Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Mental Road Blocks

  1. May 19, 2010 #1
    I was just wondering what people thought the difference was in people who can seem to be able to understand physics faster? For example like Edward Witten, he took a lot of time off from physics to pursue other things such as political journalism. Then decided to go back to math and physics. If just about anybody else did this they would be left far behind and would have a hard time catching back up to there peers and would probably be left unmotivated because of that fact. Of course maybe that never crosses the minds of people like that.

    I started to think about this the other day because I studying for an exam when I asked to someone in the room who is far better at math than me whether I had the right idea for linking two coupled equations using the complex numbers trick. He said back to me "yeah thats right, what so hard about that". It was such a natural reaction on his part that it made me wonder about those mental road blocks that we all have, even the likes of someone like Mr. Witten. Of course, his are much higher than mine are (or lower). But, after he said that I thought about it for a second and decided its not that hard and to just move on.

    I guess I have just been wondering why some people just seem to be able to go out there and conquer the world. I wish every time I get a road block I could just blast through but sometimes they will bother me for days and I can't move forward until somebody will explain it to me in a way I understand. Maybe its just IQ but I certainly don't have a low one compared to most people ~ 128. Has anybody felt like they have gotten better at going through these times?
  2. jcsd
  3. May 19, 2010 #2
    First off, it isn't a great idea to compare oneself to someone like Ed Witten! :smile:

    There are some people like that, and it isn't fair! But then, compare yourself to others, too - and I've no doubt you could come up with examples of those who feel inferior to your abilities.

    I have had my fair share of 'mental road blocks' as you put it, certainly so during my undergraduate years. I think that they arise because, no matter how much work you put into it, a year or two looking at a particular subject part-time (since you'll have other courses as well..) isn't an awful long time. When you're in the zone and studying it at the time, it comes easy because it's at the front of your mind. When things fall out of regular usage they get moved to the back.

    You'll find that when you start working after your degree, the things you need you will come to know very well and have this 'reflex reaction' to problems. Unrelated topics, I'm afraid, will suffer.

    Also, I wouldn't pay any attention to the result of an IQ test.
  4. May 19, 2010 #3
    Whenever I meet someone that is "smarter" than me, the wise words of Qui-Gon Jinn always pop into my head:
    With regards to the 'Mental Road Blocks', whenever I feel I'm getting no where with a particular subject and my concentration starts to decline, I take a break, just relax for a bit and then go back to it later. I don't know if you experience this at all but if I work on one thing for too long, the efficiency rate slows and I get nothing done. I think the key to conquering these 'Mental Road Blocks' is perseverance eventually, like fasterthanjoao said, the task whatever it might be will become second nature and you'll look back and think "Why did I ever struggle with that?".
  5. May 19, 2010 #4
    I recently overcame a major mental roadblock and the lesson I learned from it is that it is generally a waste of time comparing oneself to others for the sole purpose of mental torture. Many people are more efficient than me at certain tasks, others will be less efficient than me at other tasks; fine, I accept that, I learn from them, and finally move on.

    Another thing to consider is that your classmates fall within a limited range of knowledge and ability in your particular class; a few may be at the upper limit or lower limit, the rest of you fall near the middle. The aim of any particular class is to teach slightly above the middle without leaving the lower limit too far back nor boring the upper limit due to a possible lack of challenge. Anyone not within the limits (lower/higher) is not supposed to be in that class anyways.

    A short personal note: before high school, I was an honor student, never below top 3 in my class. During high school, I fell to the middle due to my newfound rebelliousness; however, a friend named Alan rose to the top. Alan was a very bright kid and people went to him for answers. Interestingly, Alan used to come to me or two of my other friends privately for consultation or clarification of his doubts; yes, even the brightest kid in my class had doubts and I'm sure the dude you spoke about in your OP has doubts as well, he's simply not going to you for consultation.

    As for Edward Witten, I have no doubt the gentleman is extremely bright and intelligent (his work obviously suggests he is) but it's always good to remember Mr. Witten's father was a theoretical physicist and had a major influence on the son from a very early age. I think he would be "scarier" if he would have been an orphan from the get-go. Nonetheless, his accomplishments are amazing.
  6. May 19, 2010 #5
    I couldn't agree more with you.
  7. May 19, 2010 #6
    Yes I understand I am not the smartest or dumbest person in the world. Also some of the people with the highest Iq's in the world haven't done a whole lot with themselves either. I guess I am just curious about people who can look at complex things an figure them out very quickly. I very much would love to know what that feeling is like.

    I guess I view these people as being able to let information just flow in there minds. While the rest of us have to stop and ask "why?" a hundred times. They have very low resistivity towards new ideas. But, not only that they tend to tenaciously go after there own ideas.

    I didn't mean for people to think I was feeling particularly down on myself today. Although, maybe I was a little, haha. I actually do feel like I'm towards the top of my class. But, sometimes I can't help to be in awe of others intellect. Regardless of how you feel towards IQ's it is an interesting study of the mind. I wanted more to start a discussion about what peoples theories on learning were. I wonder if genius can be learned behavior. Almost like a mental reshaping of the way you think? If you could actively try to lower the resistivity of new ideas into your mind. I try playing this little game sometimes when I'm bored studying by myself. I don't know if it works but at least it stops the boredom of studying for a few hours.
  8. May 19, 2010 #7
    I agree too, but i can't help it sometimes.
  9. May 19, 2010 #8
    It's true that sometimes reading about those amazing guys is a experience of humbleness.
    In fact, if you had a bad day in your studies, it is particularly depressing.

    But as some previous poster has already said, we all have our weaknesses and our strong points. What those guys have done was to explore their strong points to the maximum they could. They haven't conquered the whole world, since they are also weak in some area. So I always try to do the same, even though I know it's unlikely I will someday reach or surpass them.

    I just find the path in science too interesting to be abandoned, you see!
  10. May 19, 2010 #9
    Being good is not about having low resistivity to new ideas, then you become one of those religious nutjobs. What you need it to be efficient at sorting ideas into different categories.
  11. May 19, 2010 #10
    The only way to overcome mental blocks is through hard work and practice. This is especially so in the subject of mathematics. There are tons of brilliant academics in this world, and I'd bet not one of them can honestly say they've never had any mental blocks. It happens to everyone, no matter their intelligence, position in their field or their education. It transcends all that -- its our physiology! Lapses in memory is just something that we must live with and learn to overcome.
  12. May 19, 2010 #11
    I thought Edward Witten was an autistic savant like Paul Dirac...
    He definitely has a unique manner of speech.
  13. May 19, 2010 #12
    One thing is that it turns out that physicists often *don't* understand physics faster. It's often a matter of not giving up.

    There is a good chance that he is able to respond quickly because he has seen the problem before. Something that helps me a lot is that whenever I find something extremely painful to learn, I just remember that feeling because a few years later, when it becomes totally obvious, then I remember being confused.

    The other thing that it's been useful is that I'm something of an intellectual masochist. If the problem is too easy, then I get bored and it's no fun. There have been problems that someone mentioned to me decades ago, that still bother me.
  14. May 19, 2010 #13

    Good I'm not alone!
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook