Saturday, May 11, 2013

Spending Time With Richard Feynman

The Curious Mind

Richard Feynman [1918-1980]at Fermilab, outside Chicago, Illinois: “We've learned from experience that the truth will come out. Other experimenters will repeat your experiment and find out whether you were wrong or right. Nature’s phenomena will agree or they'll disagree with your theory. And, although you may gain some temporary fame and excitement, you will not gain a good reputation as a scientist if you haven’t tried to be very careful in this kind of work. And it’s this type of integrity, this kind of care not to fool yourself, that is missing to a large extent in much of the research in cargo cult science.”
Photo Credit: Fermilab
Source: Fermilab

An article, by Chrisopher Riley, in The Guardian looks at the wide-ranging views of Richard Feynman, the famous Nobel-winning physicist who also was curious about many things outside his field of endeavour. Such is rare today at a time of increased specialization, which makes listening to Feynman all the more fascinating to modern audiences.

An example of Feynman’s varied interests is in  the exquisite design of flowers, Riley writes:
There is “beauty”, he says, not only in the flower’s appearance but also in an appreciation of its inner workings, and how it has evolved the right colours to attract insects to pollinate it. Those observations, he continues, raise further questions about the insects themselves and their perception of the world. “The science,” he concludes, “only adds to the excitement and mystery and awe of the flower.” This interview was first recorded by the BBC producer Christopher Sykes, back in 1981 for an episode of Horizon called “The Pleasure of Finding Things Out”. When it was broadcast the following year the programme was a surprise hit, with the audience beguiled by the silver-haired professor chatting to them about his life and his philosophy of science.

Now, thanks to the web, Richard Feynman’s unique talents – not just as a brilliant physicist, but as an inspiring communicator – are being rediscovered by a whole new audience. As well as the flower video, which, to date, has been watched nearly a quarter of a million times, YouTube is full of other clips paying homage to Feynman’s ground-breaking theories, pithy quips and eventful personal life.

The work he did in his late twenties at Cornell University, in New York state, put the finishing touches to a theory which remains the most successful law of nature yet discovered. But, as I found while making a new documentary about him for the BBC, his curiosity knew no bounds, and his passion for explaining his scientific view of the world was highly contagious. Getting to glimpse his genius through those who loved him, lived and worked with him, I grew to regret never having met him; to share first-hand what so many others described as their “time with Feynman”.
As an individual still interested in the field of physics, I have read a few books about and written by Feynman. I too would have loved to spend time with Feynman; his love and zest for life is contagious, as is his boundless curiosity. Another great physicist, Albert Einstein once said: “Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.”

Imagination drives individuals with capacious minds, as both Einstein and Feynman had, to break the bounds of conventional thinking. Without imagination, you are stuck, limited to what you view in front of you. We need imaginative and original thinkers like Feynman if we want to progress forward, not only in science, but also in the humanities.

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You can read the rest of the article in [The Guardian]