Tag: Richard Feynman

Physicist Richard Feynman on Beauty of a Flower

Richard Feynman talking about the beauty of the natural world.

I have a friend who’s an artist and has sometimes taken a view which I don’t agree with very well. He’ll hold up a flower and say “look how beautiful it is,” and I’ll agree. Then he says “I as an artist can see how beautiful this is but you as a scientist take this all apart and it becomes a dull thing,” and I think that he’s kind of nutty. First of all, the beauty that he sees is available to other people and to me too, I believe. Although I may not be quite as refined aesthetically as he is … I can appreciate the beauty of a flower. At the same time, I see much more about the flower than he sees. I could imagine the cells in there, the complicated actions inside, which also have a beauty. I mean it’s not just beauty at this dimension, at one centimeter; there’s also beauty at smaller dimensions, the inner structure, also the processes. The fact that the colors in the flower evolved in order to attract insects to pollinate it is interesting; it means that insects can see the color. It adds a question: does this aesthetic sense also exist in the lower forms? Why is it aesthetic? All kinds of interesting questions which the science knowledge only adds to the excitement, the mystery and the awe of a flower. It only adds. I don’t understand how it subtracts.

Massively Distilled Wisdom

Richard Feynman famously asked: “If, in some cataclysm, all of scientific knowledge were to be destroyed, and only one sentence passed on to the next generations of creatures, what statement would contain the most information in the fewest words?”

Fascinated by Feynman’s question, Seed put a similar one to a number of leading thinkers: “Imagine—much as Feynman asked his audience—that in a mission to change everyone’s thinking about the world, you can take only one lesson from your field as a guide. In a single statement, what would it be?” Here are their answers:

“The scale of the human socio-economic-political complex system is so large that it seriously interferes with the biospheric complex system upon which it is wholly dependant, and cultural evolution has been too slow to deal effectively with the resulting crisis.” —Paul R. Ehrlich is president of the Center for Conservation Biology at Stanford University.

“Humans have a tendency to fall prey to the illusion that their economy is at the very center of the universe, forgetting that the biosphere is what ultimately sustains all systems, both man-made and natural. In this sense, ‘environmental issues’ are not about saving the planet—it will always survive and evolve with new combinations of atom—but about the prosperous development of our own species.” —Carl Folke is the science director of the Stockholm Resilience Centre at Stockholm University.

“The same mathematics of networks that governs the interactions of molecules in a cell, neurons in a brain, and species in an ecosystem can be used to understand the complex interconnections between people, the emergence of group identity, and the paths along which information, norms, and behavior spread from person to person to person.” —James Fowler is a political scientist at the University of California, San Diego.

“We started human life as hunter-gatherers, where contact with others, kin and non-kin, was the center of human life, social and moral. Begin by holding hands and talking, face to face, recalling our shared evolutionary history, and the importance of human nature.” —Marc Hauser is an evolutionary biologist at Harvard University.

“The dazzling diversity of species and biological adaptations over 3.5 billion years of life on Earth owes its existence to “adaptation by natural selection,” which requires just three simple conditions to operate: variation, differential selection (the best performing traits survive and reproduce more effectively than others), and replication of successful traits by subsequent generations, via a double helix of molecules that code for proteins as biological building blocks, or among more complex animals, via imitation or cultural transmission of methods and knowledge.” —Dominic Johnson is a reader in politics and international relations at Edinburgh University.

The biosphere is the largest and most important asset of our planet—a vast living natural market that contains and makes our individual lives, human society, and the economy possible.” —Enric Sala is a National Geographic Fellow and associate professor at Spain’s National Research Council.

“Frequently, the way to understand a complicated system is to understand its component parts, but that’s probably not the case for the most interesting complicated systems—like us.” —Robert Sapolsky is a biologist and professor of neurology at Stanford University.

“You can make sense of anything that changes smoothly in space or time, no matter how wild and complicated it may appear, by reimagining it as an infinite series of infinitesimal changes, each proceeding at a constant (and hence much simpler) rate, and then adding all those simple little changes back together to reconstitute the original whole.” —Steven Strogatz is a mathematician at Cornell University.

“Many social and natural phenomena—societies, economies, ecosystems, climate systems—are complex evolving webs of interdependent parts whose collective behavior cannot be reduced to a sum of parts; small, gradual changes in any component can trigger catastrophic and potentially irreversible changes in the entire system that can propagate, in domino fashion, even across traditional disciplinary boundaries.” —George Sugihara is a theoretical biologist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

“I take the easy way out by quoting another eminent scientist. In Cosmos Carl Sagan said, ‘We are made of star stuff.’ That simple statement does not encompass the physics of the earliest moments of the universe, but it encompasses its evolutionary history, from the formation of the first stars, which enriched the universe with additional elements, to the creation of planetary systems, and life and humanity on the planet Earth. Because it emphasizes our intimate and direct connection with the cosmos, it admits the possibility that others are, or have been, or may be, likewise connected.” —Jill Tarter is the director of the SETI Institute’s Center for SETI Research.

Knowledge is a public good and increases in value as the number of people possessing it increases.” —John Wilbanks is vice president of science at Creative Commons.

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Richard Feynman Teaches you the Scientific Method

The scientific method refers to a process of thought based on integrating previous knowledge, observing, measuring, and logical reasoning.

“If it disagrees with experiment, it’s wrong. In that simple statement is the key to science.”

— Richard Feynman

In this short video taken from his lectures, Physicist Richard Feynman offers perhaps one of the greatest definitions of science and the scientific method that I’ve ever heard. And he does it in about a minute.

Now I’m going to discuss how we would look for a new law. In general, we look for a new law by the following process. First, we guess it (audience laughter), no, don’t laugh, that’s the truth. Then we compute the consequences of the guess, to see what, if this is right, if this law we guess is right, to see what it would imply and then we compare the computation results to nature or we say compare to experiment or experience, compare it directly with observations to see if it works.

If it disagrees with experiment, it’s wrong. In that simple statement is the key to science. It doesn’t make any difference how beautiful your guess is, it doesn’t matter how smart you are who made the guess, or what his name is … If it disagrees with experiment, it’s wrong. That’s all there is to it.

For more color watch the longer version below, which offers the next 9 minutes of the lecture. In this clip Feynman explains that guessing is not unscientific: “It is not unscientific to take a guess, although many people who are not in science believe that it is.”

The Scientific Method is part of the Farnam Street Latticework of Mental Models.