OK I'm a second year undergrad student...have taken the introductory Math, Phys and Computer Science classes. I LOVE physics, and always have since I was a kid and wanted to major in that initially, but I really respect the rigour and vastness of Math and how it's not limited to the physical reality but the abstract as well. And I enjoy programming and like the abstract logic in computing and find that of the three, working on computers is most meaningful for me. So now I'm thinking of doing a joint major in Math and Comp Sci...and just treating Phys as my hobby.

My question (after the rather long prologue) is, will I be able to teach myself physics (specifically stuff about quantum gravity and loop quantum gravity), considering I'll develop the Math skills or would I have to take actual classes from professors to gain intuition about the stuff in the subject?


  • $\begingroup$ You probably could, but you need to teach yourself some quantum mechanics and general relativity first. $\endgroup$ – MBN Jul 5 '15 at 7:36
  • $\begingroup$ Two comments: before you develop a religious devotion to the "rigor and vastness of math", take a serious class in mathematical logic, the thing where they derive Goedel's incompleteness theorems. Secondly, teaching yourself physics is not a good idea (and this is true for all of science). Physics and science are not things that people do at home by themselves. They are very social enterprises that build on the ability of humans to communicate and share intellectual and physical resources. If you are interested in the real thing, then you need to join the community. Good luck! $\endgroup$ – CuriousOne Jul 5 '15 at 7:42
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    $\begingroup$ I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it's about learning physics rather than physics itself $\endgroup$ – John Rennie Jul 5 '15 at 7:58
  • $\begingroup$ LQG ? why not, if you have good books ? but how could you learn quantum gravity before its conception ? $\endgroup$ – user46925 Jul 5 '15 at 12:29
  • $\begingroup$ I meant the state of LQG as it is now, I'm halfway through Penrose's "The Road to Reality" and his arguments for LQG seem very interesting and I'd like to atleast follow the developments of it as it progresses :) $\endgroup$ – JKA Jul 5 '15 at 18:03

Anything is possible with enough persistence. The probability of correctly learning quantum physics and relativity without any help or feedback from a professor, or even watching a blackboard presentation, is nonzero. But the chances of giving up or arriving at misconceptions are a lot higher.

To learn any subject, you must focus on it. You won't learn to apply Schroedinger's Equation to an atom or a crystal if you only focus on quantum gravity. Without understanding the basics, you'll have nothing to build on.

So, in a way, in deciding not to take the introductory courses which are immediately available, it seems that you've already given up. Perhaps you can take them as electives later? Even a few semesters (introductory courses) will go a long way.

As for math… it's a language, a tool for expressing ideas. Knowing English grammar will not make you a good essayist. Typically math and physics are taught together, starting with high school calculus. The math used in computer science is essentially a different language from that in physics, because the ideas are nearly mutually exclusive. In other words, no, the "skills" won't transfer. It's still nice to learn both, though.

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    $\begingroup$ Math is a tool? Far from it... It's THE tool. $\endgroup$ – Kugelblitz Jul 5 '15 at 8:06

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