Quotes: Perfectly Reasonable Deviations from the Beaten Track, The Letters of Richard Feynman

by james on October 22, 2011

in No Post, Quotes 'n Stuff


Perfectly Reasonable Deviations from the Beaten Track, The Letters of Richard Feynman


Richard Feynman (editor: Michelle Feynman)


Basic Books, 2005

Page 106.

The beginning of Feynman’s attempt to resign from the National Academy of Sciences, an effort that took him many years and many letters. This letter dated November 9, 1960.

I have found that I have little interest in the activities of the Academy, so would you please accept my resignation as a member.

Page 232.

Too much training, saying geology, could lead to expecting features on the moon like those on the earth – whereas a more open but extremely careful and observant mind (as Hibbs has) would see more clearly what is really there.

Page 236.

Feynman’s attempt to remove his name from a list in a Jewish publication calling him a prominent Jewish scientist. Dated February 16, 1968

… I do not wish to cooperate with you, in your new adventure in prejudice.

Page 291.

Finally, good theoretical work seems to me to be much as it always has been – good ideas appear in individual brains, not in committee meetings.
I am sorry, but I have a general policy never to write evaluations of people for institutions where that person has recently spent time, or is still located. My main reason is that the people at the institution have had ample opportunity to observe him themselves (more recently, and more closely, than I) and should be capable of making their own evaluation.

Page 305.

to a young student.

Don’t pay attention to "authorities," think for yourself.

Page 379.

There used to be a parlor trick using a girls ring on her thread held by the girl to answer questions yes or no depending on whether the ring goes in a clockwise or counterclockwise ellipse. The motion is caused by inadvertent and unconscious slight motions of the hand. That is why, as you report, it works only if the thread is held in your hand. Try holding it in your hand, but a hand which cannot move because it is held up against the shelf or other rigid object (be careful your fingers don’t move also).

Page 427.

The religious theory of the world – God made it and likes to help people, and so on, when they need it, and so forth – that picture doesn’t fit with what you see. It seems not to fit. That’s one thing.
we’re not sure of anything in the sciences; the thing is we don’t know. As we learn more, we get more and more sure, more or less, that is still more likely to be sure, or that such-and-such an idea is more and more likely to be false. But it’s very difficult to get any inspiration from the theory of God, if you say to yourself, "Well, I consider it very likely to be true." Yet, this is the kind of you that you’re supposed to take, or that you find useful to take on all the world – which is that it’s more less likely to be true. So even if I were to be very strongly prejudiced toward God, you see, at a certain stage, I would take the view, "Well, that’s an interesting theory that I think is very likely to be true." Now pray to. It’s very hard.

Stout: No dogma?

Feynman: You can’t accept something absolutely. You’re not sure. Once you get that feeling, you lose the inspirational value of the religion.

Page 429.

Stout: I assume that there are some scientists, even in your own field, perhaps colleagues of yours, who are practicing religion.

Feynman: Certainly there are.

Page 437.

the end result of cargo cult science. Feynman is speaking about a situation where physics begins to regress.

What could result would be a lot of mouthing and philosophizing; a great effort to do the physics in the sense that one should do it to be civilized again, but not really to do it. To write, instead, commentaries, that disease of the intellect, which appears in so many fields. Physics is technically too hard to recover immediately. There would be practical problems at that time that would occupy the attention of intelligent people. The difficulty is that there would be no fun in it. The new discoveries wouldn’t come for a while. The other feature is that it would not be useful. No one has yet thought of a use of the results of the experiences we have with the high-energy particles. And finally, it is possible that antagonism is produced by the terrible calamity; there might be a universal antagonism towards physics and physicists as a result of the destruction which people might blame on the scientists who made it possible.

Page 446.

A pure mathematician is very impractical; he’s not interested – in fact, he’s purposely disinterested – in the meaning of the mathematical symbols and letters and ideas; he’s only interested in logical interconnection of the axioms, while the user of mathematics has to understand the connection of mathematics to the real world.

Page 465.

"At first glance, this theory and our quark model may seem contradictory," Gell-Mann says, "but they may actually be quite compatible – and both may even be right – especially if the quark should turn out to be, as is likely, a useful mathematical figment rather than a concrete building block of matter."

Page 467.

Feynman says much the same, but in terms of a metaphor – playing chess with a Martian. "If you don’t know the rules," he says, "and you see only parts of the board, how do you know how to play? If you know all the rules, you tell what’s in the Martian’s mind when he moves the pieces in a certain way?

and perhaps then you’ll also understand how wonderful is His nature.

"The biggest mystery of physics is where the laws are known, but we don’t know exactly what’s going on. We don’t know the strategy in the middle game. We know castling, or how the different pieces moved, and we know little bit about the endgame, but nothing in the middle.

"We get reports from the experimentalists, the watchers of the chess game, and we try to analyze the information. We may even suggest a new experiment. But we’re still waiting and hoping for the big strategy. Then maybe we’ll really understand how wonderful is nature."


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