Assignment for Class 2, September 23, 2013

At this writing I do not know how far we will get in the first class.  I’ve planned the first class to go fairly slowly so we all have a chance to pick up the mathematical thread and I expect that we will not get quite into calculus during the first class.

In this, the second, class we will resume from where the first class leaves off.  I will plan to cover integral and differential calculus and the kinematics of motion, although, as before, it is not critical to reach a certain point.  Please read through page 57 in the book.  This reading will take you through Interlude 2 on Integral Calculus.  It’s only eleven more pages but the content is significant.  If we have to return to these topics after my absence, that will be fine.

Susskind’s second video lecture is about the dynamics of particle motion and covers a fair bit of territory.  If you don’t recall much, or any, calculus, I would defer the second video lecture until we have touched on calculus in class.  If you’re currently comfortable with most of the material in Lecture 2 in the book on motion, then by all means go ahead with Susskind’s second video lecture.

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Assignment for Class 1, September 16, 2013

The video lectures (available both here and on youtube) do not always correspond one-for-one to the chapters in the book.  The first video lecture includes the material from three sections of the book (Lecture 1, Interlude 1, and Lecture 2) and spans pages 1-46.  This difference arises from more extensive background material in the book, covering trigonometry, vectors, and differential calculus.

Our first class will target the material from the first video lecture but we will not be dominated by a priori scheduling.  It is much more important to understand the material than to cover the entire book.

Specifically, for this first class I hope you will listen to Susskind’s video and then read pages 1-46 in the book.  The reading will take you through Lecture 2 on Motion and includes the section on Differential Calculus embedded in that lecture.  The video assumes a stronger background than the book, so don’t be discouraged if some of the video goes over your head, and don’t be put off by Susskind’s occasional asides about preparation.  (I suggested viewing the lecture first because  it gives a compact summary of the material which will help in following the reading.)  Do make note of the concepts and steps that were confusing and we will go over those in class.


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What is Classical Mechanics?

This question does not have a precise answer.  A good approximation is probably “physics excluding quantum mechanics” (the other field of mechanics).  A more detailed discussion of its meaning is given in Wikipedia.  Here is a portion of that discussion:

The initial stage in the development of classical mechanics is often referred to as Newtonian mechanics, and is associated with the physical concepts employed by and the mathematical methods invented by Newton himself, in parallel with Leibniz, and others. This is further described in the following sections. Later, more abstract and general methods were developed, leading to reformulations of classical mechanics known as Lagrangian mechanics and Hamiltonian mechanics. These advances were largely made in the 18th and 19th centuries, and they extend substantially beyond Newton’s work, particularly through their use of analytical mechanics.

For our purposes, classical mechanics includes neither quantum nor, here, relativistic effects.  Thus it is focused on systems of larger than atomic scale and with speeds slow compared to the speed of light.

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Background to the ILEAD course: “The Theoretical Minimum”

The Theoretical Minimum is the title of a series of public lectures given by the famous Stanford physicist Leonard Susskind.  On the home page of, Susskind discusses his target audience:

A number of years ago I became aware of the large number of physics enthusiasts out there who have no venue to learn modern physics and cosmology.  Fat advanced textbooks are not suitable to people who have no teacher to ask questions of, and the popular literature does not go deeply enough to satisfy these curious people.  So I started a series of courses on modern physics at Stanford University where I am a professor of physics.  The courses are specifically aimed at people who know, or once knew, a bit of algebra and calculus, but are more or less beginners.

Our course of the same name is based upon the first series of Susskind’s lectures, the series devoted to classical mechanics, and our target audience is the same as his.

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