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Learning Physics

  1. Dec 23, 2013 #1
    As of right now I don't really have the money required, nor the time required, to pursue a full-time degree in physics. Where I want to go is quite broad so I'll toss out a few of my interests and see what field(s) I'd best fit in and then we can go from there:

    In my whole life I've looked at our current progress as humanity and I've been disappointed -- whether that's founded in a correct view of science and progress I'm unsure...but I've always wanted and dreamed that we should have a great deal of strong technology by now. Actual space travel, force field technology, intertial dampeners, interstellar space travel, hover cars, digital HUD systems, etc. etc. etc.

    And while we're kind of creeping up on some cool designs, the fundamental basics of what we do and how we do it hasn't changed much...in this I mean that we, well we still u se gasoline as a major fuel source. I imagine by now we wouldn't found a fuel source that doesn't rely on nonrenewable sources.

    In all of this and my years of studying the concepts and theories and just being a hobbyist I've found that all of the scientific theories we have could at least be tested at a fundamental level, and if proven correct could launch mankind into space and beyond almost instantly, if we could do the following:

    1. Develop a method of mass producing antimatter at low cost and with an endless supply.
    2. Be able to harness the use of antimatter in such a way that we can manipulate it to manipulate gravitational fields, generate force fields, propel ourselves into outerspace, etc.

    So with that, those are the two fields I want to focus on the most. I want to study different methods of creating antimatter rather than smashing things together and hoping something comes out (I have seen that this has been effective in creating a small amount of antimatter) and also how to properly apply it once we've done so.

    Where I need to work:

    1. I suck at math...not just suck, I'm absolutely horrid at it. I barely get algebra, but I really think it's just that I don't quite understand all the rules and if I had everything put in front of me and explained I probably could grasp it quite well...but I've never had that so...lol, I suck at math. I mean come on, let's be realistic, I know about 40% of a my times tables up to 12...I suck at math, really.

    2. I'm good at grasping detailed and complex ideals and concepts in physics. In high school I read through Kip Thorne's book "Black Holes and Time Warps" and was able to understand every bit of it, but you throw a math problem in there and it's like scrambling eggs...it's horrible! But in all of that, the more I study physics the more I learn that there's a lot I don't know about the physics of the universe.

    So, which degree(s) should I shoot for for those two areas of physics? In addition, are there any free resources where I can quickly learn math from Algebra to Calculus 2?
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 23, 2013 #2


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    If you suck at math, then you shouldn't do physics, regardless of what you think you know about physics. What you think you are good ad in "grasping detailed and complex ideals" really is not physics, but rather either analogies of physics, or superficial ideas of physics. This is not physics, but rather ABOUT physics. There's a difference.

    Physics isn't just "what goes up must come down" (i.e. your "concept"), but rather, physics must also say when and where it comes down! Every single principle, ideas, and concepts in physics has an underlying mathematical description. Period! Without mathematics, all you have are handwaving ideas that are vague and untestable. Handwaving ideas can't be used to make your iPhone or build a MRI machine or detect the presence of the Higgs boson.

    Finally, you think that just because an invention or a progress is there, it is then a done deal. The adoption of anything isn't simply a matter of science. It is also a matter of social/political will! Stem cell research could produce a lot of advancement in medical science, yet, here in the US, there's a lot of resistance against it. The same can be said about trying to advance nuclear energy research. Do you think this is based on science (or lack of it), or on the political/sociological factors? You should not be naive into thinking that science works in a vacuum, because you are then underestimating a lot of other factors involved.

    In any case, if you suck at math, you have no chance of doing physics.

  4. Dec 23, 2013 #3
    Zz, I appreciate your comment and reply.

    I will say this, yes, I suck at math, and at one time, so did you. You didn't just wake up and know what you know, and not everyone got as good a start as some people with certain subjects. My point is about learning physics, learning mathematics. I don't expect to just jump into a college forum and grab a physics book and I'm good to go, I KNOW I have to learn mathematics first, so that's what I'd like to study for now. Saying that if I don't know math now then I have no chance to study physics just doesn't make any sense.

