Jump to content


Photo
- - - - -

How tough is physics as a subject?


  • Please log in to reply
19 replies to this topic

#1 Purephysics

Purephysics

    Meson

  • Senior Members
  • 54 posts
  • LocationEngland

Posted 25 April 2012 - 02:13 PM

a friend if mine recently asked me this as he knew my plan to read physics at uni, having not started yet i couldnt really answer.

So for some clarity, how hard/tough is physics to study for someone with no special natural abilities in math or science?
  • 0

"All of us are in the gutter; but some of us are looking at the stars." - Oscar Wilde

If professor Charles Xavier can control things with his mind, why can't he control his legs?  :blink:


#2 CaptainPanic

CaptainPanic

    Usually himself

  • Moderators
  • 4,605 posts
  • LocationThe little swamp at the end of the river Rhine

Posted 25 April 2012 - 02:29 PM

On a measure of 1 to 10, I would give it a 9... but that's nothing to be afraid of. Most students fear the maths before starting a course. That's why you will actually get quite a lot of maths courses at uni. It's not just physics.

Anyway, physics is so tough, it can indeed become rocketscience. :)

But after you get through your classes, it's probably as tough as you make it yourself.
  • 0
Veni, vidi, modeli - I came, I saw, and I modeled it

#3 Klaynos

Klaynos

    Insert Witty Comment

  • Moderators
  • 7,399 posts

Posted 25 April 2012 - 02:46 PM

So tough that I've heard physicists comment, "it can't be that hard it's only rocket science"... ;)

I think there are intuitive barriers to physics which are unlike most other subjects such as QM and relativity. That often makes it harder for the lay person to comprehend. I'm not sure that I can really give you much answer though as I'm not even sure how I could quantify it...
  • 0
Klaynos - share and enjoy.

#4 mississippichem

mississippichem

    fluorescent protein

  • Resident Experts
  • 1,681 posts
  • LocationMissouri, USA

Posted 25 April 2012 - 04:45 PM

Depends on how your brain works. Mathematics and physical science feel natural to some of us [robot people :)].

Chemistry/physics/math was not that difficult for me in college but something like literature or history would've been tuff because my brain has near 0 liberal arts ability/interest.

No subject is harder than any other in general. It's all about your natural tendencies and abilities.
  • 0
You've come a long way. Remember back when we defined what a velocity meant? Now we are talking about an antisymmetric tensor of second rank in four dimensions.

-Feynman Lectures on Physics II


#5 Royston

Royston

    Seņor Butt Monkey

  • Senior Members
  • 2,648 posts
  • LocationUK

Posted 25 April 2012 - 06:17 PM

So for some clarity, how hard/tough is physics to study for someone with no special natural abilities in math or science?


No subject is harder than any other in general. It's all about your natural tendencies and abilities.


However, you can overcome any shortcomings in your ability, just through pure interest.

During my degree, there have been areas that I've found rather dull (e.g optics...yawn), and this was reflected in my grades. When it came to the areas I was passionate about (astrophysics and cosmology), I was obtaining very good grades. Unfortunately, understanding the dull areas was necessary to get a better understanding of the exciting areas, so I had to put a lot more work in to achieve this, which didn't really bother me.

My point is, if you're passionate about the subject, you'll want to learn and invest lots of time into it, regardless of your ability. That can be just as beneficial as having a natural ability in the subject.

Edited by Royston, 25 April 2012 - 06:20 PM.

  • 0

#6 CharonY

CharonY

    Biology Expert

  • Resident Experts
  • 4,941 posts
  • Locationsomewhere in the Americas.

Posted 25 April 2012 - 07:26 PM

In a way physics can be easy, as it is well structured (compared to other sciences), but one needs to build up a good foundation. In many ways it can be more abstract than other sciences, but then it may be also an advantage, as it is easier to let go of erroneous preconceptions. In biology, for instance, many things are also counter-intuitive or even culturally colored and it can be hard work to get rid of these wrong concepts. In physics you can demonstrate it with mathematics that it is wrong.

No subject is harder than any other in general. It's all about your natural tendencies and abilities.

I agree with the first part, but disagree with the "natural" part. No work is easy, everything requires time investment. However, if you are interested you are willingly putting in the time needed without feeling it to be hard work. It simply becomes fun and is perceived as easy. It is not innate.

