Richard P. Feynman: Wikis


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Richard Feynman

Richard Phillips Feynman (1918–1988).
Born May 11, 1918(1918-05-11)
Far Rockaway, Queens, New York, USA
Died February 15, 1988 (aged 69)
Los Angeles, California, USA
Residence United States
Nationality American
Fields Physics
Institutions Manhattan Project
Cornell University
California Institute of Technology
Alma mater Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Princeton University
Doctoral advisor John Archibald Wheeler
Other academic advisors Manuel Sandoval Vallarta
Doctoral students F. L. Vernon, Jr.[1]
Willard H. Wells[1]
Al Hibbs[1]
George Zweig[1]
Giovanni Rossi Lomanitz[1]
Thomas Curtright[1]
Other notable students Douglas D. Osheroff
Robert Barro
Known for Feynman diagrams
Feynman point
Feynman–Kac formula
Wheeler–Feynman absorber theory
Feynman sprinkler
Feynman Long Division Puzzles
Hellmann–Feynman theorem
Feynman slash notation
Feynman parametrization
Sticky bead argument
One-electron universe
Quantum cellular automata
Influences Paul Dirac
Influenced Hagen Kleinert
Rod Crewther
José Leite Lopes
Notable awards Albert Einstein Award (1954)
E. O. Lawrence Award (1962)
Nobel Prize in Physics (1965)
Oersted Medal (1972)
National Medal of Science (1979)
He is the father of Carl Feynman and Michelle Feynman. He is the brother of Joan Feynman.

Richard Phillips Feynman (pronounced /ˈfaɪnmən/ FYEN-mən; May 11, 1918 – February 15, 1988) was an American physicist known for his work in the path integral formulation of quantum mechanics, the theory of quantum electrodynamics and the physics of the superfluidity of supercooled liquid helium, as well as in particle physics (he proposed the parton model). For his contributions to the development of quantum electrodynamics, Feynman, jointly with Julian Schwinger and Sin-Itiro Tomonaga, received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1965. He developed a widely used pictorial representation scheme for the mathematical expressions governing the behavior of subatomic particles, which later became known as Feynman diagrams. During his lifetime, Feynman became one of the best-known scientists in the world.

He assisted in the development of the atomic bomb and was a member of the panel that investigated the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster. In addition to his work in theoretical physics, Feynman has been credited with pioneering the field of quantum computing,[2] and introducing the concept of nanotechnology (creation of devices at the molecular scale).[3] He held the Richard Chace Tolman professorship in theoretical physics at the California Institute of Technology.

Feynman was a keen popularizer of physics through both books and lectures, notably a 1959 talk on top-down nanotechnology called There's Plenty of Room at the Bottom and The Feynman Lectures on Physics. Feynman also became known through his semi-autobiographical books (Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman! and What Do You Care What Other People Think?) and books written about him, such as Tuva or Bust!

He was regarded as an eccentric and free spirit. He was a prankster, juggler, safecracker, proud amateur painter, and bongo player. He liked to pursue a variety of seemingly unrelated interests, such as art, percussion, Maya hieroglyphs, and lock picking.

Feynman also had a deep interest in biology, and was a friend of the geneticist and microbiologist Esther Lederberg, who developed replica plating and discovered bacteriophage lambda.[4] They had several mutual physicist friends who, after beginning their careers in nuclear research, moved for moral reasons into genetics, among them Leó Szilárd, Guido Pontecorvo, and Aaron Novick.



Richard Phillips Feynman was born on May 11, 1918,[5] in Far Rockaway, Queens, New York.[6] His family originated from Russia and Poland; both of his parents were Jewish,[7] but they were not devout. Feynman (in common with the famous physicists Edward Teller and Albert Einstein) was a late talker; by his third birthday he had yet to utter a single word. The young Feynman was heavily influenced by his father, Melville, who encouraged him to ask questions to challenge orthodox thinking. From his mother, Lucille, he gained the sense of humor that he had throughout his life. As a child, he delighted in repairing radios and had a talent for engineering. His sister Joan also became a professional physicist.[8][9]



In high school, his IQ was determined to be 125: high, but "merely respectable" according to biographer Gleick.[10] He would later scoff at psychometric testing. By 15, he had learned differential and integral calculus. Before entering college, he was experimenting with and re-creating mathematical topics, such as the half-derivative, utilizing his own notation. In high school, he was developing the mathematical intuition behind his Taylor series of mathematical operators.[11]

His habit of direct characterization would sometimes rattle more conventional thinkers; for example, one of his questions when learning feline anatomy was "Do you have a map of the cat?" (referring to an anatomical chart).

Feynman attended Far Rockaway High School, a school that also produced fellow laureates Burton Richter and Baruch Samuel Blumberg.[12] A member of the Arista Honor Society, in his last year in high school, Feynman won the New York University Math Championship; the large difference between his score and those of his closest competitors shocked the judges.[13]

He applied to Columbia University, but was not accepted. Instead he attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he received a bachelor's degree in 1939, and in the same year was named a Putnam Fellow. While there, Feynman took every physics course offered, including a graduate course on theoretical physics while only in his second year.

He obtained a perfect score on the graduate school entrance exams to Princeton University in mathematics and physics — an unprecedented feat — but did rather poorly on the history and English portions.[citation needed] Attendees at Feynman's first seminar included Albert Einstein, Wolfgang Pauli, and John von Neumann. He received a Ph.D. from Princeton in 1942; his thesis advisor was John Archibald Wheeler. Feynman's thesis applied the principle of stationary action to problems of quantum mechanics, laying the ground work for the "path integral" approach and Feynman diagrams, and was entitled "The Principle of Least Action in Quantum Mechanics".

This was Richard Feynman nearing the crest of his powers. At twenty-three ... there was no physicist on earth who could match his exuberant command over the native materials of theoretical science. It was not just a facility at mathematics (though it had become clear ... that the mathematical machinery emerging from the Wheeler-Feynman collaboration was beyond Wheeler's own ability). Feynman seemed to possess a frightening ease with the substance behind the equations, like Albert Einstein at the same age, like the Soviet physicist Lev Landau—but few others.

James Gleick, Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman

The Manhattan Project

Feynman (center) with Robert Oppenheimer (right) relaxing at a Los Alamos social function during the Manhattan Project.

At Princeton, the physicist Robert R. Wilson encouraged Feynman to participate in the Manhattan Project—the wartime U.S. Army project at Los Alamos developing the atomic bomb. Feynman said he was persuaded to join this effort to build it before Nazi Germany.

He was assigned to Hans Bethe's theoretical division, and impressed Bethe enough to be made a group leader. He and Bethe developed the Bethe-Feynman formula for calculating the yield of a fission bomb, which built upon previous work by Robert Serber.

He immersed himself in work on the project, and was present at the Trinity bomb test. Feynman claimed to be the only person to see the explosion without the very dark glasses provided, reasoning that it was safe to look through a truck windshield, as it would screen out the harmful ultraviolet radiation.

As a junior physicist, he was not central to the project. The greater part of his work was administering the computation group of human computers in the Theoretical division (one of his students there, John G. Kemeny, would later go on to co-write the computer language BASIC). Later, with Nicholas Metropolis, he assisted in establishing the system for using IBM punch cards for computation. Feynman succeeded in solving one of the equations for the project that were posted on the blackboards. However, they did not "do the physics right" and Feynman's solution was not used.

Feynman's other work at Los Alamos included calculating neutron equations for the Los Alamos "Water Boiler", a small nuclear reactor, to measure how close an assembly of fissile material was to criticality. On completing this work he was transferred to the Oak Ridge facility, where he aided engineers in devising safety procedures for material storage so that criticality accidents (for example, due to sub-critical amounts of fissile material inadvertently stored in proximity on opposite sides of a wall) could be avoided. He also did theoretical work and calculations on the proposed uranium-hydride bomb, which later proved not to be feasible.

Feynman was sought out by physicist Niels Bohr for one-on-one discussions. He later discovered the reason: most physicists were too in awe of Bohr to argue with him. Feynman had no such inhibitions, vigorously pointing out anything he considered to be flawed in Bohr's thinking. Feynman said he felt as much respect for Bohr as anyone else, but once anyone got him talking about physics, he would become so focused he forgot about social niceties.

Due to the top secret nature of the work, Los Alamos was isolated. In Feynman's own words, "There wasn't anything to do there". Bored, he indulged his curiosity by learning to pick the combination locks on cabinets and desks used to secure papers. Feynman played many jokes on colleagues. In one case he found the combination to a locked filing cabinet by trying the numbers a physicist would use (it proved to be 27-18-28 after the base of natural logarithms, e = 2.71828...), and found that the three filing cabinets where a colleague kept a set of atomic bomb research notes all had the same combination. He left a series of notes as a prank, which initially spooked his colleague, Frederic de Hoffman, into thinking a spy or saboteur had gained access to atomic bomb secrets. On several occasions, Feynman drove to Albuquerque to see his ailing wife in a car borrowed from Klaus Fuchs, who was later discovered to be a real spy for the Soviets, transporting nuclear secrets in his car to Albuquerque.

On occasion, Feynman would find an isolated section of the mesa to drum in the style of American natives; "and maybe I would dance and chant, a little". These antics did not go unnoticed, and rumors spread about a mysterious Indian drummer called "Injun Joe". He also became a friend of laboratory head J. Robert Oppenheimer, who unsuccessfully tried to court him away from his other commitments after the war to work at the University of California, Berkeley.

