theoreticalphysicist

I want to become a self-taught theoretical physicist

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I made a thread about this topic on http://www.physicsforums.com/ and some people on there called me a troll, my thread was locked as a result, and then when I tried making another thread, I wasn't able to because someone was messing with my ability to post (probably a mod). When I tried going back I got called a "crackpot" and it said that the ban will "never" be lifted. I spent like an hour making replies to people who posted on my thread and I never got a chance to post them.

 

Anyway, I really needed to vent about that. Now, I'm here for the same reasons I had on there and that is, well, to get different perspectives and maybe even a reality check (as was implied on the other site) about my wanting to become a theoretical physicist.

 

People have advised me to go back to school and get my PhD. I have money saved over from working for a decade but I don't want to spend it on school. I'd rather educate myself because I feel like I can learn better and faster on my own.

 

A little about me:

 

I'm in my mid twenties and when I was in my mid teens I quit school (legally) and went to work full time. Work was fullfilling but over time it became less so. After reading a couple of books about Richard Feynman (plus watching videos/docs about him), I have decided that that's what I see myself doing for the rest of my life. Physics. I recall that back in school I was a natural at science and math and really enjoyed it. I agree that college level physics is much harder than what was taught in high school but I also know that once you learn something it becomes easy. In other words, it's all relative.

 

Comments? Advice? Insights? Arguments? are all welcome. I know that I don't know everything so that's why I'm here trying to learn. Thanks!

Edited by theoreticalphysicist

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There's no easy way around it, if you want to become an expert in whatever profession you need to spend much time at it learning everything you can, and you can't do that well with the internet or a couple books. I guess if you read tons of books you could in a way, but you wouldn't know how to interpret everything unless someone told you.

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Firstly, as a kindly piece of moderator advice, we'd like it if you could refrain from venting about your issues with other forums here. Your problems with Physics forums has nothing to do with SFN and we'd like to keep it that way.

 

Onto the topic. You could in theory learn the equivalent amount of knowledge on your own as you would in college, but the issue (asides from it being a difficult thing to achieve) is that you would get no official recognition for that and as such, getting a job as a physicist would be nigh on impossible. For all the time such a task would take you and financial sacrifices you'd have to make to get yourself nowhere, you might as well just go to college.

 

Also, I have to ask, when did you become change from being 30 to mid twenties and what made you change your mind from doing math?

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What's your real goal here? Are you trying to make theoretical physics your full-time job? Or do you just want to have the ability to read modern papers and perhaps make some contribution to the field with no monetary compensation? Or do you just want to learn most of modern physics for knowledge's sake?

 

If you're looking to make physics your day job, you will almost certainly need a PhD. Getting your PhD will likely consume the majority of a decade, will drain your bank account, and it will not be a cake-walk. After you get your PhD your next step will most likely be getting a Post-Doc, which pay horribly and apparently aren't very fun. You'll be lucky to be eventually hired by a University, at which point you'll have to lecture undergrad students - an activity that can also consume a lot of your time.

 

If you don't plan on being paid, it's not really too difficult to learn physics on your own. For example I taught myself basic General Relativity with Schutz's textbook when I was eighteen, and I have never taken a formal class in the subject (though I may have a slight advantage because I'm an engineering student). Nonetheless, I currently consider myself relatively (pun semi-intended) well-versed in GR. I also taught myself classical field theory, non-relativistic Quantum Mechanics, and I'm working on Quantum Field Theory at the moment. From my first intro physics class in High School (where I learned only algebra-based basics like Newton's 2nd Law, conservation of energy, Newtonian gravitation, etc.) until now, it has only been ~three years. So you certainly can learn what you need in a relatively short period of time if you're (1) genuinely curious enough to keep learning (this is probably the most important), (2) have the time to spare, and (3) are willing to put in the effort.

 

Since you left school early, I assume you're probably not so versed in math. I would go through the algebra, trigonometry, and calculus videos on this site first: https://www.khanacademy.org/ . Make sure you understand all of the concepts (do practice problem - passive learning isn't enough) before you move on. Once you've learned some basic calculus, you're ready to start learning some introductory physics. Watch Khan's videos, and then find a (calculus-based) textbook on classical mechanics.

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The truth is, there is no way to become a 'self-taught' theoretical physicst. You spend a lot of years studying, or you don't do it.

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Are there any notable self-taught physicists that have done good from the 20th or this century?

 

 

An interesting list can be found at wikipedia. However, I don't recognise anyone from the 20th century.

 

I posted in my blog about this a while back.