Edit: cross-posted with Royston, but agree with his points.

Edited by CharonY, 25 April 2012 - 07:28 PM.

  • 0

#7 swansont

swansont

    Shaken, not stirred

  • Moderators
  • 26,405 posts
  • LocationWashington DC region

Posted 25 April 2012 - 07:39 PM

I agree with the first part, but disagree with the "natural" part. No work is easy, everything requires time investment. However, if you are interested you are willingly putting in the time needed without feeling it to be hard work. It simply becomes fun and is perceived as easy. It is not innate.


Agreed. It used to irk me that a classmate (who only crammed for exams) would tell me that I got good grades because physics came easy to me. I put the time in and studied a lot to get good grades. But when you like the material, it's much easier to do.
  • 0

Minutus cantorum, minutus balorum, minutus carborata descendum pantorum                                   To shake my vodka martini, click the up arrow ^

I am not a minimum-wage government shill

My SFN blog: Swans on Tea                                                           

 

 

                                                                                                                     

 

 


#8 Joshua201

Joshua201

    Lepton

  • Senior Members
  • 49 posts
  • LocationAsaba, delta state, Nigeria

Posted 26 April 2012 - 03:45 AM

9/10 if you ask me. You've to think like a scientist to be one.
  • 0
My Compiler Compiled Yours

#9 CaptainPanic

CaptainPanic

    Usually himself

  • Moderators
  • 4,605 posts
  • LocationThe little swamp at the end of the river Rhine

Posted 26 April 2012 - 07:58 AM

Agreed. It used to irk me that a classmate (who only crammed for exams) would tell me that I got good grades because physics came easy to me. I put the time in and studied a lot to get good grades. But when you like the material, it's much easier to do.

Your classmate probably meant that the motivation to study came easy to you. Not the physics itself.

In addition, some people find it easier to motivate themselves to study in general. They are more future oriented, others are more present oriented. This youtube movie explains the principle of past/present/future oriented people. If you watch the first 2 minutes, you get the picture, but the whole movie (= 10 min) is quite entertaining.

Natural abilities in math or science (as the OP put it) are a combination of several factors. The two most commonly mentioned are: the ability to understand certain concepts (in a simplified way, that's your IQ), your motivation to study (resulting in more hours of work). If you are bad in 1 part (for example, you are naturally a little slow at understanding new concepts), you can compensate with the other fields (by being more motivated to study and putting in more hours).

But you can also use your naturally excellent creativity to find a new way to motivate yourself. Or you can use your natural charisma to ask others to explain things to you.

All I try to say is that there is more than 1 road that leads to Rome.
  • 0
Veni, vidi, modeli - I came, I saw, and I modeled it

#10 Purephysics

Purephysics

    Meson

  • Senior Members
  • 54 posts
  • LocationEngland

Posted 27 April 2012 - 09:31 AM

So essentially, physics is as difficult as you perceive it to be dependent on your level of interest in the subject.

i guess the main worry id say i have is the math, it really isnt my strong point :-/
  • 0

"All of us are in the gutter; but some of us are looking at the stars." - Oscar Wilde

If professor Charles Xavier can control things with his mind, why can't he control his legs?  :blink:


#11 timo

timo

    Scientist

  • Senior Members
  • 3,207 posts
  • LocationGermany

Posted 27 April 2012 - 10:19 AM

If you're not a straight A student in math in school then physics is likely not the best thing to study at university. It's quite generally acknowledged that most students struggling in a physics course have problems with the math, not with the physics.

I also tend to disagree with the notion that a lack of skill can be compensated by a sufficient amount of hard work. I believe that a certain minimum affinity to math/logic is required. In fact, I have advised a 1st semester student to reconsider his course choice in that past, based on his lack of math skills he showed in the class I tutored. And despite this being a very uncommon thing to do (for some strange reason it's considered more polite to just watch people run into their certain doom than to tell them that they are over their head), I still believe it was the correct thing to do.
  • 0

#12 Royston

Royston

    Seņor Butt Monkey

  • Senior Members
  • 2,648 posts
  • LocationUK

Posted 27 April 2012 - 12:07 PM

i guess the main worry id say i have is the math, it really isnt my strong point :-/


My advice is to practice, practice, practice and practice some more, before you start your degree. Better yet, enrol in an applied maths course before you start, that covers calculus, vectors, and probability. I studied a general science course (biology, chemistry, and physics) and two maths courses before I embarked on my degree, due to such a large gap in my education. There's no point in starting if you're not sufficiently prepared, plus it will give you a taste to see if you really enjoy it.

