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I'm excellent at math but i can't seem to master physics?

  1. Sep 27, 2009 #1
    I got A's in my calculus courses and differential equations also had physics-like problems in them i was able to do, however when it comes to physics i can't quite do as well. I ended up with a C+ in my last intro physics 101 course. Why can't i do physics as well as math and how can i do better in physics, atleast a B?
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  3. Sep 27, 2009 #2
    Physics isn't maths, you need the physical intuition to know what part of maths to apply to get the answer you want. Essentially you just need to keep working a lot of problems to get the hang of what sort of thinking usually works in physics problems. If you excel in maths I think you can probably also do so in physics once you adapt to the difference in mindset.
  4. Sep 27, 2009 #3


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    What are you having trouble with? Are you having difficulties with word problems?
  5. Sep 27, 2009 #4
    that's cause physics is stupid and vague and math is awesome and precise. being good at math and at physics are almost mutually exclusive things.
  6. Sep 27, 2009 #5


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    Can you give any of this nonsense some backup?
  7. Sep 27, 2009 #6
    I think the point he was going for is that math is very methodical. There's usually only one or two solutions to a problem. Whereas with physics there's multiple ways to go about solving a problem.
  8. Sep 27, 2009 #7
    There are multiple ways to go about things in math. Think of all the ways to prove that there are an infinite amount of primes. Sometimes, cooking up a simpler proof than one already existing is quite an achievement.
  9. Sep 27, 2009 #8
    That didn't come out the way I wanted it too...what I'm trying to say is that solving mathematical and physics systems requires two different mindsets. You just need to find the right one for Physics.
  10. Sep 27, 2009 #9
    Then you really don't know anything about physics or math beyond what you read from textbooks.
  11. Sep 29, 2009 #10
    lol hard to believe since i've just finished a BA in both plus have read tons of biographies about physicists/mathematicians. im not going to support my claims. anyone who doesn't understand what i mean will never understand and those that do don't need further clarification.
  12. Sep 29, 2009 #11
    In maths you define everything however you like, in physics what you define have to fit in with nature. In maths everything you can work with sits right in front of you, in physics you have to actually think to see it.

    And no, maths is not more precise than physics, they are both exactly the same. If you make an approximation that gives a much smaller error than you already got on your values then it is a fully acceptable approximation. That is basics of statistics which is maths, saying that physics is imprecise is basically saying that maths is imprecise. Physics only seems imprecise and chaotic to the ignorant since they are not keeping track of the assumptions.

    If you are structured and not intuitive then maths suits you better. You can do maths without having images of what happens in your head, while in physics you really need those mental images of what should happen or it will get extremely tough to transform physics problems into maths ones.
  13. Sep 29, 2009 #12


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    I find mathematics hard because you have to memorize lots of stuff that's hard to remember because it's so abstract. I find physics even harder because the explanations you get are often very bad.

    I never had a math teacher who didn't know the subject well, or who rambled on endlessly about stuff that didn't have anything to do with the course. The physics teachers were on average much worse. A few of them had a pretty poor understanding of the subject they were teaching.
  14. Sep 29, 2009 #13


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    Haha, I second this. What I often find hard about physics, is the vague distinction between physical assumptions and mathematical arguments, and the lack of justification for the physical assumptions. A good example is Dirac's assumption "to every bra there is a corresponding ket", which turns out to be just Riesz' theorem about dual spaces from functional analysis. When I first heard this I thought: why didn't they just tell me this in my quantum mechanics course?
  15. Sep 29, 2009 #14
    Lol at this negative representation of physics. It wasn't until I took advanced physics courses that abstract mathematical principles like tensors, differentials, group theory, and so forth started making precise sense. I learned the methodology of mathematics in math courses but I learned what calculus, differential equations, and linear algebra was in physics.
  16. Sep 29, 2009 #15
    Yeah, mathematics is all fine and well, but if you won't learn to use those concepts as well if you don't learn to apply them in real world situations.
  17. Sep 29, 2009 #16


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    I agree with the poeople who said one needs a different mindset when studying physics than in mathematics. In physics, the axiomatic approach doesn't work, and rigor and precision in the mathematical sense 'usually amounts to self-deception' (Lev Landau). What is needed in physics is what Feynman called the 'Babylonian' approach to mathematics. For more on this, see Feynman's lecture on 'The Relationship between Mathematics and Physics'. Be careful about this, or you'll end up like ice109.
  18. Sep 29, 2009 #17


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    @czelaya: I started doing physics, and later followed mathematics courses. In this order, the precise mathematical theories/theorems made much of what I learned in physics fall into place. So I already have the benefit of being exposed to physics, instead of the other way around.
  19. Sep 29, 2009 #18
    No. That would be wrong. lower level math classes might only teach one way to solve a problem, but that is because those are just plug and chug problems...

    Mathematical proofs require as much mathematical intuition as any physics problem requires physical intuition.

    May it be duly noted that the inventor of calculus did so to explain his physics, and many great mathematicians were also great physicists. ice109 is deluded...
  20. Sep 29, 2009 #19
    Usually not, most proofs you do in classes are either just repetitions of what you already have seen or you just do the same thing as have already been shown for another proof and copy that style. Or maybe I am just not seeing the problem since I haven't been with as many who have problems with stringent proofs as those who have problems with physical intuition.

    Of course the intuition helps a lot though if you are constructing your own proofs from scratch in subjects you have no experience in, but most maths classes are not like that.

    In my experience physicists have better intuition and mathematicians are better at the actual structure of things. Or in other words, when a physicist solves a problem he thinks of every step as a real world representation, while when a mathematician do the same thing he see sthe expressions as just being something with a set of arbitrary properties.

    Of course everyone is some kind of mix of both, and both physicists and mathematicians can get helped greatly by having attributes associated with the other. I have noted that many who are good at maths do bad at physics and many who do physics have a very poor understanding of what maths actually is. The subjects are different.
  21. Sep 29, 2009 #20


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    Maybe in first year introductory classes, but after that one will usually encounter lots of proofs which require some original way of thought. If it were true what you say, then those classes do a poor job preparing students for 'real' (professional) mathematics, where these methods obviously fail.
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