Is everyone's brain capable of learning physics

In summary: This is not true at all in science. It takes people very long to actually understand a concept. You can't get through a science book by reading it once. You need to do exercises, ponder on the material,...
  • #36
You don't need physics to understand mathematics but you need mathematics to understand physics ;)
 
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  • #37
WannabeNewton said:
You don't need physics to understand mathematics but you need mathematics to understand physics ;)

Exactly, although to understand many applications of Mathematics you may need Physics. Anyone that says you do not need Mathematics for Physics surely hasn't studied Physics. Learning vague concepts without the Mathematical rigor is like me saying "I know how cars work, they use gas to then the wheels, thus I understand Engineering".
 
  • #38
WannabeNewton said:
You don't need physics to understand mathematics but you need mathematics to understand physics ;)

I suppose it's an "argument" that can't be "won".

You're right, nothing works better than math at describing physics. It is "of" observed physics via measurements. My point is the conceptual side of the physics along with the "operations" of mathematics are understood without the use of numbers.

I do accounting and sometimes finance type work. Yes there is math, and no I cannot recite the math. I understand the concepts of accounting and finance and look for the appropriate mathematics to perform simple calculations to determine what I want to know. I couldn't care less how a mathematician wishes to express this "operation".

math..pufft
 
  • #39
Jheavner724 said:
Exactly, although to understand many applications of Mathematics you may need Physics. Anyone that says you do not need Mathematics for Physics surely hasn't studied Physics. Learning vague concepts without the Mathematical rigor is like me saying "I know how cars work, they use gas to then the wheels, thus I understand Engineering".

Ah so a mechanic does not "understand" how a car "works" unless he is also an engineer... now I am catching the drift of this topic. Well with this train of thought, really only a physicist could understand how a car works. I suppose specifically a QM physicist, the rest of us simply don't understand how the car works.

:rolleyes:
 
  • #40
nitsuj said:
I suppose it's an "argument" that can't be "won".

You're right, nothing works better than math at describing physics. It is "of" observed physics via measurements. My point is the conceptual side of the physics along with the "operations" of mathematics are understood without the use of numbers.

I do accounting and sometimes finance type work. Yes there is math, and no I cannot recite the math. I understand the concepts of accounting and finance and look for the appropriate mathematics to perform simple calculations to determine what I want to know. I couldn't care less how a mathematician wishes to express this "operation".

math..pufft

I see your point, you can understand the basics of Physics without any math, but to understand it at it's core you must know certain mathematical subjects, mainly Calculus. For example, the Heat Equation is a differential equation, it's pretty hard to understand it if you don't know differential equations, and it is quite important for Physics. It is true that many Physicists consult with Mathematicians to help them, but the Physicists (usually) still understand the math quite well. Some Physicists avoid the Mathematics, but even they have to learn the basics like Calculus and it causes them a lot of trouble. The truth is, you don't absolutely need math to understand much of basic Physics, but to fully understand Physics and practice it you at least need Calculus.
 
  • #41
nitsuj said:
Ah so a mechanic does not "understand" how a car "works" unless he is also an engineer... now I am catching the drift of this topic. Well with this train of thought, really only a physicist could understand how a car works. I suppose specifically a QM physicist, the rest of us simply don't understand how the car works.

:rolleyes:

I see your point, but the Mechanic does understand the Physics in an implicit way. I have no problem with basic Newtonian Physics without much math, but to truly practice and learn Physics in it's entirety you must know the Mathematics, not all of it but still a good bit.
 
  • #42
Jheavner724 said:
I see your point, you can understand the basics of Physics without any math, but to understand it at it's core you must know certain mathematical subjects, mainly Calculus. For example, the Heat Equation is a differential equation, it's pretty hard to understand it if you don't know differential equations, and it is quite important for Physics. It is true that many Physicists consult with Mathematicians to help them, but the Physicists (usually) still understand the math quite well. Some Physicists avoid the Mathematics, but even they have to learn the basics like Calculus and it causes them a lot of trouble. The truth is, you don't absolutely need math to understand much of basic Physics, but to fully understand Physics and practice it you at least need Calculus.

