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Quantum Physics - My adventure and obsession.

  1. Dec 27, 2011 #1

    This evening as I write this post, I can not be more humble of a person. I am writing because I am on a quest for more knowledge. Early in the middle of 2009 I stumbled across a documentary with a couple well known physicists that peaked an old, long-let-go dream. What started out as entertaining the thought of space and time quickly went into a rather odd perhaps obsessive direction. It has carried me a little over a year and a half to where I am now.

    When I was younger, I never did well in school because it took me too much time to learn something. If I had the time, I could learn something and learn it well. But, Time is and will always be a premium. So in customary fashion I fell through the cracks. After the past year and a half I have progressed from walking around with blindfolds on to what I think or atleast feel as having them partially removed. This feeling is intense and I must keep learning.

    My fundamental problem. I will never survive College unless I atleast obtain a strong working knowledge BEFORE I approach a class in any Given subject. I want to seek a degree in this field with the ultimate goal of being able to understand and hopefully develop a true intimate understanding of everything. I want to eventually be able to wrap my head around all the competing theories. I want to ultimately strive for a higher consciousness.

    I do not know quite where I am going with this post. All I know is I cannot stop thinking about physics and everything around us. It has poisoned my mind, but for the first time in my life I feel as though I have purpose and I must not give up on this.

    I guess so this post is not a complete waste. Given my clearly stated learning issues... What would you suggest I do to prep myself to be ready to enter a college learning environment and keep up learning what might be considered one of the hardest subjects? Thanks.
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  3. Dec 27, 2011 #2


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    If you want to do good in college, then it is crucial to learn a lot of math. Start learning algebra, geometry, trig, precalc and calculus. Maybe even learn some algebra based physics. Once you know ALL of this EXTREMELY WELL, you will have a chance.

    I have to warn you. The more you know of physics, the more you realize that you know nothing at all. You will NEVER know everything there is to know about it. There is simply too much to know.

    Uuuuh, ok. That won't happen.
  4. Dec 27, 2011 #3

    I should have worded that differently. I want to be able to better ~understand~ the world around me. Poor choice of words much like my poor choice in spelling and punctuation.

    Math was the first thing I realized coming out the starting gates that I needed to learn and learn with a high level of competency. Do you hold a degree in this subject?

    Also, What is your favorite subject within Quantum Physics?
  5. Dec 27, 2011 #4


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    Don't worry :smile:

    Yes, I'm a math student. I suggest you get the book "Basic Mathematics" by Serge Lang. This is a book that you must understand COMPLETELY and that you must be able to read fluently before starting calculus. Don't expect it to be an easy reading however, you might need other resources to make things clearer.

    I know virtually nothing about Quantum Physics :shy:
  6. Dec 27, 2011 #5
    What I recommend instead of self-study is to enroll in a community college and work your way through the system. You will not be able to self-study quantum physics to any reasonable degree, and if you aren't capable of learning the material as fast as everyone else can, then you're never going to be a physicist. Sounds bleak, I know, but what could you hope to contribute if you really are as slow as you think? Most likely you are perfectly capable of learning at a reasonable pace, but learning requires maturity which you probably lacked in your highschool days. Give it a whirl. If you can swim, swim. If you sink, well, I really do empathize, but at least you'll be able to read about quantum physics to your heart's desire as a hobby.

    One word to the soon-to-be-wise: College isn't nearly as hard as people make it out to be. If you think you can't do it, you won't. If you think you can, you'll find a way to make it through one way or another. Optimism is more useful than a thousand hours of preparation.
  7. Dec 27, 2011 #6
    Calm down. Seriously. Calm down.

    The biggest danger you will face right now is burn out. The universe is too big, complex, interesting, and mysterious for any one human being to comprehend, and if you try, you will end up frying your brain and getting nowhere.

    Seriously. One of the big revelations that you will face is when you try to understand the universe, and then figure out that you can't because the universe is too freaking weird. At that point, you will give up trying to understand *everything* and consider yourself lucky if you understand *anything*.

    In order to be productive you need to keep that feeling under control.

    You aren't going to get a higher consciousness through physics. You just aren't.

