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How do you get passionate about physics/maths?

  1. Dec 25, 2009 #1
    I have a fairly strange problem in that I have a very hard time caring about things. Examples are food, friends, places, money, girls or so. Now this is a quite serious problem making my life quite dull but that is just a background to what I want to ask about:

    So, no matter what you got to do something or you will get bored out of your mind. I followed the path of physics/maths, higher studies are free in Sweden and I am quite good at those subjects so I thought that maybe that path would be the easiest. Now I have no problems with the subjects, but I realize that sooner or later I would need to start working on things to give results, and to do that you need to be passionate about what you do or you wont get anywhere.

    How do you start to care about a subject, about a project, about anything at all really? I am not really looking for an answer, that probably doesn't exist. But I would like to see peoples input. In a way I care, but no more than the fact that it is fun to understand things. Also you gain a kind of respect from people since you do something, but for me I do it more because doing anything else would be more work instead of me actually caring about it and I want to do something so it was the easiest path to take.

    Or is it possible to just dip around in various subjects working a bit here and there, meaning that you wont sit around doing so much on the same thing that you get bored about it unless your passion kicks in?

    Note: I am not asking about how to pass courses with good grades, I know I can do that without really working. My worries are more that I wont find anything interesting enough to write a doctor's thesis on.

    As it is now I just hope that my talent will last me through everything, that I will never have to start "working" and instead just breeze through everything like I have so far. But it doesn't take a genius to realize that the chance of that being true is minimal. So I better prepare, I just don't know how.

    To start with something easier to get things going, why did you chose to study physics/maths? Is it possible to get anywhere in those subjects without caring about them?

    My guess is that it is easier to thrive in physics/maths without caring compared to most other things you can do that isn't mindless. There are much less worthless assignments and such that you have to grind through to get a degree, instead you just have to make sure that you understand everything and you are set.

    PS. I am sorry that this post is so badly structured, I didn't really know how to put these things and I am not sure what kind of replies I want. So just write/ask something that pops into your mind and I will read/answer.
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 25, 2009 #2
    It looks like you are a bit like me. If you do whatever you are interested in, but make sure you do that on the highest level, you can succeed in physics. Instead of starting a Ph.D project on some new subject you are not already an expert in, it would be better for you to do some research in your free time and then decide on the basis of your interest to start a Ph.D project on the most interesting subject. You then may have to show some results first before some Prof. would want to become your Ph.D advisor.

    I got interested in physics when I was about 11 years old. I studied physics and math on my own at home. All I was interested in was solving some problems that I happened to find interesting. But that was good enough to make a lot of progress in just a few years.

    Later at university, I had the same mentality. I only spent a lot of time persuing my interests, neglecting other things. Had I done what I was told to do, I would have failed in physics. I did find myself in frequent conflicts later when I started my Ph.D. project. This was because I refused to listen to my Ph.D advisors. I changed my Ph.D. subject a few times, in the end I decided to do my Ph.D. work where the advisor really is the "advisor" in the literal meaning of the word and not the "boss" who will telly you exactly what you have to do. I could afford to do behave in this way because I had a lot to show for: Many published articles written by myself in the top journals.

    So, whatever you decide to do, you must remember that doing research in physics must lead to results (published articles, conference talks etc.). If you want to be the one who decides what to do (because you cannot work on something that is a bit out of your interest), you better make sure you already have the results in the field of your interest, otherwise you'll depend on whatever Ph.D. project some Prof. has available for you and then there may not be the room for you to explore your own interests.
  4. Dec 25, 2009 #3
    I read biographies about great Scientists. Feynman is my all time favorite, his passion for the subject is beyond anything I've seen. Watch some of his Youtube videos. This one is my favorite: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mvqwm6RbxcQ&feature=related @5:00. When I watch that it's all I need to get motivated.
  5. Dec 26, 2009 #4
    The sooner you lose this attitude, the better. I recommend losing it right now. No matter who you are, your "talent" alone will not be sufficient. What you really need to develop is the habit of working hard. I recommend enrolling in a course in which you can barely succeed having worked your hardest. For me, this was an advanced real analysis course that I took with no prerequisites. It really taught me the value of hard work and instilled in me a powerful drive to challenge myself and stretch myself to the limits of my abilities.

    All that your "talent" will do for you is give you a head start, but if you never join the race, then you won't ever win, no matter how far ahead you start.

    ... by the way, there's no finish line ;)
  6. Dec 26, 2009 #5
    The problem is that since I don't got the drive I don't shape up during such conditions since I know that I don't really have to do it. I don't care enough about being the best. Also I have taken a lot of courses which I had way too bad prerequisites for, some went good while others went bad.

    I recognize that it is a problem, I am constantly amazed over how much work people can put into things. The only thing I got is that I am very distractable, so for example during lectures I get distracted by the subject making me think about some concept for minutes to hours to days. But that goes for everything, my mind wants to piece all the loose ends together no matter the subject, also it is a very unreliable way to learn subjects since it doesn't guarantee anything.
    It is not like I don't do anything, I attend most lectures unless they overlap and sometimes something sparks my interest for a while making me think about it a bit outside of class. But I can't stand sitting down to do exercises, and usually reading books is out of the question except sometimes when it is nagging me that I am missing a bit of the puzzle, usually a definition.

    So in short, I just go to classes and outside that I just do things I find fun which is not that much. And as I said I have no problems with the courses, I am afraid of lacking enough motivation on anything to do a phd thesis.
    Thanks, great video! But that is what I am talking about, I want to become someone with a drive! But it feels like none really have any clue of how to do that, "it just happens" is roughly the best explanation. Same as the answer for how you become good friends with people etc, for me that is just as much "mumbo jumbo" as the term "talent". Why are some more devoted than others? Why are some more talented than others? They just are!


