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Is Thermodynamics the hardest science?

  1. May 31, 2016 #1
    I'm currently reading thermodynamics which is only the second volume of all the physics course that I'm planning to read. So for the math in it is just killing me literally. Mechanics was relatively easy but this subject is just too freaking hard. All these partial differential equations and probability statistics are just way too much for me.

    Upon searching the web I stumbled across this website which also agrees with my point regarding the diffuclty of the subject. http://www.eoht.info/page/Hard+science

    Do you agree? Is Electromagnetism, Optics and Nuclear physics harder? I'm yet to find out.
  2. jcsd
  3. May 31, 2016 #2


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    Just to be clear, I believe in the link you quoted, thermodynamics is referred to as "hard," not as in difficult, but rather "hard" as in rigid, inflexible, objective, mathematical, not subject to interpretation -- as opposed to "soft." Here, "hard" can still be easy; it just means that it isn't subject to someone's opinion or interpretation.

    I'm not qualified to say that thermodynamics (or perhaps statistical mechanics) is the "hardest" of hard sciences. But with entropy now being treated as the number of possible arrangements of microstates for a given macrostate (i.e., number of "ways" of arranging things that produce the same measurement [technically, the logarithm of the number of ways]), it becomes an application of mathematical set theory. So I'd at least agree that yeah, thermodynamics is pretty far up there.
  4. May 31, 2016 #3
    OK. Thanks for input.

    What about Electromagnetism or Quantum mechanics? Are they harder/more diffucult?
  5. May 31, 2016 #4


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    They can be pretty difficult too (fascinating, but not without challenge :smile:). Both of them deal with differential equations and involve more calculus that you can shake a stick at.

    Electromagnetism has its pesky unit vectors to deal with. It's not just calculus, but vector calculus, which brings its own sort of challenges.

    With Quantum Mechanics (QM) you'll likely treat operators a little differently than what you may be used to; distributing them, factoring them, treating them almost like you once treated variables (sort of). You also will likely have to retrain your intuition.

    In terms of hard vs. soft, I'd say electromagnetism and QM are also in contention for the hardest of hard sciences.

    [Edit: Speaking of which: electromagnetism, quantum mechanics and special relativity have been used together to form a field of study called Quantum Electrodynamics (QED). So far, QED has passed every laboratory test ever put before it, ever. Every one. And with astonishing precision. Quantum Electrodynamics has been called the "crown jewel of physics." So from the perspective of experimental success, there's gotta be something said for that.]
    Last edited: May 31, 2016
  6. May 31, 2016 #5


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    This thread does bring to mind one of my favorite quotes by Sir Arthur Eddington,

    "The law that entropy always increases-the second law of thermodynamics-holds, I think, the supreme position among the laws of Nature. If someone points out to you that your pet theory of the universe is in disagreement with Maxwell's equations-then so much the worse for Maxwell's equations. If it is found to be contradicted by observation-well, these experimentalists do bungle things sometimes. But if your theory is found to be against the second law of thermodynamics I can give you no hope; there is nothing for it but to collapse in deepest humiliation."
    (Eddington, A.S., "https://www.amazon.com/Nature-Physical-World-Arthur-Eddington/dp/0472060155," [1928], The Gifford Lectures 1927, Cambridge University Press: Cambridge UK, 1933, reprint, pp.74-75).
    Last edited by a moderator: May 7, 2017
  7. May 31, 2016 #6
    Undegraduate level thermodynamics is the easiest subject in physics in terms of the mathematics required. However, when you really dig deep into thermodynamics and statistical mechanics, the concepts become pretty tricky, to me at least.
  8. May 31, 2016 #7
    I don't know about undergruaduate but I'm reading the book that consist of 5 volumes each dedicated to specific branches of Physics. Each contain about 540 pages on average. Since I'm a novice when it comes physics thus I can't realistically assess the difficulty level but thing I noticed when I was reading the first book that Lagrangian mechanics was left out which surprised me considering I heard a lot about the guy and his generalazation of Newtonian mechanics. The omittance of important part of classical mechanics made me wonder whether I was reading some basic level physics even though the book was littered with advanced mathematical formulas.
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