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I'm intending to study General Relativity on my own. The thing is, my physics background is not very strong. I know classical mechanics and I know some electromagnetism. I'm familiar with Gauss' law, Ampere's law, RLC circuits, ... but I still have problems with the intuition behind concepts like 'momentum'. I know that momentum is nothing but $p=mv$ and I know that the change in momentum is associated to a force acting on the particle by the equation $F=\displaystyle {\mbox d p \over \mbox d t}$ but I'm not sure if my background is enough.

I know some differential geometry and this semester I'm going to take a course in topological manifolds. I guess my mathematical background is strong enough for GR. But I don't know where I should start. I know the basics of special relativity, but I only know the basics, I don't know every details that a physics student must know. So, where do you think I should start from?

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marked as duplicate by Qmechanic Aug 7 '13 at 15:53

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up vote 3 down vote accepted

As you're a mathematician, I'll just discuss the Physics prerequwisites .

  1. Newtonian Mechanics. You seem to know this .
  2. Lagrangian Mechanics . Unarguably the most elegant formulation of all of Classical Mechanics .
  3. Hamiltonian Mechanics . An uglier, but equally useful (almost), formulation .
  4. Newtonian Gravity . The theory of gravity as an inverse square field with the "charge" as the mass .
  5. Maxwellian Electromagnetism . A Lorentz invariant formulation of EM. Formulated way before Lorentz Invariance and Lorentz Symmetry were ever thought of.
  6. Special Relativity (the Minkowskian formulation, of course, is needed here .) . Of course .

As you're a mathematician, you'd probably like Wald, R.M's General Relativity, a mathematically rigorous textbook . Though I don't like it as it is too rigorous . I prefer Ludvigsen's General Relativity: A geometric approach. But that isn't a book a mathematician would like .

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Sounds like I will have to spend a long time studying all those, right? I know Newtonian gravity to some extents. I have also completed a course on Astronomy 101 on from Duke university. Do you think that's enough background for 4.? Would you please suggest some easy books for these subjects? – some1.new4u Aug 7 '13 at 15:43
@some1.new4u: For Newtonian Mechanics & Maxwellian Electromagnetism & Special Relativity (in Einstein's approach), you can read Jewett and Serway Physics for Scientists and Engineers (With Modern Physics). It doesn't cover Lagrangian Mech, Hamiltonian Mech, or GR, though . – centralcharge Aug 7 '13 at 15:46
@some1.new4u: For Special Relativity in Minkowski 's approach, Ludvigsen covers it, I think Wald does too, can't remember . Lagrangian Mech and Hamiltonian Mech: Wikipedia is enough . – centralcharge Aug 7 '13 at 15:47

If you know freshman calculus (derivatives and integrals) and freshman physics you should be able to handle a general relativity course or self-study.

The important part is graphing the space-time effects and being able to muster the thought experiments for time dilation. The thought experiments are largely conceptual and provide the intuitive understanding of the mechanics of GR.

Similarly, length contraction formulas and concepts can be understood with a reasonable amount of comfort with a basic understanding time dilation. Since both are related, you'd be a hop, skip, and jump away from the basics and foundations of GR within a few months of self-study. Further, there are plenty of free online resources covering this topic (Stanford being one of them).

Look for MIT or Stanford videos on General Relativity on YouTube.

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This seems more to be for SR than GR . Such basic knowledge is hardly enough for GR. Note: The OP is a mathematician, not a layman . He definitely knows "freshman calculus". : ) – centralcharge Aug 7 '13 at 15:54
@Dimension10 Correction noted, thanks. I didn't mean to offend the author in recommending "freshman calculus". I was just writing to the general audience that might read this and be interested in the topic. – Mahesh Kommareddi Aug 7 '13 at 17:07

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