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Classical The Feynman Lectures for a newcomer

  1. Oct 18, 2016 #1
    Hi all!

    I'm a senior philosophy/economics undergrad and I'm recently finding myself very interested in physics. For several reasons, I'm not able to take physics courses in college, but I wanted to introduce myself to the "corpus" of the undergrad physics. I'm willing to invest time and have taken several math courses (up to measure theory/functional analysis) so I don't think the math would be a problem, but... I literally don't know any physics (I mean, above the highschool curriculum, which is not saying much in my country).

    Can I use The Feynman Lectures for my purpose? They seem like a very well structured corpus so it seems perfect, but I've heard it requieres to have some background to really learn from it. Is that true?

    Thank you in advance!
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 19, 2016 #2


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    i recommend opening the book and reading it, and making up your own mind whether one can learn from it. my opinion is, yes one can.
  4. Oct 19, 2016 #3


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    I agree with mathwonk.

    Another possibility are the YouTube lectures and books by Susskind, The Theoretical Minimum.
  5. Oct 19, 2016 #4


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    Staff: Mentor

    Or in the case of the Feynman lectures, looking here: http://www.feynmanlectures.info/ (click the "Read" link in the menu at the left side).
  6. Nov 22, 2016 #5
    Congratulations on wanting to learn more physics. Since you have the high intelligence required to study philosophy and mathematics, I think it's only natural you are attracted to physics.

    You can read the updated version of Feynman's lectures for free at http://feynmanlectures.caltech.edu. This is not a recommendation, just a fact. Make of him what you will.

    Concerning the required background, Feynman wrote in his Epilogue that most of the Caltech students who were his original audience would not understand everything in his lectures, and that his main purpose was to expose students to the physicist's way of looking at things. He did not intend the lectures to be preparation for an exam. So I would not worry about understanding everything the first time through. Maybe it will inspire you to learn more.

    If you get bogged down, I suggest reviewing secondary school physics first. You may want to look at the O-level and A-level syllabus for physics at http://www.cie.org.uk. For example, here is the O-level program: http://www.cie.org.uk/programmes-and-qualifications/cambridge-o-level-physics-5054/.

    You can also find physics problem books from Schaum's.

    For a syllabus of university and post-graduate physics, there is https://www.staff.science.uu.nl/~gadda001/goodtheorist/.

    Whatever amount of physics you learn, I think you will see how great it is. The more you learn, the greater it seems.
  7. Nov 22, 2016 #6
    Yes, you can and should read the Feynman lectures if you want to. Just about anyone who can ask about them will get something out of them. As said above, he's mainly teaching a way of thinking, which I think is invaluable.

    That being said, I do think someone with your background would do well to supplement the Feynman lectures with a more traditional calculus-based course of physics. Susskind's Theoretical Minimum lectures were mentioned above, but I consider them valuable in the same way as Feynman's lectures, since his audience and purpose is similar. By all means watch them if you like, since he has a different approach and covers different material, etc.

    What I really recommend as a first supplement to Feynman and/or Susskind is R. Shankar's Fundamentals of Physics and Fundamentals of Physics II video playlists on the YaleCourses YouTube channel. Yes, his audience is similar, but he's teaching a college course with homework and all that has calculus as a prerequisite. An important reason for my recommendation is that the exercises are available here and here in the course materials .zip files. The courses also have very reasonably priced textbooks available now. I like the textbooks, but they're not absolutely essential, since the exercises are on the webpages I linked and not in the books. They would help if you're one of those(like me) whose learning is improved by browsing paper books.

    If you do use Shankar's open Yale course, do lots of the exercises. The homework subforums on this site are excellent if you feel like you need help while working through them. In any case, work out exercises for every new topic, and make up your own exercises to do sometimes. Check in on physicsforums or talk to physics students and professors from time to time to keep yourself grounded.

    It sounds like you're very well prepared, so I'm sure you'll do well if you do your part.

    I wish you well VincentJ, and take care.
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