Feynman alludes to his thoughts on the justification for getting involved in the Manhattan project in The Pleasure of Finding Things Out. As mentioned earlier, he felt the possibility of Nazi Germany developing the bomb before the Allies was a compelling reason to help with its development for the US. However, he goes on to say that it was an error on his part not to reconsider the situation when Germany was defeated. In the same publication, Feynman also talks about his worries in the atomic bomb age, feeling for some considerable time that there was a high risk that the bomb would be used again soon so that it was pointless to build for the future. Later he describes this period as a "depression."

Early academic career

Following the completion of his Ph.D. in 1942, Feynman held an appointment at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW) as an assistant professor of physics. The appointment was spent on leave for his involvement in the Manhattan project. In 1945, he received a letter from Dean Mark Ingraham of the College of Letters and Science requesting his return to UW to teach in the coming academic year. His appointment was not extended when he did not commit to return. In a talk given several years later at UW, Feynman quipped, "It's great to be back at the only University that ever had the good sense to fire me".[14]

After the war, Feynman declined an offer from the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, despite the presence there of such distinguished faculty members as Albert Einstein, Kurt Gödel, and John von Neumann. Feynman followed Hans Bethe, instead, to Cornell University, where Feynman taught theoretical physics from 1945 to 1950.[15] During a temporary depression following the destruction of Hiroshima by the bomb produced by the Manhattan Project, he focused on complex physics problems, not for utility, but for self-satisfaction. One of these was analyzing the physics of a twirling, nutating dish as it is moving through the air. His work during this period, which used equations of rotation to express various spinning speeds, would soon prove important to his Nobel Prize-winning work. Yet because he felt burned out, and had turned his attention to less immediately practical but more entertaining problems, he felt surprised by the offers of professorships from renowned universities.[15]

Despite yet another offer from the Institute for Advanced Study, which would have included teaching duties (one of his reasons for rejecting the Institute's initial offer), Feynman opted for the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) — as he says in his book Surely You're Joking Mr. Feynman! — because a desire to live in a mild climate had firmly fixed itself in his mind while installing tire chains on his car in the middle of a snowstorm in Ithaca.

Feynman the "Great Explainer": The Feynman Lectures on Physics found an appreciative audience beyond the undergraduate community

Feynman has been called the "Great Explainer".[citation needed] He gained a reputation for taking great care when giving explanations to his students and for making it a moral duty to make the topic accessible. His guiding principle was that if a topic could not be explained in a freshman lecture, it was not yet fully understood. Feynman gained great pleasure[16] from coming up with such a "freshman-level" explanation, for example, of the connection between spin and statistics. What he said was that groups of particles with spin 1/2 "repel", whereas groups with integer spin "clump". This was a brilliantly simplified way of demonstrating how Fermi-Dirac statistics and Bose-Einstein statistics evolved as a consequence of studying how fermions and bosons behave under a rotation of 360°. This was also a question he pondered in his more advanced lectures and to which he demonstrated the solution in the 1986 Dirac memorial lecture.[17] In the same lecture, he further explained that antiparticles must exist, for if particles only had positive energies, they would not be restricted to a so-called "light cone".

He opposed rote learning or unthinking memorization and other teaching methods that emphasized form over function. He put these opinions into action whenever he could, from a conference on education in Brazil to a State Commission on school textbook selection. Clear thinking and clear presentation were fundamental prerequisites for his attention. It could be perilous even to approach him when unprepared, and he did not forget the fools or pretenders.[18]

During one sabbatical year, he returned to Newton's Principia Mathematica to study it anew; what he learned from Newton, he passed along to his students, such as Newton's attempted explanation of diffraction.[citation needed]

Caltech years

The Feynman section at the Caltech bookstore

Feynman did significant work while at Caltech, including research in:

He also developed Feynman diagrams, a bookkeeping device which helps in conceptualizing and calculating interactions between particles in spacetime, notably the interactions between electrons and their antimatter counterparts, positrons. This device allowed him, and later others, to approach time reversibility and other fundamental processes. Feynman's mental picture for these diagrams started with the hard sphere approximation, and the interactions could be thought of as collisions at first. It was not until decades later that physicists thought of analyzing the nodes of the Feynman diagrams more closely. Feynman famously painted Feynman diagrams on the exterior of his van.[23]

From his diagrams of a small number of particles interacting in spacetime, Feynman could then model all of physics in terms of those particles' spins and the range of coupling of the fundamental forces.[24] Feynman attempted an explanation of the strong interactions governing nucleons scattering called the parton model. The parton model emerged as a complement to the quark model developed by his Caltech colleague Murray Gell-Mann. The relationship between the two models was murky; Gell-Mann referred to Feynman's partons derisively as "put-ons". In the mid 1960s, physicists believed that quarks were just a bookkeeping device for symmetry numbers, not real particles, as the statistics of the Omega-minus particle, if it were interpreted as three identical strange quarks bound together, seemed impossible if quarks were real. The Stanford linear accelerator deep inelastic scattering experiments of the late 1960s showed, analogously to Ernest Rutherford's experiment of scattering alpha particles on gold nuclei in 1911, that nucleons (protons and neutrons) contained point-like particles which scattered electrons. It was natural to identify these with quarks, but Feynman's parton model attempted to interpret the experimental data in a way which did not introduce additional hypotheses. For example, the data showed that some 45% of the energy momentum was carried by electrically neutral particles in the nucleon. These electrically neutral particles are now seen to be the gluons which carry the forces between the quarks and carry also the three-valued color quantum number which solves the Omega — problem. Feynman did not dispute the quark model; for example, when the fifth quark was discovered in 1977, Feynman immediately pointed out to his students that the discovery implied the existence of a sixth quark, which was duly discovered in the decade after his death.

After the success of quantum electrodynamics, Feynman turned to quantum gravity. By analogy with the photon, which has spin 1, he investigated the consequences of a free massless spin 2 field, and was able to derive the Einstein field equation of general relativity, but little more.[25]. However, the computational device that Feynman discovered then for gravity, "ghosts", which are "particles" in the interior of his diagrams which have the "wrong" connection between spin and statistics, have proved invaluable in explaining the quantum particle behavior of the Yang-Mills theories, for example QCD and the electro-weak theory.

In 1965, Feynman was appointed a foreign member of the Royal Society.[26] At this time in the early 1960s, Feynman exhausted himself by working on multiple major projects at the same time, including a request, while at Caltech, to "spruce up" the teaching of undergraduates. After three years devoted to the task, he produced a series of lectures that would eventually become the Feynman Lectures on Physics, one reason that Feynman is still regarded as one of the greatest teachers of physics. He wanted a picture of a drumhead sprinkled with powder to show the modes of vibration at the beginning of the book. Outraged by many rock and roll and drug connections that could be made from the image, the publishers changed the cover to plain red, though they included a picture of him playing drums in the foreword. Feynman later won the Oersted Medal for teaching, of which he seemed especially proud.[27]

His students competed keenly for his attention; he was once awakened when a student solved a problem and dropped it in his mailbox; glimpsing the student sneaking across his lawn, he could not go back to sleep, and he read the student's solution. The next morning his breakfast was interrupted by another triumphant student, but Feynman informed him that he was too late.

Partly as a way to bring publicity to progress in physics, Feynman offered $1000 prizes for two of his challenges in nanotechnology, claimed by William McLellan and Tom Newman, respectively.[28] He was also one of the first scientists to conceive the possibility of quantum computers.

Many of his lectures and other miscellaneous talks were turned into books, including The Character of Physical Law and QED: The Strange Theory of Light and Matter. He gave lectures which his students annotated into books, such as Statistical Mechanics and Lectures on Gravity. The Feynman Lectures on Physics[29] occupied two physicists, Robert B. Leighton and Matthew Sands as part-time co-authors for several years. Even though they were not adopted by most universities as textbooks, the books continue to be bestsellers because they provide a deep understanding of physics. As of 2005, The Feynman Lectures on Physics has sold over 1.5 million copies in English, an estimated 1 million copies in Russian, and an estimated half million copies in other languages.[citation needed]

In 1974, Feynman delivered the Caltech commencement address on the topic of cargo cult science, which has the semblance of science but is only pseudoscience due to a lack of "a kind of scientific integrity, a principle of scientific thought that corresponds to a kind of utter honesty" on the part of the scientist. He instructed the graduating class that "The first principle is that you must not fool yourself—and you are the easiest person to fool. So you have to be very careful about that. After you've not fooled yourself, it's easy not to fool other scientists. You just have to be honest in a conventional way after that."[30]

In 1984-86, he developed a variational method for the approximate calculation of path integrals which has led to a powerful method of converting divergent perturbation expansions into convergent strong-coupling expansions (Variational perturbation theory) and, as a consequence, to the most accurate determination[31] of critical exponents measured in satellite experiments[32].

In the late 1980s, according to "Richard Feynman and the Connection Machine", Feynman played a crucial role in developing the first massively parallel computer, and in finding innovative uses for it in numerical computations, in building neural networks, as well as physical simulations using cellular automata (such as turbulent fluid flow), working with Stephen Wolfram at Caltech.[33] His son Carl also played a role in the development of the original Connection Machine engineering; Feynman influencing the interconnects while his son worked on the software.

