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1.5: Thinking Like a Physicist

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    In a sense, physics can be thought of as the most fundamental of the sciences, as it describes the interactions of the smallest constituents of matter. In principle, if one can precisely describe how protons, neutrons, and electrons interact, then one can completely describe how a human brain thinks. In practice, the theories of particle physics lead to equations that are too difficult to solve for systems that include as many particles as a human brain. In fact, they are too difficult to solve exactly for even rather small systems of particles such as atoms bigger than helium (containing several protons, neutrons and electrons).

    We have a number of other fields of science to cover complex systems of particles interacting. Chemistry can be used to describe what happens to systems consisting of many atoms and molecules. In a living being, it is too difficult to keep track of systems of atoms and molecules, so we use Biology to describe living systems.

    One of the key qualities required to be an effective physicist is an ability to understand how to apply a theory and develop a model to describe a phenomenon. Just like any other skill, it takes practice to become good at developing models. Students that graduate with a physics degree are thus often sought for jobs that require critical thinking and the ability to develop quantitative models, which covers many fields from outside of physics such as finance or Big Data. This textbook thus tries to emphasize practice with developing models, while also providing a strong background in the theories of classical physics.

    This page titled 1.5: Thinking Like a Physicist is shared under a CC BY-SA license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Howard Martin revised by Alan Ng.

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