A dilemma of the auto-didact

If publishers could never imagine that there are people who could teach themselves particle physics, why conceive cheaper preliminary textbooks and ridiculously expensive advanced textbooks? Learning vector physics for classical mechanics costs Rs. 245 while progressing then to analytical mechanics involves an incurrence of Rs. 4,520. Does the cost barrier exist because the knowledge is more specialized? If this is the case, then such books should have become cheaper over time. They have not: Analytical Mechanics, which a good friend recommended, has stayed in the vicinity of $75 for the last three years (now, it’s $78.67 for the original paperback and $43 for a used one). This is just a handy example. There are a host of textbooks that detail concepts in advanced physics and cost a fortune: all you have to do is look for those that contain “hadron”, “accelerator”, “QCD”, etc., in their titles.

Getting to a place in time where a student is capable of understanding these subjects is cheap. In other words, the cost of aspirations is low while the price of execution is prohibitive.

Sure, alternatives exist, such as libraries and university archives. However, that misses the point: it seems the costs of the books are higher to prevent their ubiquitous consumption. No other reason seems evident, although I am loth to reach this conclusion. If you, the publisher, want me to read such books only in universities, then you are effectively requiring me to either abstain from reading these books irrespective of my interests if my professional interests reside elsewhere or depend on universities and university-publisher relationships for my progress in advanced physics, not myself. The resulting gap between the layman and the specialist eventually evades spanning, leading to ridiculous results such as not understanding the “God” in “God particle” to questioning the necessity of the LHC without quite understanding what it does and how that helps mankind.

3 Replies to “A dilemma of the auto-didact”

  1. Dear VM:

    Very interesting and on point. All of your writing that I have read is very clear and written from an interesting perspective. Keep doing it !!

  2. No sensible physicist would call it that, and that’s my point – that it represents a gap in thinking and knowledge. To assume the particle has any religious associations is completely unwarranted, but many people don’t see it that way.

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