Feynman diagrams are now fundamental for string theory and M-theory, and have even been extended topologically.[citation needed] . The world-lines of the diagrams have developed to become tubes to allow better modeling of more complicated objects such as strings and membranes. However, shortly before his death, Feynman criticized string theory in an interview: "I don't like that they're not calculating anything," he said. "I don't like that they don't check their ideas. I don't like that for anything that disagrees with an experiment, they cook up an explanation—a fix-up to say, 'Well, it still might be true.'" These words have since been much-quoted by opponents of the string-theoretic direction for particle physics.[34]

Challenger disaster

Feynman was requested to serve on the Presidential Rogers Commission which investigated the Challenger disaster of 1986, where he played an important role. Feynman devoted the latter half of his book What Do You Care What Other People Think? to his experience on the Rogers Commission, straying from his usual convention of brief, light-hearted anecdotes to deliver an extended and sober narrative. Feynman's account reveals a disconnect between NASA's engineers and executives that was far more striking than he expected. His interviews of NASA's high-ranking managers revealed startling misunderstandings of elementary concepts. He concluded that the NASA management's space shuttle reliability estimate was fantastically unrealistic. He warned in his appendix to the commission's report, "For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled."[35]

M8 Entertainment Inc. announced in May 2006 that a movie would be made about the disaster. Challenger, scheduled for a 2010 release, is to be directed by Philip Kaufman—whose 1983 film The Right Stuff chronicled the early history of the space program—and will focus on the role of Feynman in the ensuing investigation. David Strathairn will play Feynman.[36]

Personal life

While researching for his Ph.D., Feynman married his first wife, Arline Greenbaum (often spelled Arlene). She was diagnosed with tuberculosis, but she and Feynman were careful, and he never contracted it. She succumbed to the disease in 1945. This portion of Feynman's life was portrayed in the 1996 film Infinity, which featured Feynman's daughter Michelle in a cameo role.

He was married a second time in June 1952, to Mary Louise Bell of Neodesha, Kansas; this marriage was brief and unsuccessful. He later married Gweneth Howarth from Ripponden, Yorkshire, who shared his enthusiasm for life and spirited adventure.[37] Besides their home in Altadena, California, they had a beach house in Baja California, purchased with the prize money from Feynman's Nobel Prize, his one third share of $55,000. They remained married until Feynman's death. They had a son, Carl, in 1962, and adopted a daughter, Michelle, in 1968.[37]

Feynman had a great deal of success teaching Carl, using discussions about ants and Martians as a device for gaining perspective on problems and issues; he was surprised to learn that the same teaching devices were not useful with Michelle.[38] Mathematics was a common interest for father and son; they both entered the computer field as consultants and were involved in advancing a new method of using multiple computers to solve complex problems—later known as parallel computing. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory retained Feynman as a computational consultant during critical missions. One co-worker characterized Feynman as akin to Don Quixote at his desk, rather than at a computer workstation, ready to do battle with the windmills.

Feynman traveled a great deal, notably to Brazil, and near the end of his life schemed to visit the Russian land of Tuva, a dream that, because of Cold War bureaucratic problems, never became reality.[39] The day after he died, a letter arrived for him from the Soviet government giving him authorization to travel to Tuva. During this period, he discovered that he had a form of cancer, but, thanks to surgery, he managed to hold it off. Out of his enthusiastic interest in reaching Tuva came the phrase "Tuva or Bust" (also the title of a book about his efforts to get there), which was tossed about frequently amongst his circle of friends in hope that they, one day, could see it firsthand. The documentary movie Genghis Blues mentions some of his attempts to communicate with Tuva, and chronicles the successful journey there by his friends.

Feynman took up drawing at one time and enjoyed some success under the pseudonym "Ofey", culminating in an exhibition dedicated to his work. He learned to play a metal percussion instrument (frigideira) in a samba style in Brazil, and participated in a samba school.

In addition, he had some degree of synesthesia for equations, explaining that the letters in certain mathematic functions appeared in color for him, even though invariably printed in standard black-and-white.[40]

According to Genius, the James Gleick-authored biography, Feynman experimented with LSD during his professorship at Caltech.[13] Somewhat embarrassed by his actions, Feynman largely sidestepped the issue when dictating his anecdotes; he mentions it in passing in the "O Americano, Outra Vez" section, while the "Altered States" chapter in Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman! describes only marijuana and ketamine experiences at John Lilly's famed sensory deprivation tanks, as a way of studying consciousness.[15] Feynman gave up alcohol when he began to show early signs of alcoholism, as he did not want to do anything that could damage his brain—the same reason given in "O Americano, Outra Vez" for his reluctance to experiment with LSD.[15]

In Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!, he gives advice on the best way to pick up a girl in a hostess bar. At Caltech, he used a nude/topless bar as an office away from his usual office, making sketches or writing physics equations on paper placemats. When the county officials tried to close the place, all visitors except Feynman refused to testify in favor of the bar, fearing that their families or patrons would learn about their visits. Only Feynman accepted, and in court, he affirmed that the bar was a public need, stating that craftsmen, technicians, engineers, common workers "and a physics professor" frequented the establishment. While the bar lost the court case, it was allowed to remain open as a similar case was pending appeal.[15]

Feynman developed two rare forms of cancer, Liposarcoma and Waldenström macroglobulinemia, dying shortly after a final attempt at surgery for the former.[13] His last recorded words are noted as "I'd hate to die twice. It's so boring."[13][41]

By his early youth, Feynman described himself as an "avowed atheist".[42]


On May 4, 2005, the United States Postal Service issued the American Scientists commemorative set of four 37-cent self-adhesive stamps in several configurations. The scientists depicted were Richard Feynman, John von Neumann, Barbara McClintock, and Josiah Willard Gibbs. Feynman's stamp, sepia-toned, features a photograph of a 30-something Feynman and eight small Feynman diagrams. The stamps were designed by artist Victor Stabin under the direction of U.S. Postal Service art director Carl T. Herrman.

The main building for the Computing Division at Fermilab, the FCC, is named the "Feynman Computing Center" in his honor.[43]

Real Time Opera premiered its opera Feynman at the Norfolk (CT) Chamber Music Festival in June 2005.[44]

In the television series Star Trek: The Next Generation, the shuttlecraft Feynman is named after him.

On the 20th anniversary of Feynman's death, composer Edward Manukyan dedicated a piece for solo clarinet to his memory.[45] It was premiered by Doug Storey, the principal clarinetist of the Amarillo Symphony.

In 2009, clips of an interview with Feynman were used in a second science education music video by composer John Boswell as part of the Symphony of Science project. Again in 2010, John Boswell used parts of Feynmans interview in his fifth installment of the Symphony of Science called The Poetry of Reality.[citation needed]


Selected scientific works

Feynman, Richard P. (2000), Laurie M. Brown, ed., Selected Papers of Richard Feynman: With Commentary, 20th Century Physics, World Scientific, ISBN 978-9810241315 .

Textbooks and lecture notes

The Feynman Lectures on Physics is perhaps his most accessible work for anyone with an interest in physics, compiled from lectures to Caltech undergraduates in 1961-64. As news of the lectures' lucidity grew, a number of professional physicists and graduate students began to drop in to listen. Co-authors Robert B. Leighton and Matthew Sands, colleagues of Feynman, edited and illustrated them into book form. The work has endured, and is useful to this day. They were edited and supplemented in 2005 with "Feynman's Tips on Physics: A Problem-Solving Supplement to the Feynman Lectures on Physics" by Michael Gottlieb and Ralph Leighton (Robert Leighton's son), with support from Kip Thorne and other physicists.

  • Feynman, Richard P. (1970), The Feynman Lectures on Physics: The Definitive and Extended Edition, 3 volumes (2nd ed.), Addison Wesley (published 2005, originally published as separate volumes in 1964 and 1966), ISBN 0-8053-9045-6 . Includes Feynman’s Tips on Physics (with Michael Gottlieb and Ralph Leighton), which includes four previously unreleased lectures on problem solving, exercises by Robert Leighton and Rochus Vogt, and a historical essay by Matthew Sands.
  • Feynman, Richard P. (1961), Theory of Fundamental Processes, Addison Wesley, ISBN 0-8053-2507-7 .
  • Feynman, Richard P. (1962), Quantum Electrodynamics, Addison Wesley, ISBN 978-0805325010 .
  • Feynman, Richard P.; Hibbs, Albert (1965), Quantum Mechanics and Path Integrals, McGraw Hill, ISBN 0-07-020650-3 .
  • Feynman, Richard P. (1967), The Character of Physical Law: The 1964 Messenger Lectures, MIT Press, ISBN 0-262-56003-8 .
  • Feynman, Richard P. (1981), Statistical Mechanics: A Set of Lectures, Addison Wesley, ISBN 0-8053-2509-3 .
  • Feynman, Richard P. (1985b), QED: The Strange Theory of Light and Matter, Princeton University Press, ISBN 0691024170 .
  • Feynman, Richard P. (1987), Elementary Particles and the Laws of Physics: The 1986 Dirac Memorial Lectures, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0-521-34000-4 .
  • Feynman, Richard P. (1995), Brian Hatfield, ed., Lectures on Gravitation, Addison Wesley Longman, ISBN 0-201-62734-5 .
  • Feynman, Richard P. (1997), Feynman's Lost Lecture: The Motion of Planets Around the Sun (Vintage Press ed.), London: Vintage, ISBN 0099736217 .
  • Feynman, Richard P. (2000), Tony Hey and Robin W. Allen, ed., Feynman Lectures on Computation, Perseus Books Group, ISBN 0738202967 .

Popular works

Audio and video recordings

  • Safecracker Suite (a collection of drum pieces interspersed with Feynman telling anecdotes)
  • Los Alamos From Below (talk given by Feynman at Santa Barbara on February 6, 1975)
  • Six Easy Pieces (original lectures upon which the book is based)
  • Six Not So Easy Pieces (original lectures upon which the book is based)
  • The Feynman Lectures on Physics: The Complete Audio Collection
  • Samples of Feynman's drumming, chanting and speech are included in the songs "Tuva Groove (Bolur Daa-Bol, Bolbas Daa-Bol)" and "Kargyraa Rap (Dürgen Chugaa)" on the album Back Tuva Future, The Adventure Continues by Kongar-ool Ondar. The hidden track on this album also includes excerpts from lectures without musical background.

