Tag: Richard Feynman

Richard Feynman on Curiosity

Following, beauty, and honors, the final part of Canadian filmmaker Reid Gower’s trilogy on Richard Feynman covers curiosity.

The world is strange. The whole universe is very strange, but you see when you look at the details that the rules of the game are very simple – the mechanical rules by which you can figure out exactly what is going to happen when the situation is simple. It is like a chess game. If you are in a corner with only a few pieces involved, you can work out exactly what is going to happen, and you can always do that when there are only a few pieces. And yet in the real game there are so many pieces that you can’t figure out what is going to happen – so there is a kind of hierarchy of different complexities. It is hard to believe. It is incredible! In fact, most people don’t believe that the behavior of, say, me is the result of lots and lots of atoms all obeying very simple rules and evolving into such a creature that a billion years of life has produced.

There is such a lot in the world. There is so much distance between the fundamental rules and the final phenomena that it is almost unbelievable that the final variety of phenomena can come from such a steady operation of such simple rules.

Do you have to build the most complex scaffolding to find out the simple rules?

But it is not complicated. It is just a lot of it. And if you start at the beginning, which nobody wants to do – I mean, you come in to me now for an interview, and you ask me about the latest discoveries that are made. Nobody ever asks about a simple, ordinary phenomenon in the street. What about those colors? We could have a nice interview, and I could explain all about the colors, butterfly wings, the whole big deal. But you don’t care about that. You want the big final result, and it is going to be complicated because I am at the end of 400 years of a very effective method of finding things out about the world.

It has to do with curiosity. It has to do with people wondering what makes something do something. And then to discover, if you try to get answers, that they are related to each other – that things that make the wind make the waves, that the motion of water is like the motion of air is like the motion of sand. The fact that things have common features. It turns out more and more universal. What we are looking for is how everything works. What makes everything work.

But it is curiosity as to where we are, what we are. It is very much more exciting to discover that we are on a ball, half of us sticking upside down and spinning around in space. It is a mysterious force which holds us on. It’s going around a great big glob of gas that is fed by a fire that is completely different from any fire that we can make (but now we can make that fire – nuclear fire.)

That [The Big Bang] is a much more exciting story to many people than the tales that other people used to make up about the universe – that we were living on the back of a turtle or something like that. They were wonderful stories, but the truth is so much more remarkable. So what’s the pleasure in physics for me is that it is revealed that the truth is so remarkable, so amazing, and I have this disease – like many other people who have studied far enough to begin to understand a little of how things work. They are fascinated by it, and this fascination drives them on to such an extent that they have been able to convince governments and so on to keep supporting them in this investigation.

The Joy of Finding Things Out

Canadian filmmaker Reid Gower created the Feynman Series, a trilogy of physicist Richard Feynman’s penetrating insight into domains outside of physics. Consider the first, Richard Feynman on Beauty.

Honours, the second part, shows Feynman’s healthy disrespect for authority.

I don’t like honors. I’m appreciated for the work that I did, and for people who appreciate it, and I notice that other physicists use my work. I don’t need anything else. I don’t think there’s any sense to anything else. I don’t see that it makes any point that someone in the Swedish Academy decides that this work is noble enough to receive a prize. I’ve already got the prize. The prize is the pleasure of finding the thing out, the kick in the discovery, the observation that other people use it. Those are the real things. The honors are unreal to me. I don’t believe in honors. It bothers me, honors. Honors is epilets, honors is uniforms. My poppa brought me up this way. I can’t stand it, it hurts me.

When I was in High School, one of the first honors I got was to be a member of the Arista, which is a group of kids who got good grades. Everybody wanted to be a member of the Arista. I discovered that what they did in their meetings was to sit around to discuss who else was worthy to join this wonderful group that we are. OK So we sat around trying to decide who would get to be allowed into this Arista. This kind of thing bothers me psychologically for one or another reason. I don’t understand myself.

Honors, and from that day to this, always bothered me. I had trouble when I became a member of the National Academy of Science, and I had ultimately to resign. Because there was another organization, most of whose time was spent in choosing who was illustrious enough to be allowed to join us in our organization. Including such questions as: ‘we physicists have to stick together because there’s a very good chemist that they’re trying to get in and we haven’t got enough room…’. What’s the matter with chemists? The whole thing was rotten . Because the purpose was mostly to decide who could have this honor. OK? I don’t like honors.

The Feynman Lectures on Physics

feynman

“The whole thing was basically an experiment,” Richard Feynman said late in his career, looking back on the origins of his lectures. The experiment turned out to be hugely successful, spawning a book that has remained a definitive introduction to physics for decades. Ranging from the most basic principles of Newtonian physics through such formidable theories as general relativity and quantum mechanics, Feynman’s lectures stand as a monument of clear exposition and deep insight. (Feynman Lectures)

The timeless lectures are now being put online for free, these are “not just for students of physics but for anyone seeking an introduction to the field from the inimitable Feynman.”

An iconoclastic and influential theoretical physicist, not to mention Nobel Laureate, Richard Feynman(1918-1988) touched the lives of many.

