Pleasure of Finding things out

date Jun 21, 2007
authors Richard Feynman
reading time 9 mins
  • Book Title: The Pleasure of Finding Things Out - The Best Short Works of Richard P. Feynman
  • Author: Richard P. Feynman
  • Year published: 1999
  • My Comment:Feynman is undoubtedly one of my fav authors :P
  • Contents page:
  1. The pleasure of finding things out
  2. Computing Machines in the Future
  3. Los Alamos from Below
  4. What is and what should be the role of Scientific Culture in Modern Society
  5. There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom
  6. The Value of Science
  7. Richard P. Feynman’s Minority Report to the Space Challenger Inquiry
  8. What is Science?
  9. The smartest man in the world
  10. Cargo cult science: Some remarks on science, pseudo science and learning how not to fool yourself
  11. it’s as simple as one, two, three
  12. Richard Feynman builds a universe
  13. The relation of Science and Religion

Some extracts: Beauty of Nature as seen by a scientist…

… also the process, the fact that the colours in the flower evolved in order to attract insects to pollinate it is interesting - it means that insects can see the colour. It adds a questions: Does this aesthetic sense also exist in the lower forms? Why is it aesthetic? All kinds of interesting questions which shows that a science knowledge only adds to the excitement and mystery and awe of a flower. It only adds; I don’t understand how it subtracts.

was it worth the Nobel Prize?

I don’t see that it makes any point that someone in the Swedish Academy decides that this work is noble enough to receive a prize - I’ve already gotten the prize. The prize is the pleasure of finding the thing out, the kick in the discovery, the observation that other people use it - those are the real things, honours are unreal to me.

How should we teach?

All those students are in the class: Now you ask me how should i best teach them? Should I teach them from the point of view of history of science, form the application point of view of the history of science, from the applications?My theory is that the best way to teach is to have no philosophy, is to be chaotic and to confuse it in the sense that you use every possible way of doing it.

doubting and believing…

You see, on thing is, I can live with doubt and uncertainty and not knowing. I think it’s much more interesting to live not knowing that to have answers which might be wrong. I have approximate answers and possible beliefs and different degrees of certainty about different thing, but i’m not absolutely sure of anything and there are many things I don’t know anything about, such as whether it means anything to ask why we;re here and what the question might mean. I might think about it a little bit and if I can’t figure it out, then i go onto something else, but it don’t have to know an answer, i don’t feel frightened by not knowing things, by being lost in a mysterious universe without having any purpose which is the way it really is so far as I can tell! It doesn’t frighten me.

debugging programs… i like this one :P

Another interesting future problem that is worth working on but I will not talk about is automatic debugging programs. Debugging means fixing errors in a program or in a machine, and it is surprisingly difficult to debug programs as they get more complicated.

on Hans Bethe and how he could do complicated mental maths during the course of the Manhattan Project

and so he said, “ Let’s see the pressure’ - the formula which he’d been working out involves the pressure squared - ‘pressure is 48; the square of 48…’ I reach for the machine; he say about 23 hundred. So i plug it out just to find out. He says,”you want to know exactly? it’s 2304.” And so it came out, 2304. SO i said, “how did you do that?” He says, “don’t you know how to take square of numbers near 50? If it’s near 50, say 3 below, then 3 below 25, like 47 squared is 22. And how much is lefty over is the square of the what’s residual. For instance, with 3 less you get 9 - 2209 from 47 squared. Very nice, ok?’ So we kept on going and a few moments later we had to take the cube root of 2.25.

on how he started out to repair those calculating geared machines during the Manhattan project…

We weren’t supposed to - the rules ‘you take the covers off, we cannot be responsible’ So we took the covers off and we had a a nice series of lessons. Like the first one we took the covers off, there was a shaft with a hole in it and a spring which was hanging this way, and obviously the spring went in the hole 0 so that was easy. So anyway, we got like a series of lessons, by God, on how to fix them and we got better and better and we made more and more elaborate repairs.

