To be a great mathematician/physicist, must one start young?

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In summary, children who are interested in pursuing a career in mathematics or physics often have a parent who taught them basic mathematics and physics when they were young. However, this is not a necessary condition for success.
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oahz
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I know that all great chess/weiqi players start at a young a age.

Is this also true for mathematicians and physicist?

Could anyone give examples of great mathematicians and physicists who started late in life?
 
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  • #2
oahz said:
I know that all great chess/weiqi players start at a young a age.

Is this also true for mathematicians and physicist?

Could anyone give examples of great mathematicians and physicists who started late in life?

How "late in life"? Most perfectly successful career physicists start university at the same time everyone else does - 17 or 18.
 
  • #3
e.bar.goum said:
How "late in life"? Most perfectly successful career physicists start university at the same time everyone else does - 17 or 18.

Well, they may start university at the same age as everyone else. However, If they have parents who taught them the basics of mathematics at the age when most kids are learning how to read from their parents, then will that have an effect?

For example, I heard that Chomsky taught his children set theory at a really really early age.
 
  • #4
oahz said:
Well, they may start university at the same age as everyone else. However, If they have parents who taught them the basics of mathematics at the age when most kids are learning how to read from their parents, then will that have an effect?

For example, I heard that Chomsky taught his children set theory at a really really early age.

This varies, I'm sure. Parents that encourage an interest in science in their children will mean that their children see science as a possible career choice. On the other hand, I have colleagues whose parents absolutely discouraged an interest in science. It depends. I certainly don't think it is required. You don't need to be a child prodigy to be a successful physicist as an adult.
 
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  • #5
Of course it helps to have a parent or some other kind of guidance early in life.

But it's not a necessary condition. There's a myth that floats around out there that you have to have completed a PhD by the time you're 26 in order to truly become a physicist. But the fact of the matter is that age doesn't really matter unless you're talking about extremes.

We often get posts here from people who discover a little later in life that they enjoy physics or mathematics and express a concern that they're starting too late to really pursue that interest.

From my point of view whether or not you pursue an academic interest is a lot more about the constraints on your individual life. It's perfectly plausible for someone who's 30 to enroll in university, work his or her way to a PhD in 10 years, compete for post-docs and then tenure-track positions and eventually become a professor (subject of course to the same small probabilities as anyone else). You don't see this happen all that often because (i) most people who have an interest in academic do discover it earlier, (ii) later in life people have different constraints - partners to consider, families to support, debts to pay off, etc., and (iii) the probability of becoming a professor, even for someone who is quite bright, is rather low to begin with.
 
  • #6
oahz said:
However, If they have parents who taught them the basics of mathematics at the age when most kids are learning how to read from their parents, then will that have an effect?

Whether early parental intervention can produce a great scientist is certainly possible but I believe that the child must have an innate interest and ability in the subject to proceed to the pinnacle of their field. The parents can give the "tools" for success in a field but it is up to the child to pick them up and use them. Conversely if the parents do nothing the child who has the interest and ability will find a way to suceed
 
  • #7
No, but it certainly helps. The culture I think causes more push to or away from science than parents. I think one of the most important contributions to science is generating interest in it in the next generation. Bill Nye has probably had a bigger impact on science as a whole than Peter Higgs.
 
  • #8
To offer an extreme view, just for the sake of argument, you might say that all great physicists and mathematicians start at childhood, always. People who have these sorts of minds will always be counting blocks as kids, or multiplying numbers in their head for fun while bored during car rides, or meticulously tiling a piece of paper with octagons during art class. This sort of person will develop the mathematical, logical, and visual-spatial parts of their minds whether or not they get a formal education. When these people start university at a later age they always do fine, even if they're already well into adulthood.

You could definitely argue that it's still better to start young, but I don't think it's any more catastrophic than getting to a movie a few minutes late. For the few minutes you'll look goofy asking everyone to catch you up on what has been happening, but by the end of the movie you'll basically be on the same page as everyone else.
 
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1. Can one become a great mathematician or physicist if they start learning at a later age?

While starting young can certainly be advantageous, it is not necessary to become a great mathematician or physicist. Many successful scientists did not start learning until later in life and were still able to make significant contributions to their field.

2. Is it true that children have a natural aptitude for math and science?

There is no scientific evidence to support the claim that children have a natural aptitude for math and science. While some may have a natural interest or talent in these subjects, anyone can become proficient with hard work and dedication.

3. Are there any specific age requirements for excelling in math and science?

There are no specific age requirements for excelling in math and science. In fact, many scientists have made groundbreaking discoveries at different stages of their lives. It is more important to have a passion and dedication for these subjects rather than a specific age.

4. Is it necessary to start learning advanced math and physics concepts at a young age?

Starting young can certainly be helpful in building a strong foundation in math and physics, but it is not necessary to start learning advanced concepts at a young age. It is more important to focus on understanding basic concepts and gradually building upon them.

5. Can one become a successful mathematician or physicist without a strong background in these subjects?

While a strong background in math and physics can certainly be beneficial, it is not a guarantee for success. Many successful scientists come from diverse backgrounds and have found success through hard work, perseverance, and a passion for their field of study.

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