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Interested in physics, but find math boring.

  1. Jul 24, 2011 #1
    Hi, I'm AndromedaRXJ. I'm new here.

    I'm really interested in physics and I know you have to know math to study it, but everytime I try to study math, I get bored really fast and just wanna stop. But I find physics EXTREMELY interesting. I find myself listening to people like Stephen Hawking, Michio Kaku, and in general, researching stuff on physics for hours. But when it comes to pure mathematics, I just get bored.

    As much of a silly question this may sound, how do I get interested in math? Or is there anything out there that'll make it interesting?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 24, 2011 #2


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    You really don't have to be interested in math to do physics. As long as you are comfortable with math and understand that the basis of physics is math, you should be fine. I've talked to people who have done mathematical physics for decades and they even say that math for the sake of math is uninteresting to them.

    I have no interest in programming, but that doesn't stop me from learning it so that I could use it in what I do.
  4. Jul 24, 2011 #3
    When learning new concepts, you should first study their physical applications, and let their physical applications act as the metaphorical carrot on a stick that gives you reason to be interested.
  5. Jul 24, 2011 #4
    Where are you in school now? What math have you had? It's possible that you just haven't had a good math course yet. In high school, I thought I hated math.
  6. Jul 25, 2011 #5
    This is interesting, because physics is explained by mathematics. Physics is just a field of pure mathematics, which our consciousness interacts with via senses.
    Black holes sound cool, but they were first studied as mathematical structures. If you find mathematics boring, read science fiction.
    If you still want to do physics, which i would advise you to do anyway, you better start enjoying your mathematics : )
  7. Jul 25, 2011 #6
    Don't you find it interesting that symbols, letters and numbers arranged in certain ways can explain so much? :p
  8. Jul 25, 2011 #7
    I'm surprised no one has addressed this yet, but... Hawking.. Michio Kaku.. seriously? If you mean you enjoy watching/listening those tv-shows on Discovery/NatGeo/whatever, then this IS NOT physics. (It pretends to be popular science, but in most cases, imho, it's just pseudoscience/mysticism)

    It's very simple: physics and math go together (do you also find calculus boring?).
    As for how to get interested in math: my experience shows that things stop being boring and become interesting once you start to understand them better.
  9. Jul 25, 2011 #8
    I was considering mentioning it, but decided against it. I will now.

    Like you said, most aren't even science. But, even the shows they do on real science are so far dumbed down that I can fill in details and expand simplifications they skip with what I learned in a highschool honors physics class.

    If you want real science, at least the closest I've found on TV, watch BBC expository documentaries and PBS's Nova.
  10. Jul 26, 2011 #9
    I'm in College and I'm about to turn 21. I'm not quite full time, but I've probably completed about a years worth of credits. I completed beginning algebra and I was taking intermediate algebra, but I dropped it because I was failing.

    In high school I hated math, but get this. In elementary and part of middle school, I loved it. In fact, it was my favorite subjects, and I was really good at it. It wasn't until 7th grade when they put me in a higher math class that I started to hate it. I didn't get it at all or saw how it related to anything. When teachers tried to explain it to me, I still never understood it. They had me memorize steps to solving this or that, and I would eventually be pretty good at it, but I didn't understand what it was that I was really doing.

    I think that's why it's boring to me too. I couldn't see how it related to anything or understood it's application. I should restate what I said. I don't find all math boring, because some of it I understand. I understand arithmetic, geometry etc, therefore I like it. I don't understand some algebra and anything higher.

    LOL! Sorry. I had a feeling someone would say this. I know they're very mainstream, and now-a-days, I take what they say as a grain of salt. And it wasn't really from watching them on TV. I watched a lot of their lesser known talks on the internet.

    The real reason why I'm interested in physics comes from my interest in astronomy. I've been interested in astronomy since I was very young. We're talking around maybe 3 years old(maybe older, but I was still really young). My grandmother had this solar system book with each chapter about each planet, and I would just go through the book looking at the pictures. And I would look at it over and over again.

