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Understanding the frontier of physics?

  1. Become any theoreitcal particle physicist

  2. Becoming a mathematician

  1. Jun 30, 2007 #1
    It seems that physics is increasingly becoming more mathematical. Would you say that an average mind without any talents in maths or physics but would like to understand the frontiers of physics (more specifically any GUT related theories) although not necessary contriubte to physics would be better off becoming a mathematician?

    This occured to me because a professor theoretical particle physicist at my university said he found it hard to understand the second part of "A First Course in String Theory" by Zwiebach, Barton (2004). He also admitted another time while lecturing that his knowledge of maths isn't large. And that he wished he had the time to look into it more. So obviously he is doing research in less maths intensive fields of theoretical particle physics.

    Obviously it would be best to be a physicist working directly on the GUT but lets assume that dosen't happen.
    Last edited: Jun 30, 2007
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  3. Jun 30, 2007 #2


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    I'd say that an "average person with no talent in maths" would not be able to become a mathematician!
  4. Jun 30, 2007 #3
    I think they can become a mathematician with enough interest hence the willingness to put the effort in. Although I wouldn't expect them to become a great mathematician. I infact once asked a senior pure mathematician via an email whether someone with no talent can become a mathematician and the first sentence of his reply was something like 'I am not talented either'. He actually retired the following year without having gained any professorial status during his career.
    Last edited: Jun 30, 2007
  5. Jun 30, 2007 #4


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    Willingness is not equivalent to potential to succeed, though. That's like saying that everyone who is interested in politics, say, has the potential to become a politician.

    It seems a bit stupid to start on a career path that one is not going to suceed in!

    He was probably either being modest, or is an anomoly.
  6. Jun 30, 2007 #5
    Do you think that Einstein, for example, read EVERY book on physics that was ever published, read every article that was every written, talked to every physicist about all of the known work of every physicist that that ever lived, and knew all the math everywhere on every plane?


    A lot of it depends on the attitude that you have about the things that you learn, what interests drive you to learn, what you believe about what you learn, etc...(learn is the key word, though).


    My point was that Einstein probably did READ an enormous amount of work, and probably DID talk to quite a few people---but it was WHAT he read, WHAT he thought was important, and what and how he thought about what he did learn that made him a little different.
    Last edited: Jul 1, 2007
  7. Jun 30, 2007 #6
    Nearly everyone has some talent for mathematics, the difference is how long it will take you to learn and master the mathematics needed for string theory. Learning the mathematics will probably take less time if you have a talent for maths, and more time if you have less talent. Either way it can be done, given enough time and effort.
  8. Jul 2, 2007 #7


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    The math of the second part of the Zwiebach's book is not much different than math used in theoretical particle physics. Instead, the physical concepts are those that are quite different than those in particle physics. I would guess that this professor is too old to accept significantly new physical concepts and/or that he is probably a particle phenomenologist (not a theorist in a more narrow sense), not used to question and explore the basic physical concepts.
  9. Jul 2, 2007 #8
    In answer to the original question, I don't think you can get far at all in understanding the details of GUT's, or many other branches of physics, without having some ability with the maths. That said, I don't believe that becoming a mathematician would be useful. I would pursue the theoretical particle physics route, but try to learn all the relevant maths along the way. You never know when it may come in useful regarding more advanced physics.

    I have had this same debate at university many times before and the general concensus seems to be that the 2 subjects can be hard to tell apart sometimes. When embroiled in a very lengthy calculation in quantum field theory the final result of the calculation will have physical significance so I am doing physics. But in evaluating all the integrals and manipulating elements of a Grassmann algebra, etc, I am simply doing maths - acting on an expression with a Klein-Gordon operator doesn't correspond to a physical process, it's simply maths that takes me closer to a final answer.
  10. Jul 2, 2007 #9


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    I guess that an entry point to become a mathematician is to recognise the potential tautology in this phrase.
  11. Jul 2, 2007 #10
    True, he is known for research into neutrino physics.
  12. Jul 3, 2007 #11
    What area/level of physics do you see yourself liking and are comfortable within/as or a combination of?

