Richard Feynman, fully Richard Phillips Feynman

Richard
Feynman, fully Richard Phillips Feynman
1918
1988

American Astro-Physicist, Author, known for his work in the path integral formulation of quantum mechanics, the theory of quantum electrodynamics, and the physics of the superfluidity

Author Quotes

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… 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.

So today we are not very well off, we don?t see that we have done too well. Men, philosophers of all ages, have tried to find the secret of existence, the meaning of it all. Because if they could find the real meaning of life, then all this human effort, all this wonderful potentiality of human beings, could then be moved in the correct direction and we would march forward with great success. So therefore we tried these different ideas. But the question of the meaning of the whole world, of life, and of human beings, and so on, has been answered very many times by very many people. Unfortunately all the answers are different; and the people with one answer look with horror at the actions and behavior of the people with another answer. Horror, because they see the terrible things that are done; the way man is being pushed into a blind alley by this rigid view of the meaning of the world. In fact, it is really perhaps by the fantastic size of the horror that it becomes clear how great are the potentialities of human beings, and it is possibly this which makes us hope that if we could move things in the right direction, things would be much better. What then is the meaning of the whole world?

We absolutely must leave room for doubt or there is no progress and there is no learning. There is no learning without having to pose a question. And a question requires doubt. People search for certainty. But there is no certainty. People are terrified ? how can you live and not know? It is not odd at all. You only think you know, as a matter of fact. And most of your actions are based on incomplete knowledge and you really don?t know what it is all about, or what the purpose of the world is, or know a great deal of other things. It is possible to live and not know.

We are all saddened when we look at the world and see what few accomplishments we have made, compared to what we feel are the potentialities of human beings. People in the past, in the nightmare of their times, had dreams for the future. And now that the future has materialized we see that in many ways the dreams have been surpassed, but in still more ways many of our dreams of today are very much the dreams of people of the past.

We do not know what the meaning of existence is. We say, as the result of studying all of the views that we have had before, we find that we do not know the meaning of existence; but in saying that we do not know the meaning of existence, we have probably found the open channel ? if we will allow only that, as we progress, we leave open opportunities for alternatives, that we do not become enthusiastic for the fact, the knowledge, the absolute truth, but remain always uncertain ? [that we] ?hazard it.? The English, who have developed their government in this direction, call it ?muddling through,? and although a rather silly, stupid sounding thing, it is the most scientific way of progressing. To decide upon the answer is not scientific. In order to make progress, one must leave the door to the unknown ajar ? ajar only. We are only at the beginning of the development of the human race; of the development of the human mind, of intelligent life ? we have years and years in the future. It is our responsibility not to give the answer today as to what it is all about, to drive everybody down in that direction and to say: ?This is a solution to it all.? Because we will be chained then to the limits of our present imagination. We will only be able to do those things that we think today are the things to do. Whereas, if we leave always some room for doubt, some room for discussion, and proceed in a way analogous to the sciences, then this difficulty will not arise. I believe, therefore, that although it is not the case today, that there may some day come a time, I should hope, when it will be fully appreciated that the power of government should be limited; that governments ought not to be empowered to decide the validity of scientific theories, that that is a ridiculous thing for them to try to do; that they are not to decide the various descriptions of history or of economic theory or of philosophy. Only in this way can the real possibilities of the future human race be ultimately developed.

A scientist is never certain. We all know that. We know that all our statements are approximate statements with different degrees of certainty; that when a statement is made, the question is not whether it is true or false but rather how likely it is to be true or false. ?Does God exist?? When put in the questional form, ?how likely is it?? It makes such a terrifying transformation of the religious point of view, and that is why the religious point of view is unscientific. We must discuss each question within the uncertainties that are allowed.

And then we have this terrible struggle to try to explain things to people who have no reason to want to know. But if they want to defend their own point of view, they will have to learn what yours is a little bit. So I suggest, maybe incorrectly and perhaps wrongly, that we are too polite. There was in the past an era of conversation on these matters. It was felt by the church that Galileo?s views attacked the church. It is not felt by the church today that the scientific views attack the church. Nobody is worrying about it. Nobody attacks; I mean, nobody writes trying to explain the inconsistencies between the theological views and the scientific views held by different people today?or even the inconsistencies sometimes held by the same scientist between his religious and scientific beliefs.

