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Featured Why did you start learning physics?

  1. Feb 9, 2018 #1
    Why did you decided to learn physics? What was your motivation?
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 9, 2018 #2


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    Fun stuff, plus:
    Base of the hierarchy of sciences that build up to biological subjects (physics --> chemistry --> biology).
  4. Feb 9, 2018 #3


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    I cannot imagine going through life without understanding the reality around me [I still don't, but at least I have models]. I think I would feel disconnected from reality without some basic level of understanding [some days are more connected than other days]. I would like to have the basic tools to be able to know the difference between pseudoscience and science to basically save money [Learning physics makes this a lot easier].
    Last edited: Feb 14, 2018
  5. Feb 10, 2018 #4


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    I remember seeing an 8 mm video of me at the age of about 18 months with a water hose, with water coming out of it, with the look on my face saying: "This is really interesting".

    I'm guessing I get/got hooked on interesting things.
  6. Feb 10, 2018 #5


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    For me I'm not sure there was any one single reason that I can point to that spurred me to learn physics (or perhaps pursue it beyond the mandatory high school classes). A few factors that influenced me:
    • Science Fiction
      I can't even say I read a lot of it at the time, but like many teenagers I was draw to the possibilities that were explored in science fiction stories, movies and TV shows. I wanted to know what was real or achievable, and what was not.

    • Popular Science
      Popular science books by Stephen Hawking, Carl Sagan, Michio Kaku, Brian Green and a number of others really inspired me. I also like reading science magazines. For anyone who remembers pre-internet days, I was one of the kids who sent away the $10 to get the plans for the "Amazing Rocket Belt" and other such things in the classified sections of Popular Science and Popular Mechanics.

    • Friends
      I had a close group of nerdy friends. In our group there was a lot of value in understanding how things worked and coming up with original ideas (even if most of them ultimately didn't work). It stared with taking apart bicycles and radio-controlled cars, or arguing about whether the "kinetic theory of heat" was real.

    • Aptitude
      I can't say I was a 'perfect' student, but in high school I did really well in physics and math classes. Kids tend to gravitate towards the areas where they excel. I think there was a positive reinforcement cycle effect that happened there.
  7. Feb 10, 2018 #6


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    Initially, because it logically explained things that I could observe and intuitively understand. Later, because it logically explained things that I could observe and ran counter to my intuition.
    Last edited: Feb 12, 2018
  8. Feb 10, 2018 #7
    Like many others, science fiction. But I didn't just want fiction, I wanted to know what was possible, what might be possible with another 100 years or 1000 years of technological development, and what simply isn't possible in our universe.

    And what might be possible in other universes if such a thing exists. And whether it's possible to tell for sure if such a thing exists, or wether we might be able to answer that question with 1000 more years of exploration...

    And to answer any of those questions you start with learning what the human race currently knows about physics. When I read Carl Sagan on the search for alien life, or Michio Kaku on how we might build a light-saber in the next few decades, a beautiful connection between fact and fantasy arises.

    Even the simple, mundane details of studying physics combine into functional models of incredibly complicated systems. The fruit of that labor is in my hands as I type these words, and all around us in modern life. Through studying physics I stare in awe at the mysteries of the universe.

    Plus, what else am I going to do with my time? Be an English major? Yeah right.
  9. Feb 11, 2018 #8


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    My earliest recollection was in grade school, I think 5th grade when I read a biography on Albert Einstein and got fascinated with gedanken experiments and relativity. I remember reading of how he scored so poorly in math and I figured if he could do it then perhaps I could too.

    Of course, many years later I discovered that it wasn’t true, Einstein always did well in math. Some biographer had erroneously interpreted Einstein’s report card using the American grading system of 4,3,2,1 for A,B,C,D whereas in Germany Numbered grades were interpreted differently and so a 1 grade meant A and not D.


    No matter, it’s what you believe that pushes you forward. I focused on the Unified Field theory and pondered what it would be like and I imagined I would solve it one day. That’s what inspired me to learn physics and math from grade school thru college and then I got distracted by the easy money of being a programmer. Oh well, it’s still not solved and there’s always time in retirement...
    Last edited: Feb 11, 2018
  10. Feb 11, 2018 #9
    At some point, I started reading about the lives of great physicists in some book I found. In it, I learned about titanic figures like Newton, Einstein, Dirac, and others. It was probably the author's entertaining writing style, but the way their lives were described and the great discoveries they made were compelling to me. I began to see the development of physics as akin to the real-time writing of the true story of creation (as opposed to the many dubious religious texts which attempt this), and the great thinkers doing the work as the simultaneous authors and discoverers of that story. I began to see physics and scientific discovery as the spiritually meaningful journeys they truly are.

    Inevitably, this made me interested in learning physics myself, and here I am. Ironically, I've gravitated to CS now and will focus on machine learning in graduate school, despite my love for physics. I think the future will revolve around AI and what sufficiently general machine learning agents will do to contribute to all domains of scientific research. In fact, I think if humans are to ever develop an acceptable unified field theory, it will be with the invaluable aid of an advanced machine learning system, if not by the AI itself.
  11. Feb 11, 2018 #10


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    You missed one:

    mathematics --> physics
  12. Feb 11, 2018 #11
    It is astounding that me sitting in my living room writing weird symbols on a piece of paper can allow me to understand the universe. The reason I study physics is that I want to know what I don't know.To put it simply I'm a curious cat.
  13. Feb 11, 2018 #12


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  14. Feb 11, 2018 #13


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    Well, to me math is not a science, it more of a useful approach (kind of like a formalized language) that came be used to investigate lots of different things (not just physics).
  15. Feb 11, 2018 #14

    Jonathan Scott

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    Since my earliest memories I've desperately wanted to understand how and why things work. I also excelled at mathematics from before I can remember.

