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General Relativity Prerequisites

  1. Nov 21, 2011 #1
    Generally speaking, what physics and math should one be comfortable with before taking a course on General Relativity? If it helps, the course will be using Shultz's A First Course in General Relativity.
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 21, 2011 #2


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    Schutz, without the "L".

    Well, a thorough course on differential geometry (which already assumes real analysis and linear algebra) should be enough. Special relativity including electrodynamics and analytical mechanics (Lagrangians and less Hamiltonians) should also be ok to know beforehand.
  4. Nov 21, 2011 #3
    I have Schutz's book as well. Though I've never gotten around to reading it, exactly because of the lack of prerequisite knowledge on the relevant mathematics.

    I'm curious, would you just be getting started with differential geometry, or would you just be brushing up before reading Schutz?
  5. Nov 21, 2011 #4
    I know very little differential geometry. Although the professor says he'll cover all of the required math as needed, I'm still wary. I have no problem with picking up math as I go (and I've done it before for other classes), I just feel this might be particularly difficult. Has anyone tried it before or taken a similar class?
  6. Nov 21, 2011 #5


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    Presumably the course is for physics students, so it would be unreasonable to assume any of them have prior experience with differential geometry. The math will not be particularly difficult, but it might take a little bit of simmering to let it conceptually sink in. There's a lot of index manipulation and algebra in GR as well, so familiarity with tensors is a plus (but not necessary! Likely, it will be the first time working with these concepts for most of the students).

    As previously mentioned, a familiar with lagrangian mechanics can be helpful (but again, not necessary). What you should have is a firm grasp of special relativity (at the conceptual level). When you likely re-learn everything in special relativity in terms of four-vectors and metrics it would be greatly beneficial if you were already familiar with all the results.
  7. Nov 26, 2011 #6
    There are so many different approaches that you can't really speak "generally". In your case, you need the physics and maths necessary to understand Schutz. Schutz says in the preface what you should know. OK this is a bit general & vague, but no one here is going to give any more detailed advice (are they?) The best thing is to start reading Schutz and when/if you get stuck post questions here, or (better) ask your kind lecturer. (He must be kind if he's taking the trouble to give you the mathematics as you go along!)
  8. Nov 26, 2011 #7
    Er, Schutz is a book for physics undergrads, so how could Differential Geometry be a prerequisite?

    The preface states exactly what the prerequisites are:

  9. Nov 27, 2011 #8
    Here's what the prof at a university who I asked about taking the course:

    "...Besides quantum mechanics, I also ask students who want to take the class to know special relativity and electromagnetism on the advanced undergraduate level..."

    By advanced undergraduate level he means at the level of Griffths.

    Good luck.
  10. Nov 27, 2011 #9


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    Why would they have to know QM before being exposed to GR ?? Dubious idea.
  11. Nov 27, 2011 #10
    The math used in QM is different than the math used in E&M and classical mechanics.
    It's about the math used in QM, not that you actually use QM in GR...
  12. Nov 28, 2011 #11
    The math used in QM has nothing to do with the math used in GR
  13. Nov 28, 2011 #12
    Now, I know this may sounds crazy, but, if you've been exposed to more kinds of math, and different ways of dealing with equations, then MAYBE, just maybe, you'll have a LITTLE more intuition about other maths...

    P.S. there is a reason one takes calculus before abstract algebra ;)
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