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Start studying physics?

  1. Feb 19, 2014 #1
    Is it completely insane for a 36 year old high school graduate to start studying physics? Not for professional purposes but just out of need to get answers on personal questions. Always liked physics. Ubnormal childhood.Calmer now.Please someone an opinion here i think i am going crasy for wanting to do that.
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 19, 2014 #2
    Of course it's not crazy. Just do what you love.
  4. Feb 19, 2014 #3


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    I suggest you start with math. If you haven't done math since high school, you'll need to start with some very elementary stuff - and don't feel embarrassed about this one bit! You'll learn it quickly and then you'll have a solid foundation to build on.
  5. Feb 22, 2014 #4


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    No, not at all.

    Cool. Those are good reasons.

    It's not crazy at all.
  6. Mar 24, 2014 #5
    " I suggest you start with math. If you haven't done math since high school, you'll need to start with some very elementary stuff - and don't feel embarrassed about this one bit! You'll learn it quickly and then you'll have a solid foundation to build on."

    Thanks. You are right.I already have started revising everything cause i am supposed to take a qualification test or something like that. Nice to know i am not going bananas....
  7. Mar 24, 2014 #6
    Study physics just like me. There is an entire world on the internet. Just google whatever you want to know and start from there. Watch youtube videos, browse wikipedia, ask stuff on this forum. You can definitely learn by yourself.

  8. Mar 24, 2014 #7
    There are a lot of free resources out there to get you started. I've picked up cheap textbooks from charity shops and online. If you go down this route then be careful as some older texts use calories and non si units.

    It doesn't sound mad at all! I started studying astrophysics as a hobby and now I'm a mature math student, it's never too late to start studying something you love.
  9. Mar 24, 2014 #8
    Please do not do this. If you're interesting in truly understanding physics, then watching videos, browsing wikipedia is not enough. You need to get an actual textbook, think and suffer while doing the problems, ponder on the material etc. Resources like youtube are ok as secondary resources, but do not think they will allow you to understand the physics in a decent manner.

    Of course, if you're just interested in pop sci, then go ahead and watch youtube. But it won't give you a real and deep understanding.
  10. Mar 24, 2014 #9
    I can't speak for OP, but I personally enjoy the theoretical part of physics. I don't like math, I just want to understand how the world works. From my experience, the internet can be as useful as textbooks if the source is reliable (of course). Once I read a book about modern physics in the library in my college and it was pretty much the same thing I had seen online. It didn't add much to my knowledge

    There are awesome youtube channels with accurate information, like the khan academy. This video is one example there are a lot more in the related videos.

    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 25, 2014
  11. Mar 24, 2014 #10
    Sorry to say, you can't do theoretical physics without math.

    No. I have seen many people on PF who self-studied physics with internet and youtube. None of them had a decent understanding of physics. All the people I know who actually understand the physics worked through textbooks.

    Then the book was bad. Anyway, you also miss the point that it's not just about reading books. It's also about doing a lot of exercises. That's the most important part. You should also try to digest the material on your own and ponder about it.

    Sorry, but KhanAcademy is not an "awesome channel with accurate information". You can't decently learn math or physics from Khan Academy. Sure, it's a good thing to watch when it's late at night and you want an easy revision of the math. So as a secondary resource, it's awesome. Please don't use this as a primary research. Nothing can beat a proper textbook in that regard.

    Also, Khan is a good teacher, but he's not a professional mathematician or a physicist, and it shows.

    I have yet to meet the first person who gained a decent understanding of science by watching youtube videos. I doubt I ever will meet such a person. I mean, Khan's videos go agonizingly slow. They give full details. Sure, this is awesome for the new student. But such full details actually need to be worked out by the student, not the teacher.

    It's like watching somebody swim and explaining in full details how you swim. You still need to jump in the water and struggle before you can actually do it.
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 25, 2014
  12. Mar 24, 2014 #11


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    Well, without math, you can't even touch theoretical physics. You're just getting a very, very dilute version of it.

    Imagine a kid, 7 or 8 years old, who refuses to learn how to read. He just thinks it's too hard and takes too much time. All those letters, all those rules, grammar, phonics - he hates it :yuck:!!

    But this kid *loves* stories! Loves, loves loves them! He's constantly going to the library and picking out books. He takes them to someone who knows how to read and asks them, "Please, will you read this to me!? Please, please, please? I love stories!!" For a while, that will work - people will read him stories.

    But the kid grows up. At some point, people are going to tell him, "You aren't a little kid anymore. You should be reading this yourself."

    And so it is with physics. At some point, you will have to learn math, so you can do your own physics.
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 25, 2014
  13. Mar 24, 2014 #12
    There is a difference between learning about physics and learning physics.

    -paraphrased Zz quote from an old thread
  14. Mar 25, 2014 #13
    You can't say the words "I enjoy theoretical physics" and "I don't like math" in the same sentence. The type of learning you describe is meerly a form of spectating. You are a physics spectator, not a physics student. You enjoy watching people talk about physics and work out the problems, and you enjoy seeing their results and how it can explain the natural world - and that's perfectly fine. We're all spectators of many things in life, and I would never discourage you from continuing with that activity, and I think it's great non-physicts out there are interested and enjoying physics.

    However, to call yourself to a physics student is like a guy at home watching college football on ESPN calling himself a football player. Frankly, it's a bit insulting that you think physics is so trivial and easy that watching a few youtube videos can replace years of hard work and dedication that people training to be physists go through.

