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Physics Getting Hard!

  1. Apr 20, 2014 #1
    Hi all, I have a few doubts and qualms regarding general physics, and how it seems that it will get quite difficult soon...

    So I've been learning lots over the past two or so years, and usually haven't had much trouble with the physics or math part of learning. I've learned classical mechanics from Kleppner, and also some from Taylor, some EM from Purcell and Griffiths, a bit of SR (and a tidbit of GR) from Schutz, and so on. It hasn't been easy, of course, but it's all been fairly concrete and I've been able to do all (or most) of it. However, I've been peaking a bit into more advanced texts to see what I'll encounter in a year or two, and it's been kind of shocking. I saw a bit of Jackson- looked very very difficult and unnecessarily abstract. From a first (very superficial and quick, mind) look at Jackson- he seems to treat EM as merely a mathematical problem! Landau? Abstract, difficult, and terse, from a quick look. Same with stuff like Joos' Theoretical Physics, or Lanczos' Variational Principles of Mechanics. It looks to me like all these (I think) graduate level texts are very abstract and difficult to follow, and more mathematical than physical. There's also a much harsher rigor here, and way fewer nice explanations of physical reasoning; I've seen quite a few "clearly, then"s without any actual explanation, while in Purcell or Kleppner pretty much everything was explained in detail...

    Is this how real physics is done by modern theoretical physicists? If so, does everyone find it daunting at first? How can I get used to this other style of doing physics? Just plunge straight into these texts? Or, maybe, I just haven't been very careful in looking at these and it's the same old stuff?

    Thanks very much!
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 20, 2014 #2


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    Jackson is meant to be a reference text for researchers and as a text on the mathematical methods of EM for students who have already been intimately acquainted with the physics through e.g. Purcell and/or Griffiths. That being said, graduate level does not necessarily mean pointlessly abstract, mathematically tedious, and lacking of physics even if at a first glance books like Jackson do convey such a mindset. For example the graduate EM book "Modern Electrodynamics" by Zangwill is much better and much more elegant than Jackson, especially if you want to see more on the physics of EM beyond Griffiths.

    It depends a lot on the type of work being pursued. Works on application will be quite different from works on foundations. For example someone working on inflationary cosmology would have a different mindset when attacking a problem from someone (possibly the same person) working on a problem on the conceptual foundations of rotation in general relativity. The latter would be more aligned with the kind of problems and discussions you see in typical graduate general relativity books for example. However that isn't to say cosmology is more physical in nature than foundational aspects of rotation in GR.


    Yes indeed-it all comes down to practice and doing problems.

    Knowing you personally, this is not an issue at all so don't worry about it.
  4. Apr 20, 2014 #3
    Thanks a ton, helpful as ever :). I'll keep everything you said in mind, and try to get the Zangwill book when I start up with Jackson (which should be in quite a while, luckily).
  5. Apr 20, 2014 #4
    Are you in grad school? Are these the kind of texts typically covered in undergrad or grad?
  6. Apr 20, 2014 #5
    Nooo, still in high school! And these are typically covered in grad school (or maybe advanced undergrad).
  7. Apr 20, 2014 #6
    Check out ohanian classical electrodynamics. As a math major I find the book very refreshing because he doesn't hand wave or skip any steps, he makes it very clear from one step to the next what he is talking about in mathematical terms which is unfortunately lacking in a lot of physics books...
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