When do you know you have understood physics?

In summary,In summary, this conversation is about how one can know they have grasped a topic in physics when they can answer questions on the matter outside of their area of expertise. The options for understanding are not enough, and only one applies to the respondent.

When do you know you have understood a topic in physics?

  • Never

    Votes: 8 57.1%
  • After passing an academic course

    Votes: 0 0.0%
  • After receiving an academic qualification

    Votes: 0 0.0%
  • After publishing a peer-reviewed article

    Votes: 0 0.0%
  • After publishing a monograph

    Votes: 1 7.1%
  • After receiving the Nobel prize

    Votes: 1 7.1%
  • After teaching it to a child

    Votes: 4 28.6%

  • Total voters
  • #1
This is rather a philosophical question, so I will limit it to a topic in physics. I'm interested in knowing your opinion, and perhaps your thoughts on how physics is being developed and progressed today.
Physics news on Phys.org
  • #2
I voted with Feynman:
"If you can't explain something to a first year student, then you haven't really understood." ~ Richard P. Feynman
  • Like
Likes DeBangis21, rsk, Wrichik Basu and 2 others
  • #3
For me (internally), it is when I believe I can walk in front of an audience at any level of sophistication and explain the topic at hand. Pretty close to the Feynman attribute.
I do however know that know nothing.
  • Like
Likes DeBangis21
  • #4
How much of physics? These days nobody can know all of it.
  • Like
Likes BillTre and Hamiltonian
  • #5
“What I cannot create, I do not understand.”
-Richard Feynman (one of two quotes scrawled on his blackboard discovered after his death)

He seemed to mean you should be able to break a topic down and "recreate" it from scratch in your own words/understanding and build it back up to explain to someone. You shouldn't just accept someone's explanation or vague gesture at an explanation, but really break it down to a point that you can build it back up in your own logic/words/understanding.
Last edited:
  • Like
Likes DeBangis21, Swamp Thing, ipsky and 2 others
  • #6
I'm surprised that none of the options was "When your understanding matches experiment"
  • Like
Likes Wrichik Basu
  • #7
The options are not enough, unfortunately.

As a student whose interests lie in beams, when I read a paper, I know I have understood it when I read another paper along the same lines, and I find that with my knowledge of the earlier paper, I can understand the other paper. Often, I read a paper twice or thrice, and then make notes from it, which summarizes the main points in the paper, and then I know which parts I have understood, and which I haven't.

In a recent virtual visit to the ATLAS, a question was asked which was not in the realm of the hosts. It was regarding beam operation in the LHC, and I had already read a paper on that specific topic, so I answered it. Well, definitely not in very layman terms, so not akin to explaining it to a child. But afterwards, I had a good feeling that I was able to answer somebody's question.
  • Like
Likes hutchphd, DeBangis21, Hamiltonian and 2 others
  • #8
bobdavis said:
"When your understanding matches experiment"
What experiment(s) have helped you know what you have understood?

Wrichik Basu said:
The options are not enough, unfortunately.
What additional options would you include, and why?
  • #9
ipsky said:
What additional options would you include
"None of the above."
ipsky said:
and why?
See my post #7. None of the given options apply to me.
  • Like
Likes hutchphd
  • #10
Wrichik Basu said:
See my post #7. None of the given options apply to me.
Yes, I understand none of the options apply to you. I thus asked for the option(s) that 'do' apply to you. I'm hesitant to consider comprehension of a few papers, and answering a few questions on them, as a measure of how well one understands a topic in physics. If you believe it has helped you, then I would like to know how accurately others can evaluate the same for themselves.
  • #11
IMO one never truly understands a topic in physics, one merely gets used to it (kind of like marriage).
  • Like
  • Haha
Likes ipsky and BillTre

1. When do you know you have understood physics?

Understanding physics is an ongoing process and there is no definitive point where you can say that you have fully understood it. However, a good indication of understanding is when you are able to apply the principles and concepts to solve problems and make predictions about the physical world.

2. How can you test your understanding of physics?

One way to test your understanding of physics is to attempt practice problems and questions that require you to apply the principles and concepts you have learned. You can also discuss and explain concepts to others, as teaching is a great way to solidify your understanding.

3. Is it important to have a deep understanding of physics?

While it is not necessary to have a deep understanding of physics for everyday life, having a strong understanding can open up opportunities for careers in fields such as engineering, technology, and research. Additionally, understanding physics can also help you make informed decisions about issues related to science and technology.

4. Can you understand physics without being good at math?

Math is a fundamental tool in physics and having a good understanding of mathematical principles and equations is crucial for understanding physics. While it is possible to grasp some basic concepts without being proficient in math, a deeper understanding of physics requires a solid foundation in math.

5. How can you improve your understanding of physics?

One of the best ways to improve your understanding of physics is to practice and solve problems. You can also read and learn from various sources such as textbooks, online resources, and attend lectures or workshops. Collaborating with others and discussing concepts can also enhance your understanding.

Suggested for: When do you know you have understood physics?