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Is the schooling necessary to satisfy my curiosity?

  1. Jul 13, 2012 #1
    Is the schooling necessary to satisfy my curiosity??

    I'm very curious about fractals (how they make up nature), quantum physics and string theory. I'm currently a psychology major and have taken 0 mathematics courses so far in college. I would love to study this material in depth but is it necessary? I'm sure i would need calc 1-3 to start covering how quantum physics, string theory, relativistic mechanics, time and dark matter work. These are the ideas i'm intrigued by in the realm of physics. Is the schooling necessary if i want to actually understand it all?

    I'm so torn because there is the question of dark matter (also what a singularity is the theory of everything) and then there is the question of where consciousness is derived from in a bio-psychological view. I'm a bit of a philosopher and i don't care much about getting a degree in either, i just want more knowledge! Is taking 4 math courses and probably 4 more in physics and a couple in chem worth my time and effort to achieve my goals? Are there courses that even cover this material? Courses that are focused on them?

    If you could lend me your 2 cents that would be amazing.

    White Night
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 13, 2012 #2


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    Re: Is the schooling necessary to satisfy my curiosity??

    You state you're a philosopher so I'll pose the obvious question to you: To what degree do you want to understand the topics you mention?

    Physics is in the business of primarily describing how the universe works. This is done, of course, through mathematics but ultimately the entire system is axiomatic and if you want to know why the universe is that way you can leave unsatisfied. For example, if you want to know why position and momentum don't commute in quantum mechanics (in a sense, the heart of the entire thing), I don't know that you'll ever find a satisfactory answer. Assuming you're okay with this, the question is how to proceed.

    A formal education really isn't necessary, but it certainly helps. You have the right idea, that you'll need calc 1-3 and then the first 4-5 courses of a physics sequence (I'm thinking classical mechanics, e&m, their intermediate versions, and then quantum) before you can tackle some of the deeper issues. String theory, in particular, requires a graduate level understanding of physics and mathematics. You can get to it with only the courses that I've outlined above (via Zwiebach's text, for example), but at this level I wouldn't claim to 'understand' the subject. Rather, perhaps you can get a flavor of it.
  4. Jul 14, 2012 #3
    Re: Is the schooling necessary to satisfy my curiosity??

    I would like to a level of understanding so that i can answer any question related to the basic physical laws of the universe. Ex: What is now(this moment in time - is there anything else?)? I asked this question on another forum and there was a guy debating with me using nothing but relative mechanics. I want that, i want to be able to understand the universe in such a way. Words are so limiting and math is not. Math is absolute! I could describe my take on time and perception all i want but a man who describes it with numbers can't be wrong. I want that kind of solidity.
    I like the theory of 'The Law of Attraction'. It backs up one of my idea of spirituality. I recently learned from this forum that this is nothing but one interpretation of quantum theory, and a bit of a psuedo-science, if you will. I would like to learn more in that realm as well.
    Is there any way i could reach that level without a bachelors?
    Last edited: Jul 14, 2012
  5. Jul 14, 2012 #4


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    Re: Is the schooling necessary to satisfy my curiosity??

    I see no reason why you simply could not study the relevant texts and do the problems on your own. The piece of sheepskin ultimately conveys nothing, other than some people have certified that indeed you know the material at that level.

    To be sure, there are problems with doing things outside the traditional academic setting. For one, you have to be completely self motivated, since nobody is giving you a grade. Second, you lack the resources of professors to talk to and ask questions. Third, you're likely not to have peers to use as resources either. The situation is more difficult, but not impossible.
  6. Jul 14, 2012 #5
    Re: Is the schooling necessary to satisfy my curiosity??

    Another big problem i'm looking to solve is how and where to find the texts. Without a professor to point me in the direction of a book that is relative to what i'm trying to learn, it's near impossible to achieve such a goal.
  7. Jul 14, 2012 #6


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    Re: Is the schooling necessary to satisfy my curiosity??

