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Physics and Philosophy major (Or CS + Physics)

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  • Thread starter raam86
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  • #1
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Main Question or Discussion Point

Hello, I want to enroll to the university soon and I have something in mind that I would love to hear expert opinions on (read: anyone who attended university :P).

My plan is to enroll to CS or computer engineering with physics. In case my grades won't allow it I am considering taking physics and philosophy which in my mind at least compliment each other.

My ultimate goal is to take part in some kind of particle accelerator or go into the nano technology field (It depends what will grab my during my studies) All of the above majors compliment my goal and allow me to go into the same MSc. programs.

So my questions are:

1)Is physics+philosophy a viable option? Will the studies compliment each other at all and do you reckon it will help me in the future work / admission wise

2)Seeing I will defintly do a MSc. in some kind of a physics related field should I spend more time and effort in improving my grades and get into engineering programs or will physics be enough (Considering opportunities in the job market etc')

*
If I had all the money and time in the world it wouldn't have been an issue I would take P&P (Physics and Philosophy) since it's a childhood dream but unfurtently there are bills to pay rings to buy and babies to feed (in the future of course)

Thank you for your time :D
 

Answers and Replies

  • #2
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Physics and philosophy majors will not complement each other in any way, I think. Physics classes are a bunch of math and a few lab courses. Philosophy classes are, I think, reading and writing essays. Philosophy will not help you in physics classes or help you get into any physics or engineering graduate programs.

CS is useful for physics and engineering in that being able to program is useful, but you don't need to get a CS major or even take any formal classes to learn some programming.
 
  • #3
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Studing CS just for programming is like traveling to USA just to eat a hamburger
 
  • #4
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I think you should go to the sites of organizations that perform nano-research or particle physics and see what they look for when hiring.

I believe that for these fields, your best bet for programs leading to particle physics would be electrical engineering, physics, mathematical/theoretical physics. For Nano-material research, think chemical engineering, nano engineering (there are schools that offer it), physics, or a physical chemistry/ chem + phys program
 
  • #5
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Physics graduate departments will probably care very little about a background in philosophy. It could actually count against you if you seem to be spending too much time on fluffy concepts like meaning.

Having said that, physics and philosophy are extremely intertwined. Philosophy of physics is a very active subject and area of research. I wrote my undergrad philosophy honors thesis on quantum mechanics in conjunction with the physics department at my school (while double majoring in mechanical engineering actually). Philosophy studies the limitations, interpretations, and meanings behind the formulas of physics. It's actually almost impossible to do physics without doing philosophy too, so the training can really be valuable for your understanding.

In the business world, an engineer or scientist who can analyze arguments, read, write, debate, etc, is very valuable. For a career in physics, it seems like a background in philosophy is more something that you would want to keep to yourself, despite the enhanced understanding of physics that you'd get from it.

If you're interested, I wouldn't ignore the personal benefits of studying some philosophy either. I definitely recommend taking an intro course at least or a course on philosophy of science.
 
  • #6
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Hehe "fluffy" Thanks a lot the was very helpful :) So you think just taking a few courses and maybe sitting in lectures should be enough to satisfy my appetite?

I would also be interested in hearing how more education can be seen as a negative thing, I don't debate the validity of the argument just want to understand its manifestations better...Interesting!
 
  • #7
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We'll you can always turn a few courses into a major later on if that's what you choose to do. You don't have to decide now. I did the full major and I'm still not satisfied.

Physics departments want to see as much math and physics as possible. Anything else is a distraction. It's not that philosophy necessarily counts against you (and it really should count as a benefit), it's just that it can crowd out other things. If you'd like to actually understand what you're studying, a dose of philosophy will definitely help you in that direction. If your goal is 100% to go for a career in doing physics in a lab, then just take more math.

The business world is a different story. My philosophy major has been very helpful as a supplement to engineering, and it was a great differentiator when I was looking for jobs out of school.
 
  • #8
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Physics and philosophy majors will not complement each other in any way, I think. Physics classes are a bunch of math and a few lab courses.
I would mildly disagree the philosophy won't compliment physics in any way. If you take the right courses, philosophy can improve your writing skills and your critical reasoning skills in a much broader context than physics alone can. Plus, taking some philosophy of science courses could help you think about how research is conducted, what factors can drive it and the logic of the scientific method, which are all of practical use. Unfortunately, many philosophy courses are garbage and will only serve to confuse you.


Philosophy classes are, I think, reading and writing essays. Philosophy will not help you in physics classes or help you get into any physics or engineering graduate programs.
This is largely true. On the other hand, it will broaden your options as far as multidisciplinary programs in the event your interest shift over the next few years. For instance, my interests have shifted from pure math/computer science to computational neuroscience and cognitive science. My philosophy background does help to some degree there.

CS is useful for physics and engineering in that being able to program is useful, but you don't need to get a CS major or even take any formal classes to learn some programming.
This is another good point. I know at least one software engineer that took his major in English or something. He had been programming since he was very young though, which is another consideration.
 
  • #9
I felt in a very similar way about philosophy when I was entering college, but the few courses I took changed my mind. The single most influential thing I learned in my philosophy of science course is that if I ever do science, then I should ignore the philosophical discussions behind it most of the times (when I say philosophical, I mean hardcore philosophy). I still take some courses, though, but just for my own interest (or sometimes just go to class without any registration or something, and listen to it, because philosophy is mostly about it--of course if the faculty member allows you to). I can't ignore the other benefits like learning to write better papers and so, but I would suggest you to take some courses that you think are interesting and move on if you want to be such a physicist. If you want to be a philosopher of physics (which you do not want I imagine) or something, then physics+philosophy is the perfect path I guess.
 

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