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f "Richard Phillips Feynman". Mathematics Genealogy Project (North Dakota State University). Retrieved 2010-03-18. 
  2. ^ West, Jacob (2003-06). "The Quantum Computer". Retrieved 2009-09-20. 
  3. ^ Edwards 2006, pp. 15–17.
  4. ^ "Esther M. Zimmer Lederberg Memorial Web Site". 
  5. ^ Nobel Foundation 1972.
  6. ^ J.J. O'Connor and E.F. Robertson (2002-08). "Richard Phillips Feynman". University of St. Andrews. Retrieved 2006-11-09. 
  7. ^ "". June 2009. 
  8. ^ Feynman 1985, Feynman 1988
  9. ^ Charles Hirshberg (2002-04-18). "My Mother, the Scientist". Popular Science. Retrieved 2008-03-05.  An account on Joan Feynman by her son.
  10. ^ Gleick 1992, p. 30
  11. ^ Feynman 1985
  12. ^ Schwach, Howard. "Museum Tracks Down FRHS Nobel Laureates", The Wave (newspaper), April 15, 2005. Accessed October 2, 2007.
  13. ^ a b c d Gleick 1992
  14. ^ R. March, (May 2003), "Physics at the University of Wisconsin: A History", Physics in Perspective, Vol. 5, 130-149
  15. ^ a b c d e Feynman 1985
  16. ^ Hey & Walters 1987.
  17. ^ Feynman 1987.
  18. ^ Bethe 1991, p. 241
  19. ^ Background information on the 1999 Nobel Prize in Physics, Cecilia Jarlskog, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences
  20. ^ Schwinger 1958.
  21. ^ Feynman & Hibbs 1965.
  22. ^ "Richard Feynman and Condensed Matter Physics" by David Pines in the February 1989 Physics Today Feynman memorial issue.
  23. ^ Feynman 2005 and Sykes 1996.
  24. ^ Feynman 1961.
  25. ^ Feynman 1995
  26. ^ "Richard P. Feynman". Retrieved 2010-02-19. 
  27. ^ "The Oersted Medal". American Association of Physics Teachers. Retrieved 2007-07-08. 
  28. ^ Gribbin & Gribbin 1997, p. 170.
  29. ^ Feynman 1970 Lectures on Physics.
  30. ^ Feynman 1974b
  31. ^ Kleinert, Hagen (1999). "Specific heat of liquid helium in zero gravity very near the lambda point". Physical Review D 60, 085001 (1999): 085001. doi:10.1103/PhysRevD.60.085001. 
  32. ^ Lipa J.A. (2003). "Specific heat of liquid helium in zero gravity very near the lambda point". Physical Review B 68: 174518. doi:10.1103/PhysRevB.68.174518. 
  33. ^ Hillis 1989.
  34. ^ Gleick 1992, interview by Robert Crease, Feb. 1985.
  35. ^ R. P. Feynman. "Appendix F — Personal observations on the reliability of the Shuttle". Kennedy Space Center. 
  36. ^ "Media 8 To Produce "Challenger" Directed by Philip Kaufman". May 24, 2006. Retrieved 2006-09-21. 
  37. ^ a b Feynman 2005.
  38. ^ Sykes 1996.
  39. ^ Leighton 2000.
  40. ^ Feynman 1988
  41. ^ "Richard Feynman at Find a Grave". Retrieved 2008-10-04. 
  42. ^ What Do You Care What Other People Think by Richard Feynman (p. 25)
  43. ^ "Fermilab Open House: Computing Division". 
  44. ^ "Real Time Opera". 
  45. ^ "Musical Tribute to Scientists". 


Further reading


  • Physics Today, American Institute of Physics magazine, February 1989 Issue. (Vol.42, No.2.) Special Feynman memorial issue containing non-technical articles on Feynman's life and work in physics.


  • Brown, Laurie M. and Rigden, John S. (editors) (1993) Most of the Good Stuff: Memories of Richard Feynman Simon and Schuster, New York, ISBN 0883188708. Commentary by Joan Feynman, John Wheeler, Hans Bethe, Julian Schwinger, Murray Gell-Mann, Daniel Hillis, David Goodstein, Freeman Dyson, and Laurie Brown
  • Dyson, Freeman (1979) Disturbing the Universe. Harper and Row. ISBN 0-06-011108-9. Dyson’s autobiography. The chapters "A Scientific Apprenticeship" and "A Ride to Albuquerque" describe his impressions of Feynman in the period 1947-48 when Dyson was a graduate student at Cornell
  • Gleick, James (1992) Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman. Pantheon. ISBN 0679747044
  • Levine, Harry, III (2009) The Great Explainer: The Story of Richard Feynman (Profiles in Science series) Morgan Reynolds, Greensboro, North Carolina, ISBN 978-1-59935-113-1; for high school readers
  • Mehra, Jagdish (1994) The Beat of a Different Drum: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-853948-7
  • Gribbin, John and Gribbin, Mary (1997) Richard Feynman: A Life in Science. Dutton, New York, ISBN 052594124X
  • Milburn, Gerard J. (1998) The Feynman Processor: Quantum Entanglement and the Computing Revolution Perseus Books, ISBN 0-7382-0173-1
  • Mlodinow, Leonard (2003) Feynman's Rainbow: A Search For Beauty In Physics And In Life Warner Books. ISBN 0-446-69251-4 Published in the United Kingdom as Some Time With Feynman
  • Schweber, Silvan S. (1994) "Chapter 8: Richard Feynman and the Visualization of Space-Time Processes" QED and the Men Who Made It: Dyson, Feynman, Schwinger, and Tomonaga (Princeton Series in Physics) Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey, pp. 373–473, ISBN 0691036853
  • Sykes, Christopher, ed., (1994) No Ordinary Genius: The Illustrated Richard Feynman. W W Norton & Co. Inc. ISBN 0393036219

Films & plays

  • Infinity, a movie directed by Matthew Broderick and starring Matthew Broderick as Feynman, depicting Feynman's love affair with his first wife and ending with the Trinity test. 1996.
  • Parnell, Peter (2002) "QED" Applause Books, ISBN 978-1557835925, (play).
  • Whittell, Crispin (2006) "Clever Dick" Oberon Books, (play)
  • "The Pleasure of Finding Things Out" A film documentary autobiography of Richard Feynman, Nobel laureate and theoretical physicist extraordinary. 1982, BBC TV 'Horizon' and PBS 'Nova' (50 mins film). See Christopher Sykes Productions
  • "The Quest for Tannu Tuva", with Richard Feynman and Ralph Leighton. 1987, BBC TV 'Horizon' and PBS 'Nova' (under the title "Last Journey of a Genius") (50 mins film)
  • "No Ordinary Genius" A two-part documentary about Feynman's life and work, with contributions from colleagues, friends and family. 1993, BBC TV 'Horizon' and PBS 'Nova' (a one-hour version, under the title "The Best Mind Since Einstein") (2 x 50 mins films)

External links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010
(Redirected to Richard Feynman article)

From Wikiquote

Tell your son to stop trying to fill your head with science — for to fill your heart with love is enough.
All mass is interaction.

Richard Phillips Feynman (May 11, 1918February 15, 1988) was an American physicist; in the International Phonetic Alphabet his surname is rendered [ˈfaɪnmən], the first syllable sounding like "fine".