he told some high school boys about their secret Manhattan project… when he was not supposed to!…

They were clever boys from high school, who had engineering ability and the Army collected them together in the Special Engineer Department. They sent them up to Los Alamos. They put them in barracks and they would tell them nothing. Then they came to work and what they had to do was to work in the IBM machines, punching holes and numbers they didn’t understand. The thing was going very slowly. I said that the first thing there has to be is that the technical guys know what we;’re doing. Oppenheimer went and talked to the security people and for special permission. SO i had a nice lecture in which  I told them that we were doing, and they were all excite.d We’re fighting a war! We see what it is. They knew what the number meant. If the pressure came out high that means more energy and so on. They knew what they were doing… complete transformation!

on the first Trinity Test - atom bomb test….

It was a series of right to dark and I had seen it. I am about the only guy that actually looked at the damn thing, the first Trinity Test. Everybody else had dark glasses. The people at 6 miles couldn’t see it because they were told to lie on the floor with their eyes covered, so nobody saw it. The guys up where I was all had dark glasses. I’m the only guy who saw it with Human eye. Finally, after about a minute and a half, there’s suddenly a tremendous noise, BANG, and then rumble. like thunder and that’s what convinced me.

Feynman was also known well for cracking safe and locks :P and this describes how he cracked his first lock…

But carelessly scrawled across the top is pi is equal to 3.14159. well, why does she need the number value of pi and she’s not computing anything? So i go up to the safe. Honest, it’s honest isn’t it? …. I walk up to the safe. 31-41-59. Doesn’t open. 13-14-95 - doesn’t open. 95-14-13. doesn’t open. … 20 minutes and i’m turning the pi upside down. Nothing happens. So i start walking out of the office and i remember that book about psychologically, I’m right. DeHoffman is just the kind of a guy to use mathematical constant for his safe combination. SO the other important mathematician constant is e. SO i walk back to the safe, 27-18-28, click, click. It opens.

on astrology and science… and Galileo…

galileo could say: ‘I noticed that Jupiter was a ball with moons and not a god in the sky. Tell me, what happening to the astrologers?’ Well, they print their results in the newspapers, in the United Stated at least, in every daily paper everyday. Why do we still have astrologers?

The grand adventure…

The same thrill, the same awe and mystery, come again and again when we look at any problem deeply enough. With more knowledge come deeper, more wonderful mystery, luring one on to penetrate deeper still. Never concerned that the answer may prove disappointing, but with pleasure and confidence we turn over each new stone to find unimagined strangeness leading on to more wonderful questions and mysteries - certainly grand adventure!

It is true that few unscientific people have this particular type of religious experience. Our poets do not write about it; our artists do not try to portray this remarkable thing. I don’t know why. Is nobody inspired by our present picture of the universe?

the constant pi in the frequency formula of the coil…

I discovered a formula for the frequency as in some book or other, I discovered a formula for the frequency of a resonant circuit which was 2 pi square root LC… And there was pi, and where was the circle? You laugh, but i was very serious then. pi was a thing with circles, and here is pi coming out of electric circuit, where it stood for circle…. … … … … I began to think about it again, and i realised that the pi did not come from the circular coils. I understand it better now; but in my heart i still don’t know where the circle is, where that pi comes from…

on religion… and inspiration…

I would like to remind you all of things that you know well in order to give you little enthusiasm. In religion, the moral lessons are taught, but they are not just taught once - you are inspired again and again, and I think it is necessary to inspire again and again, and to remember the value of science for children, grown ups and everybody else, in several ways….

on mathematics and understanding …

I don’t believe in the idea that there are a few peculiar people capable of understanding math, and the rest of the world is normal. Math is a human discovery, and it’s no more complicated than humans can understand it. I had a calculus book that once said, “What one fool can do, another can”. What we’ve been able to work out about nature may look abstract and threatening to someone who hasn’t studies it, but it was fools who did it, and in the next generation, all fools will understand it.