HOW to BECOME a GOOD THEORETICAL PHYSICIST
by Gerard ‘t Hooft
This is a web site (still under construction) for young students – and anyone else – who are (like me) thrilled by the challenges posed by real science, and who are – like me – determined to use their brains to discover new things about the physical world that we are living in. In short, it is for all those who decided to study theoretical physics, in their own time.
It should be possible, these days, to collect all knowledge you need from the internet. Problem then is, there is so much junk on the internet. Is it possible to weed out those very rare pages that may really be of use? I know exactly what should be taught to the beginning student. The names and topics of the absolutely necessary lecture courses are easy to list, and this is what I have done below. It is my intention to search on the web where the really useful papers and books are, preferably downloadable as well. This way, the costs of becoming a theoretical physicist should not exceed much the price of a computer with internet connection, a printer, and lots of paper and pens.
I can tell you of my own experiences. I had the extreme luck of having excellent teachers around me. That helps one from running astray. It helped me all the way to earn a Nobel Prize. But I didn’t have internet. I am going to try to be your teacher. It is a formidable task. I am asking students, colleagues, teachers to help me improve this site. It is presently set up only for those who wish to become theoretical physicists, not just ordinary ones, but the very best, those who are fully determined to earn their own Nobel Prize. If you are more modest than that, well, finish those lousy schools first and follow the regular routes provided by educators and specialized -gogues who are so damn carefully chewing all those tiny portions before feeding them to you. This is a site for ambitious people. I am sure that anyone can do this, if one is gifted with a certain amount of intelligence, interest and determination.
Theoretical Physics is like a sky scraper. It has solid foundations in elementary mathematics and notions of classical (pre-20th century) physics. Don’t think that pre-20th century physics is “irrelevant” since now we have so much more. In those days, the solid foundations were laid of the knowledge that we enjoy now. Don’t try to construct your sky scraper without first reconstructing these foundations yourself. The first few floors of our skyscraper consist of advanced mathematical formalisms that turn the Classical Physics theories into beauties of their own. They are needed if you want to go higher than that. So, next come many of the other subjects listed below. Finally, if you are mad enough that you want to solve those tremendously perplexing problems of reconciling gravitational physics with the quantum world, you end up studying general relativity, superstring theory, M-theory, Calabi-Yau compactification and so on. That’s presently the top of the sky scraper.