What's harder? Math, Physics or Engineering?

  • Thread starter Jin314159
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  • #26
Tom Mattson
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Jin314159 said:
A friend of mine got into a heated debate on which one of these disciplines is harder. What do you guys think?

I think that pure mathematics is the hardest, hands down. A lot of people who say "Aw, math is easy!" probably never took a "real" math course. By that I mean that they probably never went beyond the calculus/linear algebra/diff eq sequence required of engineering majors. Once you get away from those grind-out-the-calculations courses, you get into the real meat of the issue: proving theorems. This required more mental firepower than any other discipline, IMO. As a physics student, I did just enough to be dangerous :wink: . My plan is to get myself up to the level of a math grad student in analysis and algebra, starting this fall. Wish me luck.
 
  • #27
Gokul43201
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One of the things that make math and physics hard, are the existence of abstract concepts that can NOT be visualized or understood in terms of more familiar things.
 
  • #28
BobG
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Math Is Hard said:
ha ha ha!! It's funny because I used to be frightened of math and science courses because I was so worried my calculations would be off the mark. Now what scares me more are the humanities classes because the grading can be very subjective, and sometimes it all boils down to how much your conclusions agree with the teacher's opinions. With math and science, you either get the right answer or you don't. With humanities and social science, it's more of a gray area.

There's a reason for that. When you write a paper supporting your own beliefs, you tend to rely on some assumptions that seem like common sense to you. Unfortunately, people on the opposite side of the fence may not believe in those same assumptions.

If you're lucky, the teacher's opinions are based on the same assumptions as yours and don't need supporting (i.e. - the teacher can fall into the same trap as the writer). If you're unlucky, the teacher won't let those assumptions pass without support and will see your arguments as weak.

The best route is to always support the opposite side in the papers you write. You can see the weaknesses in your opponents' assumptions easier than you can see the weaknesses in your own and are less likely to base your arguments on weak assumptions.

(Assuming, of course, that your goal is to get a good grade vs. change the world)
 
  • #29
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Personally, I find math the hardest. I've been doing engineering without a degree for twenty years now. I've gone back to school to earn my degree and the math is the most difficult subject to overcome.

That being said, Engineering is the most important of the three. Engineering is the discipline where the money is applied to the knowledge. A mistake in the engineer's use of math or physics can cost a great deal of money, or lives.
 
  • #30
Math Is Hard
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BobG said:
The best route is to always support the opposite side in the papers you write. You can see the weaknesses in your opponents' assumptions easier than you can see the weaknesses in your own and are less likely to base your arguments on weak assumptions.

(Assuming, of course, that your goal is to get a good grade vs. change the world)

Actually, my strategy is to make sure my teacher and I have a certain amount of compatibility. For example, recently I was randomly assigned to a composition class and as soon as I found out the teacher's name I went and looked up her bio and assigned booklist. She is a graduate student doing a thesis on themes in literature involving incarcerated black lesbians. The book she assigned for the class is one such story. I am sure this teacher is a delightful and brilliant person and I would probably love hanging out with her in a social setting. However, as a heterosexual, caucasion female (who is probably 10-12 years older than her), I doubt my analysis of these topics would impress her. My background and experience is just too different from hers, and anything I wrote would probably strike her as trite or missing the point.
I opted to switch my class to another section with a different teacher where the book list is more traditional (Shakespeare, Oscar Wilde, etc.) and more along the lines of my tastes. I know I'll feel more secure in this course section.
 
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Tom Mattson said:
I think that pure mathematics is the hardest, hands down. A lot of people who say "Aw, math is easy!" probably never took a "real" math course. By that I mean that they probably never went beyond the calculus/linear algebra/diff eq sequence required of engineering majors. Once you get away from those grind-out-the-calculations courses, you get into the real meat of the issue: proving theorems.

Well, you get alot of that as a physics undergraduate as well in this country. The idea is that if you're going to use mathematics, you might as well learn the theory behind it. So every physics student tags along with the mathematicians and gets algebra, analysis, etc... courses that are aimed at math students, so with no practical applications in mind whatsoever. You know, that kind of course that goes : axiom-theorem-proof-theorem-proof-lemma-theorem-proof-lemma-lemma-lemma-theorem-proof, etc...

It is tough at first, but once you get used to it, math becomes a whole lot less difficult. I still hold that physics is harder.
 
  • #32
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Learning undergraduate math, even the abstract kind is heavy on memorization, and I suppose easier than undergraduate physics with all those calculations. But doing math; i.e. thinking up new theorems, is harder than almost anything, and I believe there are fewer clues than in physics to help you along.
 
  • #33
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Asking which subject is harder depends on who you are asking.

What is "harder" is purely subjective. Person A might find math a lot harder than physics and Person B might find physics a lot harder than math.

I concur with Tom. A lot of people think math is limited to introductory calculus (which I find a joke) and differential equations. Most people fail to note specializations like Real Analysis, Complex Analysis, and Topology which are not simply "plug in and turn the mathematical crank." Those are subjects with a basis in proof writing.
 
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