    I don't know either, that's the point, but I said where I want to go, what I do want to learn, so it would make sense to me that your answer would be more founded if it actually gave me good direction instead of just saying, "You're going to fail at life, just give up now."?

    Maybe I didn't make myself clear in my OP: I don't know math. I don't know physics. I'd like to know math. I'd like to know physics. I'd specifically like to study a field involving antimatter and applied physics within that field. What are your suggestions for an academic direction and/or degree selection and do you know of any free sources where I can study up and learn math so that when I actually do go for the degree I'm not just a toddler trying to drive a motorcycle.

    There, better?
  5. Dec 23, 2013 #4


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    How about enrolling in college?

  6. Dec 23, 2013 #5
    I think this answers the question:

  7. Dec 23, 2013 #6


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    As a friendly advice, next time, when you want to ask something, go right to the point! Refrain from editorializing about the state of progress of science, which you don't know much of anyway, and which distracts from what you are trying to ask!

    So what exactly is it that you intend to do? Study basic math up to high school level on your own until you have the resources to go to college? Or are you asking for something else?

  8. Dec 23, 2013 #7
    I think I'm wanting to study on my own what I can until I get resources to go to college for a full scale degree, yes. That includes both math and physics, I'm sure there are some free resources around the internet that I can learn a great deal of this from already. What I'm really needing is sort of a direction to go with it. I don't want to spend a month studying one subject and find out I really didn't need to study that. So I guess I'm asking for this:

    1. A specific degree(s) for the areas I showed interest in.
    2. A synopsis of perhaps the prerequisites of those degrees and what courses those degrees contain.
    3. Possibly some resources where I can study on my own time for free or little cost to get at least the basics down for now.

    I hope that helps, I'm not intentionally trying to be vague :P
  9. Dec 23, 2013 #8


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    It is WAY too early for you to even consider trying to pursue a line of study that is even specific to what you finally intend to do. If your description of your ability is correct, then you need to, first and foremost, get up to speed to the level of knowledge that is expected for any graduating high school senior intending to major in science/engineering. This means algebra, geometry, and trig for math, and up to AP physics. I have no idea what educational level you had gone through, but there is nothing out of the ordinary here that you can't find in a high-school curriculum.

  10. Dec 23, 2013 #9
    Alright. I've done some college algebra, and when it went to trig I had a really hard time. I graduated high school in 2007, so I suppose I'm a young buck. When I graduated I had done basic algebra and geometry. In science I had done physics and chemistry, all also basic courses. I suppose I can be honest in saying I've lost a lot of what I learned there, but a refresher wouldn't hurt. I think the math I just had difficulty with was because there were so many rules and formulas involved and they were just a little harder to grasp onto.
  11. Dec 23, 2013 #10

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    In physics there will also be rules and formulas.
  12. Dec 23, 2013 #11
    ...I would assume that would be included in any classes and/or studies on those subjects. Thank you.
    Last edited: Dec 23, 2013
  13. Dec 23, 2013 #12
    I am not a physicist, nor have I graduated yet so take what I say with a heaped tablespoon of salt.

    I got poor grades in my A-level math course which covered algebra, trig, calculus, mechanics because I was in entirely the wrong frame of mind at the time. I was lazy, apathetic and disillusioned.

    It took me a while to sort myself out and I am now on a physics course feeling very pleased with the progress i'm making.

    Here is my advice; Pick a mathematics topic that you struggle with and find the 'start' of it. Go over all the tedious basics until you know them backwards and build up to harder and harder problems until you really understand that topic. If you can do that in a timely fashion (it will take a good number of hours of study), I think that should serve as evidence that you are at least capable of grasping the ideas.

    Anyway, I direct you back to my first sentence.

