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I Want To Learn Theoretical Physics

  1. Jun 28, 2010 #1
    I have become enamored with Theoretical Physics. I want to learn. Can I teach myself? Do I need to study other areas of Physics first?
    Do I need to take collegiate courses? I'd add on a science related major/minor, but I have just switched my major and I am too behind and broke to do so.

    Any books or videos that you would recommend? Or is this just a shot in the dark?

    *I am not completely blind to math and science. I did well in high school Pre-Calc, although that was three years ago. For my degree I took an Algebra class, which was a breeze. I also did well in high school Chemistry and college Biology.
    *I have not ruled out taking community college classes or getting a tutor.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 28, 2010 #2
    Feynman's "Lectures on Physics" is generally recommended. I haven't read it myself yet as I just ordered it yesterday.

    http://www.youtube.com/user/UCBerkeley - Here's a channel with a lot of university lectures in physics and the like as well.
  4. Jun 28, 2010 #3


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    Can you be a little more specific on your current progress and goals?
  5. Jun 28, 2010 #4
  6. Jun 28, 2010 #5


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    Theoretical physics is not a field of physics, it's a way of approaching physics. In order to study physics from a theoretical point of view, yes, you need to know physics. You also need to know a great deal of math, starting with calculus just so you can take the introductory classes. And most people can't really get started on real theory until graduate school in physics. What exactly are your goals for this?
  7. Jun 28, 2010 #6
    @eri I did not know that, lol that's a pretty embarrassing mistake on my part

    My goal is to better understand how the world works. Haha, I know, it's a pretty vague goal. TED Talks and The Science Channel were what got me interested, which is basically the only progress I have made. Some subjects that I have really caught my eye are string theory, dark matter, and quantum mechanics.
    I understand these are extremely difficult concepts, but I want to grasp them. If it is necessary to take these classes, I will find a way to fit them into my schedule. Is there any literature I can pick up in the mean time? I was looking at picking up Brian Greene's "The Elegant Universe"--do you think it would be over my head?
  8. Jun 28, 2010 #7
    Briane Greene's The Elegant Universe was written for the 'layman'. It is slightly technical but that is only to deliver the message clearer (technicalities are inevitable when writing a book on Superstring Theory). But he does use various insightful analogies to allow the reader to grasp the ideas. If you are looking for something that is more detailed that uses the mathematical concepts and formulations then The Elegant Universe won't be what you're looking for. I presume you're looking for something with less technicalities and with a stronger conceptual foundation so I would say Brian Greene's The Elegant Universe is a superb starting point in understanding the fundamentals of Superstring Theory.
  9. Jun 28, 2010 #8
    Hey, that's great. I'm going to use that to prep for the rest of my upper-level physics courses. I have Intermediate Mechanics and Modern Physics II (QM) in the Fall.
  10. Jun 28, 2010 #9


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    Before taking a class in quantum mechanics, you'd need several semesters of calculus, linear algebra, differential equations, and some physics background (intro I and II, classical mechanics and modern physics at the least). Dark matter and string theory are not taught at the undergrad level and rarely taught even at the graduate level. String theory is not widely accepted and has not been shown to be true (but can be tested in upcoming years). You might learn about dark matter in a cosmology class, but that again will have prerequisites.

    You're obviously focusing on the 'cool' aspects of physics - but other than reading popular literature, you can't just jump into the field at that point, it won't make any sense. You need a background in it first.
  11. Jun 29, 2010 #10
    That t'Hooft page is indeed fantastic, I was gonna post it if someone else didn't already, and checking out books like Greene's, Smolin, are fine, but I think you should start with the best.

  12. Jun 29, 2010 #11
    I mostly agree with this post, except one little thing: I think it is possible to understand the main concepts and problems of dark matter at an advanced undergrad level. String theory, you probably won't even understand at an advanced post-doc level, unless you already PhD'ed in String Theory.

    As for quantum mechanics... I mean here in Germany they teach the basics of that in high school, so depending on the level of understand you strive to achieve, I think it is a very reasonable goal, assuming you get a fairly strong background in math first.
    If you aren't too interested in the details, I would just read Greene and the like, it's probably more fun for you anyway.
  13. Jun 29, 2010 #12
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