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PLease help me! I need to learn physics.

  1. Jun 16, 2011 #1
    Hello and thank you for taking the time to read this.

    Ok. here's what i need you all to know. I am 25 years old and I dropped out of high school to go to work. I got my GED.

    Now to my love of physics.

    Ever since i was a little boy i often thought about the universe and what it is and made of and how big it is. I always had this pull inside of me nudging me towards the sciences and especisally any study of the universe. In the last year or so i have been consumed with my thoughts about these things, I think for days at a time about black holes and supernovae and other magnificant things. I also have had a very keen intuition about some things. For instance i was always facinated with things that were symmetrical and i used to tell my family that the key to the universe was symmetrical or related to symmetry and now i see supersymmetry in physics. Also i have many thoughts that i look forward to sharing with you all in the future to see how far i can take my theories. I love this stuff. When i think about the beauty of it all i get teary eyed. My problem is this.
    I truly feel that my purpose in this universe is to study it. I dont get consumed with daily human activities, it does not fullfill me. The universe holds plenty enough to fill me. However i have no knowledge of the mathematics involved to do the calculationgs neccesary to explore my theories. I never even took an algebra class. So can you all please help me to find all the information i would need to know to know where to begin my journey into the world of physics. I would like to start very basic just to refresh my mind. And if anyone knows good websites to learn the basics of the math and formulas that would also help. Thank you so much. This means everything to me i want physics to be my life. And im not sure how much it matters but since i dropped out of high school some of you may think im not being realistic but i have an IQ of about 125. Is that good enough to at least start learning. I will post a list of my other thoughts about the universe please feel free to talk about this post and the next.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 16, 2011 #2
    Start with khanacademy.org and do all of the exercises in math (you may not need to start right at the beginning but start at a reasonable level to what you remember). Once you have that math under your belt, which is pretty much equivalent to a standard high school education in math, then you can move on to physics. khanacademy has a swath of physics videos that cover everything you'll see in an introductory course. Study those videos and get a first year university textbook on physics (my school uses University Physics by Young and Freedman). Once you've mastered that textbook you're ready to tackle some of the harder subjects in both math and physics. Read this FAQ by Gerard 't Hooft (Nobel Physicist)(http://www.staff.science.uu.nl/~hooft101/theorist.html) and create a checklist for yourself. Master the math he suggest for you, keep working at it.
  4. Jun 16, 2011 #3
    With no academic qualification, all of what you have presented is worthless.

    Using a natural intuition of things, that you might think you've understood is misleading.
    If a scientist speaks of intuition, know that this comes from years and years of professional experience.

    For example, when it comes to supersymmetry, its not what you really think it is, and its a graduate level topic in physics. So how do you expect yourself to discuss anything relevant in that context ?

    Don't misunderstand my tone, I am not trying to ridicule you or anything, just being very pragmatic.

    If you're really keen on physics, then just go for a physics degree at some university. Otherwise, you're chasing a ghost after reading those popular science books.

    And before you actually join a university, speak to the faculty and the students to get some facts straight, the field may not be as what you've imagined it.
    And remember, whats important is the keen interest plus hard work.

    Edit: see https://www.physicsforums.com/showthread.php?t=240792
  5. Jun 16, 2011 #4
    What you need to do depends on what level of a Physicist you want to be.

    If you want to be a:
    1. Professional Physicist; you need to get formal education. At 25 it is not the end of the world, you can start by attending a community college now, get your 2-year degree and then transfer to a 4-year school for your BS. After that, follow Zapperz's advice. https://www.physicsforums.com/showthread.php?t=240792

    2. An Amateur or hobbyist Physicist who can at least read and under stand peer-reviewed literature; You can work at self-teaching yourself the mathematics involved by reading and working out problems in Algebra, and Trigonometry, and possibly Calculus, and then work your way through an elementary Physics text. You can supplement at this point this study with video tutorials on YouTube. Khanacademy.org was already mentioned, but there are good lectures up from MIT and Stanford, and I have some up on introductory Physics topics, youtube.com/user/loveofphysics

