Richard Feynman quotes

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Richard Feynman

Birthdate: 11. May 1918
Date of death: 15. February 1988
Other names: Richard Feynman Philips, Richard Phillips Feynman, Ричард Филлипс Фейнман

Richard Phillips Feynman, ForMemRS was an American theoretical 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 for which he proposed the parton model. For contributions to the development of quantum electrodynamics, Feynman received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1965 jointly with Julian Schwinger and Shin'ichirō Tomonaga.

Feynman developed a widely used pictorial representation scheme for the mathematical expressions describing 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. In a 1999 poll of 130 leading physicists worldwide by the British journal Physics World, he was ranked as one of the ten greatest physicists of all time.He assisted in the development of the atomic bomb during World War II and became known to a wide public in the 1980s as a member of the Rogers Commission, the panel that investigated the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster. Along with his work in theoretical physics, Feynman has been credited with pioneering the field of quantum computing and introducing the concept of nanotechnology. He held the Richard C. Tolman professorship in theoretical physics at the California Institute of Technology.

Feynman was a keen popularizer of physics through both books and lectures, including a 1959 talk on top-down nanotechnology called There's Plenty of Room at the Bottom and the three-volume publication of his undergraduate lectures, 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! by Ralph Leighton and the biography Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman by James Gleick. Wikipedia

Works

„What I cannot create, I do not understand.Know how to solve every problem that has been solved.“

—  Richard Feynman

on his blackboard at the time of death in February 1988; from a photo in the Caltech archives http://archives.caltech.edu/pictures/1.10-29.jpg

„I have a limited intelligence and I've used it in a particular direction.“

—  Richard Feynman, book The Pleasure of Finding Things Out

" The Pleasure of Finding Things Out http://www.worldcat.org/wcpa/servlet/DCARead?standardNo=0738201081&standardNoType=1&excerpt=true", p. 2-3, transcript of BBC TV Horizon interview (1981): video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NEwUwWh5Xs4&t=2m53s
The Pleasure of Finding Things Out (1999)
Context: 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, 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 real problem in speech is not precise language. The problem is clear language.“

—  Richard Feynman

" New Textbooks for the "New" Mathematics http://calteches.library.caltech.edu/2362/1/feynman.pdf", Engineering and Science volume 28, number 6 (March 1965) p. 9-15 at p. 14
Paraphrased as "Precise language is not the problem. Clear language is the problem."
Context: The real problem in speech is not precise language. The problem is clear language. The desire is to have the idea clearly communicated to the other person. It is only necessary to be precise when there is some doubt as to the meaning of a phrase, and then the precision should be put in the place where the doubt exists. It is really quite impossible to say anything with absolute precision, unless that thing is so abstracted from the real world as to not represent any real thing.Pure mathematics is just such an abstraction from the real world, and pure mathematics does have a special precise language for dealing with its own special and technical subjects. But this precise language is not precise in any sense if you deal with real objects of the world, and it is only pedantic and quite confusing to use it unless there are some special subtleties which have to be carefully distinguished.

„It is really quite impossible to say anything with absolute precision, unless that thing is so abstracted from the real world as to not represent any real thing.“

—  Richard Feynman

" New Textbooks for the "New" Mathematics http://calteches.library.caltech.edu/2362/1/feynman.pdf", Engineering and Science volume 28, number 6 (March 1965) p. 9-15 at p. 14
Paraphrased as "Precise language is not the problem. Clear language is the problem."
Context: The real problem in speech is not precise language. The problem is clear language. The desire is to have the idea clearly communicated to the other person. It is only necessary to be precise when there is some doubt as to the meaning of a phrase, and then the precision should be put in the place where the doubt exists. It is really quite impossible to say anything with absolute precision, unless that thing is so abstracted from the real world as to not represent any real thing.Pure mathematics is just such an abstraction from the real world, and pure mathematics does have a special precise language for dealing with its own special and technical subjects. But this precise language is not precise in any sense if you deal with real objects of the world, and it is only pedantic and quite confusing to use it unless there are some special subtleties which have to be carefully distinguished.

„We are not to tell nature what she’s gotta be. … She's always got better imagination than we have.“

—  Richard Feynman

Sir Douglas Robb Lectures, University of Auckland (1979); lecture 1, "Photons: Corpuscles of Light" http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eLQ2atfqk2c&t=48m01s

„I learned very early the difference between knowing the name of something and knowing something.“

—  Richard Feynman, book What Do You Care What Other People Think?