 

In short, "amateurs" are usually unaware of the standards and culture of science, as well as not being familiar with what is already established and why.

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An interesting list can be found at wikipedia. However, I don't recognise anyone from the 20th century.

 

I posted in my blog about this a while back.

 

In short, "amateurs" are usually unaware of the standards and culture of science, as well as not being familiar with what is already established and why.

 

It seems like you're generalizing "amateurs" to be essentially people who watched a couple string theory documentaries and decided they would come up with their own theory of everything. I would consider an amateur to be someone who's built up enough of a background in physics that producing new research isn't wholly unreasonable. I plan on (hopefully in the not-to-distant future) being a member of the latter group.

 

I may be approaching this from an atypical vantage point, however; I know of only one other autodidact who frequents forums like these and who has a knowledge-base similar to mine. People generally seek out others who have similar interests and autodidacts do not have the luxury of being constantly surrounded by them (unlike academics), so one would think that science-based forums would attract many such people like myself. I suppose my assumption is either wrong for one reason or another, or autodidacts who have done a fair amount of self-study are rare.

Edited by elfmotat

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An interesting list can be found at wikipedia. However, I don't recognise anyone from the 20th century.

 

I posted in my blog about this a while back.

 

In short, "amateurs" are usually unaware of the standards and culture of science, as well as not being familiar with what is already established and why.

Yes, I remember reading that blog entry...interesting.

 

I deliberately set the limit at the 20th century because openings for novel stuff would been closing down fast and too advanced for a self-taught person to research outside an academic setting.

 

From your Wiki link only Srinivasa Ramanujan and Oliver Heaviside fall this side of the twentieth century and even they were very much nearer the nineteenth century. Based on that page we haven't seen an autodidactic mathematical/physics genius for about 80 years or so. I think it can be safely said they are as rare as the proverbial rocking-horse droppings. :)

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It seems like you're generalizing "amateurs" to be essentially people who watched a couple string theory documentaries and decided they would come up with their own theory of everything. I would consider an amateur to be someone who's built up enough of a background in physics that producing new research isn't wholly unreasonable. I plan on (hopefully in the not-to-distant future) being a member of the latter group.

Most amateurs tend to be educated people that are ignorant of what is really involved in research. That said, with a lot of effort I don't see why someone without a formal degree could not conduct research, other than they tend not to understand the culture. For example, people from outside academia get upset too quickly when people criticize their work. Papers get rejected from journals for all sort of reasons and referees don't know everything nor can they really predict the long term impact of your work. But such is life and you have to get accustom to the culture.

 

I wish you the best of luck with your research.

 

Based on that page we haven't seen an autodidactic mathematical/physics genius for about 80 years or so. I think it can be safely said they are as rare as the proverbial rocking-horse droppings. smile.png

In mathematics and physics I think this is true and getting rarer.

 

There may still be some scope in astronomy for amateurs to discover something, especially when lot of small telescopes are better than one large one.

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I made a thread about this topic on http://www.physicsforums.com/ and some people on there called me a troll, my thread was locked as a result, and then when I tried making another thread, I wasn't able to because someone was messing with my ability to post (probably a mod). When I tried going back I got called a "crackpot" and it said that the ban will "never" be lifted. I spent like an hour making replies to people who posted on my thread and I never got a chance to post them.

 

Anyway, I really needed to vent about that. Now, I'm here for the same reasons I had on there and that is, well, to get different perspectives and maybe even a reality check (as was implied on the other site) about my wanting to become a theoretical physicist.

 

People have advised me to go back to school and get my PhD. I have money saved over from working for a decade but I don't want to spend it on school. I'd rather educate myself because I feel like I can learn better and faster on my own.

 

A little about me:

 

I'm in my mid twenties and when I was in my mid teens I quit school (legally) and went to work full time. Work was fullfilling but over time it became less so. After reading a couple of books about Richard Feynman (plus watching videos/docs about him), I have decided that that's what I see myself doing for the rest of my life. Physics. I recall that back in school I was a natural at science and math and really enjoyed it. I agree that college level physics is much harder than what was taught in high school but I also know that once you learn something it becomes easy. In other words, it's all relative.

 

Comments? Advice? Insights? Arguments? are all welcome. I know that I don't know everything so that's why I'm here trying to learn. Thanks!

 

Buy physics textbooks and learn them at home or go to the university library and study them there. You would obtain a recommended list of books from the official physics course syllabus.

 

After four/five years of self-study you would have the bare minimum of physics enough to start considering to become a future theoretical physicist.