I think that it is much more likely that the reports of flying saucers are the results of the known irrational characteristics of terrestrial intelligence than of the unknown rational efforts of extra-terrestrial intelligence.
To those who do not know mathematics it is difficult to get across a real feeling as to the beauty, the deepest beauty, of nature...
Our imagination is stretched to the utmost, not, as in fiction, to imagine things which are not really there, but just to comprehend those things which are there.
No problem is too small or too trivial if we can really do something about it.
I learned very early the difference between knowing the name of something and knowing something.
  • You can't say A is made of B
    or vice versa.
    All mass is interaction.
    • Statement titled "Principles" (c. 1950), quoted in Genius : The Life and Science of Richard Feynman (1992) by James Gleick
  • It doesn't seem to me that this fantastically marvelous universe, this tremendous range of time and space and different kinds of animals, and all the different planets, and all these atoms with all their motions, and so on, all this complicated thing can merely be a stage so that God can watch human beings struggle for good and evil — which is the view that religion has. The stage is too big for the drama.
    • Statement (1959), quoted by James Gleick in Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman (1992)
  • Some years ago I had a conversation with a layman about flying saucers — because I am scientific I know all about flying saucers! I said "I don't think there are flying saucers'. So my antagonist said, "Is it impossible that there are flying saucers? Can you prove that it's impossible?" "No", I said, "I can't prove it's impossible. It's just very unlikely". At that he said, "You are very unscientific. If you can't prove it impossible then how can you say that it's unlikely?" But that is the way that is scientific. It is scientific only to say what is more likely and what less likely, and not to be proving all the time the possible and impossible. To define what I mean, I might have said to him, "Listen, I mean that from my knowledge of the world that I see around me, I think that it is much more likely that the reports of flying saucers are the results of the known irrational characteristics of terrestrial intelligence than of the unknown rational efforts of extra-terrestrial intelligence." It is just more likely. That is all.
    • The Character of Physical Law. Cornell University Messenger Lectures (1964)
  • On the infrequent occasions when I have been called upon in a formal place to play the bongo drums, the introducer never seems to find it necessary to mention that I also do theoretical physics.
    • Statement after an introduction mentioning that he played bongo drums; Messenger Lectures at Cornell University (1964-5).
  • To those who do not know mathematics it is difficult to get across a real feeling as to the beauty, the deepest beauty, of nature ... If you want to learn about nature, to appreciate nature, it is necessary to understand the language that she speaks in.
    • The Character of Physical Law (1965) Ch. 2
  • I think I can safely say that nobody understands quantum mechanics.
    • The Character of Physical Law (1965) Ch. 6; also quoted in The New Quantum Universe (2003) by Tony Hey and Patrick Walters
    • Unsourced variant or misquotation: I think it is safe to say that no one understands quantum mechanics.
  • Our imagination is stretched to the utmost, not, as in fiction, to imagine things which are not really there, but just to comprehend those things which are there.
    • The Character of Physical Law (1965)
  • Do not keep saying to yourself, if you can possibly avoid it, "But how can it be like that?" because you will get "down the drain," into a blind alley from which nobody has yet escaped. Nobody knows how it can be like that.
    • On the apparent absurdities of Quantum behavior, in The Character of Physical Law (1965) Lecture 6 : Probability and Uncertainity — the Quantum Mechanical view of Nature
  • On the contrary, it's because someone knows something about it that we can't talk about physics. It's the things that nobody knows about that we can discuss. We can talk about the weather; we can talk about social problems; we can talk about psychology; we can talk about international finance... so it's the subject that nobody knows anything about that we can all talk about!
    • Statement (1965), when told that nobody else at the table he was dining at knew anything about physics and thus they could not talk about it, quoted in Handbook of Economic Growth (2005) by Philippe Aghion and Steven N. Durlauf
  • The chance is high that the truth lies in the fashionable direction. But, on the off chance that it is in another direction — a direction obvious from an unfashionable view of field theory — who will find it? Only someone who has sacrificed himself by teaching himself quantum electrodynamics from a peculiar and unfashionable point of view; one that he may have to invent for himself.
  • The worthwhile problems are the ones you can really solve or help solve, the ones you can really contribute something to. ... No problem is too small or too trivial if we can really do something about it.
    • Letter from Feynman to Koichi Mano (3 February 1966); published in Perfectly Reasonable Deviations from the Beaten Track : The Letters of Richard P. Feynman (2005)
  • You say you are a nameless man. You are not to your wife and to your child. You will not long remain so to your immediate colleagues if you can answer their simple questions when they come into your office. You are not nameless to me. Do not remain nameless to yourself — it is too sad a way to be. Know your place in the world and evaluate yourself fairly, not in terms of the naïve ideals of your own youth, nor in terms of what you erroneously imagine your teacher's ideals are.
    • Letter from Feynman to Koichi Mano (3 February 1966); published in Perfectly Reasonable Deviations from the Beaten Track : The Letters of Richard P. Feynman (2005); also quoted by Freeman Dyson in "Wise Man", New York Review of Books (20 October 2005)
  • You can know the name of a bird in all the languages of the world, but when you're finished, you'll know absolutely nothing whatever about the bird... So let's look at the bird and see what it's doing — that's what counts. I learned very early the difference between knowing the name of something and knowing something.
    • "What is Science?", presented at the fifteenth annual meeting of the National Science Teachers Association, in New York City (1966) published in The Physics Teacher Vol. 7, issue 6 (1969)
  • There is one feature I notice that is generally missing in "cargo cult science." It's a kind of scientific integrity, a principle of scientific thought that corresponds to a kind of utter honesty — a kind of leaning over backwards. For example, if you're doing an experiment, you should report everything that you think might make it invalid — not only what you think is right about it; other causes that could possibly explain your results; and things you thought of that you've eliminated by some other experiment, and how they worked — to make sure the other fellow can tell they have been eliminated.
    Details that could throw doubt on your interpretation must be given, if you know them. You must do the best you can — if you know anything at all wrong, or possibly wrong — to explain it. If you make a theory, for example, and advertise it, or put it out, then you must also put down all the facts that disagree with it, as well as those that agree with it. There is also a more subtle problem. When you have put a lot of ideas together to make an elaborate theory, you want to make sure, when explaining what it fits, that those things it fits are not just the things that gave you the idea for the theory; but that the finished theory makes something else come out right, in addition.
    In summary, the idea is to try to give all of the information to help others to judge the value of your contribution; not just the information that leads to judgment in one particular direction or another.
    • "Cargo Cult Science", adapted from a commencement address given at Caltech (1974)
  • 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.
    • "Cargo Cult Science", adapted from a commencement address given at Caltech (1974)
If I could explain it to the average person, I wouldn't have been worth the Nobel Prize.
  • All experiments in psychology are not of this [cargo cult] type, however. For example there have been many experiments running rats through all kinds of mazes, and so on — with little clear result. But in 1937 a man named Young did a very interesting one. He had a long corridor with doors all along one side where the rats came in, and doors along the other side where the food was. He wanted to see if he could train rats to go to the third door down from wherever he started them off. No. The rats went immediately to the door where the food had been the time before.
    The question was, how did the rats know, because the corridor was so beautifully built and so uniform, that this was the same door as before? Obviously there was something about the door that was different from the other doors. So he painted the doors very carefully, arranging the textures on the faces of the doors exactly the same. Still the rats could tell. Then he thought maybe they were smelling the food, so he used chemicals to change the smell after each run. Still the rats could tell. Then he realized the rats might be able to tell by seeing the lights and the arrangement in the laboratory like any commonsense person. So he covered the corridor, and still the rats could tell
    He finally found that they could tell by the way the floor sounded when they ran over it. And he could only fix that by putting his corridor in sand. So he covered one after another of all possible clues and finally was able to fool the rats so that they had to learn to go to the third door. If he relaxed any of his conditions, the rats could tell.
    Now, from a scientific standpoint, that is an A-number-one experiment. That is the experiment that makes rat-running experiments sensible, because it uncovers the clues that the rat is really using — not what you think it's using. And that is the experiment that tells exactly what conditions you have to use in order to be careful and control everything in an experiment with rat-running.
    I looked into the subsequent history of this research. The next experiment, and the one after that, never referred to Mr. Young. They never used any of his criteria of putting the corridor on sand, or of being very careful. They just went right on running rats in the same old way, and paid no attention to the great discoveries of Mr. Young, and his papers are not referred to, because he didn't discover anything about rats. In fact, he discovered all the things you have to do to discover something about rats. But not paying attention to experiments like that is a characteristic of cargo cult science.
    • "Cargo Cult Science", adapted from a commencement address given at CalTech (1974)
For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled.
  • If I could explain it to the average person, I wouldn't have been worth the Nobel Prize.
    • People (22 July 1985)
  • I took this stuff I got out of your [O-ring] seal and I put it in ice water, and I discovered that when you put some pressure on it for a while and then undo it it doesn't stretch back. It stays the same dimension. In other words, for a few seconds at least, and more seconds than that, there is no resilience in this particular material when it is at a temperature of 32 degrees. I believe that has some significance for our problem.
    • Press conference of the presidential commission into the Challenger disaster. (10 February 1986)
There in wine is found the great generalization: all life is fermentation.
  • Tell your son to stop trying to fill your head with science — for to fill your heart with love is enough.
    • Letter to the mother of Marcus Chown, who had been fascinated with the profile of him on the BBC show Horizon in 1981, written after Chown asked him to write her a birthday note, thinking it would help him in his attempts at trying to explain scientific things to her. Published in No Ordinary Genius : The Illustrated Richard Feynman (1996), by Christopher Simon Sykes, p. 161. This has also for several years been misquoted in a paraphrased form where Feynman is stated to have written:
Dear Mrs. Chown, Ignore your son's attempts to teach you physics. Physics isn't the most important thing. Love is. Best wishes, Richard Feynman.
  • The Quantum Universe has a quotation from me in every chapter — but it's a damn good book anyway.
  • Anyway, I have to argue about flying saucers on the beach with people, you know. And I was interested in this: they keep arguing that it is possible. And that's true. It is possible. They do not appreciate that the problem is not to demonstrate whether it's possible or not but whether it's going on or not.
    • The Meaning of It All : Thoughts of a Citizen Scientist (1998)
What I cannot create, I do not understand.
  • God was invented to explain mystery. God is always invented to explain those things that you do not understand. Now, when you finally discover how something works, you get some laws which you're taking away from God; you don't need him anymore. But you need him for the other mysteries. So therefore you leave him to create the universe because we haven't figured that out yet; you need him for understanding those things which you don't believe the laws will explain, such as consciousness, or why you only live to a certain length of time — life and death — stuff like that. God is always associated with those things that you do not understand. Therefore I don't think that the laws can be considered to be like God because they have been figured out.
    • As quoted in Superstrings : A Theory of Everything (1988) Edited by Paul C. W. Davies and Julian R. Brown ISBN 0521354625
Stuck on this carousel my little eye can catch one-million-year-old light. A vast pattern — of which I am a part... What is the pattern or the meaning or the why? It does not do harm to the mystery to know a little more about it.
  • What I cannot create, I do not understand.
    • On his blackboard at time of death in 1988; as quoted in The Universe in a Nutshell by Stephen Hawking
  • We scientists are clever — too clever — are you not satisfied? Is four square miles in one bomb not enough? Men are still thinking. Just tell us how big you want it.
    • Undated personal note, quoted in Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman (1992) by James Gleick
  • I have approximate answers and possible beliefs in different degrees of certainty about different things, but I'm not absolutely sure of anything, and of many things I don't know anything about, such as whether it means anything to ask 'why are we here?'... and what the question might mean.
    • During an interview in BBC's Horizon program (1981). [1] [2]
  • I'd hate to die twice. It's so boring.
    • Last words, as quoted in Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman (1992) by James Gleick
  • A great deal more is known than has been proved.
    • Quoted in The Music of the Primes : Searching to Solve the Greatest Mystery of Mathematics (2003) by Marcus du Sautoy
  • I've always been rather very one-sided about the science, and when I was younger, I concentrated almost all my effort on it. I didn't have time to learn, and I didn't have much patience for what's called the humanities; even though in the university there were humanities that you had to take, I tried my best to avoid somehow to learn anything and to work on it. It's only afterwards [sic] when I've gotten older and more relaxed that I've spread out a little bit--I've learned to draw, and I read a little bit, but I'm really still a very one-sided person and don't know a great deal. I have a limited intelligence and I've used it in a particular direction.
    • The Pleasure of Finding Things Out, 1981 BBC Horizon Interview

