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I thought I lost my passion for physics

  1. Apr 2, 2014 #1
    So, I was in my Mechanics 1 course and I was learning about the basic elements of gravitation as it is relates to tides and flux through various elements. I was bored to tears, the professor just wrote on the board, the class copied robotically, and I felt like my passion for science was misplaced. I didn't want to devote my life to something that is seemingly so dull. Physics should inspire you like a great song or a beautiful painting. I then began truly thinking about tidal forces and how strange it is that the force of gravity causes tides, and how strange in which they truly work. I felt like my mind was blown by the beauty of it all. that was when I knew that physics was not dull, but truly beautiful. Something with intrinsic beauty on the level of music. Now my only question is: why is physics caught in such a dull way in college and high school? Where is the imagination and beauty? I would like to hear everyone's thoughts on this.
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 2, 2014 #2


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    Why are you generalizing? Apart from my QM class, I have never had a physics class that I have found dull-they were always engaging, insightful, and instructive. You seem to be looking for some kind of fabricated "liberal arts-esque" poetry in physics that various quotes from physicists might have forced you into looking for (just take a look at my signature). "Imagination" and "beauty" are just content-less buzz-words that get thrown around by people in physics just as much as in art and literature.

    Can you define objectively what "imaginative" or "beautiful" physics is supposed to be? I doubt it. It's not surprising of course because these are highly subjective things that physics itself doesn't care about (although Dirac might disagree :wink:). What one person finds beautiful, particularly in physics, can vary significantly from person to person. I personally think General Relativity is the most beautiful, aesthetically perfected theory in physics; others might disagree. As such your question is not an answerable one, at least not in an objective sense. It would be more suited for an English essay than for a proper analysis on a forum like this.

    You should appreciate the physics and not your romantic idealization of it.
    Last edited: Apr 2, 2014
  4. Apr 2, 2014 #3
    Just like you, Mechanics I bored me to tears and caused me to also think I had lost my passion for it. The teacher was dull, much of the class was rote memorization, and the material was difficult and uninteresting. Just like you, mechanics is not my forté. That was last semester. This semester I am taking QM and math methods, and find it to be most interesting.

    Honestly, I feel like one of the biggest aspects that contribute to the class is the professor. If the professor is dull, then yes, it just turns into boring memorization, which is not the point of physics. It does not mean anything for physics, just that particular class. You may not be losing your passion for physics, but just disliking that particular class. It's very easy to confuse the two.

    In short, physics is beautiful, but studying it is not all bunnies and rainbows. If you don't sit through the boring mechanics lectures, you cannot make it to the upper-level quantum mechanics, non-linear dynamics, and computational modeling that most people find unbelievably fun. It is difficult to teach mechanics "imaginatively".

    We all have to serve our time :tongue2:
  5. Apr 2, 2014 #4
    Physics starts getting all purdy and stuff in the upper division courses, IMO.
  6. Apr 2, 2014 #5
    Again, this. One day you'll find yourself calculating the mass of a bare electron, and when it comes out to infinity, you'll know why you study physics. Or you'll be plotting the energy of a harmonic oscillator potential for the Schrodinger equation, and when your graphs make you realize that the damn thing is quantized, you'll have a little bit more to live for.

    But yeah, when you're finding the drag coefficient of a spherical cow flying through a horizontal oscillating gravity field, it may not be so interesting.
  7. Apr 2, 2014 #6
    Of course, if you want something really purdy at the undergraduate level, take complex analysis.
  8. Apr 2, 2014 #7


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    I still don't where this mentality comes from that mechanics is boring. Mechanics, IMO, is far more elegant than QM and extremely interesting to learn in its own right. Gyroscopic precession in GR can often come off as counter-intuitive but gyroscopic precession in Newtonian mechanics can be very cool and counter-intuitive in and of itself and this is but one example.

    At least mechanics problems don't bore me to death. I disagree with the sentiment that upper-division classes are necessarily more interesting but this is all highly subjective in the end so it really doesn't matter.
  9. Apr 2, 2014 #8


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    Maybe try a different textbook? Kleppner and Kolenkow has really nice exercises, not boring at all. I have learned something new from almost every single one so far. My previous exposure to mechanics, Halliday and Resnick, was another story...
  10. Apr 2, 2014 #9
    I never said mechanics wasn't beautiful. I love classical mechanics.
  11. Apr 2, 2014 #10


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    Are you getting bored with the content or are you getting bored with the method of teaching?
  12. Apr 2, 2014 #11


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    I remember how my first year physics professor brought out a an overhead slide that he'd done up to look like an old tabloid newspaper from 1727 with the headline "World Famous Scientist Dies" and then a little lower in even larger font STILL A VIRGIN!

    After the laughter (perhaps uncomfortable from a few) died down he went on to talk about some of Newton's unique personality traits and delved into the mechanics lesson for the day.

    So, yeah, I think teaching style, can really have a lot to do with how much you enjoy a subject.
  13. Apr 3, 2014 #12
    I've had a number of bad experiences with classes, including an intermediate classical mechanics class.

    I never really cared about teaching style. If a teacher was entertaining, that was just a bonus. I only cared about the conceptual depth of the explanations being offered, not the delivery.

    That particular classical mechanics class I took, I think had the life completely sucked out of it. It's not a bad subject at all. It's just that the way it was presented was just a mess of symbol-manipulation. But it doesn't need to be like that at all. Based on a few other sources, I figured out my own version of classical mechanics for myself that was completely intuitive.

    That class was particularly bad, but in most other classes, I wouldn't quite say the life was completely sucked out of the entire class. More like it was sucked out of this topic or that topic. Which is too bad because a lot of times, the best part is where the life gets sucked out. For example, when I looked back at my undergraduate probability book, I saw that precisely the most interesting bits were not explained in detail, probably for dumbing-down purposes.

    Generally, I think most people in mathematical sciences/engineering are just too rigid and formal in the way they present things. There need to be more pictures, more intuition, more motivation, and less moving symbols around. And no, that's not just "the way it is"--I think a lot of people just aren't quite aware of the underlying intuitive explanations that are possible. It's not that that stuff is completely missing, but it can be missing in key places.
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 25, 2014
  14. Apr 3, 2014 #13


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    I think one of the reason why certain math or science courses are not taught well is that professors, lecturers or TAs who are teaching the courses are not taught or trained on HOW to teach. Meaning that more often than not, many of the professors do not have an understanding on the psychology of learning and what methods or delivery can most optimally enhance the learning experience for students.

    I also suspect, at least based on my own experience as a TA, that some people who gravitate towards the mathematical sciences tend to be socially introverted and thus feel a certain discomfort in presenting to a large audience, and many do not have an understanding of how best to project their voice to show interest or engagement in the material they are teaching.
  15. Apr 3, 2014 #14
    There's definitely some potential for that. However, the training that I did get, I found most unhelpful and not practical enough. Maybe part of it is that when there is training, it doesn't target specific subjects and situations. The thing that seemed to help me the most was tutoring. Incidentally, when I was finishing my PhD, some grad students in our program started a teaching seminar for grad students. I think that's exactly the kind of thing that could be helpful, especially given the informal way they did it where it was like a discussion. I didn't participate, since I knew I was calling it quits as far as trying to be a professor, but I saw them discussing sometimes.

    I plead guilty. When I gave more advanced talks, sometimes people complimented me on how entertaining the content was, although I was criticized for my flat delivery. But when teaching undergrads, the bigger problem was that I didn't understand how to communicate with undergrads. They just don't understand my thoughts without translation and I had no skill at the translation, or initially, even much awareness that such translation was necessary.
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