Brian Greene

Apr 2021

He's a King. Nuff said

Dec 2020

I feel like a clown writing a review for Brian Greene... but yeah he's dope I totally recommend taking Origins and Meaning. It's cool philosophy, fulfills your qualitative science credit, and you learn stuff to sound smart in everyday conversations about life. The only complaint would be that (as I'm writing this before getting my final project grade back) I have not gotten a single quantitative grade back in this class, only comments on my work—so I don't have a clue what grade I'm going to get in this class.

Dec 2020

TAKE ORIGINS AND MEANING WITH BRIAN GREENE! Incredibly mind blowing course, basically it's Brian Greene's vision of the universe but with ltos of perspectives included. We are privileged to be able to learn from him, and he said it himself during office hours, this is more than a just a class for him. He was always available and so so kind. Best lecturer ever. The material was extremely interesting and I won't forget it. Certainly the best course available for non-sciencey people to fulfill the CC science requirement, but I took it as a Barnard student just because it seemed so cool. The assignments were delightful. He hired an animator to animate his lectures. So prepared and made answering our questions a central part of class. Just take this class no matter what before graduating. Life changing. I wasn't the only one who cried in the last lecture.

May 2014

Professor Greene uses his new website (now public!) to teach the class for him. There is a weekly 2 hour session where he reviews the online lessons, which are comprised of “modules”, and then the class goes over some harder problem with Brian’s guidance. The modules take somewhere between 1 and 2 hours each and usually 4-5 are assigned a week (there are 44 total). The 2nd to last week of class, we go over things beyond the online course, which is cool, and the final week of class is the final (its not during finals week) but Prof. Greene left this up to a vote and we voted for a week early. The online material is slow and at times tedious and boring, but the problems work for helping you to understand. The final grade is based mostly on your performance on the final exam. I got a lot of the online material wrong, but did well on the final so I did well in the class. After each online problem is an explanation of how to do it which is quite useful. I did not find either the online class or the session especially wonderful but somehow I learned the material (and I certainly did not study anything extra). A few things: It is cool to have a famous professor as your teacher. Brian Greene will NOT know your name if you take this class. Sorry. That being said, he is a hilarious dude, listen to him in the sessions, he is funny when he makes side comments. Watch all the videos on double speed (click on the gear in the bottom right corner), it saves you time and saves you time again because I would stop playing attention to his slow voice. On double speed, he talks at a normal, intelligible rate. He knows his stuff and can explain it to you about 7 different ways, make use of this, ask questions. He will always be in character. Less in character than his Novas, but still in character. Enjoy it! Given the choice, I would take the class again.

Dec 2013

This review is for Greene's Special Relativity class, which is a relatively (no pun intended) new mode of teaching that Professor Greene was intimately involved in creating. It involved a lot of online learning, which is very different than what I was expecting when I signed up for the course. Nevertheless, I did learn a good deal from the experience. To preface this review, let me first say that Professor Greene knows exactly what he's talking about. He knows the physics behind every problem, he has an incredibly intuitive grasp of the material, he gets special relativity. That being said, he's not an impressive professor because there is a significant disconnect between the student and the professor in this course. We weren't really being taught by him; rather, we were being taught by video lectures and things that he happened to be the face of. And we did have the luxury of having a two hour discussion-style section with him every week, but sometimes this time wasn't used well, and many times, it was just arduous to sit through him have back-and-forths with one or two students for an hour and a half. In addition, the communication between Professor Greene and his students was atrocious. About half the class thought the final was a full week before it actually was. Nobody knew how he was grading. It was quite subjective - although, to be fair, he said that he "adjusted the percentages" to our benefit. But no one knew if this meant online materials were worth 10% or 90%, if our final was worth 25% or 75%, what our midterm was worth, what our homework set was worth, nothing. He never expanded on this at the end of the semester, either. Just got our grades thrown at us with not the slightest mention of how he got those numbers. I realize that this is rather commonplace at Columbia, but in most classes, you receive some sort of grade breakdown at the beginning of the year - final is worth 25%, midterm worth 15%, things like that. Not with Special Relativity. A word about the TA, Andrew Brainerd - I used him as a resource very late in the semester, and it's a shame that I did. The guy knows what he's doing. He's a pretty lenient grader as well. Overall, I did learn a lot about special relativity, but it felt a lot more like a slightly-guided, self-taught course where I learned from videos rather than a textbook. If this seems appealing to you, take the course.

