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I am extremely interested in self-learning Einstein's theory of relativity, but I don't know where to start.

Can I make general relativity my starting point, and later look at special relativity as a special case of GR? Is is doable for a person with average math skills?

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closed as primarily opinion-based by Kyle Kanos, ACuriousMind, DanielSank, yuggib, Jim Jul 13 '15 at 14:09

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    $\begingroup$ High school math level will suffice to get a good understanding of special relativity, yet very advanced math needed to scrape the basic ideas of general relativity. $\endgroup$ – Alexander Jul 12 '15 at 12:41
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    $\begingroup$ While it's nice that you want to learn relativity, this question is really asking for our opinions on what you should do and is therefore off-topic on this site. $\endgroup$ – Kyle Kanos Jul 12 '15 at 16:56
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    $\begingroup$ Kyle, don't be churlish and give a constructive answer, the questioner wants to know which is the easiest to understand. $\endgroup$ – Stevetech Jul 12 '15 at 19:18
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    $\begingroup$ @Steve: off-topic questions are off-topic, regardless of one's opinion on it & its supposed popularity. Please try making/understanding the distinction next time. $\endgroup$ – Kyle Kanos Jul 12 '15 at 22:27
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    $\begingroup$ @theage Actually, using a purely Minkowski spacetime in GR gives you all of the predictions and interpretations of SR. You do get the corrections to Maxwell's Equations and all the wonderful things SR has. SR quite literally is a special case of GR where the metric is only the Minkowski metric. $\endgroup$ – Jim Jul 13 '15 at 14:08
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Can I make GR my starting point, and look at SR later as a special case of GR?

This would be like making differential geometry your starting point and then learning linear algebra as a special case --- or learning calculus as your starting point and then learning about straight lines as a special case. In other words, it's insane.

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    $\begingroup$ Maybe I am in fact insane :( $\endgroup$ – user132181 Jul 12 '15 at 12:14
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    $\begingroup$ Given your starting point, and given that you say you're not terribly tooled up in math, I'd very much recommend that you start with a book like Mermin's "Space and Time in Special Relativity". In fact, I'd recommend that you start with exactly that book. $\endgroup$ – WillO Jul 12 '15 at 12:20
  • $\begingroup$ Or to place that analogy somewhere else: it would be like making a full motorcycle driver's license without first learning to ride a bicycle. $\endgroup$ – leftaroundabout Jul 12 '15 at 19:49
  • $\begingroup$ @leftaroundabout: I haven't done the former but I imagine it might be easier since the tires are wider...? $\endgroup$ – Mehrdad Jul 13 '15 at 0:08
  • $\begingroup$ @user132181: If you indeed want to go that way you should choose Sean Carroll's book, at least he gives a very brief introduction to SR. $\endgroup$ – Gonenc Jul 13 '15 at 9:30
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Before learning general relativity you need to learn special relativity,classical mechanics,electromagnetism,fluid mechanics,tensors,differential geometry first.

this is the way we physics majors learn general relativity. We learn ofcourse quantum mechanics,statistical mechanics,optics too,but these are not directly necessary as far as I know ,but to understand general relativity you need to have lots of experience of doing physics. For self study you should watch Leonard Susskind lectures first.

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    $\begingroup$ Not to mention linear algebra,multivariable calculus, ODE,PDE $\endgroup$ – Alexander Jul 12 '15 at 12:57
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Edwin F. Taylor and John Archibald Wheeler, Spacetime Physics: Introduction to Special Relativity, 2nd ed. W. H. Freeman & Company, 1992. In print, ISBN 0-7167-2326-3, list price $26.00 (hardcover)

Simply the best introduction you could get. You want to start with SR. Make sure you have a good grounding in Classical "Newtownian" Physics first, as well as some good higher level math classes.

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  • $\begingroup$ After spacetime physics you can take up Exploring Black Holes by Taylor and Wheeler,thats a perfect introduction to GR.In the meanwhile try working on your math skills.And then you are ready for advanced books.And you don't need EM,Fluid mechanics... $\endgroup$ – Sahil Chadha Jul 12 '15 at 13:51
  • $\begingroup$ @SahilChadha How can you not need EM? The need for Special Relativity arose while trying to explain why the fourth Maxwell's equation wasn't invariant under Galilean transformation. For that EM theory is necessary. $\endgroup$ – Pallavi Roy Jul 12 '15 at 15:48
  • $\begingroup$ You don't need EM. If you want to learn SR yourself, you just need to analyze motion, and do so by using nothing but your mind. If I can do it, then anyone can do it. goo.gl/fz4R0I $\endgroup$ – Sean Jul 13 '15 at 15:41
  • $\begingroup$ @PallaviRoy I Like studying physics from a fundamental point of view rather than retracing the history.SR is something that can be always done without EM for an introduction $\endgroup$ – Sahil Chadha Jul 17 '15 at 16:48
  • $\begingroup$ @SahilChadha I think it is important to understand the need for the theory, that is the first problem which required this as a solution(in my personal opinion). $\endgroup$ – Pallavi Roy Jul 18 '15 at 15:14
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Believe me, if you haven't studied either yet, special relativity will be enough to blow your mind. Learning it will keep your curiosity peaked and hopefully lead you to learning new math and more physics to the point where one day you are ready to study general relativity.

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