Quote of the Day: Richard Feynman

 

“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.” — Richard Feynman

Richard Feynman was a Nobel Prize-winning physicist, well known for his role on the Presidential commission investigating the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger. The above quote came from his 1985 book Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman! and was based on his 1974 Caltech commencement address. He was a strong advocate of scientific integrity that corresponds to utter honesty — test and retest your data and eliminate any other explanations. Note his disdain above to “cargo cult” science, which plagues us today with “Climate Change” and other such theories.

While at the university contemplating a degree in physics, I learned aspects of the Feynman diagram. Later, I saw the 1989 PBS Nova special “The Last Journey of a Genius,” which showed him being a bongo-playing scientist, adventurer, safecracker, and yarn-spinner. While dying of cancer, his last request was to visit Tuva, a part of Russia, located in the middle of Asia. Tuva was best known for its colorful postage stamps and for Throat Singing. For Feynman, it was the ultimate challenge to get there during the Cold War, but he died the day before being granted permission. His daughter visited Tuva in 2009.

Being a scientist, he was colorful and somewhat flamboyant, but his integrity was never questioned.

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There are 43 comments.

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  1. Misthiocracy secretly Member

    I really appreciate they they offer a Simple English version of the Feynman Diagram page:

    https://simple.wikipedia.org/wiki/Feynman_diagram

    • #1
    • May 30, 2018, at 1:12 PM PDT
    • 9 likes
  2. dnewlander Member

    He died a couple of weeks before I was admitted to Caltech. If he’d still been there, I probably would have gone there instead of CMU.

    • #2
    • May 30, 2018, at 1:21 PM PDT
    • 7 likes
  3. Bartholomew Xerxes Ogilvie, Jr. Coolidge

    It’s true that Feynman’s greatest public exposure probably did come with his participation on the Challenger panel (and in particular the damning moment when he demonstrated the effect of ice water on a piece of O-ring material). That was probably the first time I ever heard of him; I also remember seeing the NOVA episode about his Tuva quest, from which I learned that he was also quite a character.

    It wasn’t until years later that I came to understand that he was not just some wacky TV scientist, but was probably one of the greatest minds of the Twentieth Century. He helped develop the atomic bomb, won the Nobel Prize, and contributed fundamental insights into quantum physics. Unfortunately, unlike Einstein, his genius was directed toward subjects so advanced and hard to understand (for most of us mortals) that it’s probably not surprising he isn’t more of a household name.

    • #3
    • May 30, 2018, at 1:25 PM PDT
    • 13 likes
  4. James Gawron Thatcher

    Vectorman: 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.

    Vec,

    Because my father was a working scientist, publishing in leading journals, obtaining grants from august granting institutions, I grew up with an understanding of this kind of integrity. I remember this quote, I’m not sure when or where Feynman wrote it or said it. What strikes me in the post-Obama world we find ourselves in is that we have a politics & culture now that chiefly is involved in ‘fooling yourself’. Forty-seven genders, the ACA will lower your healthcare costs, the Iran Deal is vital to Middle East peace, and there are no moral dilemmas in abortion even after birth.

    The difference now is that millions of people’s lives are severely damaged by this political/cultural self-deception not just the loss of reputation of one bloviating researcher.

    Thanks for the post.

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #4
    • May 30, 2018, at 2:20 PM PDT
    • 19 likes
  5. RightAngles Member

    I’m pretty much the farthest thing from a scientist, but even I was raised with his view of it. I’ve been shocked to my core at the way the scientific method as I knew it growing up has been sacrificed on the altar of PC.

    • #5
    • May 30, 2018, at 2:42 PM PDT
    • 13 likes
  6. Caryn Member

    I loved that book! And, as a research scientist, am continually appalled at the lack of integrity of “cargo cult” so-called scientists. That’s a brilliant quote. Thanks for sharing it, Vectorman. 

    You know the story behind the book title?

