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Intro Physics The Final Verdict on the Feynman Lectures?

  1. Mar 20, 2016 #1
    Hello guys.

    I've seen a lot of differing opinions on this site. I'm a middle schooler with a decent understanding of basic calculus, trig, and algebra. I want to learn physics, and am wondering if The Feynman Lectures supplemented with problems from Irodov and some of Walter Lewin's lectures would be good for an introduction to physics?

    I've heard that the lectures are harmful as they ignore problem solving; I've also heard that they're absolutely brilliant.

    So what's actually true? Will supplementing these lectures with Irodov and some MIT videos serve as a good introduction? What about the Berkeley series; is that a good introduction?

  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 20, 2016 #2
    I love the Feynman lectures, I think they are an exciting read, but I personally don't think they're suitable for a beginner in physics. They're certainly not harmful, but as an introduction I think you will best be served by an introductory physics text such as Fundamentals of Physics or Matter and Interactions.

    That being said, if you love physics and don't mind forking up a few hundred dollars, I'm sure you won't be disappointed with the lectures.
  4. Mar 20, 2016 #3

    Is Kleppner and Kolenkow good for a beginner?

  5. Mar 20, 2016 #4
    I don't think so. Try a book like Halliday and Resnick before you go for Kleppner.
  6. Mar 20, 2016 #5
    Will this book work? (It's written by Walker as well and is a late edition so it might be really watered down)

    Attached Files:

  7. Mar 20, 2016 #6
    I believe, not 100% on this, that K&K assumes a knowledge of multivariable calculus.

    That book is a good introduction, you can't really go wrong with it.
  8. Mar 20, 2016 #7
    Sure, that will work. It definitely is watered down, but I don't feel that should stop you. The purpose of Halliday-Resnick-Walker isn't to teach you all of physics in all its rigorous glory, but rather get you acquainted to the main ideas and concepts so you can digest a tough book like Kleppner later on.
  9. Mar 20, 2016 #8
    "We assume that our readers know enough elementary calculus to differentiate and integrate simple polynomials and trigonometric functions. We do not assume any familiarity with differential equations. Our experience is that the principal challenge for most students is not with understanding mathematical concepts but in learning how to apply them to physical problems."-From the Kleppner book

    Are you talking about the book I posted a picture of?
  10. Mar 20, 2016 #9
    Yes, the one you posted is the one you should start with. As micromass said, it will serve as a good introduction before you move onto more advanced books such as K&K. My apologies, I should have been more clear with my post.
  11. Mar 20, 2016 #10
    No problem :) Should I supplement with challenging problems from Irodov?
  12. Mar 20, 2016 #11
    I'm not familiar with Irodov myself, but I recall reading on here that the problems are challenging and require some mathematical sophistication. Halliday-Resnick contains a large number of problems that should keep you busy anyway.
  13. Mar 20, 2016 #12


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    A few hundred dollars? How about free?

  14. Mar 20, 2016 #13
    I completely forgot about that they were online! I actually got the set as an anniversary gift.
  15. Mar 21, 2016 #14
    Feynman's own estimation was that the lectures were a failure as an introduction to physics. It is better to start with something simpler.
  16. Mar 21, 2016 #15
    Hornbein, Feynman's own estimation was not that the lectures were a failure, though it says something like that in his introduction to FLP, which he dictated immediately after looking at the students' grades on their final exam in 1963. Matt Sands, Feynman's coauthor, discusses how that came to be, and you can read more about it here. Feynman's more mature opinion of FLP as a book, long after it became one, was quite different than his opinion in 1963, when he just finished teaching the course.

    I will quote here what Feynman said in his 1988 Interview with Jagdish Mehra about FLP, about a month before he passed away. This was his final (recorded) opinion of FLP:

    "At the end of the two years [1961-63] I felt that I had wasted two years, that I had done no research during this entire period and I was muttering to this effect. I remember Robert Walker saying to me: "Someday you will realize that what you did for physics in those two years is far more important than any research you could have done during the same period." I said, "You're crazy!" I don't think he's crazy now. I think he was right. The books [Feynman Lectures on Physics] are popular, they are read by a lot of people, and when I read them over [I find] they're good, they're all right. I am satisfied; rather, I am not dissatisfied with them. I am just dissatisfied with the system - whether it would transmit. But when you have a book and somebody from far away writes that he is learning from it... then I feel that I may have done something to a large number of other people, to people everywhere.

    They have the books on the shelves. They are used all the time. They are twenty-five years old, and they are still on the shelves. Undergraduate and graduate students use them. They look them up for fundamental ideas behind advanced subjects. There is all kinds of stuff there, more basic physical points of view, and so apparently they are useful. I must admit now that I cannot deny that they are really a contribution to the physics world."

    The Beat of a Different Drum,
    Jagdish Mehra, 1994​
    Last edited: Mar 21, 2016
  17. Mar 21, 2016 #16


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    Well, as I wrote quite often in this forum, I think the Feynman lectures are among the best theoretical-physics books ever written. You feel that an ingenious physicist has put a lot of effort to reformulate (partially century-old) material from a point of view modern in his time instead of copying all the sins centuries of physics teaching and textbook writing. For me the best volume is volume II on classical electrodynamics, where he is among the very few who give a straight-forward description of the relativistic effects.