    This is not as much of a problem as you might think... There are tons of resources online detailing physics books to read, and the question gets posed quite often on these forums.

    One place to start is at a university, almost any one will do. Take UC Berkeley, for example. On their website they have a list of all their undergraduate courses, which they require majors to take, and a list of all the relevant texts. See: http://physics.berkeley.edu/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=134&Itemid=258
  8. Jul 14, 2012 #7
    Re: Is the schooling necessary to satisfy my curiosity??

    Is there any such course as: Philosophy of physics? I assume not, it would seem that in physics you dont have to use reason, you just have to mindlessly trust the numbers... But that's just not like me :D
  9. Jul 14, 2012 #8
    Re: Is the schooling necessary to satisfy my curiosity??

    If you are disciplined you could teach yourself, but that takes quite a bit of time and dedication given that you will be learning without a foundation. If you are really interested in this topic you should opt to take a few classes and perhaps switch your major (or just get 2 degrees). I was in a very similar boat myself a few years ago. I wanted to get a degree in mathematics and psychology; this proved to be an unobtainable goal and I was already half way through my engineering degree. I say go for it.

    This is true if your a bad physicist/engineer/mathematician. By contrast one could say psychology is just about memorizing some facts - its true if you're a bad student.
  10. Jul 14, 2012 #9


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    Re: Is the schooling necessary to satisfy my curiosity??

    That's the thing, the math IS reason and logic put into an absolute sense. No one in physics mindlessly trusts numbers (and to imply otherwise is insulting). The whole idea of studying mathematics is to build a foundation that you know is logical and 100% trustworthy and THEN you apply it to physics. We trust basic arithmetic just as we trust differential geometry because we've studied it and know that they follow a very logical, proven foundation. We don't mindlessly trust numbers; in fact we demand our mathematics be proven in the strictest sense of the word.

    It is a very bad thing to, oddly enough, mindlessly trust "reason". Without even going into things like quantum mechanics or relativistic physics, most (if not all) people would find certain situations in physics that are not "reasonable" to them yet are entirely true and verifiable.
  11. Jul 14, 2012 #10
    Re: Is the schooling necessary to satisfy my curiosity??

    Physics takes a lot of work: multiple years of study to get to the good bits. Only you can decide whether it's worth it to invest that effort. Here is some perspective on how much work it would take to learn about some of the things you are interested in:
    You can get a taste of special relativity in an intro physics class, maybe even a non-calculus based one (check your university's course catalog for the description of its intro physics sequence).

    A more thorough treatment of special relativity is usually given in a sophomore/junior level electromagnetism course for physics majors (needs multivariable calculus).

    General relativity is a graduate-level course.
    QM is a sophomore/junior level course for physics majors. First you'd need calculus & intro physics; then linear algebra & differential equations & a probably a physics major course in classical mechanics.
    String theory is something that most physics students don't study at all, and those that do don't get to it until graduate school, and not the first year of graduate school either. You won't get close to actually studying string theory without a physics major or equivalent under your belt.
    No one actually knows much about dark matter, so there's not much to study here unless you want to get a PhD and do research in the field.
    Pretty much. There are of course many well-written popularization of advanced physics written for the general public. However, these books don't teach the math, and so ultimately you just end up with a picture in your head that vaguely resembles the truth but provides no real understanding compared to the math.

    I'd suggest that such a course would not actually be very useful to you in understanding physics, even on a conceptual level. Most philosphers, I think, do not study much physics.

    As the posters above me have said, this is not at all what physics is about. Physics is mathematical, yes. But really understanding physics requires the opposite of "mindlessly trusting the numbers"--it requires building a deep understanding of and from the math.
  12. Jul 14, 2012 #11
    Re: Is the schooling necessary to satisfy my curiosity??

    There is the philosophy of science, which attempts to explain the process by which scientists come up with their theories, and how science can be distinguished from non-science. It's an attempt to put the reasoning behind science on a solid foundation.
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