What do you need to know to study general relativity yourself?


Sometimes readers send me questions by mail (in the channel description). Some of them then turn into articles on the channel (along with my answer). Today is just such a case. One of my readers sent me the following question:

This is not the first question of this kind, so I decided to write an article. The context of the question assumes that the person does not have a formal physical or mathematical education (otherwise the question would not have been asked).

General relativity is complex. More precisely, not so.

It is certainly possible to study it on your own, but this is a rather thankless task that requires tremendous self-discipline and dedication.

I will give a list of disciplines that need to be studied BEFORE starting to study general relativity. Opposite each discipline, I will indicate the duration of study if you taught it at the university. It is assumed that there are no problems with the school curriculum. So, let’s begin:

This is a minimum of knowledge, without which it makes no sense to start studying. On average, physics students study general relativity at the end of their third year. Of course, the university is full of other subjects such as history and philosophy. But at the same time, students can devote all their time to study, which is not so for a person who studies general relativity «for himself.»

When I say that all of the above needs to be studied, I do not mean to look at textbooks on these disciplines «diagonally». You should get

Sometimes I hear that it’s not a problem, I’ll start learning this when I need it in the course of my study. I never dissuade, if a person wants to try, then free will. Suddenly he will be the first one who succeeds. But this approach is likely to fail.

This is about the same as starting an Olympic biathlon race without knowing how to shoot or ski in the hope of figuring it out along the way — it may work out, but most likely such a «biathlete» will never finish the race.

Once again, I emphasize that the knowledge listed above is a prerequisite simply for the general theory of relativity to begin to take meaningful outlines when you study it. It is very difficult — but worth it.

Good luck!