Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes

Richard Feynman, fully Richard Phillips Feynman

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

"In the face of the lack of direct mathematical demonstration, one must be careful and through to make sure of the point, and one should make a perpetual attempt to demonstrate as much of the formula as possible. Nevertheless, a very great deal more truth can become known than can be proven."

"Nature has simplicity and therefore great beauty."

"For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for Nature cannot be fooled."

"We do not know how to predict what will happen in a given circumstance. The only thing that can be predicted is the probability of different events. We can only predict the odds."

"I think it is much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers that may be wrong. I don't feel frightened by not knowing things, by being lost in a mysterious universe without having any purpose."

"A great deal more is known than has been proved."

"A philosopher once said 'It is necessary for the very existence of science that the same conditions always produce the same results'. Well, they do not. You set up the circumstances, with the same conditions every time, and you cannot predict behind which hole you will see the electron."

"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 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 imaginations adds the atoms. The glass is a distillation of the Earth's rocks, and in its composition we see the secret of the universe's age, and the evolution of the stars. What strange array of chemicals are there 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 generalizations: 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"

"All fundamental processes are reversible."

"All the time you're saying to yourself, 'I could do that, but I won't,'--which is just another way of saying that you can't."

"All theoretical chemistry is really physics; and all theoretical chemists know it."

"An artist friend holds up a flower and says, 'Look how beautiful it is,' and I agree. Then he says, 'I as an artist can see how beautiful this is but you as a scientist will take this all apart and it becomes a dull thing'... Although I may not be quite as refined aesthetically as he is... I see much more about the flower than he sees... beauty at smaller dimensions, the inner structure, also the processes... It only adds. I don't understand how it subtracts."

"All things are made of atoms"

"And what about photons? Photons look exactly the same in all respects when they travel backwards in time, so they are their own anti-particles. You see how clever we are at making an exception part of the rule"

"But I don't have to know an answer. I don't feel frightened by not knowing things, by being lost in the mysterious universe without having any purpose - which is the way it really is, as far as I can tell, possibly. It doesn't frighten me."

"But the real glory of science is that we can find a way of thinking such that the law is evident."

"But the most impressive fact is that gravity is simple. It is simple to state the principles completely and not have left any vagueness for anybody to change the ideas of the law. It is simple, and therefore it is beautiful. It is simple in its pattern. I do not mean it is simple in its action"

"Before any eyes could see... year after year... thunderously pounding the shore as now. For whom, for what? ...on a dead planet with no life to entertain. Never at rest... tortured by energy... wasted prodigiously by the sun... poured into space. A mite makes the sea roar. Deep in the sea, all molecules repeat the patterns of another till complex new ones re formed. They make others like themselves... and a new dance starts. Growing in size and complexity... living things, masses of atoms, DNA, protein... dancing a pattern ever more intricate. Out of the cradle onto dry land... here it is standing... atoms with consciousness ...matter with curiosity. Stands at the sea... wonders at wondering... I... a universe of atoms... an atom in the universe."

"Don't think about what you want to be, but what you want to do. Keep up some kind of a minimum with other things so that society doesn't stop you from doing anything at all."

"Do not keep saying to yourself, if you can possible avoid it, 'But how can it be like that?' because you will get 'down the drain,' into a blind alley from which nobody has yet escaped. Nobody knows how it can be like that."

"Each piece, or part, of the whole nature is always an approximation to the complete truth, or the complete truth so far as we know it. In fact, everything we know is only some kind of approximation, because we know that we do not know all the laws as yet. Therefore, things must be learned only to be unlearned again or, more likely, to be corrected.... The test of all knowledge is experiment. Experiment is the sole judge of scientific truth."

"'Conservation' (the conservation law) means this ... that there is a number, which you can calculate, at one moment"

"Every instrument that has been designed to be sensitive enough to detect weak light has always ended up discovering that the same thing: light is made of particles."

"Einstein was a giant. His head was in the clouds, but his feet were on the ground. Those of us who are not so tall have to choose!"

"Explore the world. Nearly everything is really interesting if you go into it deeply enough."

"Fall in love with some activity, and do it! Nobody ever figures out what life is all about, and it doesn't matter. Explore the world. Nearly everything is really interesting if you go into it deeply enough. Work as hard and as much as you want to on the things you like to do the best. Don't think about what you want to be, but what you want to do. Keep up some kind of a minimum with other things so that society doesn't stop you from doing anything at all."

