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Teaching Myself Physics

  1. Mar 17, 2017 #1
    Hi all! I was referred to this forum through a google search about how to teach myself the basics of Astrophysics... this Quora page in particular. You guys must be doing something right, as it seemed like an informed response.

    I'm beginning, as that post suggests, with Halliday & Resnick. I look forward to getting to know the community here, and I'd welcome any suggestions for books or resources that have helped you right at the beginning of your 'journey into Physics'.

    My background is as an associate lecturer in English Literature - so I'm really crossing the aisle here! best wishes, Andy.
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 17, 2017 #2


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    Welcome to PF!
  4. Mar 17, 2017 #3


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    How's your maths? Two useful resources are:

    The A-level maths syllabus is presented here:


    And, a summary of university level calculus is here:

  5. Mar 17, 2017 #4
    Thanks for these PeroK... I haven't studied maths since school, so I'm sure I'll have to brush up my skills.
  6. Mar 17, 2017 #5
    I would start off slow. Work at your oun pace which is the good part about teaching yourself anything. The downside is that it's hard to grade yourself and make sure that you understand the concepts on your oun without talking to someone else. That's why I love this forum so much. I can ask almost anything I can't understand on my oun and get a straight answer without second guessing if that answer is right or not. If you learn better by watching video try acople of youtube channels that I have found to be quite good about breaking thing down and simplifying physics. PBS Space Time, Vsauce, and Veritasium. And remember the most important thing when learning anything.
    Never be afraid or feel dumb to ask questions or for help.
  7. Mar 17, 2017 #6
    Awesome hsdrop... I'll check out those YouTube channels right away... and yes, I'm starting slow: keeping the 'fun' content alongside the stuff that might be a bit more dry (textbooks). I picked up Roger Penrose's 'Road to Reality' book recently, and he prefaced by talking about this very issue - the balance of maths ("hard") and the narratives that make books on science appeal to a wider audience. I want to learn both!
  8. Mar 17, 2017 #7
    Another good suggestion is to learn the history of physics. learning the history (the same way that man did) seemed easier for me to build up to the more complex concepts. Most of the concepts are named after the person that either discovered or invented the idea. that way when someone refers to the name of something like the "Copenhagen interatchen" or the " Boltzmann brains" you don't have to stop and google or wiki it to know that they are referring to.
  9. Mar 17, 2017 #8
    I don't know what your end goal is, but if you want to gain a mathematical understanding I'd brush up on integral calculus and statistics.
  10. Mar 17, 2017 #9


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    You're never going to learn the requisite maths and physics from YouTube. If you are reduced to YouTube videos, you might as well pack it up and go back to Jane Austen, or whatever!

    Similarly, there's a dichotomy between pop science (for a wider audience) and real science. We field hundreds of questions on here that arise from popular science books and videos and it's largely the same story - all the nonsense and half truths we try to dispel. It's one or the other, in my opinion.

    If you want to learn astrophysics at a pop science level, there is no issue. But, if you want to hack the real thing, you have almost totally to reinvent yourself. And, you know, it's supposed to be "hard"! It has to be the hard stuff that appeals. Not the idiotic rubber sheet analogy, but the Schwarzschild geometry:

    ##ds^2 = -(1-\frac{2GM}{c^2r})(cdt)^2 + (1-\frac{2GM}{c^2r})^{-1}dr^2 + r^2(d\theta^2 + sin^2\theta d\phi^2)##

    It's a long hard road until you can fully appreciate the enormous significance of that equation. Not five minutes to watch a YouTube video with the Earth rolling round a rubber sheet "stretched" by the Sun.
  11. Mar 17, 2017 #10

    I think he is talking about videos like of Khan academy etc, etc.

    But I have to agree that rubber sheet analogy is very idotic and repititive. Whenever I see that I am like "c'mon, not again, get CREATIVE guys". It should be a internet meme by now.


    Last edited: Mar 17, 2017
  12. Mar 17, 2017 #11
    I agree PeroK... my use of the word "hard" was from Penrose's preface, where he worries that his readership won't want to work through the equations in full. I should say, I do - I absolutely want to teach myself the physics, not a watered-down version. Hence I'm starting with Halliday & Resnick, which as I understand is a good course textbook.
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