    Around middle-school and high school, I didn't exactly lose interested in it, but I didn't pay much attention to it either. It wasn't until after I graduated that I got really into it again. At some point in time, I came across an astronomy video on youtube which sparked my interest again. Then I started researching stuff on astronomy like crazy. Eventually, I came accross a Michio Kaku video where he was talking about physics and astronomy, and that's where my interest in physics started. So it started out with Kaku and Hawking, but I don't listen to just them.

    I could go into detail what kind of things I researched, but that'll take too long. lol.

    That's what I'm trying to do >_> lol

    And about Calculus, I haven't made any attempts to seriously try to learn it, because I figured I better learn intermediate algebra first(and maybe trig?). I did watch that one youtube video "Calculus I in 20 minutes", and though I didn't understand most of it, I was quite curious(and the guy in the video was very funny. That probably helped).

    The parts of calculus I do understand, I find interesting. Like, I think I have an understanding of D=R/T, for example.
  11. Jul 26, 2011 #10
    You can try learning some conceptual Physics, its different from real Physics in that the math is very limited compared to a standard Physics text, but the concepts are the same. Then again to fully understand Physics, you are going to need to be comfortable dealing with math.
  12. Jul 26, 2011 #11
    You should only watch the BBC/etc. documentaries for the pretty pictures, not the actual concepts themselves. What you learn from one of those documentaries you can learn within maybe 10 minutes skimming through the overview of a textbook. I have to admit though; they make some cool-looking documentaries.
  13. Jul 26, 2011 #12
    OK, from your lengthy post it appears you are more serious than I initially thought you were.

    Here is an idea: you said you had interest in astronomy that started when you were reading a book as a kid. Maybe it is precisely why you like it - because of the fact that you did it on your own, going at a pace best suitable for you? You said you hated "higher math" in school after 7th grade - maybe you weren't lucky with teachers? I know I hated MOST stuff at school, because it was compulsory and without any freedom to explore some things in more detail than others. Actually, for some time, calculus was my favorite thing - I think it was because I came across a (rather serious) book on calculus and studied it on my own (slowly but surely) long before derivatives were studied at my school.

    You mentioned videos on calculus. I don't think videos is the way to learn it, and certainly not in 20 minutes :) Get a real proper book and work with it at a steady pace, otherwise you'll get frustrated and end up hating it more.

    Also, from my experience I noticed that taking some topic to study with the sole goal of studying something else, that requires the former, somehow does make it boring at times, and I have to force myself. (This is actually something I'd like to hear others' opinions about)
  14. Jul 26, 2011 #13


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    Hey there AndromedaRXJ and welcome to the forums.

    If you want to do science, you have to be aware of the kinds of things they do.

    A lot of science, or applications thereof (and I class things like mathematics in this category in the context of applied mathematics), you do things like write reports, make sure that you haven't made mistakes (this is a very big thing), and doing "all the other chores" that make sure you get paid.

    If you think of something like black holes, instead you should probably picture being in a lab with other scientists calibrating instruments, writing computer code, checking data and results and experimental setup almost OCD, and things that are not out of a science fiction movie.

    I'd like to add a comment about pure math.

    At the moment I'm doing a course in C* algebras but most of my courses are in statistics. I have found that pure math provides a richness that allows the student to get some really powerful ideas about analyzing and decomposing complex structures. The kind of ideas you find in pure mathematics can be amazing and you can stand back in awe just thinking "Wow!" (well at least that happens to me).

    When you see math, you need to look past the symbols: the ideas are the most important. I agree calculation, logic, and correct derivation from sound assumptions are important, but the ideas created from people of our past really are the crux of what makes mathematics what it is.
  15. Jul 26, 2011 #14
    Calculus is indeed fascinating. However, I wouldn't try calculus if you haven't mastered algebra. (Trig is not so important, I think, though you'll have to learn it eventually.) Algebra does IMO two really big things for you:

    (1) The core idea is that you can replace numbers with symbols, then work with the symbols. This sounds (and maybe is!) kind of boring, but it is an unimaginably powerful idea without which modern math and physics would not be possible.