"For those who want some proof that physicists are human, the proof is in the idiocy of all the different units which they use for measuring energy."

"From a long view of the history of mankind "

"Give me a little time and I'll give a lecture on anything in physiology. I'd be delighted to study it and find out all about it because I can guarantee you it would be very interesting. I don't know anything, but I do know that everything is interesting if you go into it deeply enough."

"Growing in size and complexity... living things, masses of atoms, DNA, protein... dancing a pattern ever more intricate. Out of the cradle onto dry land... here it is standing... atoms with consciousness... matter with curiosity. Stands at the sea... wonders at wondering ... I ... a universe of atoms ... an atom in the universe."

"God was invented to explain mystery. God is always invented to explain those things that you do not understand. Now, when you finally discover how something works, you get some laws which you're taking away from God; you don't need him anymore. But you need him for the other mysteries. So therefore you leave him to create the universe because we haven't figured that out yet; you need him for understanding those things which you don't believe the laws will explain, such as consciousness, or why you only live to a certain length of time "

"Have no respect whatsoever for authority; forget who said it and instead look what he starts with, where he ends up, and ask yourself, Is it reasonable? [doubting the great Descartes]"

"I believe in limited government. I believe that government should be limited in many ways, and what I am going to emphasize is only an intellectual thing. I don't want to talk about everything at the same time. Let's take a small piece, an intellectual thing. No government has the right to decide on the truth of scientific principles, nor to prescribe in any way the character of the questions investigated. Neither may a government determine the aesthetic value of artistic creations, nor limit the forms of literacy or artistic expression. Nor should it pronounce on the validity of economic, historic, religious, or philosophical doctrines. Instead it has a duty to its citizens to maintain the freedom, to let those citizens contribute to the further adventure and the development of the human race."

"I can live with doubt, and uncertainty, and not knowing. I think it's much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers which might be wrong. I have approximate answers, and possible beliefs, and different degrees of certainty about different things, but I'm not absolutely sure of anything, and in many things I don't know anything about, such as whether it means anything to ask why we're here, and what the question might mean. I might think about a little, but if I can't figure it out, then I go to something else. But I don't have to know an answer. I don't feel frightened by not knowing things, by being lost in a mysterious universe without having any purpose, which is the way it really is, as far as I can tell, possibly. It doesn't frighten me."

"I believe that a scientist looking at nonscientific problems is just as dumb as the next guy "

"His suggestion that the most valuable information on scientific knowledge in a single sentence using the fewest words is to state the atomic hypothesis."

"I don't know anything, but I do know that everything is interesting if you go into it deeply enough."

"I cannot define the real problem, therefore I suspect there's no real problem, but I'm not sure there's no real problem."

"I don't know what's the matter with people: they don't learn by understanding, they learn by some other way "

"I have to argue about flying saucers on the beach with people, you know. And I was interested in this: they keep arguing that it is possible. And that's true. It is possible. They do not appreciate that the problem is not to demonstrate whether it's possible or not but whether it's going on or not."

"I learned very early the difference between knowing the name of something and knowing something."

"I think I can safely say that nobody understands Quantum Mechanics"

"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."

"I learned a way of expressing this common human problem on a trip to Honolulu. In a Buddhist temple there, the man in charge explained a little about the Buddhist religion for the tourists, and then ended his talk by telling them he had something to say to them that they would never forget "

"I wanted very much to learn to draw, for a reason that I kept to myself: I wanted to convey an emotion I have about the beauty of the world. It's difficult to describe because it's an emotion. It's analogous to the feeling one has in religion that has to do with a god that controls everything in the whole universe: there's a generality aspect that you feel when you think about how things that appear so different and behave so differently are all run behind the scenes by the same organization, the same physical laws. It's an appreciation of the mathematical beauty of nature, of how she works inside; a realization that the phenomena we see result from the complexity of the inner workings between atoms; a feeling of how dramatic and wonderful it is. It's a feeling of awe "

"I was born not knowing and have had only a little time to change that here and there."

"I love only nature, and I hate mathematicians. What I am going to tell you about is what we teach our physics students in the third or fourth year of graduate school... It is my task to convince you not to turn away because you don't understand it. You see my physics students don't understand it. ... That is because I don't understand it. Nobody does."

"I, a universe of atoms, an atom in the universe."

"I'd hate to die twice. It's so boring."

"If an apple was magnified to the size of the Earth, then the atoms in the apple would be approximately the size of the original apple."