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Need some guidance here concerning theoretical physics.

  1. Aug 28, 2010 #1
    My name is Alex, and my dream is to become a theoretical physicist. I know that is probably very vague, so let me clear it up a bit. I love the universe. I think the universe is the most amazing place, just because of how weird it can be. I really can't get enough of it. I would spend hours talking to this guy I knew about the universe. We would just throw theories back and forth, talk about ones that have already been proposed, or just revel at the marvel of the universe. Eventually one day he suggested to me that I should look into theoretical physics, since when we would talk, most of the talking was me bouncing theories off of him. I could go on about this, so let me just get to what I'm asking for here.

    I figure that being dishonest now would obviously provide me with inaccurate information from you guys, so here we go. I dropped out of high school in the 9th grade (at my age I should have been in 11th grade). It's not because I was dumb, I was just INCREDIBLY lazy. I know now that it was a mistake, but at this point it's too late to worry about it. I can either regret if for the rest of my life, or do something about it. I'm studying to get my GED, so that's me doing something about it. Another problem with me, is that I tend to over think things, and then end up not doing anything just from how complicated I've made a simple thing. So that's why I've come here, for a little push in the right direction.

    As you can see, my interest is the universe and all its weirdness. I figured that I should be a theorist in astrophysics to achieve what I want? If I can get some feedback on this that would be great. I may not have much knowledge in math or the other subjects I will need to reach this goal at this moment, but I have the passion. I met this guy when I was 16 (I am 18 now), and ever since then my passion to do this has grown exponentially. However hard it may be doesn't bother me, I'm sure I can do it. Before posting this I read some threads around here, that say to do this you'd not only need the smarts, but the passion to do it, and believe me, I've got the passion part down.
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 28, 2010 #2
    Passion is not enough.

    What you will need to learn to be a productive physicist is the ability to do a lot of grunt work and a lot of mental discipline. It takes a lot of effort to turn idle speculation into a workable model about how the universe works, and you really need to understand how painful and agonizing the process can be.

    One thing that you will learn is that it's really, really hard to figure out how the universe works. It will turn out that most of your ideas are either wrong or worse yet complete untestable, and it takes a lot of effort to come up with *anything* about how the universe works. Also, it's fun to come up with ideas, but one thing than any good physicist needs to learn it how to shoot down their own ideas. The reason why it's painful is that you come up with a lot of clever and seemingly interesting ideas that just don't work.
  4. Aug 30, 2010 #3

    My gut says do it. I'm sort of the same way you are; I slacked off late high school, early college. I spent 2 years bouncing between pre-med, physics (though I changed before taking classes as a major), advertising, agricultural engineering, chemistry. I was a chem/physics double major at the beginning of my junior year. The first, literally first, I believe, time I went to study chem, I had the revelation that I didn't like it. I think it was so obvious because I had a major in hand I did like: physics.

    There was a moment that changed my life: one of my buddies, sometime between 2 and 4 am asked me, basically out of no where: "what do you think about the Big Bang?" Since the split second after that question, I've looked at everything in a different way. I can spend hours talking about how the universe works, just like you do. The difference is that learning the mathematics changes everything. I rarely argue without some mathematical argument and if I do, it's mainly for sport.

    It scares the bejeezes out of me to picture myself in another field; anyone who says they feel another field is more interesting, I tend to think is plain wrong :p. Twofish is right, that it takes more than passion, but passion will get you through the tough math. Don't be mistaken though...it is a very, very time consuming pursuit. You can't phone anything in...either the math works or it doesn't. If you're willing to put in the hours, and can push yourself to correct your mistakes and evaluate your logic constantly, I think it's worth it. There's no shame in not pursuing a science/physics career though: sometimes you have to make sacrifices, but if your good at managing your time and work effectively you should still be able to live an almost normal life ;) Keep us posted.
  5. Aug 30, 2010 #4
    Judging by your post you probably lack the intellectual facilities to pursue such a goal. You can begin by picking up a book on Einstein and going from there. You will need to know differential equations, linear algebra, topology, etc. the list goes on and on.
    Some people can grasp abstract concepts easily and others can't. The former are the ideal theoretical physicists and the later merely jot down the empirical results that are utilized by the physicists
  6. Aug 30, 2010 #5
    you may want to get a general (beginning) physics book from a library, booksale, online, whatever and look through it, actually try to comprehend the ideas that the math represents. if you think as deeply about things as you say, you might just need mathematics that help you put your ideas into evaluable "language". if you've come this far, to post on this forum, you should at least spend a few weeks working the math that goes with the ideas...you'll probably have a decent idea if you'd like to pursue.
  7. Aug 31, 2010 #6
    Well i had a similar dream just few ago :D

    This is probably the best advice anyone can give you


    A few advices by Gerardus t'Hooft (google him if you don't know who he is)

    My experience with Theoretical physics is the following: If you think achieving your goals in physics is going to be tough you don't have the slightest idea! If anyone gave me a nickel for every time I bursted into tears because I couldn't solve some equations, or because the result was not logic I would have been a millionaire by now. But was it worth of it?Hell yeah!!

    Go for it man :D
  8. Jan 28, 2011 #7
    judging from YOUR post, you probably lack an open-mind, since there was NOTHING in the OP indicating a lack of intellectual facilities.

    OP: I also dropped out of high-school and got a GED. I now attend one of the best universities in the country (top 5 public) and I am the highest scoring student in nearly every mathematics and physics course I take. I'm not saying this to boast; my school certainly isn't Caltech or MIT. I say this in order to thoroughly discount the (basically worthless) opinion put forth by elfboy.

    The more I read this forum, the more downright ignorant and insolent **** I read from people who likely failed in their pursuits....I can't think of any other reason somebody would say something like that!
  9. Jan 28, 2011 #8
  10. Jan 28, 2011 #9
    First things first, you need to learn calculus. Calculus is THE foundation for using mathematics to describe the world around you. While using a traditional mathematics book (Mathematics for Everyman is pretty good), I'd recommend supplementing it with https://www.amazon.com/Mathematical-Mechanic-Physical-Reasoning-Problems/dp/0691140200 That way you can build your physical intuition while learning math.

    While building up your mathematical skills, you also need to start studying towards your GED so you can start applying for college. Post again at physicsforums or on other boards when you run into difficulty in your studies (it will happen! However, it happens to everyone!) Once you've been accepted to a college or university, ask for guidance there, and again on sites like this one.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 5, 2017
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