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Why learn physics?

  1. Mar 6, 2014 #1
    Hello! I know nothing about physics and am bad at math, however I am only bad at math because I simply don't care about it. I am very interested in Metaphysics and would love to learn physics... can anyone tell me how I can learn complex physics from nothing? where do I start? Literally, from the ground up, what do I learn first, second, third, I can learn about physics topics like wormholes and space physics etc... Thanks!
    Last edited by a moderator: Mar 6, 2014
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 6, 2014 #2
    You want to learn physics from nothing? Learn math, get good at it, pick up a physics textbook.
  4. Mar 6, 2014 #3


    Staff: Mentor

    Physics is about as related to metaphysics as cats are to catalogs. If you want to learn physics, you need to learn tons of math.
  5. Mar 6, 2014 #4
    I'm not really qualified, but this is what I'm doing now.
    Apparently if you can absorb "Lang's Basic Mathematics", it holds all the basic math necessary to start Calculus.
    Then I suggest getting a calculus book - maybe "Lang's First Course in Calculus" and compliment that with an MIT OCW physics 1 course, and get the calculus-based physics textbook that goes along with that.

    I'm reading Basic Mathematics now - but I know how to do all this math, I just don't really understand it so I got the book. I don't know if it's a good place to learn everything before calculus.
    If it is, I don't know why I spent 3 years of highschool doing it when I could have just gotten this book.

    Good luck
  6. Mar 6, 2014 #5


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    If you are serious, then you will go to college.
  7. Mar 6, 2014 #6
    It's funny because I kind of feel that way about research-level math. However, if you like physics, which isn't so clear, then you'd probably like math, too, to some extent. Or at least, the physics would make the math interesting. That's actually how I got interested in math, myself. I didn't see anything too interesting about it, until I did physics. Physics was what showed me that math could be interesting.

    I'm kind of excited about this, so I am going to take the opportunity to mention it, just for kicks (it will be a while before he covers very many subjects).


    Feynman Lectures in Physics, maybe. I think there are problem sets you can get to go along with it, otherwise, it you'd have to get another textbook with problems. But this presupposes that you are comfortable with algebra and trig. For someone not comfortable with that stuff and who doesn't like math by itself, the only solution, as I see it would be to have some crazy uncle who is a physicist to teach you physics and the math background for it at the same time, using the physics as motivation or something like that. Few people are lucky enough to have such a crazy uncle. Hiring a tutor is an option, though, if you have money and are picky about how you want to learn it. But there's no magic pill. If you want to do some real physics, you have to come to terms with the math eventually.

    If you don't like math, maybe popular science books would be more your style. You can cover more ground with those, superficially speaking.

    I just wish I could find a link to that comic strip where someone wants to learn string theory, but then they see how big the stack of books is in order to get there...

    It's not exactly a strict order that you have to follow.

    I'd say get comfortable with algebra and trig, then you could do non-calculus-based physics, then single variable calculus, along with calculus-based physics. Then maybe multi-variable calculus, differential equations, linear algebra. Then intermediate classical mechanics (including Lagrangian and Hamiltonian dynamics) and electricity and magnetism--doesn't matter which comes first, I think.

    If you wanted to learn about wormholes, you'd probably want to read several books about special relativity, differential geometry, and then general relativity. And then, you could learn about wormholes at the end of all that (never made it that far, myself--I only did general relativity without going too deep into it). It takes smart people years of hard work (well, maybe it should be years of fun work, but it doesn't happen overnight and without great effort, even for very smart people).
  8. Mar 6, 2014 #7
    Is it this one? (Keep clicking on the picture.)
  9. Mar 7, 2014 #8
    Yes, that's the one.
  10. Mar 7, 2014 #9


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    If you want to LEARN PHYSICS, you definitely need math. Sure you could read some Michio Kaku books and go around telling everyone that our universe is a balloon and that there are other balloons and bla bla. That's is not trully physics, imho.

    Before going into wormholes, you'll need to go through all the math/physics "below" it, and that's a lot of math/physics. Study Algebra and Calculus 1,2 and 3. With that you'll be able to tackle Undergrad physics.
  11. Mar 7, 2014 #10


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    A fun book to read is "Mr Tompkins in Paperback" by George Gamow. It introduces a lot of physics in a way that is so much fun that you might want to understand the small amount of math in it. You can skip the math and still enjoy it. The physics topics include special and general relativity, quantum theory, and entropy. I hope you will read it and like it.
  12. Mar 8, 2014 #11


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    You can 'enjoy' Physics from the popular literature and broadcasts. This is like 'enjoying' Music, played in the background.
    To go further with either, it is necessary to study and practice. You absolutely need to be prepared for some pain in the Maths department if you are going to gain in the Physics department. Can't or won't do maths, excludes you from anything more than fun Physics. The good thing is that you can progress in the Physics as you learn more Maths.
    But, as the above cartoon tells us, you can't leap in at the cutting edge. Those basic things about Newtonian Mechanics need to be got over first.
  13. Mar 8, 2014 #12
    Thank you for the quick and kind replies!!!!!

    Thank you for the kind replies!

