Why study Physics?

©Fernando Caracena2014

Several college major programs traditionally require that their students take a physics course. A long time ago some people who designed that major's program thought that it would be a good idea for their students to take physics to round out their studies. Physics is often included in among high school science offerings, but it is usually optional. However, it is recommended for students going into any of the hard sciences, medicine, engineering or any technical studies in college.

OK, so physics is part of the core of academic studies for those who have chosen career paths in science or technical areas. The question is, “Is there any real value for someone's studying physics just for the heck of it. ”

 The value of Physics

The value of physics is in the way it directs the mind to solve real-world type problems of the physical world. The longer I live my life, the more I am convinced that training yourself to be able to think for yourself with some degree of confidence is an important survival skill in our modern world. In many areas of modern life, we are asked to bow to expert opinion in the running of all human affairs.

My experience is that experts are sometimes overrated. Taleb in his book “Antifragility” suggests that experts take some kind of oath to do no harm, in a way that doctors take a Hippocratic oath. Who protects us from the malpractice of experts? The only defence that we have is our ability to think for ourselves, and for that, we need to train our mind to a point that we can rely on how it functions. The goals are similar to what athletes hope to accomplish by special training. Yet everyone benefits from some athletic training, even if they are not intending to be athletes. Most young people would benefit from being able to ski and do ballroom dancing. So likewise, the training of the mind, and learning to rely on it in making critical decisions, is a valuable skill for everyone to develop, even if they have not chosen to have a technical career. For this purpose, physics is an ideal subject.

The Importance of Patterns, not just Facts

The emphasis of physics is not on just learning facts, a mistake which medical students especially, make in studying physics. This mistake compounds as the load of facts increases throughout a physics course. The emphasis of physics is on what to do beyond having the facts, by looking at what is implied by patterns contained in all the facts surrounding something of interest. In physics you learn how to think between the lines by extracting the patterns that you see within these lines.


For the above reasons, I have chosen to write an e-book about physics which emphasizes grasping the patterns behind the facts by a combination of intuition and mathematics, which I call grokking, a term coined by the science fiction writer, Robert A. Heinlein. This is perhaps a new approach in the study of physics.

The e-book that I have almost completed does not take a textbook approach to be used in a course in physics. Rather, it is really a guide to understanding physics, which is to be read either by students, or just ordinary people who have some interest in what makes everything tick.


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