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I can't understand technical books/papers.

  1. Mar 30, 2004 #1
    I am 13 and have been reading non technical books/papers for about 8 months, stuff by Carl Sagan and Isaac Asimov etc. I have no trouble understanding them. But when I read any of the more technical books, I understand only about half of it. Do I not know enough math? I know the basics of calculus and anything below agebra 2 is as easy as PI. Do I need to know more? Or is it a problem with reading comprehension? Or am I just to young to be able to understand more technical books?
    Any comments would be helpful.





    Thanks,
    The kid who reads to much.
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 30, 2004 #2

    Integral

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    Basic Calculus is a good starting point, but not enough to understand many technical papers. Also no one can not read most technical papers like you do a coffee table physics book. It must be read carefully and slowly and then do it again, then again. By the third time through you can start to get the point. It is essential that you understand the meaning of every term of every equation to truly understand what is being said. Beginning calculus will not get you there. If you have learned some basic calculus you may what to chase down a college level Physics text, this only requires simply calculus and is the first step in understanding Physics.

    EDIT:
    Added a negation that fell through my keyboard!
     
    Last edited: Mar 30, 2004
  4. Mar 30, 2004 #3
    I would say your mathematical knowledge is just not enough for you to understand complicated papers. That's nothing to be ashamed of, especially at the age of 13. The fact that you read theoretical books as well as understand the ideas behind them is impressive, you just need to study a bit more math to also understand the equations. :smile:
     
  5. Mar 30, 2004 #4

    Njorl

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    Most papers assume the reader is well versed in the specific subject matter. I don't mean knowledgeable about physics, but in a very specific niche of physics. The jargon and shorthand notation will have subtle differences from one field to the next. These papers are editted for readability, but it is by others with an intimate knowledge of the subject matter.

    Sometimes reference is made to phenomena that are well understood within the community, but not even known to the general public. If I were writing a paper, and mentioned the Franz-Keldysh effect, I wouldn't even bother to reference it, my audience knows what it is.

    Njorl
     
  6. Mar 30, 2004 #5

    Njorl

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    Oh, just wanted to add. There is a lot of stuff many of us never understand. I'm sure there are many articles in Physical Review Letters that would take me a lifetime to get half-through. I hear that Boltzman killed himself because he didn't really understand his own work. While it helps to have the attitude that you can tackle any problem that someone else can, and maybe a few that nobody else can, it is good to keep in mind, for sanity's sake, that maybe you can't. Still, I'd wait until you're 24 or 25 to give up on the idea that you might be the smartest person in the world. I waited until I was 26 despite ample evidence to the contrary.

    Njorl
     
  7. Mar 30, 2004 #6

    chroot

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    Technical papers are difficult even for those who are actively involved in the niche in question! Don't be disheartened. If you read a technical paper and understand even the general idea of it, you're still learning heaps! Keep at it!

    There are also some occassional papers (maybe 10%) that are written specifically for a wider audience -- try looking for those sorts of papers on sites like arxiv.org.

    I would also suggest that maybe reading some textbooks would be a more entertaining and better use of your time, since they are designed specifically to introduce an outsider into a new field. If you need to learn some math quickly and on the cheap, I suggest the Schaum's Outlines.

    - Warren
     
    Last edited: Mar 31, 2004
  8. Mar 31, 2004 #7
    You guys have all given BookWorm great advice. You didn't leave much for me to say.

    BookWorm,
    If you are understanding half of what you read, then you are doing very well indeed. Integral is right, three reads is the way to go. This method of learning is call "spaced repetition".

    Each new area that you study will help you better understand the work that you've covered before. It sounds to me like you're doing just fine. Be patient and have fun, you will fill in all of the pieces of the puzzle in time.

    Best wishes,
    Mike
     
  9. Mar 31, 2004 #8

    ZapperZ

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    While these aren't exactly "technical papers" in terms of new and exciting discoveries, if you are interested in reading at least peer-reviewed papers in physics, you may want to try looking for either the American Journal of Physics, or the European Journal of Physics. A lot of these papers are understandable at the undergraduate level, and many of them have pedagogical values in terms of understanding various topics in physics. So I highly recommend you start with that. As has been said here, starting with articles in PRL, Nature, Science, etc. is not a good place.

    I hate to do personal advertisement here, but on the website that I run on the Yahoo e-Groups, we have an ongoing project called the Journal Club, where we take a published paper and study/discuss it. Currently, we're discussing a paper on Bohmian mechanics that was published in AJP. You may find the link to the group if you browse my profile.

