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Why did you choose math over physics or vice versa?

  1. Dec 22, 2016 #1
    For a major or This could be related to career as well.
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  3. Dec 22, 2016 #2
    I like to think that Physics is math with a story. The two go hand-in-hand. You cannot study math without knowledge of physics and you cannot study physics without math.

    I chose physics because I was curious on why and how things work in the universe.
  4. Dec 22, 2016 #3


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    I doubt that.
  5. Dec 22, 2016 #4


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    The tutorial in physics had been scheduled at 8 a.m.
  6. Dec 22, 2016 #5
    the possibly apocryphal quote of Feynman's relating physics to math as sex is to masturbation comes to mind.
  7. Dec 22, 2016 #6
    I chose math because it felt "perfect" to me. Physics felt kind of messy. Even within mathematics I prefer discrete type stuff. I do not like calculus/analysis or anything like that (the kind of math, incidentally, you do in physics).

    I also liked the fact that it doesn't rely on experimentation but on pure reasoning, so you can do math or think about it anytime any where.
  8. Dec 22, 2016 #7


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    As do I. There are many areas of mathematics that have no connection to physics.
  9. Dec 22, 2016 #8


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    I enjoyed physics more.
  10. Dec 22, 2016 #9


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    Physics is a basic scientific area in which the Mathematics you study really becomes alive. This is why "Physics is good for you", even if you don't really need it for Mathematics.
  11. Dec 22, 2016 #10
    Physics in my opinion falls into the gap of being too pure to be useful but too applied to be beautiful, the end result is a field which is neither applied nor clean. I went from math to engineering, I never gave physics a thought because I always felt it was kind of a train wreck.
  12. Dec 22, 2016 #11
    I always thought engineering looked more difficult than math or physics, because not only do you need to know math and physics, but you have to be able to do something useful with it. Whenever I saw the engineering majors at work, it looked like a lot of..well..work!

    -Dave K
  13. Dec 22, 2016 #12
    Engineering is based upon the principle of abstraction. Make good enough approximations, internal functioning doesn't really matter. Example: I don't know anything about semiconductor physics or semiconductor manufacturing but I make circuits using transistors because there exists a simplified abstract model which describes the device under the range of conditions I am interested in.

    I would say engineering is closer to mathematics then physics actually.
  14. Dec 22, 2016 #13
    I had always looked at math as a means to and end, what can I use it for.
  15. Dec 22, 2016 #14
    Have you ever taken a mathematical modeling course. The laws of physics apply there when modeling physical applications.
  16. Dec 22, 2016 #15


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    No I have not, but mathematics is not only about modelling physical phenomena, is it? Logic and algebra for instance, they need only a fine reasoning to work.
  17. Dec 22, 2016 #16

    George Jones

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    This is not true.
  18. Dec 22, 2016 #17
    Indeed it is not, and I stand as a living testament to this fact, as do numerous mathematicians.

    Curious what @Dopplershift means by the statement. Probably something different than what he is actually saying.
  19. Dec 22, 2016 #18
    I am currently in the process of introspection and reflection in order to determine whether I will apply to graduate school in physics or mathematics. I, like dkotschessaa, also view mathematics as more "pure" and more "perfect" than physics. On the one hand, there is physics which appears more superficially interesting and inspired, and on the other is mathematics, which to me, follows in the tradition of Plato's world of forms-something that transcends reality, something that transcends physics. Mathematics seems to me to be a truly sublime and magnificent edifice, beautiful and deep, yet elusive. Physics comes a lot more naturally to me, not to say that it is easy which it certainly isn't, but it seems to suit my mode of thought more than does mathematics. Although I agree once again with
    dkotschessaa about physics being messy, there is also a certain beauty in finding the patterns nested deep inside the mess.
  20. Dec 22, 2016 #19
    That is what all scientific discipline based upon. When a physicist solves a simple Atwood machine problem, he doesn't reason from first principles (even if his knows them - a beginning physicist does not - that would be downright madness), he reasons with high-level abstractions. And those high-level abstractions are built on the whole hierarchy of abstractions that go all the way down to the most basic, most fundamental physic theories. And the first principles that await us at the bottom of this hierarchy ladder... is just another bunch of abstractions.
  21. Dec 23, 2016 #20


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    Perhaps we can agree that at least from a historical point of view, mathematics and physics have some considerable overlap when it comes to their incremental discoveries/inventions. Some mathematical discoveries/inventions were made in the process of investigating physical phenomena (e.g. Newton's calculus), and some physical theories emerged by examining the underlying mathematics (e.g. Dirac's antimatter).

    Heck, there is also some overlap between engineering and mathematics in certain mathematical discoveries/inventions. The mathematical fields of Information Theory and Digital Signal Processing fall into the realm of mathematics from start to finish, but it was and is engineering behind the driving force of their discoveries/inventions. (These fields are often taught and researched in the Engineering departments in universities, even though the fields are technically, purely mathematical.)

    Of course it goes without saying that engineering and physics have some overlap. No need to say more on that.

    [Edit: Corrected a quotation (I had copied and pasted the wrong part of the original quote).]
    Last edited: Dec 23, 2016
  22. Dec 23, 2016 #21
    And this is probably what @Dopplershift mean. Unfortunately it is not what he said.

    And actually, I cold argue, if I wanted to, that the way math research is conducted these days is really Greek in flavor. But I won't. :D

    -Dave K
  23. Dec 23, 2016 #22
    I have no doubt there is, and I have it is clear that my characterization of messiness is an aesthetic one, i.e. one of taste, and not meant as a categorical statement.

    I did some work in mathematical biology where we used differential equations to model tumor growth. Talk about messy. But I have to admit that the more I stared at the equations the more they kind of grew on me and I came to consider them beautiful ways of describing this particular system. So I imagine much of physics can be like that.

    (Although I think I can do it better with cellular automata!)

    -Dave K
  24. Dec 23, 2016 #23


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    I think the discussion has deviated from what the OP wished.
    Alright, to initiate the return to the original question, I will start by providing my answer. In my case, I was suggested by my mother to enter physics department on the ground that someone in our family had previously went to this department and now is having a prosperous life - she wanted me to follow his path. Although now our field of expertise is entirely different, he is in oil exploration while I am in atomic physics. My own choice at that time was not physics, I was inclined more towards either engineering or graphics and design. Math was not even among those I considered to enroll to. Despite not being my honest decision, being in physics major is fun. In physics you can get the access to both theory and experiment (I guess in pure math, no one ever talks about experiment). One of the joys, to me, is when seeing two curves one from experiment another from theoretical model that exhibits very good agreement. All the more if I were the one who produce both curves.
  25. Dec 23, 2016 #24
    can't you have your cake and eat it too by becoming a mathematical physicist?
  26. Dec 25, 2016 #25
    What beauty do you see in proofs?
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