The Feynman Lectures on Physics (1964)

  • Each piece, or part, of the whole nature is always an approximation to the complete truth, or the complete truth so far as we know it. In fact, everything we know is only some kind of approximation, because we know that we do not know all the laws as yet. Therefore, things must be learned only to be unlearned again or, more likely, to be corrected.......The test of all knowledge is experiment. Experiment is the sole judge of scientific “truth”.
    • Volume I, 1-1, Introduction
  • A poet once said, "The whole universe is in a glass of wine." We will probably never know in what sense he meant that, for poets do not write to be understood. But it is true that if we look at a glass of wine closely enough we see the entire universe. There are the things of physics: the twisting liquid which evaporates depending on the wind and weather, the reflections in the glass, and our imagination adds the atoms. The glass is a distillation of the Earth's rocks, and in its composition we see the secrets of the universe's age, and the evolution of stars. What strange arrays of chemicals are in the wine? How did they come to be? There are the ferments, the enzymes, the substrates, and the products. There in wine is found the great generalization: all life is fermentation. Nobody can discover the chemistry of wine without discovering, as did Louis Pasteur, the cause of much disease. How vivid is the claret, pressing its existence into the consciousness that watches it! If our small minds, for some convenience, divide this glass of wine, this universe, into parts — physics, biology, geology, astronomy, psychology, and so on — remember that Nature does not know it! So let us put it all back together, not forgetting ultimately what it is for. Let it give us one more final pleasure: drink it and forget it all!
    • Volume I, 3-10, The relation of Physics to other sciences
  • It is important to realize that in physics today, we have no knowledge what energy is. We do not have a picture that energy comes in little blobs of a definite amount.
    • Volume I, 4-1
  • We can't define anything precisely. If we attempt to, we get into that paralysis of thought that comes to philosophers… one saying to the other: "you don't know what you are talking about!". The second one says: "what do you mean by talking? What do you mean by you? What do you mean by know?"
    • Volume I, 8-2
  • From a long view of the history of mankind — seen from, say, ten thousand years from now, there can be little doubt that the most significant event of the 19th century will be judged as Maxwell's discovery of the laws of electrodynamics. The American Civil War will pale into provincial insignificance in comparison with this important scientific event of the same decade.
    • Volume II, 1-6 end
Far more marvelous is the truth than any artists of the past imagined it. Why do the poets of the present not speak of it?
  • In fact, the science of thermodynamics began with an analysis, by the great engineer Sadi Carnot, of the problem of how to build the best and most efficient engine, and this constitutes one of the few famous cases in which engineering has contributed to fundamental physical theory. Another example that comes to mind is the more recent analysis of information theory by Claude Shannon. These two analyses, incidentally, turn out to be closely related.
    • "The Laws of Thermodynamics"
  • If, in some cataclysm, all scientific knowledge were to be destroyed, and only one sentence passed on to the next generation of creatures, what statement would contain the most information in the fewest words? I believe it is the atomic hypothesis (or atomic fact, or whatever you wish to call it) that all things are made of atoms — little particles that move around in perpetual motion, attracting each other when they are a little distance apart, but repelling upon being squeezed into one another. In that one sentence you will see an enormous amount of information about the world, if just a little imagination and thinking are applied.
Although we humans cut nature up in different ways, and we have different courses in different departments, such compartmentalization is really artificial...
  • Poets say science takes away from the beauty of the stars — mere globs of gas atoms. Nothing is "mere". I too can see the stars on a desert night, and feel them. But do I see less or more? The vastness of the heavens stretches my imagination — stuck on this carousel my little eye can catch one-million-year-old light. A vast pattern — of which I am a part... What is the pattern or the meaning or the why? It does not do harm to the mystery to know a little more about it. For far more marvelous is the truth than any artists of the past imagined it. Why do the poets of the present not speak of it? What men are poets who can speak of Jupiter if he were a man, but if he is an immense spinning sphere of methane and ammonia must be silent?
    • Footnote
  • So, ultimately, in order to understand nature it may be necessary to have a deeper understanding of mathematical relationships. But the real reason is that the subject is enjoyable, and although we humans cut nature up in different ways, and we have different courses in different departments, such compartmentalization is really artificial, and we should take our intellectual pleasures where we find them.
  • ...the "paradox" is only a conflict between reality and your feeling of what reality "ought to be."
    • Volume III, p. 18-9
  • ...and you will find someday that, after all, it isn’t as horrible as it looks.
    • Volume III, Epilogue

The Character of Physical Law (1964)

  • For those who want some proof that physicists are human, the proof is in the idiocy of all the different units which they use for measuring energy.
  • The next question was — what makes planets go around the sun? At the time of Kepler some people answered this problem by saying that there were angels behind them beating their wings and pushing the planets around an orbit. As you will see, the answer is not very far from the truth. The only difference is that the angels sit in a different direction and their wings push inward.
  • Nature uses only the longest threads to weave her patterns, so that each small piece of her fabric reveals the organization of the entire tapestry.

QED : The Strange Theory of Light and Matter (1985)

People are always asking for the latest developments in the unification of this theory with that theory, and they don't give us a chance to tell them anything about what we know pretty well. They always want to know the things we don't know.
  • People are always asking for the latest developments in the unification of this theory with that theory, and they don't give us a chance to tell them anything about what we know pretty well. They always want to know the things we don't know.
    • p. 3
  • You will have to brace yourselves for this — not because it is difficult to understand, but because it is absolutely ridiculous: All we do is draw little arrows on a piece of paper — that’s all!
    • p. 24.
  • It has been a mystery ever since it was discovered more than fifty years ago, and all good theoretical physicists put this number up on their wall and worry about it. Immediately you would like to know where this number for a coupling comes from: is it related to π or perhaps to the base of natural logarithms? Nobody knows. It's one of the greatest damn mysteries of physics: a magic number that comes to us with no understanding by man. You might say the "hand of God" wrote that number, and "we don't know how He pushed his pencil." We know what kind of a dance to do experimentally to measure this number very accurately, but we don't know what kind of dance to do on the computer to make this number come out, without putting it in secretly!

Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman! (1985)

A collection of reminiscences from taped interviews with fellow scientist and friend Ralph Leighton. ISBN 0393316041
I would see people building a bridge, or they'd be making a new road, and I thought, they're crazy, they just don't understand, they don't understand.
I'm glad those other people had the sense to go ahead.
  • I don't know what's the matter with people: they don't learn by understanding, they learn by some other way — by rote or something. Their knowledge is so fragile!
  • And this is medicine?
    • Comment to the psychiatrist who was examining him and who had stated he studied medicine to become a psychiatrist.
    • Part 3: "Feynman, The Bomb, and the Military", "Uncle Sam Doesn't Need You"
  • I returned to civilization shortly after that and went to Cornell to teach, and my first impression was a very strange one. I can't understand it any more, but I felt very strongly then. I sat in a restaurant in New York, for example, and I looked out at the buildings and I began to think, you know, about how much the radius of the Hiroshima bomb damage was and so forth... How far from here was 34th street?... All those buildings, all smashed — and so on. And I would see people building a bridge, or they'd be making a new road, and I thought, they're crazy, they just don't understand, they don't understand. Why are they making new things? It's so useless.
    But, fortunately, it's been useless for almost forty years now, hasn't it? So I've been wrong about it being useless making bridges and I'm glad those other people had the sense to go ahead.
    • On his emotional reactions after the first uses of the atomic bomb. Part 3: "Feynman, The Bomb, and the Military", "Los Alamos from Below"
  • One time I was in the men's room of the bar and there was a guy at the urinal. He was kind of drunk, and said to me in a mean-sounding voice, "I don't like your face. I think I'll push it in."
    I was scared green. I replied in an equally mean voice, "Get out of my way, or I'll pee right through ya!"
    • Part 4: "From Cornell to Caltech, With A Touch of Brazil", "Any Questions?"
  • I have to understand the world, you see.
    • Part 4: "From Cornell to Caltech, With A Touch of Brazil", "Certainly, Mr. Big!"
  • Since then I never pay attention to anything by "experts". I calculate everything myself.
    • After having been led astray on the neutron-proton coupling constant by reports of "beta-decay experts".
    • Part 5: "The World of One Physicist", "The 7 Percent Solution"
  • I'll never make that mistake again, reading the experts' opinions. Of course, you only live one life, and you make all your mistakes, and learn what not to do, and that's the end of you.
    • Part 5: "The World of One Physicist", "The 7 Percent Solution"
  • While in Kyoto I tried to learn Japanese with a vengeance. I worked much harder at it, and got to a point where I could go around in taxis and do things. I took lessons from a Japanese man every day for an hour. One day he was teaching me the word for "see." "All right," he said. "You want to say, 'May I see your garden?' What do you say?" I made up a sentence with the word that I had just learned. "No, no!" he said. "When you say to someone, 'Would you like to see my garden? you use the first 'see.' But when you want to see someone else's garden, you must use another 'see,' which is more polite." "Would you like to glance at my lousy garden?" is essentially what you're saying in the first case, but when you want to look at the other fella's garden, you have to say something like, "May I observe your gorgeous garden?" So there's two different words you have to use. Then he gave me another one: "You go to a temple, and you want to look at the gardens..." I made up a sentence, this time with the polite "see." "No, no!" he said. "In the temple, the gardens are much more elegant. So you have to say something that would be equivalent to 'May I hang my eyes on your most exquisite gardens?" Three or four different words for one idea, because when I'm doing it, it's miserable; when you're doing it, it's elegant. I was learning Japanese mainly for technical things, so I decided to check if this same problem existed among the scientists. At the institute the next day, I said to the guys in the office, "How would I say in Japanese, 'I solve the Dirac Equation'?" They said such-and-so. "OK. Now I want to say, 'Would you solve the Dirac Equation?' -- how do I say that?" "Well, you have to use a different word for 'solve,' " they say. "Why?" I protested. "When I solve it, I do the same damn thing as when you solve it!" "Well, yes, but it's a different word -- it's more polite." I gave up. I decided that wasn't the language for me, and stopped learning Japanese.
    • Part 5: "The World of One Physicist", "Would You Solve the Dirac Equation?"