EDIT: Also you can see if you have the necessary skills required, as timo explained.

Edited by Royston, 27 April 2012 - 12:23 PM.

  • 0

#13 Purephysics

Purephysics

    Meson

  • Senior Members
  • 54 posts
  • LocationEngland

Posted 27 April 2012 - 12:14 PM

If you're not a straight A student in math in school then physics is likely not the best thing to study at university. It's quite generally acknowledged that most students struggling in a physics course have problems with the math, not with the physics.

I also tend to disagree with the notion that a lack of skill can be compensated by a sufficient amount of hard work. I believe that a certain minimum affinity to math/logic is required. In fact, I have advised a 1st semester student to reconsider his course choice in that past, based on his lack of math skills he showed in the class I tutored. And despite this being a very uncommon thing to do (for some strange reason it's considered more polite to just watch people run into their certain doom than to tell them that they are over their head), I still believe it was the correct thing to do.


how would you define what you call a "minimum affinity" in math/logic? because math is a man made concept, therefore it is not something anyone is born with the ability to do. (I happen to know a mathematics teacher and a geophysicist that would agree)

also I know someone who was an engineer for 40 something years, he confessed to me recently that when he started he was terrible at math, and it took him two years at nightschool to get up to standard. But he. did get there with practise and hard work.

I'm not trying to say you are wrong, but maybe a more in-depth exposure of your thinking?
  • 0

"All of us are in the gutter; but some of us are looking at the stars." - Oscar Wilde

If professor Charles Xavier can control things with his mind, why can't he control his legs?  :blink:


#14 Royston

Royston

    Seņor Butt Monkey

  • Senior Members
  • 2,648 posts
  • LocationUK

Posted 27 April 2012 - 05:56 PM

because math is a man made concept, therefore it is not something anyone is born with the ability to do.


Eh ? Having an innate ability in a field, means a subject comes easily to a person. Another example, is art (say, illustration) which is also a man made concept. It's perfectly obvious that some people have a natural gift when it comes to drawing, over others, the same with dealing with numbers and logic.

Edited by Royston, 27 April 2012 - 05:56 PM.

  • 0

#15 CharonY

CharonY

    Biology Expert

  • Resident Experts
  • 4,941 posts
  • Locationsomewhere in the Americas.

Posted 27 April 2012 - 11:52 PM

There is little evidence to suggest that there these are innate abilities. In contrast, many young geniuses spend an extraordinary time into their talent. You will note that talented artists have spent an enormous amount of time to become talented. There are basic capacities that have a biological basis that will strongly affect or the outcome (such as a good memory, good senses, etc.). However, complex traits (artistic abilities, reasoning abilities) cannot easily be reduced to a simple basis are therefore much more dependent on training (and hence, interest). Again, if you simply do not like playing the piano, you can slog through hours without improving skills. If you are a Mozart, you will go through the same thousand of hours, with much more focus and learn from it.

I believe that a certain minimum affinity to math/logic is required.


There are a few problems with this assertion. Remember, the students you get already had exposure to maths in high school. A good teacher could make all the difference. Second, the student in question may be interested in certain aspects of physics, but not in maths. If the person is not willing or able to focus on the latter (and again, I would put lack of interest before lack of talent), he/she would not be able to catch up on the foundation that should have already been built up before you arrive at college.

Again, I would consider something like a good memory as a biological basis that can affect academic outcome. However, I would have a hard time clearly defining an innate affinity to logic. Biologically we all are actually very bad at logic. Our brain is a much better at finding positive correlations, for instance.
  • 0

#16 Purephysics

Purephysics

    Meson

  • Senior Members
  • 54 posts
  • LocationEngland

Posted 28 April 2012 - 09:00 AM

There is little evidence to suggest that there these are innate abilities. In contrast, many young geniuses spend an extraordinary time into their talent. You will note that talented artists have spent an enormous amount of time to become talented. There are basic capacities that have a biological basis that will strongly affect or the outcome (such as a good memory, good senses, etc.). However, complex traits (artistic abilities, reasoning abilities) cannot easily be reduced to a simple basis are therefore much more dependent on training (and hence, interest). Again, if you simply do not like playing the piano, you can slog through hours without improving skills. If you are a Mozart, you will go through the same thousand of hours, with much more focus and learn from it.