Feynman is best known for his role in Los Alamos and the challenger investigation, but he was also an amazing teacher.

Now, at long last, his famous physics lectures, thanks to Caltech and The Feynman Lectures website, are being put online. Starting with the 52 chapters of volume one. Of course, you can always watch a few of them in video.

These are the lectures in physics that I gave last year and the year before to the freshman and sophomore classes at Caltech. The lectures are, of course, not verbatim—they have been edited, sometimes extensively and sometimes less so. The lectures form only part of the complete course.

See: Volume I: mainly mechanics, radiation and heat.

It’s impossible to learn very much by simply sitting in a lecture, or even by simply doing problems that are assigned. But in our modern times we have so many students to teach that we have to try to find some substitute for the ideal. Perhaps my lectures can make some contribution. Perhaps in some small place where there are individual teachers and students, they may get some inspiration or some ideas from the lectures. Perhaps they will have fun thinking them through—or going on to develop some of the ideas further.

This is all a work in progress, volumes II and II “will be posted as time and funds permit.” If you can’t wait, or you don’t want to kill your printer, you can always buy the paperbound set.

Richard Feynman’s Love Letter to His Wife, Sixteen Months After Her Death

Richard Feynman was an amazing character mastering physics, thinking, life, and as we shall soon see, love. Richard and Arline Greenbaum were soul mates. They were a perfect symbiotic pair, each completing the other. They shared the love we all seek.

Feynman was fond of writing love letters to Arline. Many of them appear in Perfectly Reasonable Deviations from the Beaten Track.

None is more beautiful than the one Richard wrote to Arline sixteen months after her death.

October 17, 1946

D’Arline,

I adore you, sweetheart.

I know how much you like to hear that — but I don’t only write it because you like it — I write it because it makes me warm all over inside to write it to you.

It is such a terribly long time since I last wrote to you — almost two years but I know you’ll excuse me because you understand how I am, stubborn and realistic; and I thought there was no sense to writing.

But now I know my darling wife that it is right to do what I have delayed in doing, and that I have done so much in the past. I want to tell you I love you. I want to love you. I always will love you.

I find it hard to understand in my mind what it means to love you after you are dead — but I still want to comfort and take care of you — and I want you to love me and care for me. I want to have problems to discuss with you — I want to do little projects with you. I never thought until just now that we can do that. What should we do. We started to learn to make clothes together — or learn Chinese — or getting a movie projector. Can’t I do something now? No. I am alone without you and you were the “idea-woman” and general instigator of all our wild adventures.

When you were sick you worried because you could not give me something that you wanted to and thought I needed. You needn’t have worried. Just as I told you then there was no real need because I loved you in so many ways so much. And now it is clearly even more true — you can give me nothing now yet I love you so that you stand in my way of loving anyone else — but I want you to stand there. You, dead, are so much better than anyone else alive.

I know you will assure me that I am foolish and that you want me to have full happiness and don’t want to be in my way. I’ll bet you are surprised that I don’t even have a girlfriend (except you, sweetheart) after two years. But you can’t help it, darling, nor can I — I don’t understand it, for I have met many girls and very nice ones and I don’t want to remain alone — but in two or three meetings they all seem ashes. You only are left to me. You are real.

My darling wife, I do adore you.

I love my wife. My wife is dead.

Rich.

PS Please excuse my not mailing this — but I don’t know your new address.

Richard Feynman on The Key to Science

“If it disagrees with experiment, it is wrong.”

In this video from the 60s, Richard Feynman explains, very simply, the key to science with his timeless wisdom. It is the capacity to be wrong that moves us forward.

In general, we look for a new law by the following process: First we guess it; then we compute the consequences of the guess to see what would be implied if this law that we guessed is right; then we compare the result of the computation to nature, with experiment or experience, compare it directly with observation, to see if it works. If it disagrees with experiment, it is wrong. In that simple statement is the key to science. It does not make any difference how beautiful your guess is, it does not make any difference how smart you are, who made the guess, or what his name is — if it disagrees with experiment, it is wrong.

Scientists and researchers, or really, anyone who experiments, are wrong more often than they are right. After all, what is the purpose of a hypothesis? To test whether or not an idea is wrong or right; to carry us toward a definitive answer to a problem. By its very nature, it will yield more disappointments than breakthroughs. In science, if something “disagrees with experiment”, it gets tossed into the treasure trove of failed experiments. Adulation is not usually reserved for things proven to be false. In science, what’s true is more likely to survive the sands of time.

Ask anyone to name the top ten smartest people in the world, dead or alive, and Albert Einstein (Richard Feynman too) would probably appear on that list. His genius is eternal, forever changing the world, but he was not impervious to reaching incorrect conclusions. For example, we know that the universe is constantly expanding but in 1917, Einstein theorized that it was static (“temporally infinite but spatially finite”).

There is something beautiful about ignorance…as long as one has the desire to expand the limits of their knowledge so that ignorance remains ephemeral. Oxymoronic as it may be, being wrong leads us to a better understanding of the world and ourselves.