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Need to learn physics as self learner

  1. May 31, 2013 #1

    I'm a 22 year old economics student on my final year.
    I'm a small business owner. (something about the job market in my country Indonesia).
    so you could imagine I don't have much time on the day, both for now or foreseeable future.

    thing is, I've always been amazed by nature; space, earth, anything. I realize I need to learn it.
    something like a man's self worth. a serious hobby, if you wish. a pretty serious hobby.
    because of the time restriction, I will be a self learner. no labs, no lecturer.
    I got D on my biology (didn't study enough as highschool student), so that one is out of question :D.
    after contemplating between geography,chemistry or physics I've decided to learn physics in my lifetime. (who knows, I might up my business ante and then build geothermal power plant or just go full Koch).

    I want to learn physics as a TOTAL newbie, so please answer me:
    anybody knows a site with complete syllabus where I can learn the order to learn physics?
    I have found syllabuses of several Uni, is it safe to use them?
    is it worth it to learn as much topic as possible? I mean, is mastering say thermodynamics on my lifetime might be more meaningful than being a dilettante on all subjects? or is it possible to learn all of them substantially? don't know how to word this, but you might understand the gist of it.

    for what is worth, I have 130 IQ (not that high, but not too low either), so if you know several objects that might be too hard, please warn me now :D.
    I will learn pretty hard , several hour every day (I hope until my death, not too much tho, I need my gunpla).

    sorry for being too long in my enquiry, I think the weight of physics require me to write this long.
    well, thank you in advance :biggrin:
  2. jcsd
  3. May 31, 2013 #2

    First off, as you probably know, your IQ is less important than the quality of hard work you do. Work hard or you wont understand it.

    I think lecturers and labs are a little overrated. The majority of learning in physics is done by working out problems yourself. So buy a textbook and get cracking. It's best if you can find a book that has answers to it's problems available, so that you know when you doing it right. If things aren't making sense, re-read the section, again and again (eventually you should get help, but the point is that if you don't get it on the first pass, try again). You should also get a calculus book if you don't know calculus yet (I think most econ programs require calc though).

    You do have to learn physics somewhat in sequence, because the math you need is introduced along the way. A rough syllabus for your first semester would be:

    1:Kinematics: Position, velocity and acceleration, what they are and how to calculate with them. You should learn how to generalize this stuff to multiple dimensions.

    2:Forces: Learn basic kinds of mechanical forces and how to work with them.

    3:Conservation Laws: Momentum and Energy, how to calculate them and how to calculate with them.

    4:Rotation: Adapt everything you learned above to rotating systems. Most importantly learn angular momentum, rotational energy, and moment of inertia.

    5:Special Relativity: A lot of freshman physics courses teach basic special relativity.

    That's roughly what you need to learn from a mechanics course. If you see a syllabus like that, you can trust it. Though, what I wrote is pretty bare bones, and there are important subjects I left out, like center of mass, or collisions. Stuff about fluids and waves are probably best left for later, when you are better prepared. Not that you can't learn a lot about them now, but these subjects are largely outside the core of physics, and will slow you down (self study is slower, so don't let yourself be dragged down by stuff like that).

    After that, you should learn some electromagnetism.
  4. May 31, 2013 #3

    thank you very much, and I'm interested about why fluids and waves are largely outside the core of physics?

    as you might know by now I'm not a native english speaker, so please pardon my grammar and vocab .

    so it's from a mechanics course? I guess that's pretty sufficient for me then to grasp the more advanced subjects later. again, thank you very much.
  5. May 31, 2013 #4
    Fluids are a specific application of physical principles. It's definitely physics, but it's not really used to derive anything later on in physics. Rather, as you get better at other subjects in physics, you will use them to understand fluids better. Waves are similar, but when you learn quantum mechanics you'll learn everything you would need to know about waves. So there's not much reason to start out learning waves. (Though, on second thought, it's probably a good idea to know about wave interference early on, so feel free to learn some wave stuff).

    Yes, the starting point of most physics educations is mechanics. There are a lot of fundamental ideas that are easiest to learn from mechanics, so even if the subject doesn't excite you, you should treat it seriously.
  6. May 31, 2013 #5
  7. May 31, 2013 #6
    got it, thank you everybody, I will take a quick glance first at everything just to accustom myself.
    I take it physics generally deals with mathematizing the qualitative forces in our world? getting the big picture there.

    once again, thank you everybody. you've been a great help.
  8. May 31, 2013 #7


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    I don't think anyone has ever made a complete syllabus for a person who's self-studying physics.

    The list of courses should give you an idea about what subjects you should study and in roughly what order you should study them.

    For a hobby physicist, I think the most rewarding approach is to try to develop a very thorough understanding of the basics of each theory of physics and each mathematical subject you're going to study, while ignoring most of the "how to calculate" stuff. For example, when you study calculus, make sure that you understand what an integral is, but don't worry about what tricks you would need to use to integrate every weird function you can think of. When you study pre-relativistic classical mechanics, make sure that you understand what Newton's laws say, and that you can solve the simplest problems, but don't worry about the hard problems. When you get to electrodynamics, make sure that you understand what Maxwell's equations say, but don't worry about how to solve them. In thermodynamics/statistical physics, make sure that you understand the definitions of entropy and temperature.

    You will have to start with mathematics. I've been told that Khan Academy is a good place to learn the basics. Also check out "Basic Mathematics" and "A first course in calculus", both by Serge Lang. (I don't know these books very well, but I have seen them get recommendations here). You can also search the book forum here to see what recommendations other people have been getting.
  9. May 31, 2013 #8
    Assuming you know calculus, my suggestion would be to start by getting a copy of Kleppner & Kolenkow's Introduction to Mechanics and working through the book in detail including doing many of the problems. Once you have finished Kleppner, move on and do the same for Purcell's electromagnetism book.

    If you do those two you'll have a wonderful foundation to build the rest of your physics education on.
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