There are a few problems with this assertion. Remember, the students you get already had exposure to maths in high school. A good teacher could make all the difference. Second, the student in question may be interested in certain aspects of physics, but not in maths. If the person is not willing or able to focus on the latter (and again, I would put lack of interest before lack of talent), he/she would not be able to catch up on the foundation that should have already been built up before you arrive at college.

Again, I would consider something like a good memory as a biological basis that can affect academic outcome. However, I would have a hard time clearly d
efining an innate affinity to logic. Biologically we all are actually very bad at logic. Our brain is a much better at finding positive correlations, for instance.


That's what I though. (not in so many words). People are born with a natural interest but not natural "abilities".

if you have a natural interest and passion in an area then you can succeed in that area because you wil spend more time learning about that area. I've always liked math and science, but unfortunately in the former I had terribly boring teacher after terribly boring teacher, thus I never succeeded, they killed my enjoyment in the subject.

And no matter how much you like sonething, if someone makes its boring, your study will suffer for it.
  • 0

"All of us are in the gutter; but some of us are looking at the stars." - Oscar Wilde

If professor Charles Xavier can control things with his mind, why can't he control his legs?  :blink:


#17 timo

timo

    Scientist

  • Senior Members
  • 3,207 posts
  • LocationGermany

Posted 29 April 2012 - 08:47 PM

Hi Purephysics,

I sometimes tend to have a private life on weekends (and deadlines at work during the weeks), so apologies for replying a bit delayed despite being asked directly. I am not sure that I could properly define "minimum affinity". I mainly wanted to express that I disagree with the notion that a sufficient amount of effort put into physics can compensate for any amount of lack of talent. I believe that even with a lot of effort a person completely unable to cope with school math will not become a successful physicist. At least not in the real world. I simply don't see how you should learn the university curriculum when you don't have anything to grasp on. And especially in the first semesters there only is school-like math. I also find it hard to imagine that someone could develop an interest for undergrad physics and not have some familiarity with or interest in the process of translating a situation into a mathematical model, treating the model with the known math, and extracting conclusions from the result.

To make that clear: I'm not saying one has to be the school's math guru to start going into physics (even though that probably helps and is more the norm than the exception in a (German) physics course - at least in my days past). I also do not equate above "affinity for math/logic" with an interest with the teaching in school or particularly good grades. Many physicists found school boring, and only this month a friend of mine, who says of himself that he wasn't particularly good at math in school, finished his PhD in mathematical physics. But a person that for example consistently has serious problems solving so-called "text-exercises" (meaning math questions at school that come along as a text rather than "5+4 = ?") has, in my opinion, little to no chance to succeed in a university physics course.
Note that it is not my intent to talk you out of becoming a physicist - I don't even know you.

I tend to disagree with the "no natural ability but natural interest" notion. I certainly understand the reasoning behind it, and really like it from the social aspect. But to me it seems to be just that: a reasoning. On the side of hard facts, and admittedly overshooting the question at hand, I haven't heard about a talented physicist with down syndrome. When I speak of "affinity" in above, I find it pretty irrelevant whether you translate it with "interest shown in the past" or "natural ability that showed in the past". I did in fact use this supposedly neutral term over "skill" or "ability" on purpose. Anyways, let's assume that there are only "natural interests". That just makes the whole issue about a minimum affinity, in this case a minimum interest, even more dramatic: If interest is all that matters and a person has already demonstrated a lack of interest, then it very optimistic to assume success in the future.


A few unsorted comments on the rest of your post:

I know someone who was an engineer for 40 something years, he confessed to me recently that when he started he was terrible at math, and it took him two years at nightschool to get up to standard.

An engineer is not a physicist, and in some cases this really makes a difference. I'm not sure how this related to math requirements for being a successful undergrad student. In any case, you should perhaps ask him whether he meant "terrible compared to an average engineering student" or "terrible compared to an average school kid".

