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How to read the Feynman Lectures (Question)

  1. Jul 11, 2008 #1
    I intend to refresh my knowledge in physics, and exercise a great deal of math. I will do some heavy calculus, dif, linear algebra work with some quantum mechanics added onto it.

    The thing is I also want to read the feynman lectures I bought long ago. Do you think that it is reasonable to attempt to read the whole 3 volumes without skipping anything. I thought that it would be nice as if attending to a series of lectures, after all Feynman Lectures are written in a lecture style.

    So would this approach lead to a time well spent activity, or not even close?

    Thanks in advance
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 11, 2008 #2
    Not really sure, but I think I once read that the 3rd volume (about quantummechanics) is not as good as the first 2 volumes (or a strange approach to quantummechanics, something like this).

    But the first 2 volumes are great. Just start and read them, if you should get stuck then try some additional material. And you should do exercises, for every subject which is treated by Feynman find some text with lots of exercises (and answers) and do them concurrently while reading Feynman.

    Feynman Rules !
  4. Jul 11, 2008 #3
    yeah that is a good idea. I may have trouble finding exercises though maybe I will use serway's gigantic book for that.

    I read Feynman's more popular science style books and more personal books and watched some interviews. It is quite obvious that Feynman Rules, especially in today's industrialized physics where physicists are more like walking and talking computer algebra programs rather than teachers and thinkers (scholars if you prefer).

    If only I had a teacher like Feynman...

    Anyway thanks for your reply, I will probably do that I made some research on other places as well and reading Feynman Lectures will probably come out as I expect. I hope the books can at least do half of the aforementioned wish.

  5. Jul 11, 2008 #4
    Then do so. Many people end up reading the red books before they have any formal physics experience. They were intended as a college freshman lecture series originally, and while their success as that was a little here and there, they are very accessible to the new student while probably still being of interest to the very experienced.

    If you're enjoying it, then do so. I wouldn't force it, and I wouldn't expect to understand everything on the first read either. Don't be afraid to skip a chapter here or there if it doesn't interest you as much or if you get lost.

    He's known for a number of strange approaches. Given that his Nobel was for helping develop a quantum theory of electrodynamics, but that a number of these strange approaches are now very standard...I'd take any strangeness with a grain of salt and assume he knows a thing or two about the topic. QM can be a very tricky thing to actually understand, and he says as much, so I suspect some of what you're describing is also due to the subject.

    I can't say as I've met anyone during my undergraduate career that fits this description.

    This is a somewhat dangerous line of thinking. There are plenty of good teachers, and regardless, your education is largely in your own hands. Saying "if only" over an idolized figure can easily become an excuse to abdicate responsibility and fall well short of what you could achieve if you set yourself to it. I'm sure that's not what you mean, just...be careful about thinking like that, or you might end up cheating yourself out of what you can accomplish.
  6. Jul 11, 2008 #5
    Thanks for enlightening me on that point, and I am not being sarcastic while i am stating this. I am well aware that my education is in my hands. But I would never doubt the teaching abilities of a person who said

    "If you can't explain something to a first year student, then you haven't really understood it."

    (it may not be exact, I found this from wikiquotes but he wrote this somewhere, it occurs when someone asks Feynman something about spins and he realizes he can't explain it sufficiently then he writes this quote...)

    Physics is a hard topic for sure, and a demanding one, but many times its hardship is overrated.

    I hate it when you ask a Prof a simple question and they look down upon you as if you have a serious mental disorder or something and answer your question in a pompous and in an extremely complex manner. Of course later on you realize how simple it is after you struggle a little on it and shout "was it just this, why on earth did s/he explain it to me like that!!!".

    To sum it up, you do educate yourself, but you get a thousand times more efficient with a good mentor, if physicists refuse to be good mentors then you struggle yourself and it is quite normal and fun too, I have no problem with that. It would just get more beautiful and fun with a good mentor.

    And thanks for your comments on the books, I will definitely read them and not succumb into laziness and spend hours just thinking if I should read them or not.
  7. Jul 11, 2008 #6
    I don't know if the attribution is correct, but on the first page for one of my old exams, it says "Rutherford said that if you really understand something you should be able to explain it to your grandmother." I've also seen a similar statement in one of Feynman's books to the effect that in the areas it isn't true, it's a sign that we don't really understand it to the extent that we'd like to. I've also heard it from other professors in one form or another any number of times. I'd almost take this as one of the central dogmas of scientific writing.

