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Sunday, May 10, 2015

Listening To Feynman...


Tomorrow is Richard Feynman's birthday... in his honor, for this week's 'Sunday Reflection,' a blurb from Freeman Dyson's "The Scientist as Rebel":
"Before I met Feynman, I had published a number of mathematical papers, full of clever tricks but totally lacking in importance. When I met Feynman, I knew at once that I had entered another world. He was not interested in publishing pretty papers. He was struggling, more intensely than I had ever seen anyone struggle, to understand the workings of nature by rebuilding physics from the bottom up. I was lucky to meet him near the end of his eight-year struggle. The new physics that he had imagined as a student of John Wheeler seven years earlier was finally coalescing into a coherent vision of nature, the vision that he called 'the space-time approach.' The vision was in 1947 still unfinished, full of loose ends and inconsistencies, but I saw at once that it had to be right. I seized every opportunity to listen to Feynman talk, to learn to swim in the deluge of his ideas. He loved to talk, and he welcomed me as a listener. So we became friends for life.
"For a year I watched as Feynman perfected his way of describing nature with pictures and diagrams, until he had tied down the loose ends and removed the inconsistencies. Then he began to calculate the numbers, using his diagrams as a guide. With astonishing speed he was able to calculate physical quantities that could be compared directly with experiment. The experiments agreed with his numbers."
...and from Feynman himself:
"We have found it of paramount importance that in order to progress we must recognize our ignorance and leave room for doubt. Scientific knowledge is a body of statements of varying degrees of certainty — some most unsure, some nearly sure, but none absolutely certain."....

"It is in the admission of ignorance and the admission of uncertainty that there is a hope for the continuous motion of human beings in some direction that doesn't get confined, permanently blocked, as it has so many times before in various periods in the history of man."....

"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. There are many things I don't know anything about, such as whether it means anything to ask 'Why are we here?' I might think about it a little bit, and if I can't figure it out then I go on 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 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."


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