    3. A layperson who keeps up to date in Physics news; at this level you would not need to bother investing in any education, but would rely on reading the popular science literature. The only caution is that without the developing your own ability to be critical of proposed research, you would have to rely on others to determine what is solid science and what is fantasy, so be very careful to only read from reputable sources. I suggest a subscription to Scientific American, as well as joining their book club, you can have better trust in what is offered there than whatever the random cranks get self-published on Lulu.
  6. Jun 17, 2011 #5
    I didn't just drop out of high school, I dropped out of middle school. I got the GED just like you did, spent two years in community college beefing up my math and taking general education and freshmen college science classes, and now I'm about to start my education at the University of Texas in aerospace engineering. It's absolutely not impossible for you to get a real education in physics. Please don't go the layman's intuition route. It will not be as fulfilling as you think it is, and your ideas -- though they might be the seeds of very interesting thoughts that, with a proper education, really could turn into real physics theories -- are not going to be worth anything.
  7. Jun 19, 2011 #6
    Don't worry i'm sure this site isn't like any other on the internet. I expect that most people on the site are not into tearing people down and poking fun. And I should apologize for leaving some of my comments so open for interpretation. I know that supersymmetry doesn't mean the same thing that symmetry meant to me when i was younger. And when I say intuition i'm not refering to a great intellectual leap that i have made that is years beyond what real scientists are thinking. I just meant that when I read about the latest discoveries and theories I am able to understand them, not in the way some of you might understand them, but as a high school dropout I feel I understand them more than I should be able to according to my education. For instance I have no idea what E=MC2 means mathematically but it has always made perfect sense to me that the amount of mass is closely related to the amount of energy something is capable of producing.
    Like i said some of you may think i'm in over my head, but i have been studying various sources of information on the internet for months. I am most interested in particle physics, theoretical physics, and the universe in general from the big bang to black holes. My "intuition" about things could be, and probably is, wrong. But thats not really the point. The point is that I have a deep desire to try and learn the universes secrets. If I could learn the mathematics and the formulas needed to study physics then I am confident that I could make some sort of contribution to the world of science. Until then i'll jus spitball back and forth with you guys about my ideas and ask questions that i may have.
  8. Jun 19, 2011 #7
    Are you planning to go to college? I hope you don't plan to self-teach yourself up to graduate work?
  9. Jun 20, 2011 #8
    Sorry, but that is the last thing you should consider doing. I don't mean to be rude, but there is nothing more annoying than getting approached by a crank physicist who hasn't taken the time to actually learn physics. I know, having a Physics degree makes one a target for these types.

    Seriously, if you really want to contribute to our collective knowledge and to experience the excitement of actual scientific discovery, go to a community college and actually put in the effort in learning math and physics. You will find it many times more rewarding than just "spitballing back and forth".
  10. Jun 20, 2011 #9


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    Yes but remember to follow the rules. Claiming you have new theories is a great way to get yourself banned.

    Trust us, you have no idea what supersymmetry really means :). If someone were to explain to you the details, it would probably make you wonder if the person is some sort of tin-foil nutjob.
  11. Jun 20, 2011 #10
    Similar situation here, finished high school, dropped out of university and worked in IT for 10 years. Now I'm back starting mechatronics engineering so I can do what I always wanted to. It is never too late to go back and study if you truly want to follow your dream.
  12. Jun 20, 2011 #11


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    Hi YoungDreamer,

    Doesn't the GED cover algebra? I'm not entirely sure on GED acceptance for 4-year colleges, but any college will probably take somebody with a high school diploma over a GED (someone correct me if I'm wrong).

    Your first step would be to attend a community college. Get basic courses out of the way. Talk to people. Find out what courses you need to take at said community college to prepare you for a physics major at a university. It would probably be in your best interest to retake algebra to make sure you gain a good foundation in mathematics. Gain some momentum. Once you finish your coursework at the community college, apply to a university and finish your degree.


    As far as learning material, go to Barnes and Noble and pick up algebra for dummies. You should get a good understanding reading that.
  13. Jun 21, 2011 #12
    Don't worry I'm smart enough to know that I am not smart enough to learn physics on my own.
    I do plan on attending a community college to get started in the somewhat near future. 7 years ago when I took my GED test there wasn't much Algebra on it, thats changed since then.
    I understand what was said about 'crank physicists" however i'm sure in a proper thread someone will be joyed to talk about certain subjects. I feel that science in general is a world of passion. Thats what is driving me towards physics, a passion that I don't know how it got there but its always been there, I just wish it hadn't taken me this long to decide that this is what i should be doing.

    If you do what you love you'll never work a day in your life.
  14. Jun 21, 2011 #13
    The problem with doing what you love is struggling through 10+ years of intense education and then struggling to find a decent job and then struggling to produce decent research. It's not just 'BAM' I'm doing what I love, there is a lot of toil that goes into truly UNDERSTANDING physics. Everyone on this board I guarantee has had a moment in their studies that they wished things would get easier, but it never does. It will ALWAYS get harder and you need to realize that before you attempt to tackle this monolithic task.

    It's easy to ponder the implications of popular theories and look out at the universe through hubble's eyes and contemplate the meaning of our puny existence. But once you actually try and UNDERSTAND the fundamentals behind these theories, to learn the abstract seemingly pointless mathematics, to study a subject of physics you have no interest in (for me it's thermal physics, ew). Then the pain comes because you aren't doing what you set out to do several years ago.

    If you can hold this feeling of awe through every step of the way then I envy you, but you can't expect that after 1 year you'll be doing a tango with string theory (not that I'm assuming this is how you feel). You probably wont see that for at least the first 6 years of your education. You won't have the knowledge to tackle the thoughts you are having until you're into your PhD, and even then it'll probably require months of self study.

    The problem some people have with 'crank physicists' is that they really know nothing about the topic they're trying to debate. For someone who has taken a course, several courses, or even taught a course, in the topic someone is trying to debate then it will really irk them when something of such magnitude (with perhaps no physical evidence behind it) is debated as if it has a real bearing in real physics.

    I stay out of those conversations for this exact reason. I don't know enough to contribute an intelligent answer. Of course I have my own thoughts about things (I'm studying physics damnit!) but these things are beyond the scope of my current academic knowledge. Who knows, perhaps when I actually take a course in astrophysics my current thoughts about black holes might disintegrate.
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