"The Making of a Scientist," p. 14 <!-- Feynman used variants of this bird story repeatedly: (1) "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, volume 7, issue 6 (1969), p. 313-320. (2) Interview for the BBC TV Horizon program "The Pleasure of Finding Things Out" (1981), published in Christopher Sykes, No Ordinary Genius: The Illustrated Richard Feynman (1994), p. 27. -->
What Do You Care What Other People Think? (1988)
Context: You can know the name of that bird in all the languages of the world, but when you're finished, you'll know absolutely nothing whatever about the bird. You'll only know about humans in different places, and what they call the bird. … I learned very early the difference between knowing the name of something and knowing something.

„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.“

—  Richard Feynman

The Value of Science (1955)
Context: The scientist has a lot of experience with ignorance and doubt and uncertainty, and this experience is of very great importance, I think. When a scientist doesn’t know the answer to a problem, he is ignorant. When he has a hunch as to what the result is, he is uncertain. And when he is pretty darn sure of what the result is going to be, he is still in some doubt. We have found it of paramount importance that in order to progress we must recognize our ignorance and leave room for doubt. Scientific knowledge is a body of statements of varying degrees of certainty — some most unsure, some nearly sure, but none absolutely certain. 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.

„We can deduce, often, from one part of physics like the law of gravitation, a principle which turns out to be much more valid than the derivation.“

—  Richard Feynman, book The Character of Physical Law

Source: The Character of Physical Law (1965), chapter 2, “ The Relation of Mathematics to Physics http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M9ZYEb0Vf8U” referring to the law of conservation of angular momentum
Context: Now we have a problem. We can deduce, often, from one part of physics like the law of gravitation, a principle which turns out to be much more valid than the derivation. This doesn't happen in mathematics, that the theorems come out in places where they're not supposed to be!

„Let us make recommendations to ensure that NASA officials deal in a world of reality in understanding technological weaknesses and imperfections well enough to be actively trying to eliminate them.“

—  Richard Feynman

Rogers Commission Report (1986)
Context: Let us make recommendations to ensure that NASA officials deal in a world of reality in understanding technological weaknesses and imperfections well enough to be actively trying to eliminate them. They must live in reality in comparing the costs and utility of the Shuttle to other methods of entering space. And they must be realistic in making contracts, in estimating costs, and the difficulty of the projects. Only realistic flight schedules should be proposed, schedules that have a reasonable chance of being met. If in this way the government would not support them, then so be it. NASA owes it to the citizens from whom it asks support to be frank, honest, and informative, so that these citizens can make the wisest decisions for the use of their limited resources.
For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled.

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„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?"“

—  Richard Feynman, book What Do You Care What Other People Think?

"What Do You Care What Other People Think?", p. 28-29
What Do You Care What Other People Think? (1988)
Context: 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?"

„Agnostic for me would be trying to weasel out and sound a little nicer than I am about this.“

—  Richard Feynman

Response when asked whether he called himself an atheist or an agnostic. The Voice of Genius: Conversations with Nobel Scientists and Other Luminaries by Denis Brian (1995), Basic Books, p. 49.
Context: [I call myself] an atheist. Agnostic for me would be trying to weasel out and sound a little nicer than I am about this.

„How can we draw inspiration to support these two pillars of western civilization so that they may stand together in full vigor, mutually unafraid? Is this not the central problem of our time?“

—  Richard Feynman

remarks (2 May 1956) at a Caltech YMCA lunch forum http://calteches.library.caltech.edu/49/2/Religion.htm
Context: Western civilization, it seems to me, stands by two great heritages. One is the scientific spirit of adventure — the adventure into the unknown, an unknown which must be recognized as being unknown in order to be explored; the demand that the unanswerable mysteries of the universe remain unanswered; the attitude that all is uncertain; to summarize it — the humility of the intellect. The other great heritage is Christian ethics — the basis of action on love, the brotherhood of all men, the value of the individual — the humility of the spirit.
These two heritages are logically, thoroughly consistent. But logic is not all; one needs one's heart to follow an idea. If people are going back to religion, what are they going back to? Is the modern church a place to give comfort to a man who doubts God — more, one who disbelieves in God? Is the modern church a place to give comfort and encouragement to the value of such doubts? So far, have we not drawn strength and comfort to maintain the one or the other of these consistent heritages in a way which attacks the values of the other? Is this unavoidable? How can we draw inspiration to support these two pillars of western civilization so that they may stand together in full vigor, mutually unafraid? Is this not the central problem of our time?

