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Insights Interview with a Physicist: David J. Griffiths - Comments

  1. Sep 27, 2016 #1
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 27, 2016 #2


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    Feels nostalgic, back in my undergrad times I spent hours of exercises from his book for my Electromagnetism course. It is one of those books having the most entertaining and no-boring way of explaining complicated concepts. It's still my first recommendation for students starting their first classical electromagnetism class.
  4. Sep 27, 2016 #3
    I wonder what people think of e-textbooks for tablets and such. Do they exist for technical courses?
  5. Sep 27, 2016 #4


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    Sure, very many textbooks are available also as ebooks. For physics and other "math rich" texts, I always prefer the pdf version. E-book formats usually distort the formulae often to an extent to unreadability. I personally prefer paper books to work with. If I just have to look something up, it's ok to have a electronic version on my tablet/laptop, but to really learn a subject or read a paper carefully, for some reason I need to print it on paper to work through it carefully.
  6. Sep 27, 2016 #5
    For me the reason isn't mysterious. You can flex it so you can tilt the page easily while you're writing, the rigid support makes the thing more clunky. Paper is still usually larger, so it's less eye strain. And most importantly you can look at multiple pages at the same time, or even multiple books/papers.
  7. Sep 27, 2016 #6
    Leak - So there is a new edition in the works, glad I never got around to ordering the current one. What is the time frame on new release I wonder?

    In today's market a support disk with a companion guide to problems & solutions, supplementary reading, interactives/simulations, source code to numerical routines would be the ultimate textbook IMO....I know demanding much right.
    Last edited: Sep 27, 2016
  8. Sep 28, 2016 #7


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    I think it's nice to have the textbook and the electronic version. Sometimes you get access to the electronic version when buying the book.
  9. Sep 28, 2016 #8
    "It had no glossy colored pictures.."
    - I hate those contemporary physics books where half the space is taken by glossy colored pictures of bridges, building, ferris wheels, etc.. All this in an attempt to look cool, contemporary, concrete. More look and less substance is not the best way to learn physics or math.
  10. Sep 30, 2016 #9
    Great read. Thanks!

    I'm a fan of paper and accepting of PDF. Other formats, not so much.
  11. Oct 2, 2016 #10


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    Would love to meet him one day.
    Reed College is only 6.7 miles from my house.
    I'd love to hear him laugh at my interpretations of QM, after a couple of pints, at the Horse Brass.
    I'll buy! :biggrin:
  12. Oct 5, 2016 #11
    His book "Introduction to Electrodynamics" is so well written and really gives you a very good insight on the topic!
  13. Oct 7, 2016 #12

    Mark Harder

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    Same here. I need to flip back and forth when reading something technical. Science may be 'linear thinking', whatever that means, but I can only learn it if I refer to those parts of the exposition that came before my place in it. Really thinking about a subject, not only the sciences perhaps, requires going over an understanding I have formed by a certain point in the text and to catch the 'true meaning' and nuances of the subject. For some reason, that's not so easy when I don't have all the pages in my hand at once. Scrolling back and forth on a screen just doesn't cut it for me.
  14. Oct 21, 2016 #13
    Thank you for this interview. Griffiths has interesting things to say. I particularly like his statement to "Learn the math" ... a view that I wholeheartedly hold. It is where the wheat is separated from the chaff ... so to speak ...
  15. Dec 14, 2016 #14
    I may be alone in this, but I find this statement troublesome:

    The language he uses here, and throughout the interview, seems to reinforce the rift between the lay-person and the scientist. While it is certainly true that some physical concepts require a lot of math to fully develop, it is possible to present the vast majority of them to a non-physicist without sacrificing accuracy. (See Allan Adam's opening lecture on QM or Feynman's QED, Character of Physical Law, etc).

    His logic really doesn't work. It is possible to have a genuine interest in something without wanting to devote vast swathes of you life to it.

    For example, I love music. I feel that I have a genuine interest in it. I can't play any instruments and do not know music theory.

    Elitism drove most of my undergraduate class away from physics. You don't have to be Einstein to understand relative motion.
  16. Dec 14, 2016 #15
    There is a vast difference in loving music and creating music others love.

    I perceive a sense of entitlement amongst many lay people in music , physics, art......

    High level anything is elite by definition.

    Let's honour those that do the heavy lifting for the consumers to consume from the safety of their arm chairs.
    Last edited: Dec 14, 2016
  17. Dec 14, 2016 #16


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    More precisely, it is possible to present a small, carefully chosen sample of the vast majority of them to a non-physicist without sacrificing accuracy. For example, you mentioned Feynman's The Character of Physical Law, which I agree is an excellent layman's presentation. But it is an excellent layman's presentation of...not very much, from the scientist's point of view. It gives you a taste of what's out there, and a quick overview of our current theories, but that's all. It certainly doesn't give an explanation of difficult and important concepts like the ones Hestenes mentions. At least Feynman is honest enough to admit that he's leaving a lot out; many scientists, when presenting to lay people, fail miserably at doing that.

    If you want to see how the same scientist, Feynman, presented the same material to non-lay people, try the Feynman Lectures on Physics (which are now available for free online at Caltech's website). It takes him three full volumes, dense with math as well as careful descriptions of experimental setups and results, to cover the range of topics he skims over in The Character of Physical Law. That gives you an idea of how much is being left out in the latter book.
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