I do recognize there is math in physics, I even spelled it out mathematically. I totally understand if it wasn't clear. If that's the case it's a pretty strong point I made.

physics - math = the fun part of physics

here math is a component of physics, if you remove the math part what is left over is just fun physics...not boring & tough reinvent the wheel math physics.
 
  • #43
Would it be really terrible if one thought that calculus is essentially the following?

1) differentiation = velocity = slope of distance-time graph
2) integration = distance = area under velocity-time graph
3) differentiation and integration are inverse operations, which is obvious if you consider that "differentiating" distance gives velocity, and "integrating" velocity gives distance.
 
  • #44
atyy said:
Would it be really terrible if one thought that calculus is essentially the following?

1) differentiation = velocity = slope of distance-time graph
2) integration = distance = area under velocity-time graph
3) differentiation and integration are inverse operations, which is obvious if you consider that "differentiating" distance gives velocity, and "integrating" velocity gives distance.

Well snap, now I can say I understand calculus, just can't do the math.:smile: curse my flawed logic :smile:
 
  • #45
nitsuj said:
It \(\displaystyle is "of" observed physics via measurements.
\)
\(\displaystyle

In fact I think measurements of observed physics is what "developed" math...Newton did this I think.\)
 
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  • #46
nitsuj said:
I do recognize there is math in physics, I even spelled it out mathematically. I totally understand if it wasn't clear. If that's the case it's a pretty strong point I made.

physics - math = the fun part of physics

here math is a component of physics, if you remove the math part what is left over is just fun physics...not boring & tough reinvent the wheel math physics.
Why do you assume math is so dull and boring? Mathematics can be just as exciting as the Physics, and the two topics are so intertwined. It is obvious that not all Physics requires a knowledge of Mathematics, but for much of Physics Mathematics is required, mainly the more complicated Physics. For example, the Schrödinger equation is a Partial Differential Equation that describes how the quantum state of a system changes over time, and you simply cannot fully understand the Physics of it without at least understanding some of the Mathematics. Everyone understands what you're saying, but the truth is that anyone doing Physics needs to know Mathematics, you would probably realize this more if you were to do more Physics. But, for a bit of convincing, even professors and physicists agree that you need mathematics (to an extent) to grasp Physics, for example Professor Susskind (Stanford Physics Professor) often says "Mathematics is the language of Physics". I fully encourage anyone to love the conceptual side of Physics, but they need to know the actual Physics and Mathematics too, and they should try to embrace both sides. Hopefully this cleared things up a bit, I do not like to argue honestly.
 
  • #47
Mathematics can be extremely interesting. Differential geometry is one of the most beautiful things ever developed by humans IMO. One of the main reasons why general relativity is so smack me in the face elegant is how simply the physics of general relativity can be explained using the language of differential geometry.
 
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  • #48
atyy said:
Would it be really terrible if one thought that calculus is essentially the following?

1) differentiation = velocity = slope of distance-time graph
2) integration = distance = area under velocity-time graph
3) differentiation and integration are inverse operations, which is obvious if you consider that "differentiating" distance gives velocity, and "integrating" velocity gives distance.

Well, yes and no, sometimes that simplistic thinking can be great for Physics, but other times you miss a lot for not being proficient in the Mathematics.
 
  • #49
Mathematics is very interesting. But physicists don't need to like mathematics. I'm sure many do actually kind of dislike the math. But even those people know that mathematics is necessary for physics. How would you describe Quantum Physics or General Relativity without mathematics? There is almost nothing then. Is that the fun physics?
 
  • #50
Jheavner724 said:
Why do you assume math is so dull and boring?

It's totally in spite, I would have loved to had my brain develop while learning complex math. But Nooo, math had to be all uncool & for the nerdy kids. :-p

Joking aside, I like to push the idea that physics isn't "out of reach" simply because someone (like me) is not good at the math used to perform calculations. The interesting part of physics is what's being measured, what happened, to what degree, what caused it..on and on. Never would I ask what values & symbols are best used to perform a calculation & call that an interesting part of physics.
 
