Physicists are widely respected for using and sometimes even inventing mathematics yet physicists study Physics which is a subject in its own right.

So surely someone studying physics spends less time studying maths than the mathematics student?

If this is the case how does the Physicist achieve the required level of mathematical maturity?

Is it a case of just knowing what mathematical methods to use and what results to look for or does the physicist study things in pure mathematics like analysis, etc?

I ask this because I am a computer science student who wants to learn mathematics in my spare time, but I think it might be a better idea to learn mathematics like a physicist as a large portion of my time will be taken with my current studies.

Many Thanks in advance

  • $\begingroup$ Different people (physicists or otherwise) learn math differently. I don't think there is a universal answer to your question. If you are doing CS, then perhaps a little mathematical logic would not hurt, though. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 8, 2013 at 17:43
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    $\begingroup$ it seems to me that structure matters more than calculation for a CS major. In contrast, calculation is understanding to many physicists. For example, you would do well to study categories. On the other hand, it's a rare bird in physics that can really concretely (ha) use categories in physics. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 8, 2013 at 17:49
  • $\begingroup$ When mathematicians say "for some $\epsilon < 1$," typically they do not also mean "perhaps as large as 2." $\endgroup$
    – Emily
    Commented Jan 10, 2014 at 20:39

1 Answer 1


The reason physicists learn so much math is that most of theoretical physics IS math. For example, quantum mechanics is essentially functional analysis. The only way to get the same effect from CS is to focus on areas of CS which are mathematical, such as numerical math or finite state automata.


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