The Meaning of it All

So here it is, the greatest puzzle of all, life, the universe and everything, as discussed by the genius, Richard Feynman. The Nobel Prize winning physicist is often quoted in popular science; I thought it was about time I read him in his own words. This book contains three public lectures given in 1963. The first, entitled, ‘The Uncertainty of Science’, addresses the importance of doubt in science as the catalyst for ideas and progress and introduces his views on the remarkable process of scientific discovery.

He counters the misconception that science is dull with rich imagery:

‘The world is a spinning ball, and people are held on it on all sides, some of them upside down. And we turn like a spit in front of a great fire. We whirl around the sun…But see that the imagination of nature is far, far greater than the imagination of man. No one who did not have some inkling of this through observations could have imagined such a marvel as nature is.’

The themes of freedom and discovery remain in his second lecture on values, illustrated through an impressive employment of philosophy and ethics. His confident rhetoric shows in places a sensitive balance that allows the audience to consider his statements without pressure. I really enjoy reading lectures because so much of the speaker’s personality comes across. Watch the video below to get a sense of his brilliance.

I found the final lecture, ‘This Unscientific Age’, the most entertaining. His personal anecdotes, metaphors and allegories display his wit and intellect. The range of topics covered in the book mean there is never a lull. I was interested to read about the atomic bomb and Soviet Russia from a scientist’s perspective.

I could quote practically any line from the book and it would be wise and sensible, but I’ll finish with this as a nice example: ‘I think that we should have a more abject honesty in political matters. And I think we’ll be freer that way.’

I highly recommend the book and to learn more about this amazing man. Did you know that as well as playing a key role in the development of quark theory by developing a new model of high energy proton collision processes he was an accomplished bongo player?

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