    Personally, I find that I'm rather unproductive if I can't stop thinking. What works for me is to take two or three thoughts and focus on them. It helps me to take a boring difficult class. Boring because too much excitement is bad. Difficult so that I focus on passing the class, which gives me focus.

    Calm down, and try to keep your brain from frying. One thing that I find useful about a academic (or for that matter a business) environment is that you have deadlines, paper work, assignments, and lots of boring grunt work. Boring grunt work is useful for me since it keeps my feet on the ground.

    Also, I find it useful to "de-weird" things as much as possible. Quantum mechanics is weird, and in order to keep the weirdness under control, I try to "de-weird" it in my own mind as much as possible. It's just doing fourier transforms and simple wave mechanics, and focusing on the "non-weird" parts of it, helps me keep my brain from frying.

    The other thing (and this is from personal experience). Do whatever you need to do to keep your moods under control. You do need to be a "little crazy" to be productive in this field, but you also need to be careful not to move from "productively crazy" to "off the deep end."
  8. Dec 27, 2011 #7
    Neither do I, and I've been studying it for two decades. I've given up trying to understand quantum mechanics, and what I'm aiming for is a higher level of non-understanding. You are making a lot of progress once you understand why quantum mechanics is so hard to understand.
  9. Dec 28, 2011 #8
    As long as you're enthusiastic and determined to succeed, I think you'll find studying physics rewarding. I suggest that you take your time when learning so that you understand the conceptual and mathematical aspects of physics and their implications.

    I found it helpful to learn the mathematics in a theoretical context before the physics. I took Calculus, Differential Equations, and Linear Algebra while I was taking introductory physics courses and I could not retain information. The mathematics courses were entirely computational and the physics courses reflected that computational skill. I have since devoted my time to learning the mathematics in a more rigorous context and now the information sticks like glue.

    I suggest starting out with the mathematics. The book that micromass posted is excellent:
    I have seem him suggest the book in many posts - so many that I had to check it out myself. After reading through as much of the book as I could on Google Books, I wished that I had discovered it a few years ago! It covers most of the material you'll need before taking a rigorous calculus course. My only recommendation is that you supplement it with a book on proofs, such as How to Prove It by Daniel J. Velleman. After you exhaust those books by reading the chapters, rereading the chapters, and solving all of the problems, you will be well-prepared for handling a Calculus book like Tom M. Apostol's Calculus, Volume I or Michael Spivak's Calculus. I prefer Apostol's book because of his organization of topics, but either will be suitable.

    If you're interested in self-study, here is a list of books in (roughly) sequential order, including the previously mentioned titles, that will probably benefit you.

    Basic Mathematics - Serge Lang
    Calculus, Volume I - Tom M. Apostol
    Calculus, Volume II - Tom M. Apostol
    Physics, Volume I - David Halliday, Robert Resnick, Kenneth S. Krane
    Physics, Volume II Extended - David Halliday, Robert Resnick, Kenneth S. Krane
    Introduction to Special Relativity - Robert Resnick
    Quantum Physics of Atoms, Solids, Molecules, Nuclei, and Particles - Robert Eisberg, Robert Resnick
    Ordinary Differential Equations - Garrett Birkhoff, Gian-Carlo Rota
    Linear Algebra - Kenneth M. Hoffman, Ray Kunze

    ... I could continue, but this is already a year or two of work. Good luck. :smile:
  10. Dec 28, 2011 #9
    The other suggestion that I have is to be experimental as much as possible. There are some simple experiments that you can do that show the weirdness of quantum mechanics, and one thing that you will figure out is that QM is a basic part of the world that we live in. The computer you are using is a quantum device.

    Most college courses in QM focus on calculation and leave out the philosophy because they are focused on getting you to the point that you understand QM enough that you can use it to build stuff (like computers).

    Personally, I find focusing on doing the math and building stuff to be useful since it forces me to work with my hands rather than keeping everything in my head, and that keeps my brain from frying.
  11. Dec 28, 2011 #10
    I'm not trying to sound too critical, but in my opinion, you need to tone it down a bit and focus on the things that actually matter. Your posts have a very pretentious air to them, and it calls your true motives into question. Are you doing this because you want everybody to think highly of you, or are you doing this because you want to understand physics?

