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Cogito

Autodidaction of the physical sciences

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I currently find myself in a rut in my scientific learning at school. Even though math, the hard sciences (by this I mean physics, chemistry, biology, medicine, etc.), and computer sciences have always been my favorite sciences and I am very sure I want to go to a college (right now my top choice is Harvey Mudd) where I can flourish in these subjects, I've recently been feeling that my education within the school environment has stagnated. As such, I was wondering if anybody knew of any books/lectures/websites/methods for self-teaching extensive knowledge of these (and by these I mean mathematics, hard sciences, and computer sciences) subjects. In particular, I recall seeing something a while back, I think it was on the meta-blog, about a physics course which took the student through a logical progression of physics.

Appreciatively, as always,

Cogito

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I currently find myself in a rut in my scientific learning at school. Even though math, the hard sciences (by this I mean physics, chemistry, biology, medicine, etc.), and computer sciences have always been my favorite sciences and I am very sure I want to go to a college (right now my top choice is Harvey Mudd) where I can flourish in these subjects, I've recently been feeling that my education within the school environment has stagnated. As such, I was wondering if anybody knew of any books/lectures/websites/methods for self-teaching extensive knowledge of these (and by these I mean mathematics, hard sciences, and computer sciences) subjects. In particular, I recall seeing something a while back, I think it was on the meta-blog, about a physics course which took the student through a logical progression of physics.

Appreciatively, as always,

Cogito

Wow, I have no idea why I used such language for this post... autodidaction, rut, flourish, stagnated, appreciatively... I mean, there's nothing wrong with it, but when I read it it doesn't seem like it's me that wrote it.

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I currently find myself in a rut in my scientific learning at school. Even though math, the hard sciences (by this I mean physics, chemistry, biology, medicine, etc.), and computer sciences have always been my favorite sciences and I am very sure I want to go to a college (right now my top choice is Harvey Mudd) where I can flourish in these subjects, I've recently been feeling that my education within the school environment has stagnated. As such, I was wondering if anybody knew of any books/lectures/websites/methods for self-teaching extensive knowledge of these (and by these I mean mathematics, hard sciences, and computer sciences) subjects. In particular, I recall seeing something a while back, I think it was on the meta-blog, about a physics course which took the student through a logical progression of physics.

Appreciatively, as always,

Cogito

Read -Lectures on Physics- by Feynman, Leighton and Sands. Three volumes. Pure gold.

I think this will make your filament glow.

We will not soon see the likes of Richard Feynman again. Alas!

Bob Kolker

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I can understand your frustration with high school science. I'm currently in graduate school for Molecular Biology, but I didn't want to have anything to do with science until college. My memories of high school science are foggy, but I remember a lot of memorizing random facts, and being assigned mindless tasks and calculations. I didn't even take a science class during my last year of high school, which in retrospect was an excellent decision.

Regarding your question, I think it depends on the specific discipline. For computer science, you can go to the CS section of any bookstore, and find endless tutorial-type books that will give you a basic introduction to any given programing language. After one or two of those, I think that most of computer science is best learned in a project-oriented manner. That is, you find a project that interests you on the internet, and you try to make a contribution to it. You'll probably screw up the first few times, but during that process you're going to learn a lot of new skills.

Biology consists of lots of terms, facts, and concepts. Outside of population genetics, there are almost no equations to apply. This means that you can actually develop a knowledge of even specialized fields in Biology rather quickly. Or, to put it differently, the amount of core knowledge required to get a basic understanding of Biology is actually less than any other science. My recommendation would be to try to avoid textbooks and books that are a collection of reviews by different authors. Instead, begin by finding some books for the layman that focus on a subject that's interesting to you.

Most general chemistry seems to consist of applying equations and understanding concepts, so there's less memorization required than in Biology. In this case, you'd probably learn it best by running through exercises in a textbook. I've never done physical chemistry, but I hear there's a lot of math involved. Organic chemistry involves a lot of mental spacial manipulation, and it's completely different from what most people think of as chemistry. It's also really hard (it's commonly used to weed out premeds), and a lot of fun if you can find a good teacher. I can't help much on this, since I was one of the lucky people who had an excellent teacher.

I can't give any advice for math or physics. I constantly struggled with math, and physics is still very confusing for me.

Since you requested specific resources, the best learning resource I've found in general are the lectures from the teaching company:

http://www.teach12.com/

However, the pricing on these lectures is basically insane. They'll charge hundred of dollars for a course, but all of their products go on sale at least once a year, at which point the price goes from insane to really expensive. The science and mathematics courses also generally require visual aids to completely understand what's going on, which means you're stuck with buying the dvds. I really shouldn't say this, but you can also find several of these lecture series on illegal downloading sites, if you want to get an understanding of how good they are before getting the money together to buy one of the ones on sale.

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Here are some books that are well enough written that they could be profitably studied without the aid of a class:

Calculus by Ross Finney and George Thomas. I have the 1991 revised printing. It covers about 3 or 4 semesters-worth of material.

Molecular Biology of the Cell by Bruce Alberts & others. It would be best to have at least a little knowledge of chemistry to understand this one.

A technical book can be a big investment, and it's hard to know before you read it if 1) it's any good and 2) it's level is appropriate for the knowledge you already have. For these reasons, I like libraries (and library used-book sales) as sources of books.

If there's a college near where you live, you could go to their bookstore and see what books are being used as textbooks for the introductory courses.

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