Geometric object with magnitude (length) and direction.

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27
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When is it useful to distinguish between vectors and pseudovectors in experimental & theoretical physics?

My understanding of pseudovectors vs vectors is pretty basic. Both transform in the same way under a rotation, but differently upon reflection. I might even be able to summarize that using an ...
27
votes
8answers
2k views

Is it foolish to distinguish between covariant and contravariant vectors?

A vector space is a set whose elements satisfy certain axioms. Now there are physical entities that satisfy these properties, which may not be arrows. A co-ordinate transformation is linear map from a ...
26
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6answers
64k views

What is the physical significance of dot & cross product of vectors? Why is division not defined for vectors?

I get the physical significance of vector addition & subtraction. But I don't understand what do dot & cross products mean? More specifically, why is it that dot product of vectors ...
20
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9answers
2k views

How to interpret the units of the dot or cross product of two vectors?

Suppose I have two vectors $a=\left(1,2,3\right)$ and $b=\left(4,5,6\right)$, both in meters. If I take their dot product with the algebraic definition, I get this: $$a \cdot b = 1\mathrm m \cdot ...
19
votes
5answers
22k views

How can area be a vector?

My professor told me recently that Area is a vector. A Google search gave me the following definition for a vector: Noun: A quantity having direction as well as magnitude, esp. as determining ...
16
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5answers
28k views

Can we divide two vectors?

Can we divide two vector quantities? For eg., Pressure( a scalar) equals force (a vector) divided by area (a vector).
16
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3answers
1k views

Representing forces as one-forms

First of all, sorry if any of those things are silly or nonsense, I'm just trying to understand better how the concepts of forms, exterior derivative and so on can be used in physics. This question ...
14
votes
7answers
2k views

Quaternions and 4-vectors

I recently realised that quaternions could be used to write intervals or norms of vectors in special relativity: $$(t,ix,jy,kz)^2 = t^2 + (ix)^2 + (jy)^2 + (kz)^2 = t^2 - x^2 - y^2 - z^2$$ Is it ...
14
votes
5answers
31k views

Why is current a scalar quantity?

Current has both magnitude and direction. As per the definition of vector defined in encyclopedia, current should be a vector quantity. But, we know that current is a scalar quantity. What is the ...
13
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5answers
940 views

What does it mean for a physical quantity if its mixed second partial derivatives are not equal?

This goes for every problem (either in electromagnetism or fluid dynamics) that has to do with vector fields. Say we have a fluid flowing in a closed circular pipe (or an electromagnetic field, the ...
12
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6answers
3k views

How is it that angular velocities are vectors, while rotations aren't?

Does anyone have an intuitive explanation of why this is the case?
12
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4answers
3k views

Is a 1D vector also a scalar?

A vector in one dimension has only one component. Can we consider it as a scalar at the same time? Why time is not a vector, although it can be negative and positive (when solving for time the ...
11
votes
4answers
831 views

Is partial derivative a vector or dual vector?

The textbook(Introduction to the Classical Theory of Particles and Fields, by Boris Kosyakov) defines a hypersurface by $$F(x)~=~c,$$ where $F\in C^\infty[\mathbb M_4,\mathbb R]$. Differentiating ...
11
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7answers
335 views

How can a set of components fail to make up a vector?

Many books in Physics insist to define vectors are objects with components with the property that the components transform in a proper way under a change of coordinates. Now, in mathematics, on the ...
10
votes
4answers
320 views

Basis independence in Quantum Mechanics

The idea that the state of a system does not depend on the basis that we choose to represent it in, has always puzzled me. Physically I can imagine that the basis ought to just yield an equivalent ...
9
votes
6answers
1k views

In coordinate-free relativity, how do we define a vector?

Relativity can be developed without coordinates: Laurent 1994 (SR), Winitzski 2007 (GR). I would normally define a vector by its transformation properties: it's something whose components change ...
8
votes
6answers
1k views

Where am I confused about force addition?

