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Why?Probably the most popular question in physics.

  1. Dec 13, 2006 #1

    Probably the most popular question in physics. So I ask, to physics majors, why did you choose to study one of the most challenging subjects in college? A subject that most people avoid due to its inherent difficulty. Masochism, perhaps?
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 13, 2006 #2


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    Surprise, surprise! Here's the high-school dropout posting the first response. Just a minor correction to your scenario. Science does not ask why; it only asks how. Why is more in the realm of metaphysics.
  4. Dec 14, 2006 #3
    hmm, a bit too definitive with the "only," but it's definitely something to ponder on.
  5. Dec 14, 2006 #4


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    Sorry; I didn't mean to sound like a martinet. It's just that in scientific terminology, 'why' implies that there's a purpose of some sort. 'How' covers the mechanisms that cause something to be.
  6. Dec 14, 2006 #5
    yeah, i see your point. But what i was refering to was that most people usually start off with "why" then move onto "how." maybe we can agree on simply "curiosity" as being the ultimate force behind science.
  7. Dec 14, 2006 #6


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    I set my sights high. If I could not meet the demands of a Physics degree (I did) then I could always drop my goals to an Engineering degree. Had I originally set my goal for an engineering field I would always have wondered if I could have managed a Physics degree.
  8. Dec 14, 2006 #7
    I don't know, interestingly enough I never had much interest in science until I took physics in high school, and lo-and-behold I never had any interest in math until I took calculus in college.

    I agree with the student24's reply regarding curiosity- this is something I have always been accused of and have never been satisfied with "just-so." Of course, this applies to many areas of my life, whether political, philosophical, spiritual, scientific, and etc.

    As my physics professor put it: "You don't do physics for [insert normal human desire here], you do physics because you can't imagine doing anything else."
  9. Dec 14, 2006 #8


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    Do people start off with why? I'm not so sure about that. I would think most just learn the syllabus in their respective discipline and don't much venture outside of it until later.

    The most important why is 'why am I doing this?' and I don't think that can be or is taught.
  10. Dec 14, 2006 #9
    because it's fun and it makes me happy when it works! :smile:
  11. Dec 14, 2006 #10
    Good point. I remember doing an introduction to Chemistry course at uni having not done any science since middle high. I was very excited with the subject content and tried to get into the hows and whys very early but got myself in a tangled mess. So I just tried to stay with the course and most things just came out, one step at a time. This is because the course answers the whys and hows asked by scientists over centuries and have compiled them systematically in as an understandable fashion as possible.
    Last edited: Dec 14, 2006
  12. Dec 14, 2006 #11
    Regarding the 'why' and 'how' issue.

    One usually answers a 'why' question with 'Because ...'
    One ususally answers a 'how' question with 'It works by ... '

    I don't know about you but I tend to use 'Because ...' to answer my own scientific queries.

    An example
    Q: Why does an object on earth fall to the ground?
    Newton: Because there is force acting on the object toward the earth.
    Q: Why is there a force acting on the object?
    Einstein: Because of the curved nature of space and time
    Q: Why is spacetime curved?
    Last edited: Dec 14, 2006
  13. Dec 14, 2006 #12
    I assume you've never been through an engineering program, since engineering programs are just as challenging as most physics programs. Sure, overall, physics has more theory (but there's tons of theory in an engineering curriculum...especially in controls and communication systems), but don't underestimate the difficulty of design.
  14. Dec 15, 2006 #13


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    Why physics? If not physics, then what else? :) I kind of think it's silly to do physics just because you know it's challenging.
  15. Dec 15, 2006 #14
    I think a professor in any field would say this, except replace 'physics' by their field of study.
  16. Dec 16, 2006 #15
    i started out in physics my freshman year because i thought solving problems was more fun than writing papers, i'm a senior now and still enjoy just doing physics for the hell of it, i don't really ask the why questions, i just find the problem solving fun and challenging
  17. Dec 16, 2006 #16
    when i took physics major i didnt ask myself why? and now i think it is the kind of subject whose frequency match with my frequency (not in terms of c/wavelength) so i believe studying physics is like understanding nature n this curiosity is natural
  18. Dec 16, 2006 #17


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    yeah, curiosity is a big part of it. i'm aware of my existance in a universe which is governed (or modeled, depending on how you think of it) by mathematical structures. i'm curious as to what these structures are and really enjoy working with them.
  19. Feb 14, 2007 #18
    I was a physics major, and have known several others. Many choose physics for the challenge it provides, in the same way that others become Marines, or climb mountains. It's challenging enough to keep one's mind from wandering in class. I needed to do lab work to understand, and physics majors did more lab work than any engineering major at my school. I also liked the idea of covering a broad range of subjects rather than super-specializing. And I knew I could work as an engineer when I was done.
  20. Feb 14, 2007 #19
    I'm very young, and I self-study math and physics. I started out because of curiosity; what is exactly is this all about? Physics was (and is!) wonderful, and once I worked up to calculus, math was just as beautiful to me. And now I'm doing differential equations and going to start into intro physics (again...) with calculus. Working my way up, slowly...
  21. Feb 14, 2007 #20
    Exactly. For me it's not even so much that I find solving problems more fun than writing papers, but I find it easier, too.

    It's ridiculous to assume that physics is inherently some sort of pinnacle in the hierarchy of disciplines. You can make any subject as difficult as any other, and for different people, different things are easier. I can almost guarantee, for instance, that if I were majoring in a "soft" subject of some sort I would have a lower GPA.
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