    The Feynman lectures are, however, not for the very first encounter with physics at the university level. I'd say they are well suited as an introduction for the theoretical-physics course.
  18. Mar 21, 2016 #17
    vanhees71, The Feynman Lectures on Physics were used for nearly two decades as the primary textbook for Caltech's mandatory 2-yr introductory physics course, which all students, regardless of major, must take. Each class has about 250 students, so it has in fact been used, very effectively, as "the ... first encounter with physics at the university level" by thousands of Caltech alumni, and they have not done too badly - many are now leaders in science and industry. However, I would add that the students who enter Caltech (and I've met many that attended Feynman's lectures) are extraordinarily bright. It's a small school that accepts only 250 new freshmen per year while many thousands apply to enter. Basically, you don't get in unless you are one of the best in math and/or science amongst your peers. These are the kinds of students Feynman was addressing in his lectures. Moreover he tried to address not only the "average" student (in that unusually bright crowd), but to also include plenty of "fireworks" (as he called it): interesting stuff, for the brighter kids in the class, so they wouldn't get bored. The upshot of this is that FLP tends to "aim high."

    [NOTE ADDED LATER: When Feynman gave the lectures that form the basis of The Feynman Lectures on Physics, there was no plan whatsoever to make a book! There was a plan to assemble a set of notes to distribute to future Caltech students, but no plan to publish outside Caltech. So, regarding Feynman "aiming high" I will say this in his defense: he did not aim too high for the average Caltech student, and when he gave the lectures his understanding was that whatever came out of them would be used exclusively at Caltech. They were not intended for a more general audience at the time they were delivered.]

    Feynman was aware of the difficulties involved in teaching students having a wide range of abilities and talents, and that is something else he talks about in his Mehra interview (quoted in my previous post):

    "I had a special difficulty as I realized that all the students were not the same, and that if we had too much relativity, atoms, quantum theory, and the fireworks, that the other students would get confused. I tried to invent some kind of system to tell them what was essential and what was for the entertainment of those who could understand it. For, if you add something to keep the subject from being dull, it makes it only duller to many students because they have to learn that then too, which is pitiful. That's the way the system works: I was trying to break that. I would write a summary of the essentials on the blackboard. The hope was that the students would just pay attention to the essentials..."

    "... The problem of making it interesting for the intelligent student, and basic enough that the duller student can understand it, is a hard one and I didn't quite solve it. I am also disappointed that in the books the summaries are not there to guide the reader as to what's the essential basic course, and what's the fireworks and interesting -- but there you are!"​

    FLP is the right introductory physics book for certain kinds of students. I know people who have learned physics from it, quite well. But it's not for everyone. For example, I have a young friend who found FLP not to his tastes, and he used Landau and Lipschitz as his introduction to physics, when he was 16 - he's now working on his Ph.D in loop quantum gravity at the U. of Warsaw. Different strokes for different folks.

    P.S. I am currently working on including in the online edition the lecture summaries that Feynman bemoaned are missing from FLP.
    Last edited: Mar 21, 2016
  19. Mar 21, 2016 #18
    Is Halliday resnick walker-->k&k-->Purcell-->Feynman a good path
  20. Mar 21, 2016 #19


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    Yes, since you're so young I would recommend doing the entire H&R&W text before moving onto K&K, so you can also build up your mathematic skills concurrently. That could keep you busy for more than year, so I wouldn't worry about getting the copies of the additional texts right away. You should also supplement some SR before moving onto Purcell. K&K has some, as does Purcell itself, but it's generally helpful to find some free online resources to gain some more depth in the subject matter. There are plenty of good free sources out there.

    It may also be beneficial to look into getting the students solution manual for whichever first text you decide on, since you don't have an instructor to check your work. You don't want to overuse it as a crutch though.

    Also, don't waste your money on FoP late editions, get an early edition or the original Physics volumes 1 and 2 4th or 5th editions -- which is more better. :)

    Like other posters have pointed out, Feynman's lectures are online for free, K&K second edition is probably slightly better than the first, and latest of Purcell's is in my mind better, but some may disagree.

    By the time you finish K&K and Purcell you'll have a good foundation to get the most insights possible out of the lectures. Obviously you could also read them with K&K and Purcell if you wanted to.
  21. Mar 21, 2016 #20
    Thanks! I think I might have the access to the solution manual because the book has a code inside. I'll check. Thanks for your help again.

    Also, do you think I can study chemistry and biology alongside, or should I wait until I finish physics?
  22. Mar 21, 2016 #21


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    It really depends on how much time you have, how your studies in school are going, and basically how much of social life you're trying to retain. I would say start off with just the physics, it's literally enough to keep you busy for a year+ on it's own. (just the FoP book.)

    Also, don't let your current classes slip because you find physics/whatever more interesting. You're being graded on your current studies- they should take priority over anything else.
  23. Mar 21, 2016 #22
    Thanks! When you say the FoP book (go through the entire thing), do you mean all 5 volumes or just the first one?

    Thanks again.
  24. Mar 21, 2016 #23


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    It's five volumes now? Wow. I haven't looked at the book since I used it in college.

    Just make sure you cover mechanics/thermo/fluids/E&M/Waves & Optics, then you can move on. Not sure how many volumes that is of the text. You'll cover more than most students who use the book in their intro sequence, but it'll give you more time to prepare yourself by solving many physical problems and learning more mathematics for when you get to the more advanced undergraduate intro texts.

    If it also includes SR, you should also cover that. I don't believe mine did, but it's literally been years since I've opened my copy.

    You're also really young, so you have a surplus of time.
  25. Mar 21, 2016 #24
    I'm sorry if I sound really paranoid, but I'm just afraid it will be really watered down (I just started going through). I don't like not seeing derivations and basic proofs...what do you think?

    Thanks so much for your time!
  26. Mar 21, 2016 #25


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    You'll be fine, it's a springboard for a lot of students - and you already own it. The most important lessons to take from it are how to solve physical problems, there are plenty of exercises for that.
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