  • #51
micromass said:
Mathematics is very interesting. But physicists don't need to like mathematics. I'm sure many do actually kind of dislike the math. But even those people know that mathematics is necessary for physics. How would you describe Quantum Physics or General Relativity without mathematics? There is almost nothing then. Is that the fun physics?
Many Physicists obviously will hate the mathematics, which is why some have help from a mathematician or students. However, like you say, mathematics is entirely necessary for physics, in fact economics and physics are two of the reasons that mathematics even exists. The fun of physics is understanding the universe, and we need mathematics for that, you simply cannot have physics without mathematics.
 
  • #52
MathJakob said:
I guess this is true but nobody struggles or takes as long as I do to work out a problem lol. I guess I just learn at a slower rate. There must be a time when I no longer have to keep going back to the laws to remember what I can manipulate and what I can't... but then if I truly understood it I'd know what can be moved where and how.

I can't believe we're over 50 posts here and no one has mentioned that not all brains are created equal for math and physics learning, and that should not necessarily be looked at as some kind of deficit. When I look at the above statement, I know where he's coming from. I'd remember looking at equations in college math classes and getting a big ZERO upstairs, while my classmates had their calculators out, scribbling equations of their own with their heads bobbing back and forth whistling, "boop de do." Meanwhile, they were lining up for me to help them in many of the other life science classes we were in.

It took a long time, as I've mentioned in several other threads, to realize that I was a right brain thinker and had to also come at math that way. Then things got a lot better. I learn mathematical physics best through incorporating analogies along with the construction of the equations. This allows my right brain to attach a visualization to the problem whereby I can manipulate it more efficiently. It takes a lot longer to learn this way than it does simply to list a long litany of equations and show how this follows from that, etc. Left brain thinkers have no problem with this kind of learning. Math is like a puzzle for them, here are the pieces, here are the rules, just plug and play. I wish I had a switch to turn on that resource when I'd like to have it, but I don't. Math/phys is not a puzzle for me, its a story. Once I understand the story I understand the math, not the other way around, although there is obviously a working reciprocity there.

So, I'm only taking the time to write this because I've seen many smart friends of mine turned away from science because they thought they could never learn math. I just don't think that learning differences are given enough attention. It's just my personal opinion of course, but what convinces me of this left right brain thing is when I ask a personal tutor if they could incorporate some kind of an analogy in some area that I'm not "catching," and they give me this blank stare. Obviously this person is not getting where I am coming from and it's not because I'm stupid, so don't think you are either. IDK, this might not be your problem at all, perhaps you are a left brain thinker and the issue is different. I just think that having that awareness may give you another tool to look at while you're exploring this. My advice is to try many different book and resources until you find "your style" of learning. Left brain thinkers don't need that, they mostly can just pick up any old book, and its party time. I envy them sometimes :smile:
 
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  • #53
micromass said:
How would you describe Quantum Physics or General Relativity without mathematics? There is almost nothing then.

I sincerely wonder if that's physics. Or if "mathematics" is being used very generally.
 
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  • #54
nitsuj said:
It's totally in spite, I would have loved to had my brain develop while learning complex math. But Nooo, math had to be all uncool & for the nerdy kids. :-p

Joking aside, I like to push the idea that physics isn't "out of reach" simply because someone (like me) is not good at the math used to perform calculations. The interesting part of physics is what's being measured, what happened, to what degree, what caused it..on and on. Never would I ask what values & symbols are best used to perform a calculation & call that an interesting part of physics.
No one should be discouraged from learning physics because of the mathematics. Mathematics can be learned though and it is how we describe things in physics, so if someone is simply going to avoid the mathematics and not try to learn it then they will never fully understand physics and probably will never be able to contribute to it. This is tough, because some people hate mathematics but love physics, the truth is that if you want to understand much of physics then you need to understand mathematics, so it may not be the most fun thing for many people but without it they can never fully understand the things they want to.
 
  • #55
Jheavner724 said:
No one should be discouraged from learning physics because of the mathematics. Mathematics can be learned though and it is how we describe things in physics, so if someone is simply going to avoid the mathematics and not try to learn it then they will never fully understand physics and probably will never be able to contribute to it.

The underlined part is starting to clarify a definition for "Understand" and the "goal" that went from a "why" inquiry to contributing to the field of physics.