 

For becoming a theoretical physicist you will need specialised textbooks and monographs (very very expensive) and lots of papers (also very expensive) unless the university library provides you access without paying a full PhD course.

 

Even if you are successful, 99% of theoretical physicists will not recognize you as one. Your work will be rejected from journals, conferences,... by political reasons.

 

I know a guy who self-taught physics himself [*], has not PhD, and got very high recognition in a well-known physics forum, but he was banned recently by political reasons. I do not know if can post here the link after reading moderator note but can send it by PM.

 

 

[*] He has a very good background level and knows some research areas of modern theoretical physics, but I would not call him a theoretical physicist and, in fact, his contributions to physics are zero.

Edited by juanrga

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For becoming a theoretical physicist you will need specialised textbooks and monographs (very very expensive) and lots of papers (also very expensive) unless the university library provides you access without paying a full PhD course.

 

 

You should also use the arXiv, it contains lots of preprints, short papers based on conference proceedings, review articles and lecture notes. I get 99% of the papers I use as preprints from the arXiv.

 

 

Even if you are successful, 99% of theoretical physicists will not recognize you as one. Your work will be rejected from journals, conferences,... by political reasons.

 

 

I am not sure exactly how true that is, but journals and the peer-review process are not 100% infallible and there is always some politics involved.

 

There is an interesting article in the latest International Association of Mathematical Physics bulletin that may be of interest [1]. You can find it here (opens pdf).

 

Reference

 

[1] WALTER F. WRESZINSKI (Universidade de São Paulo), The Myth of Academic Excellence and Scientific Curiosity, International Association of Mathematical Physics News Bulletin, January 2013

 

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..... my wanting to become a theoretical physicist.

 

I'd rather educate myself because I feel like I can learn better and faster on my own.

 

 

 

Comments? Advice? Insights? Arguments? are all welcome. I know that I don't know everything so that's why I'm here trying to learn. Thanks!

 

 

It alarms me to hear the depth the established hierarchy will go to, to exclude enthusiastic potential physics contributors to the ' stew pot of knowledge' , when there is such a need to push forward the edifice of Darkness surrounding " how the Universe works.

 

You ask for comments . Here is mine. :-

 

Do not give up. It is clearly your passion. Go and pursue your passion. History is full of men / women , scientists whose passion took them to great inventions, discoveries, projects, often based on Physics, engineering, etc. Now as this great bastion of politically orientated established physics researchers are concerned. Let them defend their fortress.

 

There is clearly a need for cross discipline insights ( environment-Physics, etc ) Go and become a cross discipline physics theoretician.where the establishment will welcome you, say earth science ( seeing as we are currently 'mucking up ' the earth) , but study up your theoretical physics and bring it all to bear , in a great research project all your own .

 

Become a teacher of Physics, you will be sought after, students will love you, and you will never be out of work. There is a dire shortage of people that are able to communicate the ' hidden knowledge (physics) of how the universe works'

 

Good wishes, ( Don't let the ...... put you down ) Mike

Edited by Mike Smith Cosmos

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Take a look at John Moffat, he was a painter after school but could not make a career out of it and obsessively studied physics for two years, and he ended up being admitted to a PhD program at Cambridge due to impressing some people with his work/research and is now a professor/researcher at the University of Toronto. Another case is my friend Austin who is currently a high school senior, and taught himself enough such that he's been invited to a PhD program at Stanford and has caught the direct eyes of different government agencies for his research. I think that I am in a similar situation as you, studying informally, and would be happy to discuss interests/studies if you're interested in collaborating.

 

I do hope though, that you are not just doing this for some sort of fame or intellectual praise as indicated by the thread linked to by hypervalent_iodine, as that would likely guarantee that you'd fall too deep into apathy for the actual subject at some point.

 

Regards,

Sato

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If you don't plan on being paid, it's not really too difficult to learn physics on your own. For example I taught myself basic General Relativity with Schutz's textbook when I was eighteen, and I have never taken a formal class in the subject (though I may have a slight advantage because I'm an engineering student). Nonetheless, I currently consider myself relatively (pun semi-intended) well-versed in GR. I also taught myself classical field theory, non-relativistic Quantum Mechanics, and I'm working on Quantum Field Theory at the moment. From my first intro physics class in High School (where I learned only algebra-based basics like Newton's 2nd Law, conservation of energy, Newtonian gravitation, etc.) until now, it has only been ~three years. So you certainly can learn what you need in a relatively short period of time if you're (1) genuinely curious enough to keep learning (this is probably the most important), (2) have the time to spare, and (3) are willing to put in the effort.