„I wanted very much to learn to draw, for a reason that I kept to myself: I wanted to convey an emotion I have about the beauty of the world.“

—  Richard Feynman

Part 5: "The World of One Physicist", "But Is It Art?", p. 261
Context: I wanted very much to learn to draw, for a reason that I kept to myself: I wanted to convey an emotion I have about the beauty of the world. It's difficult to describe because it's an emotion. It's analogous to the feeling one has in religion that has to do with a god that controls everything in the whole universe: there's a generality aspect that you feel when you think about how things that appear so different and behave so differently are all run "behind the scenes" by the same organization, the same physical laws. It's an appreciation of the mathematical beauty of nature, of how she works inside; a realization that the phenomena we see result from the complexity of the inner workings between atoms; a feeling of how dramatic and wonderful it is. It's a feeling of awe — of scientific awe — which I felt could be communicated through a drawing to someone who had also had this emotion. It could remind him, for a moment, of this feeling about the glories of the universe.

„Mathematics is not just a language. Mathematics is a language plus reasoning.“

—  Richard Feynman, book The Character of Physical Law

Source: The Character of Physical Law (1965), chapter 2, “The Relation of Mathematics to Physics”
Context: Mathematics is not just a language. Mathematics is a language plus reasoning. It's like a language plus logic. Mathematics is a tool for reasoning. It's, in fact, a big collection of the results of some person's careful thought and reasoning. By mathematics, it is possible to connect one statement to another.

„You'll have to accept it. It's the way nature works. If you want to know how nature works, we looked at it, carefully. Looking at it, that's the way it looks. You don't like it? Go somewhere else, to another universe where the rules are simpler, philosophically more pleasing, more psychologically easy.“

—  Richard Feynman

Sir Douglas Robb Lectures, University of Auckland (1979); lecture 1, "Photons: Corpuscles of Light" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eLQ2atfqk2c&t=24m2s
Context: There's a kind of saying that you don't understand its meaning, 'I don't believe it. It's too crazy. I'm not going to accept it.'… You'll have to accept it. It's the way nature works. If you want to know how nature works, we looked at it, carefully. Looking at it, that's the way it looks. You don't like it? Go somewhere else, to another universe where the rules are simpler, philosophically more pleasing, more psychologically easy. I can't help it, okay? If I'm going to tell you honestly what the world looks like to the human beings who have struggled as hard as they can to understand it, I can only tell you what it looks like.

„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.“

—  Richard Feynman

The Value of Science (1955)
Context: 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.
... It is our responsibility to leave the people of the future a free hand. In the impetuous youth of humanity, we can make grave errors that can stunt our growth for a long time. This we will do if we say we have the answers now, so young and ignorant as we are. If we suppress all discussion, all criticism, proclaiming "This is the answer, my friends; man is saved!" we will doom humanity for a long time to the chains of authority, confined to the limits of our present imagination. It has been done so many times before.
... It is our responsibility as scientists, knowing the great progress which comes from a satisfactory philosophy of ignorance, the great progress which is the fruit of freedom of thought, to proclaim the value of this freedom; to teach how doubt is not to be feared but welcomed and discussed; and to demand this freedom as our duty to all coming generations.

„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 about it. For far more marvelous is the truth than any artists of the past imagined! 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?“

—  Richard Feynman

volume I; lecture 3, "The Relation of Physics to Other Sciences"; section 3-4, "Astronomy"; p. 3-6
Context: 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 about it. For far more marvelous is the truth than any artists of the past imagined! 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?

„In this age of specialization men who thoroughly know one field are often incompetent to discuss another. The great problems of the relations between one and another aspect of human activity have for this reason been discussed less and less in public.“

—  Richard Feynman

remarks (2 May 1956) at a Caltech YMCA lunch forum http://calteches.library.caltech.edu/49/2/Religion.htm
Context: In this age of specialization men who thoroughly know one field are often incompetent to discuss another. The great problems of the relations between one and another aspect of human activity have for this reason been discussed less and less in public. When we look at the past great debates on these subjects we feel jealous of those times, for we should have liked the excitement of such argument. The old problems, such as the relation of science and religion, are still with us, and I believe present as difficult dilemmas as ever, but they are not often publicly discussed because of the limitations of specialization.

„Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetuer adipiscing elit. Etiam egestas wisi a erat. Morbi imperdiet, mauris ac auctor dictum.“

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