This is what I meant by an argument that cannot be won.

The point I'm making is clear enough I think.
 
  • #56
nitsuj said:
The underlined part is starting to clarify a definition for "Understand" and the "goal" that went from a "why" inquiry to contributing to the field of physics.

This is what I meant by an argument that cannot be won.

The two points were somewhat separate. People need to understand Mathematics to fully understand Physics. The point about contributing to Physics is a different one that is loosely related. I know that you want to be optimistic because you know that people like you do not like math and you would rather be able to learn physics without it, but it just cannot be done. For example, you cannot predict for me the changing quantum states of a system without knowing math. You may be able to tell me that they change states and even vaguely understand why, but not be able to actually predict it for me. I believe that conceptual physics is great for people to learn when they are first interested or if they are only dabbling, but true physics requires mathematics for many topics. Honestly, this is hard to fully explain to you, but knowing the mathematics and physics myself is why I know this to be true. Just look at any physics paper, there will be mathematics all over it, because that is how we describe things in physics, there is no other practical way. Some people can get away with being somewhat bad at the math, but they struggle. You do not need to know Differential Topology to know physics, but you need a good bit of math, just like to know how to be an Engineer you must also know math.
 
  • #57
nitsuj said:
The point I'm making is clear enough I think.

Suppose it isn't but I'm too tired now. :frown:

this very wordy, poorly defined back and forth really does strengthen the point of the superiority of mathematics & it's use in learning and in turn understanding physics. :smile:

there's nothing to respond to in your post jheavner724, it needs to be more..."mathematical".
 
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  • #58
nitsuj said:
Well snap, now I can say I understand calculus, just can't do the math.:smile: curse my flawed logic :smile:

Well, I'll probably get scolded by micromass for this, but it was from him that I learned that 57 is the Grothendieck prime :-p So why not just use a calculator? Like http://www.wolframalpha.com/examples/Math.html ?
 
  • #59
nitsuj said:
Suppose it isn't but I'm too tired now. :frown:

I think we both understand each other's points better than we suspect, I suppose we simply lack articulate syntax in this case. I do not want to discourage anyone from trying out anything, especially not Physics. People can learn a lot from basic conceptual physics, the problem comes more so with fairly advanced topics and the applications of physics. I would just like for anyone interested in Physics to try the mathematics, and at least understand the basics because otherwise you're just losing knowledge. Also, I hate to argue, and I feel like this conversation has become, although unintentionally, more like an argument. I wish the best of luck to anyone trying to learn physics, it is incredibly vast and fascinating. I just do not want people surprised by looking at a physics paper or book or lecture and seeing a bunch of mathematics, because mathematics is a large chunk of physics. I see exactly your point, but I suppose you just haven't studied enough physics to understand mine entirely. Regardless, anyone who wants to learn physics, do not become intimidated if you dislike mathematics and just try to enjoy the physics.
 
  • #60
atyy said:
Well, I'll probably get scolded by micromass for this, but it was from him that I learned that 57 is the Grothendieck prime :-p So why not just use a calculator? Like http://www.wolframalpha.com/examples/Math.html ?

Wolframalpha is a great calculator, but it does not compute everything and can be wrong from time to time. As I think micromass will say, you should learn the mathematics if you want to learn physics, and sometimes vague conceptual understandings aren't enough. However, of course, you do not need to be a mathematician to be a physicist and you shouldn't be discouraged by the math.
 
  • #61
I've always done my best learning new stuff from textbooks by going to the end of the chapter and solving all the homework questions on my own. That usually required many re-readings and asking questions in class. It takes soak time to absorb knowledge.
 
  • #62
nitsuj said:
physics - math = the fun part of physics

physics - math = astronomy documentaries on Discovery channel

:devil:
 
  • #63
WannabeNewton said:
Mathematics can be extremely interesting. Differential geometry is one of the most beautiful things ever developed by humans IMO. One of the main reasons why general relativity is so smack me in the face elegant is how simply the physics of general relativity can be explained using the language of differential geometry.

I initially went to school intending to study math and physics, and realized I hated doing physics problems. All that sloppy reality kept getting in the way of my beautiful equations.

