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Books to build physical intuition

  1. Oct 27, 2009 #1
    Books to build "physical intuition"

    All physicists say that it is very important to have this thing called physical intuition. I have a general idea what it means but I don't quite fully get the subtleties between physical intuition about a topic in physics versus understanding the equations, where they came from and how to apply them to a physical scenario. I seek this deep physical intuition that transcends mathematics and that physicists say is such an essential tool for great research.

    What in your opinion are some good books that can give one a physicist's intuition about topics, and in particular, intuition about higher level topics like upper division undergrad / graduate level electrodynamics, quantum and classical mechanics and field theory, statistical mechanics, etc... ? Please help me out!
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 27, 2009 #2
    Re: Books to build "physical intuition"

    are you an undergraduate? what level of physics have you been through?

    if you are an undergraduate, i would recommend two sources probably over all else:

    1) MIT Open Courseware Video Lectures for Mechanics and Electricity & Magnetism by Professor Walter Lewin.

    http://ocw.mit.edu/OcwWeb/Physics/8-01Physics-IFall1999/VideoLectures/index.htm [Broken]
    http://ocw.mit.edu/OcwWeb/Physics/8-02Electricity-and-MagnetismSpring2002/VideoAndCaptions/index.htm [Broken]

    Invaluable lectures given by one of today's best lecturers IMO.

    2) Feynman's Lectures on Physics (3 volumes)

    considered by many to be the bible of physics. might want to hold off if you have not completed at least a course in multivariable calculus.

    in general, though, I am not sure if "physical intuition" is something that can be found in a book. I think it is more or less like learning a sport... some people are more talented than others. but no matter how talented you are, practice is going to make you better.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 4, 2017
  4. Oct 27, 2009 #3
    Re: Books to build "physical intuition"

    Don't know about electrostatics/dynamics and statistical mechanics

    But for QM whatever you think the right answer is -- the actual right answer is always opposite of what you thought =/

    But seriously intuition is using that you've all ready observed and basically using a priori knowledge to gain some understanding of something you haven't encountered yet. You just need to be a bit creative and come up with some thought experiments.
  5. Oct 27, 2009 #4
    Re: Books to build "physical intuition"

    Hey there.

    I am actually a graduate student in physics. Taking Jackson Electrodynamics and Quantum Field Theory for Many-Body Systems, in addition to solid state physics. The Jackson and QFT courses allow one to get away with doing much of the homework by mathematical manipulations but I feel like I don't have good intuition on what the mathematics actually means physically. I guess I always felt that way a little in my upper division undergrad courses (particularly theoretical lagrangian/hamiltonian mechanics and field theories) but it really seems so with graduate level field theory. I want to know about the physical ideas that come from all the pages of algebraic manipulation and trickery.

    I guess a more fundamental question then would be - what is physical intuition? Seems like different people have a different answer. I wonder what the idea is.
  6. Oct 27, 2009 #5

    Andy Resnick

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    Re: Books to build "physical intuition"

    I think "The Feynman Lectures" are good examples of using physical intuition. It's partly a skill in stripping down a complicated system to a simple model that emphasizes a particular phenomenon, it's partly an ease of translating the mathematical description to the physical system (or vice-versa), it's partly an art (i.e. a creative effort)...
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