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Physics as a hobby

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

How would one go about learning physics as a hobby? Quantum physics really interests me, and I really don't see it as a career path, as I already have a career I love that doesn't require it. I just want to learn about it, maybe take a few college courses or seminars.
 

Answers and Replies

  • #2
I guess you could start up by reading some books on the subject. If I was in your position I would start with the math necessary to understand basic mechanics. That would be all the way to one-variable calculus.

After that I would start working with a mechanics text while concurrently learning multivariable/vector calculus.

Electricity and magnetism would follow next as well as differential equations and/or linear algebra.

At this point, one learns about waves and vibrations, a bit more advanced math, and after all of that is done one can read up on quantum mechanics.
 
  • #3
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If you just want to pursue it as a hobby, you don't necessarily need to understand all of those concepts before even starting to read about QM... it could potentially turn you off to a really interesting subject because it seems more like work. There are lots of pop physics books that are really interesting, and allow you get get the 'wonder' of the subject, but allow you to get the basic concepts without all the math. I liked Hyperspace by Michio Kaku, and The End of Physics by David Lindley... I guess neither is specifically focused on QM, but definitely contain plenty of interesting related concepts.

I would also check with your local universities about seminar schedules. Usually, these would be totally free to attend, and since school is starting up now, there should be a lot of upcoming choices!

On the other hand, if you are someone who truly wants to understand QM at a basic level, you would need those things VectorField mentioned... so good luck!
 
  • #4
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the skill I've used most in physics is basic calculus. If you understand basic calculus, you can understand ALOT of physics. With just basic calculus, multivariable calculus and linear algebra, you have the ability to understand most things in the undergraduate curriculum.
 
  • #5
Nabeshin
Science Advisor
2,205
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If you just want to pursue it as a hobby, you don't necessarily need to understand all of those concepts before even starting to read about QM... it could potentially turn you off to a really interesting subject because it seems more like work. There are lots of pop physics books that are really interesting, and allow you get get the 'wonder' of the subject, but allow you to get the basic concepts without all the math. I liked Hyperspace by Michio Kaku, and The End of Physics by David Lindley... I guess neither is specifically focused on QM, but definitely contain plenty of interesting related concepts.

I would also check with your local universities about seminar schedules. Usually, these would be totally free to attend, and since school is starting up now, there should be a lot of upcoming choices!

On the other hand, if you are someone who truly wants to understand QM at a basic level, you would need those things VectorField mentioned... so good luck!
Essentially, read the pop-sci books first. Then, if you think to yourself, "Wow that's all amazing, but how do they actually know all that?", then you embark upon a more serious journey. But if you think, "Wow, cool! Good to know!" Then there you have it!
 
  • #6
Hi,

Here's what I've been doing for several years now.

In my immense naivte, I wanted to know about string theory. Bought a textbook about it and got stuck at page one, line one. Investigated about the thing I didn't understand, bought a book about it and got stuck at page one, line one. Repeat ad nauseum until you get to something you understand and work your recursively through the whole physics edifice.

It works for me, but I'm probably weird. It's a really slow way to do it, but fits well with my adhd. Anyways, I now own something like 40-50 physics and math textbooks and keep doing this using maybe 5-6 hours a week or something.

Still having fun.

/Frederic
 
  • #7
MathematicalPhysicist
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  • #8
cobalt124
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1)

"A man ought to read just as inclination leads him; for what he reads as a task will do him little good." Samuel Johnson

2)

Read the discussions on PF. I find this a better starting point than pop-sci as the "further reading opportunties" are wider and more readily available.
 
  • #9
Fredric, in the end the next comic will be your future (if it isn't already):
http://abstrusegoose.com/272
hahaha :) Pretty acurate cartoon. Except for me, classical mechanics was understandable and once you are past that and understand a bit about lagragians, noether's theorem and harmonic opscilators, the rest is piece of cake. ;)

“The career of a young theoretical physicist consists of treating the harmonic oscillator in ever-increasing levels of abstraction.” – Sidney Coleman
 
  • #10
1)
"A man ought to read just as inclination leads him; for what he reads as a task will do him little good." Samuel Johnson
Ah man, I love that quote!! :)
 
  • #11
MathematicalPhysicist
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hahaha :) Pretty acurate cartoon. Except for me, classical mechanics was understandable and once you are past that and understand a bit about lagragians, noether's theorem and harmonic opscilators, the rest is piece of cake. ;)

“The career of a young theoretical physicist consists of treating the harmonic oscillator in ever-increasing levels of abstraction.” – Sidney Coleman
Yes, it does seem like everything physicists do boils down to H.O.

Classical Mechanics can be easy, I mean at the introductory level. But then you have more advanced topics in CM, and as the comic suggests there is no end to learning.
 
  • #12
Classical Mechanics can be easy, I mean at the introductory level. But then you have more advanced topics in CM, and as the comic suggests there is no end to learning.
Yeah, of course. Any subject taken to extreme details will be infinite, or at least seem to be. I'm content with the basic stuff first to be able to understand the next subject. But yeah, I keep jumping around subjects a lot, and CM is still the one I most often get back too.
 
  • #13
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nabeshin....This sounds about right. It's not something I need to know....I just have an interest in being relatively knowledgeable about it and with a better understanding it could make for some killer conversations.
 
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  • #14
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cobalt124....Fantastic idea. I don't understand 90% of what anyone is saying on this site, but maybe if I stick around, I can bring that percentage down. I tend to learn a lot from immersion.
 

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