    I've had trouble a time or two where I felt I couldn't adequately explain a problem I was having, or where I felt too lost to be able to frame a question that would give the professor an idea where to start. But for the most part, professors are people who honestly love their field and the concept of curiosity for its own sake (especially as it relates to their own interests). There are people like you describe, and I if anything I feel more sorry for them than for their students, but in my experience they're very much in the minority (at least in scientific disciplines...I haven't gotten to know many liberal arts professors!).

    If you don't mind - what type of institution are you at that you're running into this often, or does it just stand out badly enough that it creates an observer bias?

    If anything, it's textbook authors that I usually want to smack for this. Oh god...also, we have this "education group" in our department that likes to come up with really badly written material and then act really self-satisfied about how progressive it is...and on top of that, you get stuck with buying the mostly useless results through the campus bookstore at some exorbitant rate. No chance of picking it up cheap online or of it being worth adding to your permanent collection. Bloody hippies.

    BTW, if you want another Feynman book, QED is pretty awesome for the whole quantum electrodynamics thing as well as some basics of QM itself. A fair amount overlaps with the red books, but you should be able to get a library copy and it's a pretty short read. It is also most definitely accessible without a significant physics background.
  8. Jul 11, 2008 #7
    Actually I just graduated from a University with a physics major and I am moving onto a grad school.

    I ran to it too often, and I know many people who just escaped from the physics department to other departments like they were running from fire. They are especially ruthless to grad students and there is a major flow of grad students from my institution to others (especially abroad). But I must say that a handful of profs were not like that.

    I am not in the US right now though but the grad school is in the US, it may just come out to be that this attitude is country dependent.

    I had that in mind, thanks for reminding me that. I will do that too, after reviewing what I really need. I really need to practice a lot of mathematics and problem solving you know.

    Thanks again.
  9. Jul 12, 2008 #8
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 23, 2017
  10. Jul 28, 2008 #9
    I picked up Feynman Lectures on Physics to get a different perspective on various topics that I had studied during my Engineering (thats 3 years back).

    Also, as finance (my area of interest these days) rests on the foundations of algebra, probability and calculus it looked like FLOP was a good way to get re-introduced to what (certain topics) I had studied as core subjects with specified/standardized textbooks way back in my engineering days.

    The chapters on algebra and probability served as an interesting starting point to venture into the subjects for which numerous textbooks have been written.

    And such an approach, if possible, should work for any subject that has a numerical component. Physics, chemistry and mathematics are the broad categories for application of this approach.

    With multimedia playing such a big role in our understanding of topics and subjects hitherto deficient in a well rounded "pedagogy" , we can avail the cutting edge texts provided with supplements and combine them with an age old classic like FLOP.

    For physics I surveyed some combinations.

    Resnick Halliday Walker 8th Ed + Study Guide
    Serway Jewett + Study Guide

    IE Irodov + Solutions

    Supplementary Texts
    Feynman Lectures on Physics

    Approach: Finish the text books, solve all the problems and maintain a clean log by means of having dedicated notebook while problem solving.

    Supplement the textbook problems with a book like Irodov (which uses calculus heavily in its solutions). This should be for chapters for which the problems are either too easy for you in text or if you want to test your mettle for a particular topic.

    Feynman Lectures on Physics and other texts that you read side by side (depending upon the speed with which you are covering your textbook) purely to get a different insight and intuition like that of a seasoned physicist.
  11. Aug 20, 2008 #10
    Feynman exercises:


    I just bought the "tips" book from Amazon at a heavy discount.

    Only you can say if reading Feynman is time well spent for you. I'm 14 lectures in on a close re-read and can't think of a better way to spend my time. He develops all the maths as he goes along. So unless you are very rusty on school mathematics (Euclidean geometry, trig...) then you probably don't need a supplement. If you do, or you want a lot of light exercise, try "Mathematics for the Million" by Lancelot Hogben.
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