    I do have a math textbook and I have been studying it. The Calc chapter starts with Limits and that's what I've been reading. The only reason I am bored with Math is because I really don't see any major use for it in my life...and learning things that just don't mean anything (yet) makes me bored. So, anyways... I don't know how to quote someone in this forum.. but Thank you to "Strange" for your list of actions necessary and thank you to Nunchi for your recommendation of the Math Book!
    Who said I am not attending college? Trust me, even though I don't know complex math...I am a smart person. Thank you, guys for the replies... now I Truly know that Physics just isn't for me. (I do enjoy watching "Through The Wormhole" ....however :rolleyes:

    Good luck to you too Nunchi in your learning endeavors!
  14. Mar 9, 2014 #13


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    Physics is pretty much math in disguise. At first I didn't particularly like math unto itself, but it grows on you. Math gets to be pretty fun after you stop talking about f(x) with respect to x and get to the real stuff.
  15. Mar 9, 2014 #14


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    And poetry is English in disguise.
  16. Mar 9, 2014 #15


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    So, you're saying that physics is like math, but you can make up the rules as you go along, as long as it is beautiful? (I doubt that is what you meant)

    Whatever that was supposed to mean it was completely lost on me.
  17. Mar 9, 2014 #16
    This is an argument I've been wanting to flesh out, so let me take the opportunity. I can understand the difficulty people have with seeing the point of math. I have a sort of PhD-level difficulty of the same sort in seeing the point of a lot of math research. I've heard some arguments about it, and maybe the arguments in favor of it are okay, but they are really unsatisfying and vague things like, "the "useless" branches of math help us to figure out stuff about the "useful" ones" or "you can't predict applications."

    Anyway, there are a lot of reasons why I think it's important for people to learn some math. First of all, math IS useful in daily life. If you drive a car, turn on a light switch, use the internet, etc. We all know none of this stuff would be possible without math. That doesn't mean you personally have to do the math, but you do use other people's math all the time. So, maybe this isn't news to you, but there's another point lurking in the background here, which is the reason I'm even bringing this up. That's the fact that if math is useful for something, then there must be jobs where you can use it (this isn't an advertisement for being a math major--more like engineering). And what could be more practical in daily life than getting paid?

    A lot people don't know what they are going to do when they get older. They may THINK at the time that they can rule out any possibility of anything that uses math, but they could be wrong. They at least have to try it out, and it's silly to give up at the first sign of difficulty or decide that all math is bad based on very limited experience of it. I never particularly liked math until I took physics when I was 17-18 years old and then ended up with a PhD in it (true, I didn't exactly struggle with it, but I didn't care about it, so I didn't have straight A's in math, by any means).

    Here's another thing I like to point out to people who question the value of their math education. Let's say you are only going to use algebra in your job, and you're really annoyed that you have to take calculus because you're not going to use it. Well, if you think about it, the calculus is giving you a lot of practice with algebra. Trust me, the higher you get in calculus, the more pleasant grading students papers becomes in terms of the basic math mistakes. Some of that might be a weeding out effect, but I'm convinced it's partly because of all the practice the students are getting with the basics.

    Finally, another point to bring up is statistics. Statistics are everywhere. If you want to be an informed person who can read news articles intelligently, you have to appreciate statistics. What does "statistically significant" mean? When does it make sense to draw conclusions about a large population, based on a relatively small sample? What are the pitfalls and fallacies in statistics? Can you trust that study you are reading about? Is it an observational study or is it a controlled experiment?

    Even graduate students in statistics at top programs sometimes have trouble with these kinds of issues (in the stats class I sat in on, there was some example of this where even half the grad students got the question wrong--I can't remember what it was).

    To learn statistics, you have to have some basic level of math. Calculus is desirable, although you can try to get by without it, I suppose.

    To put it more concretely, maybe you want to know how risky it is to try smoking some marijuana or whatever (personally, I have no interest in drugs, except finding out what the deal is with them so that I can argue effectively about it). Well, what does the data say? How trustworthy are the studies? Are they randomized, controlled experiments? If not, maybe you should take them with a grain of salt. And maybe you should think about WHY it's important to have randomized controls and the advantage of that versus an observational study. I think this is really practical. Critical statistical thought.

    I'm not really an advocate of the whole "learn math because it teaches you how to think" argument, so much, although I think it can help in certain ways if you are doing the right math (preferably difficult problems, so that you lean how to deal with being stuck, etc). But you have to question whether skill at math actually transfers to other things. And some of psychology's somewhat shocking results have to do with how little transfer there is from one thing to another in many cases. So, as a skeptic, you have to show me the data or give very strong, concrete arguments, and not just say, "math teaches you how to think".
  18. Mar 9, 2014 #17


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    It was an analogy with a sarcastic undertone. Physics isn't math in disguise, not by a long shot.
  19. Mar 11, 2014 #18
    I'm not familiar with metaphysics, but I have found that my general physics class has actually improved my math skills. Before, I had taken a year off Algebra to do geometry, so even the rules of simple linear equations quickly became lost on me without practice. Now I can look at a formula, use it in a somewhat complex equation for physics, and start solving it in my head. For some reason I found physics much more helpful in aiding my algebra skills than actual algebra. If you want to learn the basics, you could use Khan Academy. I know that is seems most popular with high-school students, but I find it helpful anyway. :)
  20. Mar 11, 2014 #19


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    OFF TOPIC: (Sorry OP)

    Hey there.. I enjoyed reading your post!

    Do you have any good book to reccommend, for statistics?
  21. Mar 11, 2014 #20
    Freedman, Pusani, and Purves. There are actually two books they wrote. Anyway, those are pretty good for dealing specifically with the kind of issues I mentioned, going beyond the math into the issues that come up when interpreting the math when it comes to real world data.
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