As far as my knowledge is concerned, a vector quantity should possess magnitude and direction & more over it should also obey the laws of vector addition. As we all know that the vector sum of 3 ...
8
votes
3answers
5k views

Physics of a skateboard ollie

Does anyone have a good explanation of the physics and vectors of force involved in the skateboarding trick the ollie (where the skater jumps and causes the skateboard to rise off the ground with ...
8
votes
7answers
820 views

Is there a physical interpretation of a tensor as a vector with additional qualities?

What is a tensor? has been asked before, with the most highly up-voted answer defining a tensor of rank $k$ as a vector of a tensor of rank $k-1$. But if a scalar is defined as a physical quantity ...
8
votes
3answers
979 views

Covariant and contravariant vectors

Reading Weinberg's Gravitation and Cosmology, I came across the sentence (p.115, above equation (4.11.8)) The partial derivative operator $\partial/\partial x^\mu$ is a covariant vector, or in ...
8
votes
2answers
516 views

Infinite dimensional vector spaces vs. the dual space

I just happened across this over on Math Overflow. It references the following theorem from linear algebra: A vector space has the same dimension as its dual if and only if it is finite ...
8
votes
2answers
597 views

What does it mean to transform as a scalar or vector?

I'm working through an introductory electrodynamics text (Griffiths), and I encountered a pair of questions asking me to show that: the divergence transforms as a scalar under rotations the ...
7
votes
3answers
1k views

Does spacetime position not form a four-vector?

When one starts learning about physics, vectors are presented as mathematical quantities in space which have a direction and a magnitude. This geometric point of view has encoded in it the idea that ...
7
votes
1answer
2k views

Uniqueness of Helmholtz decomposition?

Helmholtz theorem states that given a smooth vector field $\pmb{H}$, there are a scalar field $\phi$ and a vector field $\pmb{G}$ such that $$\pmb{H}=\pmb{\nabla} \phi +\pmb{\nabla} \times \pmb{G},$$ ...
7
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4answers
9k views

Direction of angular velocity

Angular velocity is the rate of angular displacement about an axis. Its direction is determined by right hand rule. According to right hand rule, if you hold the axis with your right hand and rotate ...
7
votes
2answers
1k views

Understanding the difference between co- and contra-variant vectors

I am looking at the 4-vector treatment of special relativity, but I have had no formal training in Tensor algebra and thus am having difficulty understanding some of the concepts which appear. One ...
7
votes
3answers
2k views

Why is the cross product between two vectors calculated by the determinant of a matrix

The cross product $\vec{a} \times \vec{b}$ can be written as the determinant of the matrix: $$\left| \begin{matrix} \vec{i} & \vec{j} & \vec{k} \\ a_i & a_j & a_k \\ b_i & b_j ...
7
votes
2answers
559 views

Can we show that time is orthogonal to space?

It's easy to show that the time we measure is "in a different direction" from the space directions we measure. However, it's not immediately obvious to me that these directions are orthogonal. How do ...
7
votes
1answer
5k views

How to calculate roll, yaw and pitch angles from 3D co-ordinates (Euler Angles)

I have digitized a video of a flying fly in a 3-dimensional space. At all instants I know the x, y, and z co-oridinates of the following points on the fly's body --- The points are my choice, and ...
7
votes
4answers
1k views

Are covariant vectors representable as row vectors and contravariant as column vectors

I would like to know what are the range of validity of the following statement: Covariant vectors are representable as row vectors. Contravariant vectors are representable as column vectors. ...
6
votes
6answers
4k views

How is gradient the maximum rate of change of a function?

Recently I read a book which described about gradient. It says $${\rm d}T~=~ \nabla T \cdot {\rm d}{\bf r},$$ and suddenly they concluded that $\nabla T$ is the maximum rate of change of $f(T)$ ...
6
votes
4answers
955 views

Is the covariance or contravariance of vectors/tensors something that can be “visualized”?

I'm taking an undergrad GR course, and our text (Lambourne) mentions covariant and contravariant vectors and tensors ad-nauseum, but never really gives a formal definition for what they are, and how ...
6
votes
4answers
822 views

In which direction does a wall exert the reaction force if it is hit diagonally?