 

Kudos to you ! I am also self-studied, but it took me a lot longer than 3 years to get to the level where I am, and it is still very much an ongoing process. I am working two full time jobs, and look after a family of six, so the going is tough. But I am curious enough to not give up :)

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First, I wish you success in achieving your goal. However, I am not sure just what your goal is . There is ambiguity in your post. Specifically:

After reading a couple of books about Richard Feynman (plus watching videos/docs about him), I have decided that that's what I see myself doing for the rest of my life. Physics.

 

 

..........but I also know that once you learn something it becomes easy.

You give the impression that you want to learn about physics by reading textbooks and research papers. That is an admirable goal and, I think, a worhwhile one. However, theoretical physicists are individuals who have passed that phase of the learning process, or at least made it a secondary mechanism. They learn by experiment and by formulating and testing hypotheses. Is that what you see yourself doing? If so, I suspect you almost certainly need to take the formal route.

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I hope your young because you'll have a lot to learn. Good luck, don't sell your soul or take on any student loans you may not be able to afford flipping burgers evil.gif

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There are hundreds, if not thousands, of reasons not to do anything. After a very successful twenty year career in business, and equally successful thirty-seven years practicing business, property and environmental defense law, I say Go FOR IT. The number one reason of my past success has been curiosity coupled with the ability to take risks and do what no one else had thought of or done. Along the way, or more accurately, ways, I failed innumerable times, but learned a lot, and built on both successes and failures.

 

As far as the established disciplineis concerned, well known Stanford professor Robert Sapolsky has opined that everyone should change their career, as it is the new person to the discipline that approaches it from a novel perspective. Thomas Kuhn, dealing with Scientific Revolutions, would suggest the same. My own view is a little different. As long as you are learning more and more about life, you are engaged in a course of conduct that is fairly limited to human beings, even if it only enhances your personal knowledge and worldview. From the standpoint of physics you will be processing more and more information, which could be asserted to be "negative entropy."

 

From a practical standpoint, now working on my Master's degree and a third bachelors degree, you might want to consider just taking one online course per term from any public and accredited University, which will give you unlimited access to immense resources and database, all at no charge.

 

Good luck and best wishes!

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From a practical standpoint, now working on my Master's degree and a third bachelors degree, you might want to consider just taking one online course per term from any public and accredited University, which will give you unlimited access to immense resources and database, all at no charge.

 

This is good advice, right here :)

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as a self taught.i recommend you start with the three old tesla books that are out.then find a used copy of homemade lightning.study electronics and understand all you can about electronics.as im not recognized as a professional in this field.my biggest pleasure is in getting pros into heated debates while i set back and laugh.ive got respect for them but they can be narrowly focused at times.some things to know.there is no such thing as an absolute vacuum and at 50%ionization electricity has zero resistence.good luck.

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as a self taught.i recommend you start with the three old tesla books that are out.then find a used copy of homemade lightning.study electronics and understand all you can about electronics.as im not recognized as a professional in this field.my biggest pleasure is in getting pros into heated debates while i set back and laugh.ive got respect for them but they can be narrowly focused at times.some things to know.there is no such thing as an absolute vacuum and at 50%ionization electricity has zero resistence.good luck.

 

Interesting. Welcome to the Zoo .

 

Mike

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Honestly, do what I did. I'm a biochemist. In high school I barely got B's, mostly C's and D's in most of my classes, but I still loved science. After graduation, I took a handful of chemistry, and physics classes at a local community college, I said to myself, "If I can't muster through these courses in a community college, I wont be able to get through a 4 year university"..well it turns out I was able to muster through those classes with a modest 3.75 gpa, and got into the university I had always dreamed of, now I'm a biochemist working in a research lab! Start small then get big...gain momentum before you strike.

~ee

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i also am self teaching physics so i congratulate you for such a goal. Not every person can self teach so that you want to learn is admirable. i in order to understand physics better read and study chemistry, biology and math too. two sites that are helpful with getting pdf versions of books on physics are Project Gutenburg and http://www.freebookcentre.net/Physics/Introductory-Physics-Books.html

I have had great luck with these sites.

 

My motto for Learning is also

helpful towards self teaching

 

the question is not why but why not

 

to sum it up never stop questioning.

 

Onna Bockhoven

 

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It is possible (you do not need to pay tuition and you are the boss of your own) but is not easy. People say that it leads you "nowhere" in social terms, which is correct. Everybody becomes your enemy. You have to find the like minded friends. Let us look for these friends! "SELF-TAUGHT THEORETICAL PHYSICISTS CLUB" is looking for its members. I will subscribe. You too. Who else?

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