Apr 2012

So, G4022 is meant to be a class for physics majors. Instead, this class is a hybrid mesh of pure mathematics, physics and, albeit interesting, but not particularly useful for a physics majors, philosophy. Compared to how the physics department used to teach this course, this year's class had many holes in it, some of which were patched up in homeworks. Leaving the class to teach themselves half the material always poses risks that a student will not absorb the essentials of qm. With the time remaining towards the end of the course, rather than cover topics the physics department typically teaches, such as the WKB approximation, the variational principle, along with other side topics that improve one's ability to perform calculations, the time was used to lecture about topics that were philosophical in nature. Among the topics were the measurement problem and many worlds philosophy, which, though interesting in their own way, are not helpful in teaching how to actually utilize qm. Prof. Greene is rather charismatic, but this allows his ego to expand. To end this, physics majors be warned: You will have a major hole in your quantum basics, so be sure to read books and ask questions, but perhaps not ask Prof. Greene... you may just receive a "PBS Special" type of answer.

Jan 2012

This professor deserves an unbiased culpa review that doesn't mention his fame. Brian Greene is, in short, an incredible Professor, likely the greatest, most fun to listen to, enthusiastic professor I've ever had. He made quantum mechanics seem so easy, so crystal clear, that I felt as if I were taking high school level quantum. Lectures were fun and engaging, questions were encouraged and always answered without judgment. This led to some awkward moments when obvious or annoying questions were answered with as much detail as interesting questions, but made me feel eager not only to ask questions during class, but after class as well. As a note, this was a very tough semester for me as I had to deal with a personal loss, and when I emailed Professor Greene, he said that not only would I be allowed to hand in the next homework whenever I needed to, but he would personally tutor me on any lecture I missed, which I held him to. The material itself was fairly basic quantum; no different than what is learned in the end of PHYS 2601, with more mathematical detail, and I'm pretty eager to figure out where he will take this course when more complex topics arise. It made me feel almost nervous that I wasn't learning enough physics. At other schools people complain that quantum is like the physics major organic chemistry, the sail-or-fail this-will-determine-whether-you-major-in-physics, but I can honestly say this quantum class was the easiest class of my fairly easy semester, if not the easiest physics class i've taken since high school. Take it, you will be so happy you did.