What Do You Care What Other People Think? (1988)

There are all kinds of interesting questions that come from a knowledge of science, which only adds to the excitement and mystery and awe of a flower.
We have found it of paramount importance that in order to progress, we must recognize our ignorance and leave room for doubt.
  • I have a friend who's an artist, and he sometimes takes a view which I don't agree with. He'll hold up a flower and say, "Look how beautiful it is," and I'll agree. But then he'll say, "I, as an artist, can see how beautiful a flower is. But you, as a scientist, take it all apart and it becomes dull." I think he's kind of nutty. [...] There are all kinds of interesting questions that come from a knowledge of science, which only adds to the excitement and mystery and awe of a flower. It only adds. I don't understand how it subtracts.
  • [doubting the great Descartes] was a reaction I learned from my father: Have no respect whatsoever for authority; forget who said it and instead look what he starts with, where he ends up, and ask yourself, "Is it reasonable?"
    • "What Do You Care What Other People Think?", Page 28.
  • In particular, she had a wonderful sense of humor, and I learned from her that the highest forms of understanding we can achieve are laughter and human compassion.
    • Commenting on his mother's influence.
  • 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 damn 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. Now, we scientists are used to this, and we take it for granted that it is perfectly consistent to be unsure, that it is possible to live and not know. But I don’t know whether everyone realizes this is true. Our freedom to doubt was born out of a struggle against authority in the early days of science. It was a very deep and strong struggle: permit us to question — to doubt — to not be sure. I think that it is important that we do not forget this struggle and thus perhaps lose what we have gained.
    • "The Value of Science," address to the National Academy of Sciences (Autumn 1955)
There are the rushing waves
mountains of molecules each stupidly minding its own business
trillions apart yet forming white surf in unison.
Here it is standing: atoms with consciousness; matter with curiosity.
Stands at the sea, wondering: I... a universe of atoms
an atom in the universe.
  • There are the rushing waves...
    mountains of molecules,
    each stupidly minding its own business...
    trillions apart
    ...yet forming white surf in unison.

    Ages on ages...
    before any eyes could see...
    year after year...
    thunderously pounding the shore as now.
    For whom, for what?
    ...on a dead planet
    with no life to entertain.

    Never at rest...
    tortured by energy...
    wasted prodigiously by the sun...
    poured into space.
    A mite makes the sea roar.

    Deep in the sea,
    all molecules repeat
    the patterns of another
    till complex new ones are formed.
    They make others like themselves...
    and a new dance starts.

    Growing in size and complexity...
    living things,
    masses of atoms,
    DNA, protein...
    dancing a pattern ever more intricate.

    Out of the cradle
    onto dry land...
    here it is standing...
    atoms with consciousness
    ...matter with curiosity.

    Stands at the sea...
    wonders at wondering... I...
    a universe of atoms...
    an atom in the universe.

    • "The Value of Science," address to the National Academy of Sciences (Autumn 1955)
  • Is no one inspired by our present picture of the universe? This value of science remains unsung by singers, you are reduced to hearing not a song or poem, but an evening lecture about it. This is not yet a scientific age.
  • The only way to have real success in science, the field I’m familiar with, is to describe the evidence very carefully without regard to the way you feel it should be. If you have a theory, you must try to explain what’s good and what’s bad about it equally. In science, you learn a kind of standard integrity and honesty.
    • P. 217
  • We are at the very beginning of time for the human race. It is not unreasonable that we grapple with problems. But there are tens of thousands of years in the future. Our responsibility is to do what we can, learn what we can, improve the solutions, and pass them on.
    • P. 247-248

Six Easy Pieces (1995)

  • If an apple was magnified to the size of the Earth, then the atoms in the apple would be approximately the size of the original apple.

The Meaning of it All (1999)

The Meaning of It All: Thoughts of a Citizen Scientist (1999) ISBN 0738201669 A collection of three guest lectures Feynman gave at the University of Washington.
Some people say, "How can you live without knowing?" I do not know what they mean. I always live without knowing. That is easy. How you get to know is what I want to know.
If you ask naive but relevant questions, then almost immediately the person doesn't know the answer, if he is an honest man.
  • Some people say, "How can you live without knowing?" I do not know what they mean. I always live without knowing. That is easy. How you get to know is what I want to know.
  • It's a great game to look at the past, at an unscientific era, look at something there, and say have we got the same thing now, and where is it? So I would like to amuse myself with this game. First, we take witch doctors. The witch doctor says he knows how to cure. There are spirits inside which are trying to get out. ... Put a snakeskin on and take quinine from the bark of a tree. The quinine works. He doesn't know he's got the wrong theory of what happens. If I'm in the tribe and I'm sick, I go to the witch doctor. He knows more about it than anyone else. But I keep trying to tell him he doesn't know what he's doing and that someday when people investigate the thing freely and get free of all his complicated ideas they'll learn much better ways of doing it. Who are the witch doctors? Psychoanalysts and psychiatrists, of course.
    • Third lecture. David Goodstein reports that the entire Psychology department walked out in a huff at this point [3].
  • The third aspect of my subject is that of science as a method of finding things out. This method is based on the principle that observation is the judge of whether something is so or not. All other aspects and characteristics of science can be understood directly when we understand that observation is the ultimate and final judge of the truth of an idea. But "prove" used in this way really means "test," in the same way that a hundred-proof alcohol is a test of the alcohol, and for people today the idea really should be translated as, "The exception tests the rule." Or, put another way, "The exception proves that the rule is wrong." That is the principle of science. If there is an exception to any rule, and if it can be proved by observation, that rule is wrong.
  • No government has the right to decide on the truth of scientific principles, nor to prescribe in any way the character of the questions investigated. Neither may a government determine the aesthetic value of artistic creations, nor limit the forms of literacy or artistic expression. Nor should it pronounce on the validity of economic, historic, religious, or philosophical doctrines. Instead it has a duty to its citizens to maintain the freedom, to let those citizens contribute to the further adventure and the development of the human race.
    • "The Uncertainty of Values"
  • The first ... has to do with whether a man knows what he is talking about, whether what he says has some basis or not. And my trick that I use is very easy. If you ask him intelligent questions — then he quickly gets stuck. It is like a child asking naive questions. If you ask naive but relevant questions, then almost immediately the person doesn't know the answer, if he is an honest man.
  • Looking back at the worst times, it always seems that they were times in which there were people who believed with absolute faith and absolute dogmatism in something. And they were so serious in this matter that they insisted that the rest of the world agree with them. And then they would do things that were directly inconsistent with their own beliefs in order to maintain that what they said was true.
  • The fact that you are not sure means that it is possible that there is another way someday.
  • If the professors of English will complain to me that the students who come to the universities, after all those years of study, still cannot spell "friend," I say to them that something's the matter with the way you spell friend.

The Pleasure of Finding Things Out (1999)

The Pleasure of Finding Things Out : The Best Short Works of Richard Feynman, edited by Jeffery Robbins ISBN 0-14-029034-6
Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts.
  • I can live with doubt, and uncertainty, and not knowing. I think it's much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers which might be wrong. I have approximate answers, and possible beliefs, and different degrees of certainty about different things, but I’m not absolutely sure of anything, and in 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 a little, but if I can’t figure it out, then I go to something else. But I 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, as far as I can tell, possibly. It doesn’t frighten me.
    • The Pleasure of Finding Things Out.
  • Science is a way of trying not to fool yourself. The first principle is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool.
    • From lecture "What is and What Should be the Role of Scientific Culture in Modern Society", given at the Galileo Symposium in Italy, 1964.
  • Science alone of all the subjects contains within itself the lesson of the danger of belief in the infallibility of the greatest teachers in the preceding generation ... Learn from science that you must doubt the experts. As a matter of fact, I can also define science another way: Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts.
    • Pages 186-187. Based on transcriptions from an interview made in 1981.
  • The remark which I read somewhere, that science is all right as long as it doesn't attack religion, was the clue I needed to understand the problem. As long as it doesn't attack religion it need not be paid attention to and nobody has to learn anything. So it can be cut off from society except for its applications, and thus be isolated. And then we have this terrible struggle to try to explain things to people who have no reason to want to know. But if they want to defend their own point of view, they will have to learn what yours is a little bit. So I suggest, maybe correctly and perhaps wrongly, that we are too polite.
    • From lecture "What is and What Should be the Role of Scientific Culture in Modern Society", given at the Galileo Symposium in Italy, 1964.
  • We absolutely must leave room for doubt or there is no progress and no learning. There is no learning without having to pose a question. And a question requires doubt. People search for certainty. But there is no certainty. People are terrified—how can you live and not know? It is not odd at all. You only think you know, as a matter of fact. And most of your actions are based on incomplete knowledge and you really don't know what it is all about, or what the purpose of the world is, or know a great deal of other things. It is possible to live and not know.
    • From lecture "What is and What Should be the Role of Scientific Culture in Modern Society", given at the Galileo Symposium in Italy, 1964.
  • I don't know anything, but I do know that everything is interesting if you go into it deeply enough.
    • from Omni interview, The Smartest Man in the World (chapter 9)


