Observations by a scientist whose mind resembles Swiss Army knife

Richard P. Feynman was born in 1918 and grew up in Far Rockaway, New York. At the age of seventeen he entered MIT and in 1939 went to Princeton, then to Los Alamos, where he joined in the effort to build the atomic bomb. Following World War II he joined the physics faculty at Cornell, then went on to Caltech in 1951, where he taught until his death in 1988. He shared the Nobel Prize for physics in 1965, and served with distinction on the Shuttle Commission in 1986. A commemorative stamp in his name was issued by the U.S. Postal Service in 2005.

These are among his observations about a few of countless realities that attracted his insatiable curiosity.

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o From the point of view of basic physics, the most interesting phenomena are, of course, in the new places, the places where the rules do not work – not the places where they do work! That is the way in which we discover new rules.

o We seem gradually to be groping toward an understanding of the world of subatomic particles, but we really do not know how far we have yet to go in this task.

o What goes on inside a star is better understood than one might guess from the difficulty of having to look at a little dot of light through a telescope, because we can calculate what the atoms in the stars should do in most circumstances.

o We do not know where to look, or what to look for, when something is memorized. We do not know what it means, or what change there is in the nervous system, when a fact is learned. This is a very important problem which has not been solved at all.

o The extreme weakness of quantum gravitational effects now poses some philosophical problems; maybe nature is trying to tell us something new here: maybe we should not try to quantize gravity.

o The original reason to start the [Manhattan Project], which was that the Germans were a danger, started me off on a process of action, which was to try to develop this first system at Princeton and then at Los Alamos, to try to make the bomb work.

o We’re always, by the way, in fundamental physics, always trying to investigate those things in which we don’t understand the conclusions. After we’ve checked them enough, we’re okay.

o It is always good to know which ideas cannot be checked directly, but it is not necessary to remove them all. It is not true that we can pursue science completely by using only those concepts which are directly subject to experiment.

o I think equation guessing might be the best method to proceed to obtain the laws for the part of physics which is presently unknown. Yet, when I was much younger, I tried this equation guessing, and I have seen many students try this, but it is very easy to go off in wildly incorrect and impossible directions.

o There is nothing that living things do that cannot be understood from the point of view that they are made of atoms acting according to the laws of physics.

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To learn more about Richard Feynman, please click here.

I also highly recommend James Leick’s >Genius:The Life and Science of Richard Feynman, published by Pantheon.

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