    (analogy below:)

    do you like the idea about yourself being inventor of the 'brick'?

    the person doing the 'trial and error' for the composition of the 'brick'?

    the maker of the 'brick'?

    the seller of the 'brick'?

    the hauler of the 'brick'?

    the worker laying the 'brick'?

    the owner of the 'brick' home?

    the demolisher of the 'brick' home?

    the salvager of the 'brick' of the demolished home?

    To me, the first deals with theory (the very smallest whole number-tip of the pyramid), the rest applied.

    Does a person gamble being a theorist with his life (and life's work) for the very small chance to be the discoverer of the 'brick', or 'work' in the area (applied) with the idea/hope/dream of discovering a/the 'brick' along the way?
  13. Jul 3, 2007 #12


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    I see myself as the inventor, but I presume that this refers also to most if not all contributors on this subforum.
  14. Jul 3, 2007 #13
    From reading your posts (they are responsive, creative, directed, etc.) and a couple of your papers-----I would tend to agree with you

    (about refering to most if not all contributors on this subforum):biggrin:
  15. Jul 3, 2007 #14


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    I agree with PF's own descendant of Bohm. Though during the last 3 years, I've observed myself desperately trying to "invent things" in various context, to the point where I have now come to take interest in the inventive, and evolutionary process itself. Because I noticed that I could try to invent just about anything, and it often boils down to a set of repeating questions giving me the deja vu sensation. So instead of trying to invent explanations for the presumed reality, I've come to try invent an explanation for the inventive process itself. At first a seemingly circular taks, but on closer lookup it's more evolutionary than circular. My vision is that this will provide an efficient route to a deeper understanding of things.

    So I guess while I think of myself as an inventor, I've come to pay more interest in logic of the inventive process itself, and less in the actual inventions.

  16. Jul 3, 2007 #15
  17. Jul 3, 2007 #16


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    This roughly appeals to me, although I think there is a relation between them. They kind of come together.

    Mmm I am a little doubtful at this, in particular the latter, depending on how it's specified in detail.

    I wonder what you mean by this? In my thinking experimental input is what drives the whole thing, and is thus in a sense paramount. Without it, there are no answers. Of course one can picture any sample input, but this "sample input" should in principle be real input.

    But I'll be a little bit more fair and at least look at that webpages closer tomorrow.

  18. Jul 3, 2007 #17


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    SetAI, if you advocated the digital physics, do you know these two missing points in the FAQ?

    > 5.2 Why is there microscopic reversibility, according to DP?
    > 5.3 How does DP explain the arrow of the time? (Why does DP suggest that the Universe is a reversible, but not invertible CA?)

  19. Jul 4, 2007 #18


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    May I also ask you which of my papers have you been reading?
  20. Jul 4, 2007 #19

    I picked out the ones that had my interest from the title and intro first--I'll go back and look again.

    you've got a good handle on English (if it is your second language)

  21. Jul 4, 2007 #20


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    Thanks again! (Yes, English is my second language. In fact, in primary school and high school my marks in English were rather low. Interestingly, in that time, I've got my first (and last) A in English when I wrote an essay about Steven Hawking. Later, my English has significantly improved at the college, when I started to read physics textbooks in English. I guess, it is all about motivation.)
  22. Jul 4, 2007 #21
    well, was Tesla from near you?
  23. Jul 4, 2007 #22


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    Yes, the same country, few hundreds kilometers from me. :wink:
  24. Jul 4, 2007 #23
    good----maybe a little of his 'gene pool' is part of yours


    I'll look at and re-read your papers today
    Last edited: Jul 4, 2007
  25. Jul 5, 2007 #24
    I am a bit lost here. Starting with post 11, I haven't been able to follow the discussion.
  26. Jul 12, 2007 #25

    It was just an analogy of where the theorist (inventor) fits in with the theorist's (inventor's) impact, how rare the theorist (inventor) is, and how many others (jobs) are created after the fact that the theory (invention) is used IF it is a viable theory (invention).



    You've 'created' an interesting group of papers. I remember reading the 'Myth' paper, and the 'Cosmological constant' now, but had skipped all the others until now. The one I missed (and I don't know how or why) is the (paraphrased) 'How much wood could a woodchuck chuck..' :tongue: one--which was more interesting than I expected from the title. ---yeah, good stuff--and it looks like you've been busy on them lately (revising?)

    I'll send a private message to you in the next day or two.
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