Nature uses only the longest threads to weave her patterns, so each small piece of her fabric reveals the organization of the entire tapestry.
  • Our imagination is stretched to the utmost, not, as in fiction, to imagine things which are not really there, but just to comprehend those things which are there.
  • Science is what we have learned about how not to fool ourselves about the way the world is.
  • All fundamental processes are reversible.
  • Einstein was a giant. His head was in the clouds, but his feet were on the ground. Those of us who are not so tall have to choose!
  • Don't worry about anything... Go out and have a good time.
  • I cannot define the real problem, therefore I suspect there's no real problem, but I'm not sure there's no real problem.
    • On the idea that there is an inherent problem with Quantum Theory
  • If you can't explain something to a first year student, then you haven't really understood it.
    • Variant: "If you can't explain it to a six year old, you don't really understand it."
    • Sometimes attributed to Einstein
    • Cf. this from Kurt Vonnegut's novel Cat's Cradle:
Dr. Hoenikker used to say that any scientist who couldn't explain to an eight-year-old what he was doing was a charlatan.
  • It is in the admission of ignorance and the admission of uncertainty that there is a hope for the continuous motion of human beings in some direction that doesn't get confined, permanently blocked, as it has so many times before in various periods in the history of man.
If it turns out there is a simple ultimate law which explains everything, so be it — that would be very nice to discover. If it turns out it's like an onion with millions of layers... then that's the way it is.
  • It doesn't matter how beautiful your theory is, it doesn't matter how smart you are. If it doesn't agree with experiment, it's wrong.
  • Mathematics is not real, but it feels real. Where is this place?
  • Nature uses only the longest threads to weave her patterns, so each small piece of her fabric reveals the organization of the entire tapestry.
  • People say to me, "Are you looking for the ultimate laws of physics?" No, I'm not... If it turns out there is a simple ultimate law which explains everything, so be it — that would be very nice to discover. If it turns out it's like an onion with millions of layers... then that's the way it is. But either way there's Nature and she's going to come out the way She is. So therefore when we go to investigate we shouldn't predecide what it is we're looking for only to find out more about it. Now you ask: "Why do you try to find out more about it?" If you began your investigation to get an answer to some deep philosophical question, you may be wrong. It may be that you can't get an answer to that particular question just by finding out more about the character of Nature. But that's not my interest in science; my interest in science is to simply find out about the world and the more I find out the better it is, I like to find out...

[from BBC Horizon interview]

  • Philosophy of science is about as useful to scientists as ornithology is to birds
  • Physics is like sex. Sure, it may give some practical results, but that's not why we do it.
  • Religion is a culture of faith; science is a culture of doubt.
  • The theoretical broadening which comes from having many humanities subjects on the campus is offset by the general dopiness of the people who study these things.
  • The same equations have the same solutions. (Thus when you have solved a mathematical problem, you can re-use the solution in another physical situation. Feynman was skilled in transforming a problem into one that he could solve.)
  • The wonderful thing about science is that it's alive.
  • There are 1011 stars in the galaxy. That used to be a huge number. But it's only a hundred billion. It's less than the national deficit! We used to call them astronomical numbers. Now we should call them economical numbers.
  • What does it mean, to understand? ... I don't know.
  • When you are solving a problem, don't worry. Now, after you have solved the problem, then that's the time to worry.
  • Know how to solve every problem that has been solved.
  • You know, the most amazing thing happened to me tonight. I was coming here, on the way to the lecture, and I came in through the parking lot. And you won't believe what happened. I saw a car with the license plate ARW 357. Can you imagine? Of all the millions of license plates in the state, what was the chance that I would see that particular one tonight? Amazing!
  • I am not happy with all the analysis that go with just classical theory, because nature is not classic, dammit, and if you want to make a simulation of nature you’d better make it quantum mechanical and by golly it is a wonderful problem.


  • Shut up and calculate!
    "If I were forced to sum up in one sentence what the Copenhagen interpretation says to me, it would be 'Shut up and calculate!'."

Quotations about Feynman

The electron does anything it likes... It just goes in any direction at any speed, forward or backward in time, however it likes...
  • Thirty-one years ago [1949], Dick Feynman told me about his "sum over histories" version of quantum mechanics. "The electron does anything it likes," he said. "It just goes in any direction at any speed, forward or backward in time, however it likes, and then you add up the amplitudes and it gives you the wave-function." I said to him, "You're crazy." But he wasn't.
  • If that's the world's smartest man, God help us.
    • His mother, Lucille Feynman, after Omni magazine named him the world's smartest man; as quoted in Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman (1992) by James Gleick
  • The Feynman Problem-Solving Algorithm:
      (1) write down the problem;
      (2) think very hard;
      (3) write down the answer.
He is by all odds the most brilliant young physicist here, and everyone knows this. ~ J. Robert Oppenheimer
  • Shortly before midnight on February 15, 1988, his body gasped for air that the oxygen tube could not provide, and his space in the world closed. An imprint remained: what he knew, how he knew.
    • James Gleick in Genius: Richard Feynman and modern physics
  • There are two kinds of geniuses: the 'ordinary' and the 'magicians'. An ordinary genius is a fellow whom you and I would be just as good as, if we were only many times better. There is no mystery as to how his mind works. Once we understand what they've done, we feel certain that we, too, could have done it. It is different with the magicians. Even after we understand what they have done it is completely dark. Richard Feynman is a magician of the highest calibre.
  • In fact he is all genius and all buffoon.
    • Freeman Dyson, who described Feynman as "half genius and half buffoon" years earlier.
  • He is by all odds the most brilliant young physicist here, and everyone knows this.
  • Several conversations that Feynman and I had involved the remarkable abilities of other physicists. In one of these conversations, I remarked to Feynman that I was impressed by Steven Hawking's ability to do path integration in his head. "Ahh, that's not so great", Feynman replied. "It's much more interesting to come up with the technique like I did, rather than to be able to do the mechanics in your head." Feynman wasn't being immodest, he was quite right. The true secret to genius is in creativity, not in technical mechanics.
    • Al Seckel anecdote concerning Feynman's perspective on Hawking's ability to do the mathematical equations that his work requires in his head, at
  • Richard Feynman became so exasperated [at the National Academy of Sciences] that he resigned his membership, saying that he saw no point in belonging to an organization that spent most of its time deciding who to let in.
    • Gregory Benford, "A Scientist's Notebook: Scientist Heroes" in The Magazine of Science Fiction and Fantasy (4/1996)
  • There were 183 of us freshmen, and a bowling ball hanging from the three-story ceiling to just above the floor. Feynman walked in and, without a word, grabbed the ball and backed against the wall with the ball touching his nose. He let go, and the ball swung slowly 60 feet across the room and back — stopping naturally just short of crushing his face. Then he took the ball again, stepped forward, and said: "I wanted to show you that I believe in what I'm going to teach you over the next two years."
  • This verse is for Richard Feynman, He was not a simple simon.
    • Jeff Coffin (of Béla Fleck and the Flecktones) in the song "Ah shu Dekio" (during a live show recorded and released on DVD as "Live at the Quick")
  • Why should we care about Feynman? What was so special about him? Why did he become a public icon, standing with Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking as the Holy Trinity of twentieth-century physics? The public has demonstrated remarkably good taste in choosing its icons. All three of them are genuinely great scientists, with flashes of true genius as well as solid accomplishments to their credit. But to become an icon, it is not enough to be a great scientist. There are many other scientists, not so great as Einstein but greater than Hawking and Feynman, who did not become icons. ...

    Scientists who become icons must not only be geniuses but also performers, playing to the crowd and enjoying public acclaim. Einstein and Feynman both grumbled about the newspaper and radio reporters who invaded their privacy, but both gave the reporters what the public wanted, sharp and witty remarks that would make good headlines. Hawking in his unique way also enjoys the public adulation that his triumph over physical obstacles has earned for him. I will never forget the joyful morning in Tokyo when Hawking went on a tour of the streets in his wheelchair and the Japanese crowds streamed after him, stretching out their hands to touch his chair. Einstein, Hawking, and Feynman shared an ability to break through the barriers that separated them from ordinary people. The public responded to them because they were regular guys, jokers as well as geniuses.

    The third quality that is needed for a scientist to become a public icon is wisdom. Besides being a famous joker and a famous genius, Feynman was also a wise human being whose answers to serious questions made sense. To me and to hundreds of other students who came to him for advice, he spoke truth. Like Einstein and Hawking, he had come through times of great suffering, nursing Arline through her illness and watching her die, and emerged stronger. Behind his enormous zest and enjoyment of life was an awareness of tragedy, a knowledge that our time on earth is short and precarious. The public made him into an icon because he was not only a great scientist and a great clown but also a great human being and a guide in time of trouble. Other Feynman books have portrayed him as a scientific wizard and as a storyteller. This collection of letters shows us for the first time the son caring for his father and mother, the father caring for his wife and children, the teacher caring for his students, the writer replying to people throughout the world who wrote to him about their problems and received his full and undivided attention.

    • Freeman Dyson, "Wise Man", New York Review of Books (20 October 2005)
  • Murray Gell-Mann angered [Feynman's] family at a memorial service by asserting "He surrounded himself with a cloud of myth, and he spent a great deal of time and energy generating anecdotes about himself." These were stories, Gell-Mann added, "in which he had to come out, if possible, looking smarter than anyone else."
    • James Gleick in the prologue to Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman (1992)

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