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Is physics I harder than calculus I?

  1. Nov 2, 2011 #1
    Is it me or is physics I much harder than calculus I? The world of mathematics makes me feel much more at comfort than with physics. In calculus I everything is set down in hard stone and you can, in theory at least, perform the same scheme to many problems. In contrast, physics you need much more creativeness (for lack of better words) with your approach and there is not one problem that is virtually the same. You often reach the answer through intuition and playing around with formulas.

    Or is it just me? :eek: Perhaps its because I've dedicated more time to calculus.
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 2, 2011 #2
    No, Physics is definitely harder than calculus. Calculus is actually a pretty easy subject in my opinion.

    Here's a question: When you think of Isaac Newton, do you think of the Mathematician who co-invented calculus, or the Physicist who revolutionized mechanics?
  4. Nov 2, 2011 #3
    I agree.

    Hmm.. when someone says Isaac Newton I usually think of his rather famous laws of motion including his law of gravity. I don't really know how to answer your question, because history wise physics and mathematics were very closely related; and physics is applied math if you really think about it. Hmm.. I guess I think of him as the mathematician who revolutionized mechanics.
  5. Nov 2, 2011 #4
    Physics I is a great class. Should not be too hard.. maybe your professor isn't presenting it in the right way. Read these papers instead: they are wonderful


    You can find links to the papers under the words:

    "Additional Discussion
    on Selected Topics :"

    read the ones on "force" "work-energy" "collections of particles" and "rotational dynamics"
  6. Nov 2, 2011 #5
    Technically there was no such creature named "physicist" at the time of Newton. I think he called himself a mathematician.He was a mathematician who revolutionized mechanics
  7. Nov 2, 2011 #6
    I believe it was called natural philosophy at the time
  8. Nov 2, 2011 #7
    Yes that was the name used for all science at that point. I do recall reading some passage where he calls himself a mathematician. I may be wrong though.
    I wander what the first use of the word physicist was.
  9. Nov 2, 2011 #8
    I read the first few pages and almost dismissed it as merely interesting but of not much help.. that is till I scrolled down to see the whole paper. Its layout is appealing, it starts with the history and context to increase your interest and show you the big picture followed by a treatment of how to tackle the problems. Thanks for sharing. I'm still under the impression that physics is harder than calculus though =p.
  10. Nov 2, 2011 #9


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    The question is a difficult one to satisfy. Which is harder depends on who is studying them. My belief is that Physics 1 is easier than Calculus 1, because the mathematical tools are already developed for you in Algebra 2, Trigonometry, and Calculus 1. Even so, a person finding Physics 1 to be more difficult to pass is entirely possible.
  11. Nov 2, 2011 #10
    I contend that its much harder to get a 100 in physics than in calculus. In calculus everything is pretty much laid down for you and its much easier to figure out how everything came together and to reproduce that result. It is much more demanding to problem solve in physics than in calculus IMO. To me the math isn't the problem, its the manipulation of variables and concepts.
  12. Nov 2, 2011 #11
    Awesome, thank you for posting that and having bongo-feynman as your avatar.
  13. Nov 3, 2011 #12


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    That certainly isn't a fact though - that's just your opinion. I would contend exactly the opposite for example - I always found the applications of the math and concepts in physics to be easier than remembering all of the formulas in math class.
  14. Nov 3, 2011 #13
    My physics 1 class was much more difficult than calculus 1, but I feel this was because physics 1 is known as one of the "weed out" classes in the physics major, so they really make it tough to see who's cut out for the long haul. The topic is not intrinsically harder; it depends on multiple factors such as professor, textbook, departmental emphasis, etc...
  15. Nov 3, 2011 #14
    For me physics was much more difficult. But it depends completely on the professor. My physics professor (Kapp) wrote very difficult exams and expected a lot out of us. My calculus 1 professor did the exact opposite. I didn't even understand calculus until I took physics.
  16. Nov 3, 2011 #15
    As already noted, it would depend on the professor. I got the same final grade for both courses.
  17. Nov 3, 2011 #16
    I completely agree. It can be a very subjective thing because whatever is challenging is a personal thing. What is hard for one person can be easy for another just because we grow up accustomed to different things. Someone more used to math might find physics harder and vice versa.
  18. Nov 3, 2011 #17
    It's absolutely more difficult. I feel exactly the same way you do. You really need to find roundabout ways to do these physics problems and I'm having trouble with that. I'm taking physics I right now and struggling. I was never able to wrap my head around physics, even in high school. Math was pretty easy for me, though.
  19. Nov 3, 2011 #18
    I'm starting to find a study methods that suits me. Its working very well for me thus far, though unfortunately I've found this method by trial and error. You have the opportunity to skip some of the trial and error, I think this works very well actually.

    First go and take good notes of the concepts, equations, and examples. Examples make a huge difference because they introduce you to how to problem solve in the chapter. Make sure not to skip over the sections that advice you how to set up and execute the problem.

    This part is the most essential, do the problem sets once, and after your done do it again! First time you go around the problems use cramster.com!! Don't be a stubborn-head like me and spend hours solving a couple of problems (which I did too often). You can take down notes on the side if you would like on how how to approach the problems. Doing the problems with cramster in hand will give you an intuition of how to manipulate the variables and how to go about approaching problems.. WITHOUT wasting all the hours of time!!

    Wait at least a couple days... then do them again without help (or as much as possible). This time everything should go by much easier and you will find that problem solving isn't so bad once you get an intuition of how to approach problems.

    I would expand if you would like. I only wish I started using this methodology earlier, its skyrocketing my problem solving skills.

    Edit: 500 posts =D
  20. Nov 4, 2011 #19
    Well the interesting thing about math is that it really isn't easy after a certain point. As a math/physics double major I have a few comments about this. I have found that physics starts out hard from the get go, while math seems to take awhile to get going in terms of conceptual difficulty. By this I mean, math for most people isn't that "hard" until you start having to prove things. This is where real math in my opinion starts, and here is where math starts to get difficult. Most people just don't realize this is how mathematics really is, and tend to write it off as easier. I think both subjects require slightly different thinking and are among the most difficult topics intellectually that one can study.
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