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Physics and Complexity

  1. Jan 19, 2014 #1
    Hello. I am currently a physics major and in my sophomore year at UT Austin. I have always been interested in physics, specifically astrophysics. But I have recently become discouraged. Not because of the rigor of physics but more because of the way it is taught and also what seems to me to be the reductionist point of view of physics. I feel like in college they just give you a bunch of problems to solve and I am more genuinely interested in the nature of the laws themselves.

    I feel like physics is also near sighted in some ways. That is why I am debating changing my major to chemistry or biology. I feel chemistry and biology are more complex and want a broader scope of understanding.

    Should I change my major? Have you ever felt this way about physics?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 19, 2014 #2


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    You need to take baby steps. Start by learning how to actually use the tools laid out by a physical theory and becoming adept at the calculations forming the core mechanics of the theory before attempting to delve into its foundations. If you don't learn how to solve textbook and homework problems then there is very little chance (pretty much naught) that you will be able to successfully tackle the foundations of any physical theory.

    And no I have personally never felt this way.
  4. Jan 19, 2014 #3


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    Different major, solve different problems.

    What sort of electives are you taking? If you want to know more about the nature of physical laws, perhaps you should take a course in the philosophy of science. Many great scientists, particularly physicists, not only did 'retail' science, but they wrote about the deeper meaning of science and what it means to study the universe. This might be what you are searching for.
  5. Jan 19, 2014 #4


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    You also need to consider that maybe this "reductionist" point of view that you've been taught is a function of the subject area that you chose! Those of us who went through a condensed matter physics program certainly do not feel that way, where complexities and emergent properties are the essence of the physics that we deal with every single day.

  6. Jan 19, 2014 #5


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    One will probably find the same issues in chemistry and biology. In any scientific field, there is a lot of information to learn. One usually starts generally, and over time one evolves to specialize.

    In astrophysics, one could concentrate on stellar astrophysics (or astrodynamics), and then even specialize in a class of star. One may start with empirical models, because they work to an extent, then gradually move to more mechanistic models. Empirical models were largely the consequence of limited computing power in past decades.

    I would disagree that physics is viewed (or taught) with a reductionist perspective.
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