Trying to learn modern physics from popularizations is like trying to learn to dance by watching the shadows flit by under the closed door of a ballet school.
9 September 2003
A pedestrian learns Physics
After years of reading popular books and newspaper articles about modern physics with little true understanding, I've decided to try to actually learn something about relativity, quantum mechanics, gravitation, black holes, cosmology, string theory, or whatever else "modern physics" might be.
Hopefully someone like me, trained as a computer scientist or mathematician, will find something useful in these notes, wherein I'll try to keep track of each step I take, trying to learn physics.
I'm writing this sentence on Day Zero9 September 2003, in the full knowledge that I know nothing about physics, or nearly so. We'll see how far I can get.
Four months laterNotes added 6 January 2004.
Not really knowing where to begin, I started off by trying to learn General Relativity. I started with the book A first course in general relativity, by Bernard F. Schutz. But I found that just getting an understanding of special relativity and tensors was a more reasonable first goal. Thankfully, the Schutz book turned out to be a good resource for that, too.
Here are my notes, "A Pedestrian Learns Modern Physics." I can't imagine why anyone would want to read thema person would be better off just reading the Schutz book, insteadbut here they are, split into separate chunks, in any case:
Part I (18 pages, PDF, 3Mb)
Chapter 1: Warning.Part II (21 pages, PDF, 3Mb)
Chapter 4: Proper time.Part III (60 pages, PDF, 8.5Mb)Differentials. Twin paradox. Four velocity.Chapter 5: Spacetime.The postulates. Fun with spacetime diagrams. The pole in the barn. Hyperbolic detourrelative velocity.
Chapter 6: Vector analysis in special relativity.Part IV (11 pages, PDF, 1.9Mb)Vectors. Accelerating spaceships. Energy and momentum. Doppler shift. Compton scattering. Inverse Compton scattering. Eight week assessment. Precis. What next?Chapter 7: Tensors in special relativity.One forms. Transformation rules. The gradient. General tensors. The outer product. Index gymnastics. The trapdoorTensor differentiation.
Chapter 8: Perfect fluids in special relativity.Part V (18 pages, PDF, 2.64Mb)Fluids. Flux. The stress energy tensor T, and what MTW and the "problem book" have to say about it. Conservation of energy-momentum.
Chapter 9: Curvature, I