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Mathematician interested in physics.

  1. Nov 16, 2006 #1
    This is probably not a very typical question.

    I have PhD in Math…in the area (combinatorial/geometric group theory) not very strongly related to physics :)

    Afterwards I've got a degree in finance and now I work as a quant in financial industry.

    I got interested in physics recently and would like to learn more about it. My aim is to learn about quantum mechanics, general relativity and (wishfull thinking) smth about string theory :rolleyes:


    1) decent knowledge of calculus, algebra, rusty differential geometry/topology, good level of probability including stochastic processes/stochastic calculus;

    2) almost zero knowledge of physics :(

    what should I start with??

    I am thinking starting with Feynman lectures to get good introduction to the main concepts/ideas. And then dig into smth much more detailed/mathematical.

    I've decided to read the following books (in chronological order): 1) Feynman's lectures, 2) Spacetime and Geometry: Introduction to General Relativity by Sean Carroll 3) Geometry, Topology and Physics (Graduate Student Series in Physics) by M. Nakahara

    Does it look like a reasonable start?? :confused:
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 16, 2006 #2
    well, are you interested in it more for the mathmatical formulation/ mathematicsof it, or are you interested in a career switch or anything like that?

    ifits the former, then you could probably jump straight into a relativity text, because all you really need there is a basic knowledge of momentum etc. mot of it focuses on how spacetime transforms with speed etc.

    if you wanted to learn QM you'd probably need more background and if your doing this for fun hen the feynmann lectures would provide all the background you need to start learning the basics.

    you said that your math major is pretty far away from physics, so you may want to pick up a mathematical methods in physics as a reference for some of the things like the fourier transform, maybe a couple useful vector calculus theorems, and partial differential equations.
  4. Nov 16, 2006 #3
    I think it depends on how quickly you want to get on to the advanced stuff. Feynman's lectures are an excellent resource, but remember that they are based upon an undergraduate course occupying several years. Have you considered Roger Penrose's The Road To Reality, which claims to be 'a complete guide to the laws of the universe'. It has a very geometrical approach to physics, which would fit in well with your existing knowledge.

    I've written a review of The Road To Reality on my website as well as a list of related reading
  5. Nov 16, 2006 #4
    no, it's definitely not for a career switch. I find quantitative finance as a good balance btw money and work :)
    it's just curiosity :)


    whoa! the book looks very cool (I happen to have it actually).
    I'll definitely give it a try.

    so, I guess, I'll start with Feynman/Penrose.
  6. Nov 16, 2006 #5
    well, honestly, I'd recommend starting with the basics, like classical mechanics and classical E&M.
  7. Nov 16, 2006 #6


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    Feynman's lectures are a great start, but I don't think the other two books are very good ideas. Carroll's book is not mathematically rigorous, so you'd probably be annoyed by it. Nakahara's book is simply boring and unnecessary IMO.

    Wald is an excellent GR book, but before that, I think you need a good grounding in classical mechanics and electromagnetism. Something like Arnold's "Mathematical Methods of Classical Mechanics" or Thirring's "Classical [/Quantum] Mathematical Physics" are probably good for that. But this all depends if you prefer the way mathematicians tend to discuss things. These books are fairly rigorous, but there exist others which are both much more and much less precise.
  8. Nov 16, 2006 #7
    ok. I do have Arnold's book as well.
    which one would you recommend on EM?
  9. Nov 16, 2006 #8


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    Thirring's book has EM in it. For more detail (but a less elegant presentation), the main book I'm familiar with is Jackson. It has a lot of interesting stuff in it, but does not use the sort of notation that a mathematician or relativist would. To be fair, though, that notation is pretty unwieldy for solving real problems, which is what Jackson spends a lot of time doing.
  10. Nov 18, 2006 #9
    I'd start with Feynman/Penrose. They are fun reads for someone with a good background in math.
  11. Nov 18, 2006 #10
    What about Halliday/Resnick or Young/Freedman? Or Kleppner/Kolenkow?
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