    • #6
    • May 30, 2018, at 3:23 PM PDT
    • 10 likes
  7. Vectorman Thatcher
    Vectorman Post author

    Caryn (View Comment):

    I loved that book! And, as a research scientist, am continually appalled at the lack of integrity of “cargo cult” so-called scientists. That’s a brilliant quote. Thanks for sharing it, Vectorman.

    You know the story behind the book title?

    No, I didn’t, but from Wikipedia, “The title derives from a woman’s response at Princeton University when, after she asked the newly arrived Feynman if he wanted cream or lemon in his tea, he absentmindedly requested both.”

    • #7
    • May 30, 2018, at 3:42 PM PDT
    • 10 likes
  8. WillowSpring Member

    After my mother passed away and I was taking care of my father – who had a PhD in Physics, I realized that he had been hiding how bad his eyesight had become. I got an audiotape of one of Feynman’s books that we listened to together (I think it was “Surely you’re joking Mr. Feynman”). 

    That was some of the best time I spent with him 

    • #8
    • May 30, 2018, at 3:48 PM PDT
    • 17 likes
  9. RightAngles Member

    • #9
    • May 30, 2018, at 3:50 PM PDT
    • 19 likes
  10. Percival Thatcher

    The full title of the book is Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman (Adventures of a Curious Character). I appreciated the double meaning of the parenthetical: they were and he was.

    • #10
    • May 30, 2018, at 5:22 PM PDT
    • 8 likes
  11. Kay of MT Member

    Love that cartoon RA. Love this post. I bought my grandsons all of Feynman books.

    • #11
    • May 30, 2018, at 6:14 PM PDT
    • 6 likes
  12. Susan Quinn Contributor

    I’m also disappointed, not only at the lack of integrity in some of those in the science world, but of those who condemn others who want to restore the rigors of good science. Does anyone see any possibility of those values being re-instated in the future? How do we trust any of the information that is put out there?

    • #12
    • May 30, 2018, at 6:23 PM PDT
    • 6 likes
  13. Ralphie Member

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    I’m also disappointed, not only at the lack of integrity in some of those in the science world, but of those who condemn others who want to restore the rigors of good science. Does anyone see any possibility of those values being re-instated in the future? How do we trust any of the information that is put out there?

    Scott Pruitt is trying.

    • #13
    • May 30, 2018, at 7:28 PM PDT
    • 6 likes
  14. Danny Alexander Member

    Feynman and my paternal grandfather were lifelong friends; my grandfather was the grad-student RA in Feynman’s dorm at MIT.

    My grandmother used to dread Feynman’s summertime visits, where he and my grandfather would spend an afternoon musing about possible future developments in computing and physics over lemonade and (in my grandfather’s case) excessive cookie intake; the kind of Los Alamos lock-changing sense of humor Feynman was famous for apparently drove my grandma nuts.

    • #14
    • May 31, 2018, at 6:44 AM PDT
    • 15 likes
  15. Z in MT Inactive

    Misthiocracy, Joke Pending (View Comment):

    I really appreciate they they offer a Simple English version of the Feynman Diagram page:

    https://simple.wikipedia.org/wiki/Feynman_diagram

    What I found interesting about Feynman diagrams, which looked at in one way is just a bookkeeping strategy, were critical to formulating great advanced in the understanding of not only how to perform quantum mechanical calculations, but gave great insight into how the quantum world really works (renormalization). The other great contributor to quantum mechanics was Dirac, who also developed efficient bookkeeping methods to solve and manipulate quantum mechanical equations.

    • #15
    • May 31, 2018, at 7:11 AM PDT
    • 10 likes
  16. Wintermute Member

    Thanks for your post. Feynman was a fascinating character as well as a brilliant scientist. For those interested in learning more about his life and work, I recommend: “Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman” by James Gleick.

