a thoughtful web.
Good ideas and conversation. No ads, no tracking.   Login or Take a Tour!
comment by Shitty_Physics
Shitty_Physics  ·  2912 days ago  ·  link  ·    ·  parent  ·  post: The Feynman Lectures - Complete Transcripts Of Volume One

Feynman's Red Books, a name given to the Lectures affectionately by many physicists and physics students on account of their color, are wonderful for those seeking enrichment in physics. However, they aren't so good if one doesn't already have some background in the subject, and they're certainly not very good if one seeks a level of understanding similar to physics students (for that, the traditional textbooks are still best). For the layman, I think another red book is even better: Isaac Asimov's Understanding Physics.

Understanding Physics has a couple core advantages over the Red Books. First, the treatment is less mathematical. This is not necessarily an advantage, but I certainly think it is when offering the book to a layman (which is what many try to do with the Red Books). Second, Asimov introduces historical context into every section. In fact, Understanding Physics is almost as much about the science of physics as it is about the history of physics. That's not to say Feynman ignores the past in the Red Books, but Asimov certainly gives it a much greater degree of attention. I find two outcomes after reading Understanding Physics: (1) If you know physics, then you'll come out with a greater appreciation of it and its history (2) If you don't know physics then you'll come out knowing basic physics (note the emphasis) and a greater appreciation of it and its history. You can find the entire first part here. Part 1 is about "Motion, Sound, and Heat."





pizzahedron  ·  2912 days ago  ·  link  ·  

thanks for the Asimov recommendation/reminder. i have a fondness for scientific works by fiction writers.

can you explain why the feynman lectures are

    certainly not very good if one seeks a level of understanding similar to physics students
?
Shitty_Physics  ·  2911 days ago  ·  link  ·    ·  

Sure! Simply put, they do not require enough of the reader. This is true for two reasons. First, the Red Books fail to dive deep enough into the science. Now, they're certainly a great overview (and on the spectrum from most basic to most intricate, they're certainly closer to most intricate than Asimov's work), but their depth is quite different from what a physics student would study. Second, it's impossible to understand physics in the same way that a physics student would if you're not actually doing physics. In other words, you need to do "homework," i.e. exercises; with pretty much any STEM subject, and especially physics/math, you need to get your hands dirty! This is usually done by reading a textbook. So, the Red Books and Understanding Physics are great for enrichment, but by themselves cannot satisfy the level of the understanding that a physics student would have. In fact, the Red Books are so good that I've seen a few upper-level physics classes list them under the recommended reading of the course syllabus.

Note: If you've gone through a physics program, or know a lot about it, then just skip this. Fortunately for any aspiring autodidact, the physics curriculum at most schools follows a similar path. First, the student will begin with engineering physics and calculus (unless he/she places out of them via AP credit; also note that the curriculum I describe is for USA programs only). There's a standard calculus text that most schools use nowadays, and that is James Stewart's Calculus. The engineering physics book is usually titled something like "Physics for Scientists and Engineers." There's like four or five of these books that most schools will pick from. My favorite is Haliday/Resnick's or Giancoli's. After calculus, the student will usually take three additional math classes (generally more if they wish to go to graduate school). The two obvious ones are linear algebra and differential equations. The third one is a course that applies mathematics to physics specifically. This course exists mainly to prepare students for the physics classes that come after engineering physics. Two pretty common books used for this are Mathematical Methods in the Physical Sciences by Boas and Shankar's book. After that, the student will generally take six courses: 2 classical mechanics courses, 2 EM courses, and 2 quantum mechanics courses. The rest of the student's program will be filled in with electives (and some required labs, which you obviously cannot really do outside of school, and probably a thermal/stat. mech course). Now, there's two really cool things about those courses. The first is that most universities use the same textbooks for each respective course sequence. Those textbooks are: Taylor's Classical Mechanics, Griffiths Introduction to Electrodynamics, and Griffith's Introduction to Quantum Mechanics. The second cool thing is that those books don't really presuppose any knowledge of physics. When it says introductory, it means introductory. Of course, they presuppose that the reader has knowledge of linear algebra, differential equations, and a lot of the stuff learned in the math of physicists class (like vector calculus). The two course course-sequences will generally cover the entirety of each book.

So, as you can see, there's a lot of material that a physics student will know by graduation. It's quite clear, then, that the Red Books couldn't possible cover all of that material, yet they remain a great tool for enrichment and exploration of physics.

Now time for one of my favorite Feynman stories, a story that, like most Feynman stories, nobody really knows is true or not:

| Caltech uses an honor system and the exams are take-home exams. The instructions for the exam read “You have three hours. You may use your class notes and Feynman [referring to the Red Books; it's customary to call textbooks by the author's last name rather than the title].” The student took the exam to Feynman’s office, and he agreed that the instructions included him as a valid resource. Feynman completed the exam in half an hour and the student got a perfect score.

    mknod  ·  2882 days ago  ·  link  ·  

    I think the great thing about the red books are that unlike most text books, they show how a thought process goes from one direction and into another.

    I am totally in agreement that they would not likely replace text books, but using them as a supplement and just for fun reading does add a lot to their value.

    pizzahedron  ·  2910 days ago  ·  link  ·  

    okay here we go!

    original course notes, including psets, labs, exams more exercises and info around that site

    also looks like there is Feynman's Tips On Physics: A Problem-solving Supplement to The Feynman Lectures on Physics (by feynman and co.)

    and michael gottlieb (feynman's co-author) on yahoo answers said, about a year ago:

      My colleagues and I are currently working on remedying this situation by creating one big book of about 900-1000 exercises collected from the older exercise books, with answers for all (or most, and worked-out solutions for many) that cover all the main sequence material in FLP. There's an agreement in place (with Basic Books) to publish this new exercise book, but we are still working on the manuscript, which we hope will be done sometime near the end of this year.
    pizzahedron  ·  2910 days ago  ·  link  ·  

    hey thanks for the thorough response!

    you're right, a companion series of problems and how to solve them would definitely benefit any student looking to fully understand, and not just know. in fact, feynman thought so too!

      I think one way we could help the students more would be by putting more hard work into developing a set of problems which would elucidate some of the ideas in the lectures. Problems give a good opportunity to fill out the material of the lectures and make more realistic, more complete, and more settled in the mind the ideas that have been exposed.

    it's amazing the holes in my knowledge that surface when i attempt to actually manipulate and work with that knowledge. it's almost as good as trying to teach it to somebody else!