I am confused about action-reaction forces and inertia of moving objects. As an example, take a cricket ball a bowler throws to the pitch: Suppose the ball is about to drop in the pitch with ...
6
votes
2answers
355 views

Why distinguish between row and column vectors?

Mathematically, a vector is an element of a vector space. Sometimes, it's just an n-tuple $(a,b,c)$. In physics, one often demands that the tuple has certain transformation properties to be called a ...
5
votes
2answers
905 views

Is (0,0,0) an undefined vector?

I'm not sure what to make of the direction of a vector with components (0,0,0). Is it an undefined vector?
5
votes
3answers
2k views

How to understand the definition of vector and tensor?

Physics texts like to define vector as something that transform like a vector and tensor as something that transform like a tensor, which is different from the definition in math books. I am having ...
5
votes
4answers
879 views

Meaning of the direction of the cross product

I was doing calculations with torque and then I came across something very confusing: I understand that the magnitude of the torque is given by product of the displacement(from the center of ...
5
votes
2answers
341 views

How does one write Newtons 2nd Law using the language of forms?

Newton's second law says that $F=ma$. Supposing that the force is conservative and can thus be expressed in terms of a potential $V$ we have that $F=-dV$. We have that $V$, being a function, can ...
5
votes
2answers
2k views

Is length/distance a vector?

I have heard that area is a vector quantity in 3 dimensions, e.g. this Phys.SE post, what about the length/distance? Since area is the product of two lengths, does this mean that length is also a ...
5
votes
1answer
59k views

How does force relate to velocity?

I had originally asked this question on math overflow and it was suggested that I ask it here. So I know that a force will change the magnitude of velocity if it is at an angle other that 90 degrees. ...
5
votes
1answer
330 views

What does scalar phi represent in spacetime?

Trying to understand one-forms and vectors via Schutz's A First Course In General Relativity. His example uses a spacetime diagram, a scalar field phi, a curve (worldline) parametrized using proper ...
5
votes
1answer
474 views

Vector and Spinor Representation in Ramond-Neveu-Schwarz Superstring Theory

I am learning Ramnond-Neveu-Schwarz Superstring theory (RNS theory). I often find the following notation, especially in the closed string spectrum etc.: $$\mathbf{8}_s,\mathbf{8}_v $$ And it is ...
5
votes
2answers
101 views

How is the dot product a generalization of multiplication?

I've seen an interesting explanation for lots of what I previously thought were unmotivated definitions in Newtonian mechanics, namely that power is always defined as effort times flow. But when ...
5
votes
1answer
166 views

Curvilinear Coordinates and basis vectors

In these notes, $\frac{\partial \vec{r}} {\partial q_i}$ is stated to form a basis set for the vector space. How does this happen? Also, how does one justify this equation from Goldstein's ...
5
votes
1answer
60 views

Can we directly measure vectors' quantities?

Can we perform some kind of experiment that will give us, for example, the $p_x$, $p_y$ and $p_z$ of a particle in a single measurement? I'm aware that they commute so one measurement will not ...
5
votes
1answer
350 views

Parallel Transport and covariant derivative

I have been trying to understand the notion of parallel transport and covariant derivative. I am unable to see why the change in a vector when it is parallel transported from one point to another ...
4
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3answers
7k views

Work = Force x Distance vs Displacement

The difference in using Distance vs Displacement is demonstrated in this example: Work = Force x Distance If I carry an object to and fro 10 metres, the work done would be Force x 20 metres. ...
4
votes
2answers
1k views

Which mathematical operation does the right hand rule for current come from?

I am currently wondering about this famous rule: Where does it come from mathematically that when you point with your thumb in the direction of the current, your curved fingers will point in the ...
4
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3answers
99k views

Linear acceleration vs angular acceleration equation

I'm learning about angular velocity, momentum, etc. and how all the equations are parallel to linear equations such as velocity or momentum. However, I'm having trouble comparing angular acceleration ...
4
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2answers
816 views

Nature of spacetime 4-vector and tangent space?

An entry level confusion about spacetime. I understand that a 4-vector describes a point or event in spacetime. But I've also read (Bertschinger, 1999) that re spacetime "we are discussing tangent ...