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by Benjamin Crowell
Learning to Hate Physics?
When you read a mystery novel, you know in advance what structure to expect: a crime, some detective work, and finally the unmasking of the evildoer. Likewise when Charlie Parker plays a blues, your ear expects to hear certain landmarks of the form regardless of how wild some of his notes are. Surveys of physics students usually show that they have worse attitudes about the subject after instruction than before, and their comments often boil down to a complaint that the
person who strung the topics together had not learned what Agatha Christie and Charlie Parker knew intuitively about form and struc-ture: students become bored and demoralized because the “march through the topics” lacks a coherent story line. You are reading the first volume of the Light and Matter series of introductory physics textbooks, and as implied by its title, the story line of the series is built around light and matter: how they behave, how they are different from each other, and, at the end of the story, how they turn out to be similar in some very bizarre ways.