    (2) Building on 1, it allows you to translate real world problems into mathematical language. The most important part of an algebra course is word problems, which build this skill. This is fundamental to applying math to physical problems, and is even useful in daily life.

    Galileo's Two New Sciences contains pages and pages of geometric theorems. They're incredibly boring, for the most part, because they're really just geometric versions of simple relationships that anyone who's had high school algebra could work out, often in just a line. But Galileo didn't have high school algebra -- it was not yet known to Europeans in his time.
  16. Jul 26, 2011 #15
    What?! This is a travesty!

    Maybe you just had crappy teachers. Please give us an example of some math you were (or are) learning in school that you found (or find) boring. Maybe we'll show you why it's not so boring!
  17. Jul 26, 2011 #16
    I'd like to here people's opinions on this as well. And I think you guys are right about the teachers. I actually can't stand school in general most of the time for a number of reasons I can name.

    Basically, a lot, or most of intermediate algebra. When teachers write down a problem on the bored, all I see is a bunch of numbers and symbols. I don't understand it's relevance to anything. All the teachers teach is the steps to solve it without explaining it's real relevance or applications. And they just expect me to do it.

    I don't know about other people, but I didn't immediately understand how algebra relates to anything when I was first introduced to it. On the other hand, geometry's relevance is obvious-at least to me. It's about shapes and space(I'm being simplistic).
  18. Jul 26, 2011 #17
    I hated all Math until I took Calculus. I learned more algebra/trig/advanced algebra THROUGH Calculus I because it was so interesting. Calc truly binds together everything you've learned, and it makes sense. After taking Calc I, I wanted to do Physics.

    All in all, it really grows on you. Learning the fundamentals always sucks, but once you study it for a long time, you start to love it and think of the world through it.

    I don't think you need to "master" algebra but a firm understanding is necessary. After doing upper level math, Algebra becomes a subconscious thing that you do while solving larger puzzles.
  19. Jul 27, 2011 #18
    I enjoyed calculus only because I enjoy putting things in order and calc was a lot like algebra. I didn't find math actually INTERESTING until I took my first proofs class, and started to get a glimpse of number theory. Love it! Anyway, you might have to muck through some stuff before you arrive at the place where you find something interesting. I mean, how interesting is an inclined plane? Maybe not very. But you need to spend your time studying it and other elementary stuff before you can go calculating the orbits of planets. Or maybe the orbits aren't interesting. But you need to know them before you can go looking for gravitational variations. (Okay I'm making stuff up here, I'm math, not physics, but you get the idea.) So keep plugging along. The cool stuff will pop out when you least expect it.
  20. Jul 27, 2011 #19
    You don't need to force yourself to be interested in math just because physics and math are strongly intertwined. If you want to understand physics at a deeper level then understanding math at a deeper level would be important, but nobody says you need to be interested in it.

    If you want to be interested in order to learn math better, then make yourself face the truth: physics and everything else is strongly connected to math. Math can be more interesting if you give "pure" math applications. While you're learning maybe you could point out connections it has to everyday life or physics.

    I don't have a huge interest in math. I find it challenging and in most cases boring, but I appreciate it a great deal because of its purity and simplicity. It may not be simple, but it can seem simple if you realize that counting to ten and doing calculus equations all goes back to the same root. I also appreciate math because I use it for many applications and I understand that the things I enjoy most, programming and physics, are very dependent on math.
    Last edited: Jul 27, 2011
  21. Jul 27, 2011 #20
    Look, I was in your shoes. I may be unique in this but that quickly changed. I find my interest now starting to pull a little bit more towards math than physics!

    The way I see it, is that the facts of physics are interesting, but without math, they are just that, interesting facts. Math is like looking into the gearbox of physics to me.
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