    Many of the professors where I study already know me and greets me in corridors and such, so I hope that I can find someone who supports me enough. Maybe I should talk with some of them about this problem, to see what the local conditions are?
  7. Dec 26, 2009 #6
    You don't need to be passionate about things to get somewhere. You don't even need to find it fun to understand things. You just need some kind of motivator to get you going -- for most people it's needing to eat! Having involving work (programming, carpentry, problem solving ...) is the best many people can hope for -- then you can forget your existential angst by losing yourself in your work. When the work period ends you might even realise that it was not an unpleasant way to pass the time. But asking for great passion about your work is often too much to ask for. Find a girlfriend for that...
  8. Dec 26, 2009 #7


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    Reminds me of myself, taking too many courses.
    In what year are you?

    As those already said, try to read stuff for yourself, try to get involve in some projects in the summer for undergraduates.
    And most of all try finding a girl (advising myself too).
  9. Dec 26, 2009 #8
    Last undergraduate/first graduate, depending on how you count since I took too much before I have to split it now, and since we take masters+bachelors as a single degree. Still a bit over a year till I am supposed to know what I want to do after I graduate.
    I did a project after my first year, everything went fine but they basically did almost everything for me. Sure I did come up with some of relevant things and they were happy for it, but I still felt like I was more in the way than anything else. I should have been more productive, coming with ideas and worked more on my own but I couldn't do it, I get totally uninterested in things after I have worked on them for a short while.
    Yeah, I have figured that a girl can be a very good motivator, but at the same time it can also be a disaster. Also finding a girl without having much motivation for it is all but impossible.

    I don't spend the money I already got and it is still piling up even though I have a quite small income as a student, I could live years on what I got now. That is not a good motivator for me, maybe that is the biggest difference between me and my peers?
  10. Dec 26, 2009 #9
    What's so wrong with a dull life? Remember the Chinese curse: "May you live in interesting times." If you have enough money, why do you care if your physics project doesn't get done through lack of motivation? It simply means you were motivated to do something else --even if only to lie in bed all morning.

    But do you *really* have enough money to live on for a lifetime? I know Sweden has an excellent socialist system, but surely even Sweden doesn't give money for people to remain students forever? If you get a good degree and a technological type job you will earn twice as much as a blue collar worker and not need to work anywhere near so hard (unless you want to!) So you can retire early and go back to doing nothing more quickly.
  11. Dec 26, 2009 #10
    Read Nikola Teslas autobiography. If theres anyone worth aspiring to be like in this world its Tesla. Things we're only rediscovering today he invented 100 years ago.
  12. Dec 26, 2009 #11
    Doing nothing is really, really boring. I did that for 3 years before I decided to start studying again. I did military duty for some months before that but they sent me to a shrink since they deemed me too mentally sick for the military. I got a lot better after that, but as I said doing nothing is not really fun at all.

    Also, remember that it is fun to know things but not fun to learn them.
    The university pays me 30$ an hour for teaching and through that experience I could probably get other teaching jobs. During that time get the few pedagogy courses needed to be a licensed teacher. I would get by, no problem.

    But you are right, not even Sweden pays people for being students forever :tongue2:
    But the fact that the courses are free, that there is no limit to how many you can take at the same time and such is a huge relief. Thus you can retake courses without it effecting your overall progress at all etc. I would most likely not be able to handle the pressure that comes with the huge costs associated with studies in the USA, but lucky as I am that is not an issue here :approve:
  13. Dec 26, 2009 #12


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    I know for myself, that before my first year I used to learn by myself stuff and I had big motivation to succeed, this motivation does decline with time, unless you can refuel it.
    It also helps if you have a spare time not caring of coursework or labs to learn stuff by your own.

    When I have vacations from coursework I find myself keeping learning from textbooks, if you plan to go ahead to Phd in Physics or Maths most of the learning you will do by your own from textbooks and articles.
  14. Oct 1, 2010 #13
    I always think about the future and where i want to be in a few years and that today im making the foundation to get there
  15. Oct 2, 2010 #14
    Yes, reading physics papers & advanced textbooks is a hard, painful slog. The again, some people seem to like it. But if you don't I wouldn't do a PhD! Why not stick with the teaching? You know the things you are teaching, so will not have to learn any more. All fun! You might like to read some of the stoic philosophers, they say that not caring about getting, "food, friends, places, money, girls or so" isn't a problem, but a good idea! I don't think life need to be dull, you can fill your time with entertaining things (film, music, books), or read philosophy (for instance.) Then again *many* philosophy books or not fun to read or learn from. Just like physics books! Still you can find some good ones, like Pierre Hadot's "What is Ancient Philosophy?", or, even better, Seneca's letters and essays.
  16. Oct 3, 2010 #15
    Well, I don't know what to say except for maybe you should do some long and hard soul-searching and introspection and determine how to instill passion in your life, or discover it. Is your goal to "discover a passion for physics" or "discover a passion"?, you may end up dissapointed and find out that you will have a passion for something other than Physics. The girls suggestion is good/bad again depending on your goal. If your goal is to "get passionate about Physics" the girl will consume your mind and your soul and leave you finding that you don't think about the Physics as much or have the motivation to, because you'd rather be with the girl. If your goal is simply to get a passion, the girl will brighten your life, make it take on a different hue, and all of the old mundane routine things that used to bug you will seem brightened up. Of course that is contingent on you not just finding some-body, but somebody...that is the difficult part.
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