-Dave K
 
  • #64
micromass said:
Mathematics is very interesting. But physicists don't need to like mathematics. I'm sure many do actually kind of dislike the math. But even those people know that mathematics is necessary for physics. How would you describe Quantum Physics or General Relativity without mathematics? There is almost nothing then. Is that the fun physics?

"To those who do not know mathematics it is difficult to get across a real feeling as to the beauty, the deepest beauty, of nature ... If you want to learn about nature, to appreciate nature, it is necessary to understand the language that she speaks in." -Feynman

-Dave K
 
  • #65
Jheavner724 said:
Many Physicists obviously will hate the mathematics, which is why some have help from a mathematician or students.

The reason physics often recruit other mathematicians to help with their work is that they require some specialized mathematics that the mathematician is fluent in, or to develop some altogether "new" type of mathematics, or to create a mathematical model of something, which requires more "mathematical intuition" than physical intuition. It's not about "hating" math. I would argue you cannot hate math and be a physicist, since you would be spending most of your time doing something you hate.

-Dave K
 
  • #66
Thanks for all the tips I will carry on my road to learning and who knows, maybe a time will come when everything will just click and I'll suddenly open up a part of the brain that allows me the see the bigger picture.

Thanks again.
 
  • #67
DiracPool said:
I can't believe we're over 50 posts here and no one has mentioned that not all brains are created equal for math and physics learning, and that should not necessarily be looked at as some kind of deficit.
The reason nobody has mentioned this is because it's not politically correct to say such things. I could add some political incorrectnesses of my own, but nah. I won't go there.

Meanwhile, they were lining up for me to help them in many of the other life science classes we were in.
That's because mathematics is of limited use in the life sciences. I.M. Galfand said Eugene Wigner wrote a famous essay on the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics in natural sciences. He meant physics, of course. There is only one thing which is more unreasonable than the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics in physics, and this is the unreasonable ineffectiveness of mathematics in biology.

Wigner's "unreasonable effectiveness" is a big part of what this thread is about. Is it, as Tegemark conjectured, because our external physical reality is a mathematical structure? Or is it, as V.I. Arnold conjectured, that it is because mathematics is a part of physics. Physics is an experimental science, a part of natural science. Mathematics is the part of physics where experiments are cheap.

Given the rest of Arnold's discussion on this subject, I suspect Arnold would have strongly disagreed with Tegemark.
 
  • #68
D H said:
The reason nobody has mentioned this is because it's not politically correct to say such things. I could add some political incorrectnesses of my own, but nah. I won't go there.

How is it politically incorrect to say that some people may learn math more effectively in a different fashion from other people? I didn't say that one way was better than another by any means. They're just two different paths to get to the same destination. I think it helps if one has a little intuition as to what path they may already be on but may not know it.

Here's an analogy (I like analogies). Say I'm trying out for a pitcher on my little league team and, noticing that most of the guys trying out are throwing with their right hand, proceed to do so myself. In doing so, however, my pitches direct wildly, the catcher is leaping all over the place, and one pitch almost hits the coach. I've had it, I'm quitting, I'm going to try out for center field.

Then someone comes up to me and says, "hey sport, why not try throwing with your left hand." What? Well, I guess its worth a shot. Then I smoke a fastball right down the strike zone, get the job, and am known as the southpaw kid. If I would have continued to assume that all pitchers are created equal and it was only in their propensity for right-handed ballistic prowess that distinguished them, I would have ended up in center field, what a waste.
 
  • #69
dkotschessaa said:
The reason physics often recruit other mathematicians to help with their work is that they require some specialized mathematics that the mathematician is fluent in, or to develop some altogether "new" type of mathematics, or to create a mathematical model of something, which requires more "mathematical intuition" than physical intuition. It's not about "hating" math. I would argue you cannot hate math and be a physicist, since you would be spending most of your time doing something you hate.

-Dave K

That's entirely true, often times the mathematics is very complex or entirely new. However, some regularly get help on somewhat simple mathematics just for verification or a bit of help. I was just getting the point across that not all physicists necessarily like the mathematics and physicists do not need to be math geniuses to do physics.
 

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