    P.S Bostock And Chandler's "Pure Mathematics 1" is a good text book to learn from in my opinion.
  14. Dec 23, 2013 #13
    Thank you Boas, I'll check that book out. I'm quite sure my situation is the same as yours, so that seems like a good direction to start with. When it comes to physics I don't just understand concepts and whatnot, I can really hold legitimate conversations with people who know a whole lot more than I do and at least understand what they're talking about and contribute. I've got a very strong imagination and I'm inventive and think out of the box on a regular basis as is, so I'm hoping that I can make some kind of strong contribution sometime in the future. :)
  15. Dec 23, 2013 #14


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    Carrying on a qualitative conversation about physics isn't the same as actually doing physics, if that is what you’re interested in, a degree in philosophy is more for you. Because what you just described sounds awfully a lot like philosophy, not physics. Just fyi.

    I’ll recommend the same resources for learning math that I recommend to a lot of other people in your situation:


    This is the barebones basics of what you’ll need to be familiar with to be ready for a college course in algebra/trig or pre-calculus. After those two resources you can look into some high school physics books without calculus and work through them.

    That should be enough to keep you busy until you actually have the resources to go to junior college. With purple math, if the explanation isn’t clear or you want some problems to work through it’s as simple as googling the topic.

    I still don’t understand this fascination about using the memorization of multiplication tables as some kind of yard stick of your math knowledge.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 6, 2017
  16. Dec 23, 2013 #15
    No offense taken, trust me, but I seriously don't understand why everyone thinks or assumes that when I say I can carry on conversations about physics I don’t already KNOW that it's different than actually doing physics. I know that, it's blatantly obvious. Thinking about a bubble and blowing a bubble are two different things...it's obvious.

    I understand physics has formulas in it too...I've only seen them a thousand times reading several hundred different articles involving them. I understand the fundamentals of science...I get it, that doesn't make me a rocket scientist. I understand I'm not the best at mathematics, that sure as heck doesn't mean that I can't be good at it. Not that I'm comparing myself to him, but hell Einstein even had issues with mathematics, not being good at math is expected at least at some degree.

    I don't need a degree in philosophy, that's not what I want, and that's not even a correct or valid statement. Theoretical Physics is a strong field of science where theories are studied and made and or validated. Applies physics is throwing a little bit of experimentation into the mix. Quantum Mechanics is understanding the Quantum Theory and how it works, Quantum Engineering and the numerous branches of Quantum Physics is where you apply what you know there and study more in depth in those particular fields...I know that, and it should be obvious.

    Plain as I can, as simple as I can...here's what I'm looking for:

    1. A direction to study for a degree which involves Antimatter and the theories associated with it.
    2. A direction to study for a degree which involves experimentation and designing of theories with antimatter.

    What do I know about these requests already before posting this thread?

    1. I am not good at math, I need to brush up and study mathematics to a point where what I know in concept of these theories I can understand at depth with the mathematics involved as well as a deeper understanding of those theories.
    2. Thinking about physics and doing physics is different...wtf batman really?
    3. There's a LOT involved in physics, it's not just one little subject here or there, it's not just quantum physics and relativity, there's a LOT and it takes time to study that and get knowledgeable in it at any degree...people don't spend decades in college because it's easy.
    4. Physics is not the same as Psychology....and I know the difference between the two, don't even know why you included that in there, but ok.

    I don't mean to be a prick, and all of that wasn't just directed at you. Seriously nearly every post in here is just assuming that I don't understand and know at least some form of the basics here. It's actually possible people (did you know that?) to understand physics, understand theories, and how they work, without jabbing around a ton of formulas and mathematics? Yeah, it's crazy I know, but holy crap the internet is amazing. I understand relativity like the back of my hand, can I throw down a formula to you (only one, time dilation), but if you asked me to explain it to you I could and I would be right. I understand the general idea of quantum mechanics. I understand at least until they started throwing 100 different theories together, string theory, and I understand it very well. And what I don't quite understand I make up with my skills in my ability to find it on the internet, so long as it's not full of crazy math symbols and equations.

