“The scientist has a lot of experience with ignorance and doubt and uncertainty, and this experience is of very great importance, I think. When a scientist doesn’t know the answer to a problem, he is ignorant. When he has a hunch as to what the result is, he is uncertain. And when he is pretty darn sure of what the result is going to be, he is still in some doubt. 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.”
—Richard Feynman, The Value of Science,
Public address at the National Academy of Sciences (Autumn 1955)
This is a Yorkshire Television interview with Richard Feynman [1918-1988], the Nobel Prize-winning theoretical physicist (1965) from the New York City borough of Queens, which was shown in Great Britain in 1973. Called “Take the World From Another Point of View,” it was also shown on PBS-TV’s Nova.
The famous American physicist Richard Feynman used to take holidays in England. His third wife, Gweneth Howarth, was a native of West Yorkshire, so every year the Feynman family would visit her hometown of Ripponden or the nearby hamlet of Mill Bank.
In 1973 Yorkshire public television made a short film of the Nobel laureate while he was there. The resulting film, Take the World From Another Point of View, was broadcast in America as part of the PBS Nova series. The documentary features a fascinating interview, but what sets it apart from other films on Feynman is the inclusion of a lively conversation he had with the eminent British astrophysicist Fred Hoyle.
A native Yorkshireman, Hoyle did groundbreaking theoretical work on the synthesis of elements in stars and was a leading proponent of the Steady State theory of cosmology. In the film, the British astrophysicist and the American particle physicist walk down to the local pub, Ripponden’s historic Old Bridge Inn, for a lively conversation on physics and the nature of scientific discovery. You can read along with a transcript of the film at the Caltech Web site.Before the term, “thinking outside the box” became familiar and famous, Feynman was already doing this for years; this has its benefits in problem solving. If anything, Feymann had the ability to explain complicated material in a way that an educated non-physicist could comprehend; he was a story teller.
His curiosity, described as insatiable, was among his best qualities as a human being; he was also known as an avid bongo player and a picker of locks—both for amusement and challenge. After a few years at Cornell (1945–1950), Feynman spent most of his professional life at the California Institute of Technology, or Caltech, in Pasadena, preferring the mild weather of California over the harsh winters of Ithaca in central New York.
Feynman died of a rare form of cancer on February 15, 1988; he was 69.