    Cheers.

    Zz.
     
  10. Mar 31, 2004 #9

    Chi Meson

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    In physics, the "three R's" are:

    repetition
    repetition
    repetition
     
  11. Mar 31, 2004 #10
    You couldn't be more correct


    right on
    right on
    right on!

    Great advice,
    -Mike
     
  12. Apr 2, 2004 #11
    Thanks for the great advice. I picked up some books from the library on physics and calculus.

    Thanks again,
    The kid who reads to much.
     
  13. Apr 2, 2004 #12
    I'm a little more than 13 years old, but this is a relief. I would go to math confernces and come back with papers and couldn't even get past the abstract.

    A friend of mine who is a PHD candidate in physics sent me a paper of his. I kept reading it over and over again until I got it. Repetiton does help.

    Bookworm, don't be afraid to pick up the more adavnced material. I was a little older than you when I started (around 14) and got tired of the coffee table books. It's fun going beyond the classroom to teach yourself the more advanced materiel
     
  14. Apr 2, 2004 #13

    chroot

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    BookWorm, let us know if you ever need a hand with your reading. :smile:

    - Warren
     
  15. Apr 2, 2004 #14

    ahrkron

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    Just a comment in the point of "repetition". Feynman wrote in some of his autobiographical essays (or whatever you want to call them) that often times, while reading a paper or a book, he did not understand a section. Nevertheless, he just went on until he finished what he wanted. Then went back and read again, and again. Each time he understood a little more, and eventually the full thing.

    I often thing of this while doing my own reading. I'm not too good at following this advise, and tend to get stuck with my first or second bump until I understand it, but I have managed to do it sometimes, and I think it does help. It may depend on the person and the material, but it is worth trying.

    Good luck with your reading, and as chroot said, you can come back with questions anytime!
     
  16. Apr 2, 2004 #15

    Janitor

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    I hate it when we get some new brand of cleanser or something, and the instructions were written by somebody over in the Orient for whom English is a secondary language.
     
  17. Apr 2, 2004 #16

    Janitor

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    By the way

    There are some funny website stories about the Brothers Bogdanov. They wrote some sort of paper on quantum gravity that is generally thought to be a spoof, but a refereed journal printed it.
     
  18. Apr 2, 2004 #17

    ahrkron

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    Yeap. It is kind of the revenge of the social "scientists" that were set up by a physicist, IIRC. He sent an article full of post-modernist sounding crap mixed with some physics, and it was accepted to a social science journal.
     
  19. Apr 3, 2004 #18

    ZapperZ

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    You must be refering to the Sokal Hoax in Social Text. However, I don't think the Bogdanov brothers did a "reverse Sokal". Unlike Alan Sokal, who purposely wrote garbage and KNEW it was garbage, the Bogdanovs were serious in the validity of their work. And unlike Social Text, which is a prominent social science journal, the Bogdanovs could not get published in any of the prestigious physics journals.

    Those of you who are either APS members or follow/subscribe to Bob Park's weekly column would have read his comment as these two events were unravelling...

    http://www.aps.org/WN/WN02/wn111502.cfm

    Zz.
     
  20. Apr 3, 2004 #19

    Integral

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    I just finished reading Faster then the speed of Light by Joao Magueijo, A signifigant portion of the book (to much in my mind!) is devoted to bashing the current refereed journal system, as well as admistrators and seeming any physicist over 30.
     
  21. Apr 3, 2004 #20

    JasonRox

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    I'm 20, and in the same boat as you.

    I know math pretty well at the introductory level, but that's about it. Next time I go to the library, I'm taking one of the Advanced Calculus books, and work my way up.

    I would advise you to not get any Calculus for Dumbies, Idiots, Confused or any of the sort. They go through it REALLY slow. I got fed up with it right away. I did my introductory calculus course in high school independently, and made it through with an A. Could have aced it if I weren't too lazy to study before the exam.

    I know I got the "brains" to do it. The only problem I got is college and a 30 hours/week part-time job. I'm dropping the Accounting world, for a world that actually requires thought.

    Anyways, like they said. Read, read, and read. Read introductory relativity books, and as you do so increase your math skills while at it. Before you know it, you'll be reading advanced relativity.

    Note: Get a chalk/white board. Practicing math on a board is much more easier than on paper.
     
    Last edited: Apr 3, 2004
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