    What's the point? I'm not an idiot and I'm not insanely stupid -- I actually know a thing or two when it comes to physics, I also know what I don't know and where my weaknesses are. I realize that for me to be able to contribute anything at all to the field of science, I'm going to have to catch up on my math, and not just catch up but actually get good at it and understand it. Algebra, Algebra 2, Geometry, Trig, Trig 2, Calculus, Calculus 2, Diff. Equations, Statistics, and whatever else I might need to really understand what the heck I'm talking about. I get the gist of it, I got the summary, and if you asked me to explain it to me, I can but without mathematics I can't be specific with you, I can't develop my own theories AND have them be accepted.

    So seriously, what I need is a name of a degree field that studies antimatter and applies theories and experimentations and research to that field.

    And thank you for the purplemath and the book recommendation, I've seen purplemath here and there and it's been useful to some degree. I'll see if I can't find a good starting point and go from there.

    Sorry for going off (again that wasn't directed to any one person), I just don't like people assuming I don't know anything and making comments about it that just don't make any darned sense. I told you what i don't know and where my limits are, I don't see the need for others to try to add on to it when they're completely wrong about it.

    Thank you, thank you, thank you, THANK YOU for the answers everyone, despite the soapbox here, I really do appreciate, accept, and receive your answers and advice and will take your advice and move forward on that. It really is a blessing to me.

  17. Dec 23, 2013 #16


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    Unfortunately, the more you try to show that you know about physics, the more you reveal errors that showed you really don't have it correct. This is one such example. Read here to see where your error is:

    https://www.physicsforums.com/blog.php?b=3727 [Broken]

    Really? Are you certain about this?

    Again, what you have is a superficial knowledge of physics. You have not understood the physics.

    No one is saying that you're an idiot. However, I think you overestimated what you consider to be your "understanding" of various areas of physics. You are also underestimating the content of physics, especially Special Relativity, based on your claims here. For example, are you aware of the Lorentz invariant form of Maxwell equations, and how to use them? This is crucial because (i) this is where light's wave equation came from and (ii) this was the origin and the impetus for Einstein to came up with SR. Claiming that you know relativity like the back of your hand, and yet you have issues with basic math, are not compatible with each other and self-contradictory. That is a claim often made by quacks!

    Again, refrain from editorializing in your post, because the more you tried to convince us that you know something, the more you're destroying your case and make you sound like you don't know what you're talking about.

    Last edited by a moderator: May 6, 2017
  18. Dec 23, 2013 #17


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    No it isn't. There's a difference between debating, conversing, and lecturing physics without using mathematics and understanding physics without using mathematics. The former is very commonplace because the participants already understand physics with mathematics; the latter is simply impossible sorry to say.

    Now I don't mean to be a prick but you have to realize how ridiculous this sounds. If I asked you to explain to me in detail the Ehrenfest disk paradox as well as its resolution, or clock synchronization and simultaneity on a rotating disk, would you personally be able to do it?
  19. Dec 23, 2013 #18
    bodykey, trying to do physics without mathematics truly is impossible. Physics is the interpretation of the universe around us. Sure, you can see something happen several times and predict the outcome if you see it again. But physics is more than that. Physics is describing the universe with laws. To write those laws we use mathematical tools.

    You mentioned some physics books directed to the general public. I remember then some words from Michio Kaku.
    "The universe is a symphony. Physics is the set of rules. Chemistry is the melody. And mathematics is the notation we use."
  20. Dec 23, 2013 #19
    Thanks guys for your answers. I didn't really need, and still don't need, people to tell me what I already know, nor do I need to prove myself to anyone. I asked a question, which still hasn't been answered since the OP. Unless you're actually intending to answer my question, please don't post.
  21. Dec 23, 2013 #20
    Ok, if that's what you want.

    All I can do is recommend some books so you get the basics and the proceed to more advanced stuff, like creating the antimatter you desire:

    For the math, you'll need to learn calculus, algebra, probability, statistics and geometry. There are too many books about those topics for me to list them all. I recommend Mathematical Methods for Physics and Engineering by Riley, Hobson and Bence.

    For the basics of physics, which you need to understand the more advanced stuff, I recommend the Landau-Lifshitz Course on Theoretical Physics.

    Good luck.
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