View Full Version : How good does my maths have to be...

Infinity Watcher

2014-Mar-30, 08:00 PM

...to understand relativity? It's closing in on a decade since I left school and my uni education has been relatively maths light (a bit of stats but not a lot more than that), at my maths peak I had a grasp on Differentiation/Integration, logarithms and so forth, but not much more than that (of course I'd probably have to skim over the details again but I can still mostly remember it. I never for example really had to handle imaginary numbers or other advanced mathematics, that said I'd like to get a better grip on modern physics but a question out to people who have studied this, would I be better starting with studying some more maths first or is what I've got adequate? Also any good introductory texts people can reccommend either on this or my other topic I really need to study in more detail: the history of spaceflight? I could just hit amazon and try to get lucky but I figure this board ought to have people who can give some good reccomendations somewhere on it :D

Shaula

2014-Mar-30, 09:01 PM

For special relativity you can just about get by with that. For general relativity you need more. You'd probably need to be happy with tensors at the least.

For reference SR was a first year course for me, GR was not available until the third year and was run by the maths department.

closetgeek

2014-Apr-01, 12:11 AM

The only prerequisite course for physics is college Algebra, IIRC.

Hornblower

2014-Apr-01, 03:28 AM

The only prerequisite course for physics is college Algebra, IIRC.Perhaps for a low-level survey course in physics that would be a good choice for non-science majors, but it would not get you anywhere near general relativity.

Inclusa

2014-Apr-01, 08:23 AM

My post-secondary education was always on humanity; while I made the attempt to learn relativity, I gave up very soon.

Cougar

2014-Apr-02, 11:58 PM

I made up a written report on special relativity in 10th grade of high school. The equations of special relativity require no more than high school algebra. I went on to get a bachelor's degree in mathematics. Sticking with mathematics courses, I didn't really encounter general relativity (GR). I did, however, warm up to abstract algebra and matrices in 3rd and 4th year university, since my "progressive" high school gave a senior year brief intro course in this "new math" (at the time), rather than calculus prep (this substitution was not a great idea). Matrix theory is sort of the framework for GR, but there's apparently quite a bit more to it, since I still only have a vague idea of what's going on with GR. I don't know, but much of the "mystery" of GR may be due to the rather cryptic notation, which is apparently highly specialized.

Infinity Watcher

2014-Apr-03, 12:31 AM

sounds like grabbing an A2 (i.e. final year of schooling for those not in the UK), I only did maths up to AS level (the penultimate year) ) book followed by a university text would be adviable then... I've always intended to learn about matrices but they don't come up in biology very often, even with the big advances in biostatistics and such.

John Mendenhall

2014-Apr-03, 12:33 AM

Yes, love that notation. So deep

I know a Math major who decided to take the GR course for a lark. Whoops. He said it was the toughest course he ever took.

ShinAce

2014-Apr-03, 01:05 AM

Special relativity requires no special math beyond what you have.

You'll need to be comfortable with the pythagorean theorem and vectors. That's about it.

There is some fancy stuff like Taylor expanding the Lorentz tranform, but that's just gravy.

NEOWatcher

2014-Apr-03, 12:36 PM

Sometimes I wonder if my math/computer degree wasn't up to what it should have been. I think being a combined degree meant that I got the minimum of what was needed to graduate in the math area.

I did do 3 semesters of Calc and had Matrix math, but never really learned what a tensor was. In fact, I'm not sure what I am missing as a ** degree. Plus; I'm not sure what may not have been around in the early 80's.

And as far as matrix math, I don't think we delved too deep into it, because I came out only with the understanding that it's a shorthand notation of algebraic equations that still need the same amount of effort to compute. They did crop up when I took computer graphics.

Moose

2014-Apr-03, 01:05 PM

And as far as matrix math, I don't think we delved too deep into it, because I came out only with the understanding that it's a shorthand notation of algebraic equations that still need the same amount of effort to compute. They did crop up when I took computer graphics.

Sort of. Like algebra, you can stack up multiple operations (and not necessarily the _same_ operations) into a single transformation matrix well before you have your inputs to hand. The power isn't so much in the computation as it is in reducing what you'll have to grind in realtime.

/ My university math professors were, almost to a person, miss or miss.

closetgeek

2014-Apr-03, 03:49 PM

Perhaps for a low-level survey course in physics that would be a good choice for non-science majors, but it would not get you anywhere near general relativity.

I am not understanding what you are saying. Are you saying that College Algebra is only going to get you into a low level survey course? I will have to dig out my book again but when I went to BCC (before it became Eastern State), the only prerequisite for Physics was to pass College Algebra with a C or better.

Moose

2014-Apr-03, 04:01 PM

I am not understanding what you are saying. Are you saying that College Algebra is only going to get you into a low level survey course? I will have to dig out my book again but when I went to BCC (before it became Eastern State), the only prerequisite for Physics was to pass College Algebra with a C or better.

In particular, check to see if that physics class required Calculus as a co-requisite. My (one year) Physics course required students to be taking Differential Calc and Integral Calc in their respective terms (or have already taken them).

Hornblower

2014-Apr-03, 04:56 PM

I am not understanding what you are saying. Are you saying that College Algebra is only going to get you into a low level survey course? I will have to dig out my book again but when I went to BCC (before it became Eastern State), the only prerequisite for Physics was to pass College Algebra with a C or better.

In particular, check to see if that physics class required Calculus as a co-requisite. My (one year) Physics course required students to be taking Differential Calc and Integral Calc in their respective terms (or have already taken them).

I don't even know what "College Algebra" is, although I think institutions like Northern Virginia Community College offer such courses. That college was a breath of fresh air for a friend of mine who had been admitted to a major university without sufficient math achievement to make it in their lowest-level math course, which included calculus. NOVA enabled many math-challenged but otherwise strong students to make up for deficiencies in their high school background and transfer the credits to universities. I realize this was 40 years ago and many changes may have been made in the meantime.

To do well in entry-level physics you would need a good background in algebra, trigonometry and analytic geometry. In a physics course designed as a science experience for a liberal arts major, I think enough rough-and-dirty calculus can be taught within the course to do a good job at that level. For a course intended as a prerequisite for physics, chemistry or astronomy majors, a thorough course in calculus should be at least a corequisite.

Trebuchet

2014-Apr-03, 06:16 PM

In particular, check to see if that physics class required Calculus as a co-requisite. My (one year) Physics course required students to be taking Differential Calc and Integral Calc in their respective terms (or have already taken them).

When I was in college, there were two levels of introductory Physics classes. One, for engineering and physical science students, required Calculus. The other, for the general population, did not. The latter course was commonly referred to as "Cowboy Physics".

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