by doing science? Performing experiments and drawing conclusions? I'm not the kind of person who likes to experiment, I like to think on a theoretical level which is a reason I want to become a theoretical phycisist when I'm in the later stages of my life. Observe? I like that.

    I want a book regarding quantum physics and astrophysics, what book would you recommend? I want to read something VERY informative, with other words, more inclined towards providing the reader with information instead of rabbling about something else which is a reason I've only read one book in my life.

    Please, give me suggestions. I appreciate your help.
  11. Jun 19, 2014 #10
    For one, wikipedia does not often have exercises. Books do. You need to work out exercises and problems for a proper understanding.

    If you want to learn about quantum mechanics we can suggest texts... but you should have a math background that includes calculus, differential equations and linear algebra first.
  12. Jun 19, 2014 #11
    Which is the best book full of information about quantum physics?
  13. Jun 19, 2014 #12
    Doing it and failing....repeatedly. Concepts from textbooks really don't sink in at all until you do it in the lab. I've seen many undergrads do research in our lab that think they know what is going on because they learned about in class, yet when they try to do the real experiment, they have no clue what's happening or what to do.
  14. Jun 19, 2014 #13
    But I can't (I think) conduct any form of scientific experimentation because I'm 17 years old without the authorization to do so, unless in school. What should I do?
  15. Jun 19, 2014 #14


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    What is your maths and physics background? Have you learnt classical mechanics and electromagentism? For example, have you learnt Maxwell's equations and at least some of its applications like wave guides, antennas, or rainbows?
  16. Jun 19, 2014 #15


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    Here's the thing. You cannot JUST learn quantum physics. You need to learn PHYSICS.

    You cannot just learn how to build a house. You need to learn the trade, learn how to do many things, learn the skill, learn how to use the tools, and then learn how to be skillful at using those tools! Only THEN can you build a good house!

    There is no such thing as picking up on bits and pieces. This is why reading Wikipedia will not give you the education that you need. Bits and pieces of information do not constitute a coherent working knowledge! That is a severe misconception of many people about science. They seem to think that picking up a book, and then just reading it, is sufficient to actually understand it. Nothing could be further from the truth. I can teach you all about Newton's laws, and you can read as much as you want. Now, go design me a bridge!

    You need to differentiate between a superficial understanding of physics versus a deeper, more profound understanding of it. For the latter, there is no short cut!. You really have to put in the work and the sweat and the tears to be good at it!

  17. Jun 19, 2014 #16
    I understand. But what knowledge do I need to know before jumping into it? Can you list it in a order?
  18. Jun 19, 2014 #17


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    Required background

    Mathematics: single variable calculus, multivariable calculus (change of variables using the Jacobian, Stokes's theorem), linear algebra (very, very, very important)

    Physics: classical mechanics and electromagnetism, including Maxwell's equations in their differential and integral formulations. In MIT's OCW, these are 8.01, 8.02, 8.03.

    Introductory quantum mechanics is 8.04.
  19. Jun 19, 2014 #18
    Honestly, if you have a poor attention span and have only read one book in your life then I think you need to practice reading and developing an attention span. Otherwise any sort of academic venture will be out of your reach. I think you need to work on the ability to sit down in a quiet room and read for a few hours and finish books.
  20. Jun 19, 2014 #19


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    Look at a typical university undergraduate physics curriculum. Look at the courses that are listed. That should give you a good idea what you need to receive a degree in Physics.

  21. Jun 19, 2014 #20
    Thanks for the feedback, I really appreciate it. But I have another question now,

    I want to be "Sheldon like", by the fact that I simply enough know very much about the topics of my interests. Does the suggestions coming from you really apply fact wise?

    Learning HOW to apply the quantum physical formulas in the physical world is the least thing I currently have in my mind, I really prefer to collect information (lots of it) and understand quantum physics on that basis, which excludes the mathematics.

    So I want to understand how quantum tunneling for example applies to the various particles in the universe, but there's two ways of approaching the solution, both being practically connected to eachother. These two methods are, one, the approach by using maths. Two, only facts.

    I really wanna expand my general knowledge about physics like this, so is it essential for me to understand how it works with concrete evidence like mathematics or do I need tons of it just to be a "good" theorist? In that case reading wikipedia articles would be better, right? It redirects me to everything I need in order to understand the concept itself which it succesfully does.

  22. Jun 19, 2014 #21
    You can only do and understand physics through math. If you are only interested in a collection of facts then physics is not for you. Reducing any subject to a collection of facts does not do that subject justice. Even history and zoology are more than a collection of facts.

    Facts require little to no thought and are not useful on their own. Leave the facts for the books where they belong. Humans are better for thinking, conceptualizing, calculating and solving.
    Last edited: Jun 19, 2014
  23. Jun 19, 2014 #22
    Collecting facts and information won't give you knowledge.

    I guess that you are trying to find a way to know bits and pieces about QM from here and there (minus the mathematics) and hoping that when you will have gathered enough info you would become a knowledgeable person in quantum mechanics.

    This simply wouldn't happen.

    This is not the way to learn science.

    Anyway, a practical advice would be that you can go for popular science books on QM. There are many of those (with lots of information and facts). But even if you read hundreds of those books you won't be knowledgeable enough to -
    Last edited: Jun 19, 2014
  24. Jun 20, 2014 #23
    So in order to become knowledgeable in QM/Science do I need to understand how to use it? In that case mathematics might be very useful.
  25. Jun 20, 2014 #24
    To understand Physics, you're going to have to become reasonably good at mathematics first. Without mathematics, you might as well be learning from Sci-fi novels.
  26. Jun 20, 2014 #25
    Physics in the real world isn't done like they show in documentaries, and the only way a Sheldon-like person is able to know what they know is because they understand the physical interpretation of the mathematics.

    Facts can be looked up in a book, doing physics involves experiments and generalizing the results of those experiments with math (or vice versa).
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