    • #16
    • May 31, 2018, at 7:16 AM PDT
    • 9 likes
  17. Rodin Member

    RightAngles (View Comment):

    I’m pretty much the farthest thing from a scientist, but even I was raised with his view of it. I’ve been shocked to my core at the way the scientific method as I knew it growing up has been sacrificed on the altar of PC.

    “Follow the money”. I seem to recall that Feynman was not enamored with Big Science. He was not against the colliders and such, but remained a believer that major contributions to scientific progress did not require a lot of money. Kind of an inverse rule of sorts. 

    Money distorts scientific research — big money distorts more than small money. Big money is available primarily from government and, when private, is often from sources with favorable financial arrangements with government. The government purse is controlled by politics. Ergo, big money to fund Big Science is controlled by politics.

    • #17
    • May 31, 2018, at 7:26 AM PDT
    • 11 likes
  18. Nick H Coolidge

    I recently saw on Twitter one science journalist dismiss Feynman as “problematic” and suggest that we shouldn’t be giving him any recognition. I guess that means that by today’s PC standards he wasn’t “woke.” That just makes me want to celebrate his genius even more. It’s hard to overstate how significant his contributions were to our understanding of quantum mechanics. His ability to do the most complex math in his head almost instantly was incredible. 

    • #18
    • May 31, 2018, at 7:37 AM PDT
    • 13 likes
  19. Kay of MT Member

    Wintermute (View Comment):

    Thanks for your post. Feynman was a fascinating character as well as a brilliant scientist. For those interested in learning more about his life and work, I recommend: “Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman” by James Gleick.

    I have this book and included it with the other Feynman books I bought for my grandsons. I start rereading it every now and again.

    • #19
    • May 31, 2018, at 7:49 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  20. Theodoric of Freiberg Member

    Nick H (View Comment):
    science journalist

    The title of this person is all you need to know.

    • #20
    • May 31, 2018, at 7:51 AM PDT
    • 10 likes
  21. Kay of MT Member

    Nick H (View Comment):

    I recently saw on Twitter one science journalist dismiss Feynman as “problematic” and suggest that we shouldn’t be giving him any recognition. I guess that means that by today’s PC standards he wasn’t “woke.” That just makes me want to celebrate his genius even more. It’s hard to overstate how significant his contributions were to our understanding of quantum mechanics. His ability to do the most complex math in his head almost instantly was incredible.

    I an so glad I bought Feynman’s books (or about Feynman) when my grandsons were in their late teens and early twenty’s before political correctness prevailed. I hope you bashed that science journalist with a Twitter backlash.

    • #21
    • May 31, 2018, at 7:54 AM PDT
    • 5 likes
  22. Misthiocracy secretly Member

    Nick H (View Comment):

    I recently saw on Twitter one science journalist dismiss Feynman as “problematic” and suggest that we shouldn’t be giving him any recognition. I guess that means that by today’s PC standards he wasn’t “woke.” That just makes me want to celebrate his genius even more. It’s hard to overstate how significant his contributions were to our understanding of quantum mechanics. His ability to do the most complex math in his head almost instantly was incredible.

    In other words: Always put more stock in science journalists than in scientists.

    • #22
    • May 31, 2018, at 8:20 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  23. Nick H Coolidge

    Kay of MT (View Comment):

    Nick H (View Comment):

    I recently saw on Twitter one science journalist dismiss Feynman as “problematic” and suggest that we shouldn’t be giving him any recognition. I guess that means that by today’s PC standards he wasn’t “woke.” That just makes me want to celebrate his genius even more. It’s hard to overstate how significant his contributions were to our understanding of quantum mechanics. His ability to do the most complex math in his head almost instantly was incredible.

    I an so glad I bought Feynman’s books (or about Feynman) when my grandsons were in their late teens and early twenty’s before political correctness prevailed. I hope you bashed that science journalist with a Twitter backlash.

