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Feeling Physics

  1. Dec 23, 2012 #1
    Hey there forum ,
    I know this may seem like a dumb question to ask but I've been wondering , how can I feel the concepts I learn in Physics , and by "feel" i mean to say understand the core meaning and know how to apply the concept in thought experiments or whatever.. I don't want to study Physics by simply learning equations and and understanding equations and solving questions in books and whatnot but I want more .. If someone can help me out then I'd really appreciate it :/
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  3. Dec 23, 2012 #2
    If you want physics to become second nature, then you have to do the boring stuff like learning, understanding and solving equations. And you have to do it a lot. Like anything else, it's all about practice.

    edit: I don't think it's boring stuff, but I thought OP might from his tone.
    Last edited: Dec 23, 2012
  4. Dec 23, 2012 #3
    Do the thought experiments in your head and see how they come out. Then do the math and see how the experiment would really come out. If they are different then revise your imagination to match the numbers. Your imagination will learn and become progressively more accurate.
  5. Dec 23, 2012 #4
    If you want a better feel, try experiencing the real thing.

    Built stuff with levers and pulleys (LEGOS)
    Visit a science museum.
    Take stuff apart to see how it works

    I recently took apart an old clock to fix it. You could get a sense of mechanical advantage by how difficult it was to rotate each gear by hand as you move up the gear chain.
  6. Dec 24, 2012 #5


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    You can't have one, totally, without the other but I would say that you can get a lot further without a vast amount of practical experience than you can do without the hard grind of learning facts, formulae and doing the Maths. There are many very successful theoretical Physicists but no successful experimental physicists who don't know the theory. The 'feel' that one gets is the result of total immersion in the details in the same way that a competent musician or sportsperson will only ever be competent as a result of hard, prolonged practice; just watching on TV is never enough- even if one thinks it gives a 'feel' for things.
    This Forum is full of grumpy old men telling you that you just have to learn the stuff - they are right. It is a shame that the modern 'portfolio' courses that people follow in School and College tend to be more dilute than in the past they do not to have time for a lot of practical work. This is supposed to make one a more complete person but it tends to delay the point when a student can really be on top of the subject. The point is arguable either way.

    Without a reasonable depth of learning 'the feel' that you can get can take you in the wrong direction and false avenues of imagined understanding.
  7. Dec 25, 2012 #6
    If you can perform an experiment to "feel" every concept you learn in a textbook, you'll be that much further ahead of the crowd. Sometimes the concepts make sense based on your past experiences, though sometimes you have to see the concept in action to understand it quickly. Labs are there for a reason.

    You can buy lab manuals and do the experiments but the equipment is needed. That's gonna be a pain in the butt.

    Still, having a real life "feel" for Newtonian/work/energy along with the theoretical background will put you far ahead of the purely theoretical people.
  8. Dec 25, 2012 #7


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    There is no chance that you can experience everything first hand. Humans have the ability to use the experience of others to reinforce their view of the World. Imo, Labs can only be used for a sub set of what we need to learn. A lab experiment without equal time (minimum) spent on theory, is likely to have been wasted.
    Surely we use language (including the language of Maths) to share information) in order to allow us to learn vastly more.
  9. Dec 25, 2012 #8
    I agree. I thought I didn't walk away with much from my physics classes/labs. I realized later that I did.

    The OP asked about understanding and applying concepts, something a lot of physics people can't do. Applied physicists and engineers do it all the time though hence my point that one should get as much physical experience AND theoretical experience as they can.
  10. Dec 25, 2012 #9


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    It all depends on what level at which you want to operate. I know that a lot of people walk away from a practical experience without getting the right picture but plenty of other times the experience really helps things click.
    The good thing about 'Labs' is when you need to write it all up afterwards and that is what makes all the difference - trying to reconcile the graph with the answer you got from it with the theory and what you thought you'd seen happening. Funny but I remember a few of the experiments we did in the mid 60s really well. Mossbauer effect, Coupled Resonators, Diffraction Grating and some X ray crystal photos have stayed me ever since. But the Diffraction thing never really gelled until I started on antenna array design - I definitely got the 'Wrong Feel' the first time through.

    If you never did hands-on basic electronics I reckon it would be totally uninspiring and no fun at all. The same would apply to mechanics, too. When the equipment gets very complicated, it's very hard to rely on the 'feel' you get.
    I am very suspicious of Simulations in general (games, in particular) because they are not all to be relied upon. They can give you really an misleading feel when not based on valid models (Angry Birds is a good example).
  11. Dec 25, 2012 #10


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    And, of course, actually do the experiment!
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