I believe that we must attack these things in which we do not believe. Not attack by the method of cutting off the heads of the people, but attack in the sense of discuss. I believe that we should demand that people try in their own minds to obtain for themselves a more consistent picture of their own world; that they not permit themselves the luxury of having their brain cut in four pieces or two pieces even, and on one side they believe this and on the other side they believe that, but never try to compare the two points of view. Because we have learned that, by trying to put the points of view that we have in our head together and comparing one to the other, we make some progress in understanding and in appreciating where we are and what we are. And I believe that science has remained irrelevant because we wait until somebody asks us questions or until we are invited to give a speech on Einstein?s theory to people who don?t understand Newtonian mechanics, but we never are invited to give an attack on faith healing, or on astrology ? on what is the scientific view of astrology today.

I think that we must mainly write some articles. Now what would happen? The person who believes in astrology will have to learn some astronomy. The person who believes in faith healing might have to learn some medicine, because of the arguments going back and forth; and some biology. In other words, it will be necessary that science become relevant.

I?d like to show Galileo our world, I must show him something with a great deal of shame. If we look away from the science and look at the world around us, we find out something rather pitiful: that the environment that we live in is so actively, intensely unscientific. Galileo could say: ?I noticed that Jupiter was a ball with moons and not a god in the sky. Tell me, what happened to the astrologers?? Well, they print their results in the newspapers, in the United States at least, in every daily paper every day. Why do we still have astrologers?

Incidentally, about knowledge and wonder, Mr. Bernardini said we shouldn?t teach wonders but knowledge. It may be a difference in the meaning of the words. I think we should teach them wonders and that the purpose of knowledge is to appreciate wonders even more. And that the knowledge is just to put into correct framework the wonder that nature is.

People ? I mean the average person, the great majority of people, the enormous majority of people ? are woefully, pitifully, absolutely ignorant of the science of the world that they live in, and they can stay that way ? And an interesting question of the relation of science to modern society is just that ? why is it possible for people to stay so woefully ignorant and yet reasonably happy in modern society when so much knowledge is unavailable to them?

You have no responsibility to live up to what other people think you ought to accomplish. I have no responsibility to be like they expect me to be. It's their mistake, not my failing.

You say you are a nameless man. You are not to your wife and to your child. You will not long remain so to your immediate colleagues if you can answer their simple questions when they come into your office. You are not nameless to me. Do not remain nameless to yourself, it is too sad a way to be. Know your place in the world and evaluate yourself fairly, not in terms of the native ideals of your own youth, nor in terms of what you erroneously imagine your teacher's ideals are.

You can recognize truth by its beauty and simplicity. When you get it right, it is obvious that it is right -- at least if you have any experience -- because usually what happens is that more comes out than goes in.

You can't say A is made of B or vice versa. All mass is interaction.

You can know the name of a bird in all the languages of the world, but when you're finished, you'll know absolutely nothing whatever about the bird.... So let's look at the bird and see what it's doing, that's what counts. I learned very early the difference between knowing the name of something and knowing something.

You can fool just about anyone, but the easiest one to fool is yourself.

Work as hard and as much as you want to on the things you like to do the best.

Where did we get that [Schr

While I am describing to you how Nature works, you won't understand why Nature works that way. But you see, nobody understands that.

When things are going well, something will go wrong. When things just can't get any worse, they will. Anytime things appear to be going better, you have overlooked something.

When you are solving a problem, don't worry. Now, after you have solved the problem, then that's the time to worry. (Richard Feynman, on his blackboard at time of death in 1988)

When a photon comes down, it interacts with electrons throughout the glass, not just on the surface. The photon and electrons do some kind of dance, the net result of which is the same as if the photon hit only on the surface.

When playing Russian roulette the fact that the first shot got off safely is little comfort for the next.

Author Picture
First Name
Richard
Last Name
Feynman, fully Richard Phillips Feynman
Birth Date
1918
Death Date
1988
Bio

American Astro-Physicist, Author, known for his work in the path integral formulation of quantum mechanics, the theory of quantum electrodynamics, and the physics of the superfluidity