    Unfortunately, about 40 years ago I got side-tracked into a day job, which as it involves huge amounts of computer code (mostly ancient now) also involves understanding how and why things work or, frequently, don't.

    However, my compulsion to understand physics has continued, mostly in the areas where things don't seem to make sense, like quantum entanglement and black holes, which continue to torment me. My life-long skills at successfully debugging weird problems, often by challenging assumptions and supposedly factual statements, suggest that there should be a logical explanation somewhere, but although I've found many clues, so far I haven't found the solution. I doubt whether I ever will, but at least I hope to pass on the idea that when all else fails, perhaps it's the assumptions or even "facts" which are wrong.
  16. Feb 11, 2018 #15
    I wanted to be a scientist since I was a young. I was regularly doing experiements as a kid and always wanted to be a scientist. I started out college as a biology major, inspired by the cloning of dolly the sheep. Soon after I realized I wanted something more quantitative so I switched to physics. Looking back, neither science major was really thought out. I did ok in in school. Got some silly honors and did some research. But in the end I am not smart enough to be a scientist. Science is a dream long forgotten and one my parents and teachers should not have single mindedly supported me on. Its just not practical for many people and people like me. It was fun learning physics for sure, but in hindsight I never should have majored in it and never should have tried to be a scientist.
  17. Feb 11, 2018 #16


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    We can only have a meaningful discussion about this if you define 'science'. If you mean it's not empirical, I agree.
  18. Feb 11, 2018 #17
    Always loved science: biology, chemistry, and physics. My mom bought lots of science books and a F&W encyclopedia set that came with an annual science yearbook subscription. I just read and read on lots of science topics. My grandmother had a WB encyclopedia set, and I remember spending hours and hours reading about science topics in that one also, mostly about fishes.

    In elementary school, I checked out books on light and relativity and devoured them. I had mixed feelings about some of my middle and high school science teachers, but I worked hard and tried to grasp it all.

    When the time came, I guess I picked physics because it seemed the most challenging and the most fundamental.
  19. Feb 11, 2018 #18


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    Good point.
    Yes (in my view) it is not emipirical (mostly anyway).
    It me it is more like philosophy (vs. science), logic and rational consideration of various issues,
    but not including the empirical testing of those ideas vs. reality that is such an important aspect of science.
    Both philosophy and mathematics can provide ways to thing about things and make comparisons, but testing vs. "reality" is what (to me) sets the sciences apart and underlies their relentless progress.

    Mathematics of course has the advantage of quantification, in addition to precise statements. It can be generally applied to different phenomena.
    I guess the only "tests" of mathematics is in its internal consistency and compatibility with other math it is supposed to work with, with its mathematical "worth" (what other mathematicians think), and how much it is successfully put to use in the real world (thus being tested). Some of this is like another thread going now now.
    However, it seems to me that, in its pure form, mathematics is constrained by the consistency/compatibility issues, while the worth issues act more like descriptors of different sub-sets of mathematics. Therefore not tested, in its pure form.
    However, there may be computer running tests involving testing lots of equations or something that could provide a test of something mathematical. Would be interesting to know.
  20. Feb 12, 2018 #19
    In my teens I developed the classical philosophy of mathematics that certainty in reasoning can only be derived at by using mathematical reasoning and that all mathematics is logic. During this time, ideologically, I became a purist mathematician and absorbed as much pure math as I could. All classical mathematics I came across, from Newton up to Euler, Gauss and Riemann, was like music to my ears.

    Physics was also a compulsory subject, but as a true purist by heart, I arrogantly turned up my nose to all forms of applied mathematics, which in my opinion destroyed the perfect precision of mathematics, especially experiment based pre-calculus classical physics. I had a severe dislike of doing experiments, and so of physics as a whole, for this reason.

    Then one day everything changed. I remember it vividly, it was a noncompulsary pre-exam week and so I was alone in the classroom with the physics teacher and another student, who was studying for the physics exam. Instead of studying however I was using mathematics to analyse the structure of physical laws.

    In that moment I rediscovered dimensional analysis and so Planckian units. I immediately realized physical laws weren't arbitrary mathematical statements at all, as I thought beforehand, but were actually derivable from and related to each other, and even more that they actually encode inherent properties of Nature herself. This wasn't the mere certainty that mathematics offered, it felt like actual contact with reality.

    I asked the teacher if the purely mathematical derivation I showed him made any sense, and to my surprise he answered yes, extended it to account for things I had left out by considering a pure ideal case and then he could even name the law. In that moment my ideology switched from purist mathematics to physics and I have never once looked back since.
  21. Feb 12, 2018 #20


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    In high school, I was interested in physics, but also other things: mainly chemistry, but also foreign languages and urban planning. When I started college (bachelor's degree), I was still undecided between physics and chemistry. During my second semester, I learned about Maxwell's equations in electromagnetism, thought, "wow, this is cool!" and decided to major in physics.
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