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How long to truly understand Spooky action

  1. Jul 24, 2007 #1
    How long to truly understand "Spooky action"

    I read "Putting Time in a (Leaky) Bottle at http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/19875410/site/newsweek/page/0/

    How long would it take a college student, starting with algebra 1, to reach the point where he can move, step by step, through the math that suggests the future may leak into the present, and go, "OK, I see what they are saying."

    Reason for the question: I've never gone any higher than algebra, geometry and statistics. I've never taken a physics class and I've worked with enough geniuses to know I'm not one. I'm only moderately intelligent, but I have managed to get A's in my classes mostly through hard work. I enjoy the dumbed down versions of quantum physics that are out there for the layman. Now that I'm retired, I'm all into expanding my horizons.

    I would like to hear your opinions on whether a math tourist can come to understand the formulas behind such things as "spooky action at a distance" and "many histories".

    Is genius a prerequisite to reach this level of understanding? If not, how long would it take to get there?

  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 24, 2007 #2
    I would say 2 years of hard work should be an absolute lower bound for how long it takes you. I would estimate 3-4 years being more likely. There is also the possibility that you get bogged down and give up, although hard work will always get you through eventually. I don't think genius is a prereq, although you certainly need to be moderately smart. I would probably start by learning calculus and then doing some intro physics. My suggestions are:
    Serge Lang- Basic Mathematics (a brush up on precalc math done at a slightly abstract level)
    either Jame Stewart-Calculus (standard calculus book) and/or Richard Courant and Fritz John Intro to Calculus and Analysis volume 1 (a partially proof based, more theoretical calculus book. You may find this considerably more difficult than Stewart.)
    For intro physics I sugest
    AP French- Newtonian Mechanics (standard intro book) and/or
    Daniel Kleppner and Robert Kolenkow- An introduction to mechanics (honors intro book)
    You might want to read IM Schey-Div, Grad, Curl, and all that (quick and dirty vector calculus book) while working through these.

    To do quantum, you'll need some linear algebra. My personal favorite is Sheldon Axler- Linear Algebra Done Right, but this might be too abstract for an intro to linear algebra. There are many less abstract books to choose from.
    After that, you can go straight to quantum mechanics. I personally like
    David Griffiths- Introduction to Quantum Mechanics. After that, you'll be prepared to work on most quantum topics that catches your fancy. If you want a more intense quantum book after griffiths, JJ Sakurai- Modern Quantum Mechanics is one choice.

    Just to note, I have not read every book I recommend. I have worked with the Lang, French, Kleppner, Schey, Axler, and (only cursorily) the Griffiths books. I am not qualified to judge the Sakurai versus other choices. That is just word of mouth (amazon.com reviews are a good source).
  4. Jul 25, 2007 #3


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    You will need some extra background in maths for some areas but the Feynman Lectures are an excellent physics course.
  5. Jul 25, 2007 #4
    50% good, 50% overrated.
  6. Jul 25, 2007 #5


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    True they aren't perfect and you have to already have a pretty good knowledge of the background maths for some sections.

    But as a single volume (ok 3 slim volumes) physics course you could actually read end-end I like them.
  7. Jul 25, 2007 #6
    Oooh, great phrase, "math tourist"!

    "Spooky action at a distance" crops up in third or fourth-year quantum mechanics in the EPR paradox. A student with this background should be capable of a mathematical description of the problem at about the level of John Baez's explanation - which is really not very mathematical at all!


    Of course, to appreciate what Bell's theorem says about whether quantum mechanics can offer a complete description of physical phenomena, it is first instructive to have done all the heavy work of calculating spin-orbit couplings and Zeeman splittings and other useful calculations for which QM gives very nice results. And that requires a bit more math.

    I don't think a "many-histories" version of quantum is something that's really addressed formally in undergraduate coursework. Actually, I don't even think it's addressed in most graduate coursework!

    Lots of universities will let retired people take courses. I bet taking one course at a time would actually be a lot of fun, especially if you're a little gregarious and can get yourself adopted by some undergrads so you can have some people to study with. It's nice to have others around when you get discouraged and it's also nice to have a little bit of pressure to perform on exams and confirm that you've understood the ideas going by in class.
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