    In my experience, colleges are filled with people that are "all talk." I've met many students that attempt to flaunt their "genius" (and try to double/triple major) only to burn out and fail out of college. I've met lots of people that hang out at coffee shops, talk about their "quests of knowledge," speak highly of their own abilities, but in reality, are completely fake. I've met lots of pre-meds that were like this, and most (if not all) didn't make the cut.

    I guess what I'm trying to say is this: drop the accent and focus on the physics. Some of the smartest people I know are also some of the most down to earth ones. From the two messages that you've posted, it seems like you're trying to make up for your lack of knowledge of physics (for the lack of a better phrase) by speaking in a verbose fashion. After visiting and studying at many colleges (from state schools to highly prestigious private schools), I can tell you this: whenever somebody speaks in such a wordy fashion, I certainly think less of them. It is an easy way to alienate yourself and prove that, to you, appearance of knowledge is more important than knowledge itself.

    I'm not trying to be too critical, and I really am trying to help. So here is some more advice...

    I'm an extremely slow learner, too. When I was a senior in high school, I decided to start being serious about my education. I used to spend 3-4 hours a day (every day, including weekends, for a full year) studying general chemistry, and another 2-3 hours a day studying calculus. I would spend another 1-2 hours studying for my other classes, of course. I read my general chemistry book so much that my high school teacher refused to take it back. It was in such bad condition, and she couldn't use it for future years!

    When I got to college, I did the same thing with all of my courses. At this point (when I was a freshman in college) I knew calculus well enough to be able to handle the challenges of introductory physics. I spent (literally) countless hours studying organic chemistry, thermodynamics, etc. etc. etc. I would barely go out on weekends, I refused to be distracted, and I would focus on nothing but my studies. Years later, I finally think that I understand the basics well enough. It's only at this point that I'm confident in my abilities to learn chemistry/physics. Things come a lot more easily now, but I still have to work hard at it.

    The point is... this stuff requires a ridiculous amount of hard work, and it isn't all glamour and magic. Instead of flaunting to the world that you want to learn about physics, go out and do it! Brush up on algebra, pick up calculus, take a few introductory physics courses at community colleges, etc. Be serious about it, and pour your heart out into the books. It's been 5.5 years since I decided to start being serious about science, and I'm only getting started.

    This stuff takes time, and there are no shortcuts. Even Feynman, undoubtedly one of the most brilliant men of the century, used to read physics journals from beginning to end. Last I heard, he took every physics class offered at MIT (and there are a lot of them)! I don't think I have a doubt in my mind that, given enough time and hard work, you'll be able to understand some physics. It's impossible for me to tell, but I don't think you have some special inability that is preventing you from doing so. I think that your motivation and priorities are way off (see above), but it all comes down to this final question: are you really serious enough about physics to put THIS much time into it?
    Last edited: Dec 28, 2011
  12. Dec 28, 2011 #11
    Scorpion, are you replying to the right thread? Talk about an overreaction. Jesus. I assume that whole rant was due to his mere mention of "higher consciousness". I think that phrase is certainly inappropriate for physics and seems more religious than scientific, but your response seems way out of proportion. I'm curious about what universities you've been to with students as you describe. I'd like to make sure to avoid them. I went to mostly engineering oriented schools and I did not meet anyone like you describe. Of course that was two decades ago. Maybe people have changed.

    Are you sure that word means what you think it means? By that definition your post is more verbose than any post in this thread.
  13. Dec 28, 2011 #12
    I really get the impression that the the extent of the OP's knowledge of QM is reading a pop-science book or hearing Deepak Chopra ramble on about "entanglement". Real physics bears no resemblance to either of those things.
  14. Dec 28, 2011 #13
    Even from the standpoint of a mathematician, the idea that the more we learn, the more we understand "why things are weird" is quite true. On the way, we do solve a lot of mysteries, but in reality, when we are starting off, we don't even know how much is mysterious, because it takes a lot of knowledge to even figure out why certain questions are so hard to answer.

