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Thursday, June 29. 2017
I first learned about Feynman from his Feynman Lectures on Physics. This was, and maybe still is, scripture for undergrads curious about Physics. What undergrad is not?
Nobel prize and all that, but what Feynman could do best was to communicate, and he could communicate in humorous, self-deprecating, and humble ways. I believe that he truly believed that he wasn't too smart, just curious and persistent.
Here's Feynman's speech titled What Is Science? delivered to the National Science Teachers Association, 1966, in New York City. He talks a lot about how his father inspired his curiosity. Read it. One quote:
For more fun with Feynman, his bestselling book Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman! (Adventures of a Curious Character)
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And yes, you do learn a lot of things from designing knitting, if you are paying attention.
I link the video of him explaining scientific method at every opportunity. Something that modern 'scientists' sort of have lost sight of. Theory are just guesses. They have to be confirmed by fact and experimental result. You don't start with the expected result and work backward to find the data to confirm the theory.
And who can forget how he solved the mystery of the Challenger SRBs blowing up by soaking a piece of the O-ring in a glass of ice water?
Don't forget the sequel, What Do You Care What Other People Think?
"This was, and maybe still is, scripture for undergrads curious about Physics."
But it is almost never used to teach physics. Someone (wish I could recall who) said that it was superlative for review but not so good for learning how to do it. It is ubiquitous on bookshelves here, but I've never seen anybody use it as a textbook.
Richard Feynman is one of my heroes! Thanks for posting about him. Most of "The Feynman Lectures on Physics" are beyond me, but I have read everything by and about him of a general nature that I could find. "Six Easy Pieces" (the easiest six lectures of the lot) is quite accessible. A good introduction to Feynman is "The Pleasure of Finding Things Out." His talk "What is Science?" is a classic, and it's in there. Another classic is his 1974 commencement speech at Caltech "Cargo Cult Science" which is also in there. A quote: "The first principle is that you must not fool yourself — and you are the easiest person to fool."
Alan Alda performed a wonderful play about Feynman titled "QED." Saw it at the Lincoln Center in 2002. Marvelous.
Feynman's biggest asset was hard work. He worked twice as hard and twice as long as his peers. I believe genius is made through hard work and not a quirk of birth. I believe Feynman proved this to be true.
Some thoughts about Richard Feynman and Herman Wouk, who were contemporaries and friends:
The Language God Talks
That is the title of a book the Wouk wrote in 2010 about Feynman, science, and religion. The title came from their first meeting: "...[Feynman] said as we were parting, 'Do you know calculus?' I admitted that I didn't. 'You had better learn it,' he said. 'It's the language God talks.' "
Wouk did not agree, or at least did not agree that that was the only language that God talks.
A chapter on reviewing textbooks: Judging Books by Their Covers
http://www.textbookleague.org/103feyn.htm Link didn't take--preview is your friend.
In 2014 Caltech put all of the "The Feynman Lectures on Physics" online for free:
There is also more info about the lectures here:
I love the last paragraph of the third lecture titled "The Relation of Physics to Other Sciences":
A poet once said, “The whole universe is in a glass of wine.” We will probably never know in what sense he meant that, for poets do not write to be understood. But it is true that if we look at a glass of wine closely enough we see the entire universe. There are the things of physics: the twisting liquid which evaporates depending on the wind and weather, the reflections in the glass, and our imagination adds the atoms. The glass is a distillation of the earth’s rocks, and in its composition we see the secrets of the universe’s age, and the evolution of stars. What strange array of chemicals are in the wine? How did they come to be? There are the ferments, the enzymes, the substrates, and the products. There in wine is found the great generalization: all life is fermentation. Nobody can discover the chemistry of wine without discovering, as did Louis Pasteur, the cause of much disease. How vivid is the claret, pressing its existence into the consciousness that watches it! If our small minds, for some convenience, divide this glass of wine, this universe, into parts—physics, biology, geology, astronomy, psychology, and so on—remember that nature does not know it! So let us put it all back together, not forgetting ultimately what it is for. Let it give us one more final pleasure: drink it and forget it all!
Richard Feynman was one of the most junior scientists on the Manhattan Project. Feynman talks about those adventures in "Los Alamos From Below," which is a chapter in both "Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!" and "The Pleasure of Finding Things Out." That chapter was a transcript of a talk that Feynman gave in 1975. Here is that talk in Feynman's own voice:
Los Alamos From Below
One of my favorites of his anecdotes: he was visiting a supercollider somewhere, maybe the Fermi lab, and asked a youngster to explain what they were working on. After starting the explanation, the youngster said, "Oh, but I just realized, we're testing one of YOUR theories, Dr. Feynman!" To which he responded, "What's the matter? Don't you trust me?" He must have had that glint in his eye. Never was anyone more clear or honest about the misuse of "trust" in that context. He talked about how to stay honest with yourself intellectually, and how, if you could pull that off, all you had to worry about was the much less difficult task of being conventionally honest, which is to say, not deliberately lying to other people.
How he would have howled at the snarled mess lamebrains have made of the climate field.