Oct 2006

The earlier reviews are absurd. Both reviewers pay insufficient attention to Brian Greene as a professor. It seems they themselves are "star struck," as their reviews deal with Greene's late-night radio shows, his "image" as a public figure and with the fact that "attractive yet clearly zanny [sic] women" stop by the class to get autographs. What does any of this have to do with his ability to convey the material? Sure, people have stopped by the class, but they don't interfere with the lecture. Their presence is completely irrelevant and goes ignored until after class. 24 April 2006 went so far as to say that the man is "plastic" because he uses hand gestures and narrows his eyes when answering questions. Are you serious? How are the man's mannerisms at all relevant? One reviewer said "it is advised to never relie [sic] on hand motions to convey yourself, as it signifies to your listeners an inability to communicate ideas well." In other words, "Brian Greene uses body language, so he's a bad lecturer regardless of what he says." I'll leave it to the reader to think about the stupidity of this statement. Granted, he can come off as pretentious: he seems to believe that people in the class fail to point out his mistakes on the board solely because they don't want to "embarass" him, when in fact it's usually (in other classes, as well) that students don't notice mistakes or notice them and don't bother to comment. He also thinks that when he asks if he's moving too quickly, the reason nobody tells him he is in fact too fast is because they don't want Brian Greene to think less of them. In other words, He seems to believe we are highly concerned with his impressions of us. This is annoying, and it reflects on him as a person, but these things don't affect how well he can convey material. These reviewers presuppose that because Greene is somewhat of a celebrity with the public that his roles outside of physics (as an author for laymen and a personality on television and in other media) will necessarily interfere with his ability to teach. This is a foolish presumption. He presents the material in a concise fashion and explains it well, although he doesn't go into enough depth. It is true that he is not around as much as most people would like, but he answers e-mails promptly. He also stays after class for as long as people have questions to ask him, but no longer. His TAs are capable and understanding, but a bit lethargic. This is a mid-semester review, so I can't comment on whether the balance between math and physics is what I'd like, but so far, he has been responsive to comments. We wanted to discuss more physics, so that's what he did. He asks for questions frequently, and people take advantage of the opportunity. It seems as if everyone in the room is on the same page, which is rare in a mathematics class: this may be because the students are all interested in the material, but of course the professor does have a role in keeping everyone on track. Nonetheless, Greene's blackboard skills are a bit lacking. He stands in front of what he writes sometimes, and writes a bit sloppily. The assignments are poorly designed. They don't correlate well with the lectures and are repetitive. The balance between computational and theoretical problems is good, but the material isn't well represented. Because the class is so small, and because the administration gives Greene almost limitless academic freedom, he can teach whatever he wants, and his philosophy, he says, is to allow us to tell him what we want to learn, since we're paying his salary. However, (to the reviewer who whines that Greene doesn't discuss string theory:) Geometrical Concepts in Physics is not a string theory class. Expecting Greene to discuss String Theory in a class explicitly about GR and the mathematical structures necessary to describe it is stupid. The mathematical basis for String theory just isn't presented. I can't say much about Greene's position in the academic community, although I do have gripes with the previous reviewers' cookie-cutter I-read-this-in-Slate-so-I'm-regurgitating-it analyses of his role in academia. In my opinion, his position in the academic community is irrelevant to me (not to his peers, of course) if he does a good job of conveying what I want to learn, so I feel no need to talk about it. In short, take the class if you're interested in Differential Geometry and General Relativity but don't want to approach the subjects from a rigorous, mathematical point of view. The problem sets aren't particularly difficult, but because there is so much material, if you want a good, thorough understanding, you could spend twenty hours a week reading and still not understand everything he lectures about. The texts he uses are excellent, especially Nakahara's "Geometry, Topology, and Physics" and Schutz' "Geometrical Methods of Mathematical Physics." Read Schutz carefully. I haven't read much of the GR books yet, so I can't comment on them.

Apr 2006

A bit arrogant and condescending, Greene can come across as a really practiced and pretentious. From his theatrical, ever exaggerated use of slow motioned hand gestures to his narrowed-eyed looks when he is asked a question, almost everything about this man comes across as plastic to the point of being distracting. One senses that good old Dr. Greene is more concerned for his image than in teaching. He is not taking well to being asked questions during or after class and this was the greatest shame of all, for the material could have been so much more richer if there was more student participation. As for problem set, they are not beyond anyone if you have a decent proof-oriented math background. I would suggest taking a full year of analysis before this course, and if you can, take a semester of topology or differential geometry course as well. Be prepared for some of Mr. Greene's fans to stop by the class. During one class, an attractive yet clearly zanny woman showed up for him to sign a copy of Elegent Universe. "I'm such a fan of yours," she fawned. We all knew that we wouldn't any of our questions answered than and felt. It was genuinely funny yet embarrassing. There is just too much of a pretentious flashy entertainment aspect to Greene to see him as a real educator. The final irony is that despite his String Theory status, there was actually little or superficial coverage on the topic and one felt a rather condescening "it would take too long to teach you" attitude being conveyed to the class. You will however, if self-motivated, learn alot concerning tensor and Clifford algebras and a good amount of General Relativity. But you can and would learn just as much in a proper GR course and see more interesting applications and have as such a more concrete grounding with physics concerning the theory. Over all, I would not recommend taking this course for credit. You will do well in in, as I believe most do if not all. I think it would be a better idea to sit in on the course and do the material on your own and instead take the GR course and the more advanced basic math courses such as analysis, abstract algebra, topology, differential geometry, and a non-commutative algebra course. These foundational courses will do you far greater good than a year long sitting for credit in Greene's course. Lastly, the "star status" bit is overdone. With the trendy 90-ish Vilalge-esque black clothes and pompous gestures, it gets real old real fast, trust me. Imagine a year long Nova special with host Brian Greene. That is what you will get here. If on the other hand, you want to learn the real math and material, take for credit the real courses mentioned above and concentrate on them without the celebrity-wannabe distractions.