I'm not trying to say you are wrong, but maybe a more in-depth exposure of your thinking?

I'm not trying to say I am right. I can only give my opinions based on my experiences of having been a student, knowing a lot of students, having been exposed to tutoring at different levels, and to a lesser degree having followed the "careers" of my undergrads during my time as a PhD student. I certainly do not have any solid sociological data to back up anything I said - and neither does anyone else participating in this discussion. Anyways, while I have not been more in-depth in above (owing to a lack of pinpoints for discussion), I have at least been more broad. Hopefully, that is also to your liking, even if my opinions may disagree with yours.

P.S.: after more than an hour of writing above text I am really glad this isn't Wikipedia. It's nice posting without being afraid of an editing conflict <_<

Edited by timo, 29 April 2012 - 08:49 PM.

  • 0

#18 ajb

ajb

    Physics Expert

  • Resident Experts
  • 6,462 posts
  • LocationWarsaw, Poland

Posted 30 April 2012 - 07:47 AM

One thing I was shocked by as an undergraduate is how many of my fellow physics students said "they want to do physics not mathematics". Mathematics is the backbone of any physics course. It can be the bane of the students life as an undergraduate, especially if they did not realise the amount of mathematics needed during a physics degree.

I would not say one needs a particular love of pure mathematics in order to do well in a physics degree, rather one has to accept the mathematics and work hard at it.

I should point out, like timo's friend, I did not really have a passion for mathematics in school and did not really do that well. It was as an undergraduate that things really started to come together and my interests grew.
  • 1
"In physics you don't have to go around making trouble for yourself - nature does it for you" Frank Wilczek.


Mathematical Ramblings.

#19 Royston

Royston

    Seņor Butt Monkey

  • Senior Members
  • 2,648 posts
  • LocationUK

Posted 1 May 2012 - 05:16 PM

Eh ? Having an innate ability in a field, means a subject comes easily to a person. Another example, is art (say, illustration) which is also a man made concept. It's perfectly obvious that some people have a natural gift when it comes to drawing, over others, the same with dealing with numbers and logic.


There is little evidence to suggest that there these are innate abilities. In contrast, many young geniuses spend an extraordinary time into their talent. You will note that talented artists have spent an enormous amount of time to become talented. There are basic capacities that have a biological basis that will strongly affect or the outcome (such as a good memory, good senses, etc.). However, complex traits (artistic abilities, reasoning abilities) cannot easily be reduced to a simple basis are therefore much more dependent on training (and hence, interest). Again, if you simply do not like playing the piano, you can slog through hours without improving skills. If you are a Mozart, you will go through the same thousand of hours, with much more focus and learn from it.


I've been very busy the last few days, hence the late reply.

That was a pretty poor post on my part, (sorry I was in a rush) and should have clarified my point. What I meant by, a subject coming easily or more precisely easier to a person, doesn't mean a complex trait is innate, but that certain core attributes e.g memory or information processing can be the foundation for somebody finding a certain subject easier. There's obviously a difference between a subject coming easier, and already having the skills to perform more complex tasks e.g such as drawing. I personally see certain core attributes as a gift (for want of a better word), and they manifest into a talent.

I mainly had a problem with purephysics suggestion, that if a concept or subject is man made, then there are no hard wired (i.e hereditary) mental attributes, that would make somebody excel over another (given they're both very interested in the same subject).

Edited by Royston, 1 May 2012 - 05:21 PM.

  • 0

#20 Purephysics

Purephysics

    Meson

  • Senior Members
  • 54 posts
  • LocationEngland

Posted 2 May 2012 - 09:09 PM

you know that all makes perfect sense.

But I am now considering a different and more accurate train of thought;
an ability cannot be tested if that person does not have the necessary tools.
Therefore I must learnt the skills before I can test if I have natural ability in them, or not. (if good memory is a prerequisite then I should be ok with that).

there are some very interesting points here in this discussion though. and certainly some pause for thought.
  • 0

"All of us are in the gutter; but some of us are looking at the stars." - Oscar Wilde

If professor Charles Xavier can control things with his mind, why can't he control his legs?  :blink:





0 user(s) are reading this topic

0 members, 0 guests, 0 anonymous users