    You will find out a few things: one is that you are most likely not the person to resolve all the questions out there. Two, whether you care about figuring out why we don't understand things and trying anyway, because it's quite enriching to.

    I find that those who want to develop complete knowledge are better off entering a career which involves gaining a very specific skill that can be used for someone's benefit. General inquiry is for those who basically want to make a starving lion hungrier and hungrier, while taunting it with occasional whiffs of food.

    I agree most with the advice that you need to take a serious course as soon as possible, because in this type of game, it is most likely essential to just be plunged into the ocean, with a little bit of guidance; discipline is important. Why? Because right now, you're excited, and like it was said, excitement is bad, because when disappointment hits, you'll quit. It's crucial to have some directed plan that encourages you to keep going and not quit. Losing momentum is one of the biggest problems.
  15. Dec 28, 2011 #14
    Here is another piece of advice I'm not sure if others have spoken of: talk to people who are serious about learning this stuff. Seriously. At a certain point, you have to get past reading books and actually be able to have dialogue, at least with yourself, and to do so it's beneficial to be able to at least have dialogue with others.
  16. Dec 28, 2011 #15
    Realize that DOING QM is nothing like talking about QM. Doing QM usually involves a bunch of finite square wells, infinite square wells, harmonic oscillators, Schrodinger equation in 3D, etc. And if you don't really love physics, these topics/exercises will become boring. What you will find out in a undergraduate QM class is that they're out to teach you how to do QM, not how to interpret your results per-say.

    But here is what I would suggest if you're willing to get to work:
    Know multivarible calculus, linear algebra, little bit of PDEs (mainly the wave equation), and some Fourier analysis. Make sure you know your linear algebra VERY well, because what you will find out is wave-functions "live" in something called Hilbert space (inner product space), and without linear algebra, this will make little to no sense.

    Once you have the math down, start studying some Newtonian mechanics. Make sure you understand the basics VERY well, E.G. Newton's laws, gravity, harmonic oscillators, angular momentum, and torque. I would suggest REALLY knowing angular results at the classical level, because once spin comes into play in QM, it's all angular ideas/results.

    QM will be hard, and will get boring if you do not LOVE physics, but if you do love it QM can be very fun!

    Good luck.
  17. Dec 28, 2011 #16
    I'm not going to mention any schools; it's quite irrelevant. In any case... twenty years ago, it wasn't as common to go to college. Now that pretty much everybody is doing it, colleges are getting a huge influx of people that act in accordance with the description in my previous post. Maybe it was an overreaction (and I apologize to the topic creator if it is), but it's a huge pet-peeve of mine (if you couldn't tell). In general, it was just a reality check.

    Although long, I think that I used the appropriate number of words to describe my feelings on the subject. Science is hard work, and the only way I know how to do it is to immerse yourself in it for more than a decade. And anybody that has studied science knows that, at the end of the day, it opens up more questions than it solves. That's the fun part! I just wanted the topic creator to know what he's up against.

    And, as I said before, that type of writing style is a huge pet-peeve of mine. :uhh:
  18. Dec 29, 2011 #17
    Really? 0__O I was always under the impression that it wasn't really going to be that hard at all. It just seems that if you have the solid background in physics and mathematics then you will be fine with enough persistence.
  19. Dec 29, 2011 #18
    Well, I think that *doing* quantum mechanics (which any 3rd year physics student can do) is very different from *understanding* it.
  20. Dec 29, 2011 #19
    Yeah... The more you study quantum mechanics, you more you realize that it makes absolutely no sense.
  21. Dec 29, 2011 #20
    The standard way that QM is taught in undergraduate physics is the "engineering approach". Here are some rules, here is how you use those rules to figure out how to build useful stuff, practice the math until you can use these rules to calculate stuff. David Kaiser has written some on how this approach to QM was developed and how removing the "weird" parts of QM was a deliberate decision in setting up the curriculum.

    It's only when you think about the rules (and read some outside class material) that you realize that the rules are weird, and it's only after you take more advance QM classes that you realize that the rules that you learned were selected so that they would be useful for engineering.
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