    I'm not particularly offended by your post, but please remain humble.
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 25, 2014
  15. Mar 26, 2014 #14
    It depends on what you want to learn about physics. You can learn some physics without math. I think there's a sort of elitist attitude with a lot of people acting like physics is nothing without math, as if getting good at math first is some hazing process to be "one of us". There's a lot of conceptual things you can learn about without any math. And there's tons of stuff that's just basic algebra that everyone should know. No one should have to study math any further to do special relativity calculations, for example.
  16. Mar 26, 2014 #15
    You act like the math is the hard part. Math is actually the easy part of physics. It's the physical intuition that is the hardest.

    Anyway, it's certainly not an elitist attitude or some kind of hazing ritual at all. Math is an absolute necessity for physics. Sure, you mention SR, but I doubt you can mention much more than that. Even if you go into classical mechanics, you'll need calculus very quickly. You just can't do much without calculus!
    I'd say actual physics started with Newton, and he had to invent calculus for it. So I don't see why you think you don't need to know calculus in order to understand physics.

    There is no royal road to physics, sadly enough. I wish there were one.
  17. Mar 26, 2014 #16


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    I think you are confusing "learning about physics" with "learning physics".

    Sure, you can learn about physics without knowing any math, but only in the sense that you can learn about sailing without ever having been in a boat.
  18. Mar 28, 2014 #17
    I can think of plenty of calculations in physics that only require basic algebra. For instance half life, Schwartzchild radius, kinetic energy, wavelength, F=ma, the inverse square law, the Stefan Boltzmann law, Newton's law of gravitation, blackbody radiation, doppler shift, Kepler's laws, escape velocity, etc. There may be calculus versions of some of these, but that doesn't negate every other version. If all of these, plus a lot more, represent such a small part of physics that you can comfortably call it nothing, then I guess you're right.
    My contention is that there's a lot in physics to learn about that doesn't require advanced math, so no one should be told they must first learn calculus, lest they never understand anything about physics. I can demonstrate that that's false. And it might be discouraging to some people who may not be able to, or have the desire to learn new math, yet they want to learn some physics. A lot of people who watch science TV shows are like that. They find physics interesting and enjoy learning it, and they shouldn't be told they can only do it under certain circumstances, especially when it's not true.
    You can learn, for example, Newton's 1st and 3rd laws of motion without needing any math. There may be calculations associated with them, but knowing how objects behave is important and not contingent on math. If someone learns that an object in motion stays in motion unless acted upon by an external force, then just having that idea and understanding what that means with everyday objects is physics. If someone learns that, and what they learned is physics, then how are they not learning physics? After having learned that, they could easily construct an experiment to show other people how it works. They could put something on top of their car, go straight and then take a sudden right turn and show that the object continues forward. If you can do all that, I'd say you've learned physics, even if you can't make calculations. And I'd say that person has about as good of a chance of explaining what will happen in a situation like that as much as you do (such as how far the object will travel after the right turn is made, or what orientation it will end up positioned in, etc), even though you know the math and they don't.
    Last edited: Mar 28, 2014
  19. Mar 28, 2014 #18


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    I caught a ball in motion today. Hooray I know physics! (P.S. that's not what Newton's 1st law actually entails)
  20. Mar 28, 2014 #19


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    "I'd say" might be good enough authority to score points in a high school debating competition, but science isn't based on personal opinions.
  21. Mar 28, 2014 #20
    I don't understand why learning maths puts people off studying physics. There seems to be massive issues with educational system when so many people seem afraid of tackling any kind of mathematics. I'm not exceptional clever, but I love maths. Anyone who can think logically has the ability to learn maths. Anyone who is put off should look on PF for recommended textbooks (I personally like stroud's engineering mathematics) and try studying for 30 mins a day, I think you'd be surprised by how quickly progress.
  22. Mar 28, 2014 #21
    I know this is not what the OP intended his thread to look like, but I feel it's my duty to tell this to all the people who think math is not necessary to learn physics - it's from my own experience.

    Like a lot of people on PF here, I hated math but absolutely loved physics (of course, it was pop-physics that dragged me into it). At that time, I had already completed most of high school physics and math, so I had decided that I wanted to learn the "real physics" then (you should probably guess that I was not interested in further maths at all).

    The result? - Utter nonsense! I wasted like a WHOLE YEAR learning crap physics, and trying to "make sense out of it". If you think you can learn physics by "making up a story" or something like that, you're deluding yourself. A great deal mathematics was created just to create the physics, so there's no way to learn the real physics without math.

    As a side note, I should add that to rectify my course of action, I decided to learn math more seriously. But, the result is that I'm kinda more interested in math than in physics now...(which makes me sad in some sense, but oh well.)
  23. Mar 28, 2014 #22
    So to know the trajectory a ball will take in order to catch it requires absolutely zero knowledge of physics?
    If that's the only thing you have to say in response to all I've said, I'll just take that as a concession.
    I made arguments. My whole post didn't hinge on "I'd say".
  24. Mar 28, 2014 #23
    Great, so my 5-year old nephew knows physics! If that's your criterium, then yes, you don't need to know math to know this kind of physics.
  25. Mar 28, 2014 #24
    He knows some physics. I'm not arguing he knows all physics, which you seem to be implying.
    I gave examples of physics that's not as simple as catching a ball, but actual principles of physics, such as Newton's first law. I expected a more objective response.
  26. Mar 28, 2014 #25
    Even my cat knows physics then.

    I think we have a very different definition of what physics is.
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