    I don’t know if I’m shadowbanned or if I just have the most unmotivated followers ever, but any Twitter backlash I tried to start would be like a lashing with cooked spaghetti noodles. I just rolled my eyes and moved on.

    • #23
    • May 31, 2018, at 8:30 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  24. Kay of MT Member

    Nick H (View Comment):
    I don’t know if I’m shadowbanned or if I just have the most unmotivated followers ever, but any Twitter backlash I tried to start would be like a lashing with cooked spaghetti noodles. I just rolled my eyes and moved on.

    This is why PC has the upper hand, nobody much slaps them back. They need to be told what idiots they are, and how their attitudes are deconstructing our country. I’m too darn old to get on Twitter and do it. But you younger people and do it.

    • #24
    • May 31, 2018, at 8:39 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  25. RightAngles Member

    Theodoric of Freiberg (View Comment):

    Nick H (View Comment):
    science journalist

    The title of this person is all you need to know.

    These attempts to discredit academics whose work clashes with Leftist ideology have been going on for far too long. In the 90s they destroyed an anthropologist who lived with an Amazon tribe for 20 years, then published his findings that they were warlike and aggressive. Apparently the prevailing “wisdom” was a Rousseau-like “Noble Savage” idea that primitive tribes were gentle pristine people until exposed to evil white men or something. These so-called researchers try to twist everyone’s work into fitting their narrative that there cannot be biological or psychological reasons for human behavior.

    As I recall, he was shouted down while presenting his work, and his reputation was attacked. He retreated to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan in disgrace. It made me sick. That was about 25 years ago, so this mindset is now so entrenched that it might be too late to overturn it. We will become the Eloi.

    • #25
    • May 31, 2018, at 8:55 AM PDT
    • 9 likes
  26. RightAngles Member

    Danny Alexander (View Comment):

    Feynman and my paternal grandfather were lifelong friends; my grandfather was the grad-student RA in Feynman’s dorm at MIT.

    My grandmother used to dread Feynman’s summertime visits, where he and my grandfather would spend an afternoon musing about possible future developments in computing and physics over lemonade and (in my grandfather’s case) excessive cookie intake; the kind of Los Alamos lock-changing sense of humor Feynman was famous for apparently drove my grandma nuts.

    Wow!

    • #26
    • May 31, 2018, at 9:09 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  27. MSJL Thatcher

    Nick H (View Comment):

    I recently saw on Twitter one science journalist dismiss Feynman as “problematic” and suggest that we shouldn’t be giving him any recognition. I guess that means that by today’s PC standards he wasn’t “woke.” That just makes me want to celebrate his genius even more. It’s hard to overstate how significant his contributions were to our understanding of quantum mechanics. His ability to do the most complex math in his head almost instantly was incredible.

    Feynman being “problematic” is curious because he was quite the bohemian (from pranks, to safe cracking, performing with Brazilian street bands, bongos, etc.). Not in a thousand years would you think of him as a conservative, at least not from what I read in Surely Your Joking, Mr. Feynman. But as the post and comments point out, he had a lot of integrity and stuck to the data. That was the north star of his professional pursuits. It’s interesting how the “reality-based” sect has a problem with that.

    • #27
    • May 31, 2018, at 10:21 AM PDT
    • 6 likes
  28. Larry Koler Inactive

    There is no experimenting possible with some parts of science.

    We will never be able to run these experiments:

    1. The Big Bang
    2. Fusion at the center of suns.
    3. Black Holes
    4. Dark Matter
    5. Dark Energy
    6. Darwinism
    7. Formation of the Solar System

    These are based on theories about something that has already happened. There are many experiments to be made on the apparatus involved in observing and measuring these things but the actual experiment? Not likely.

    • #28
    • May 31, 2018, at 10:59 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  29. MSJL Thatcher

    Larry Koler (View Comment):

    There is no experimenting possible with some parts of science.

    We will never be able to run these experiments:

    1. The Big Bang
    2. Fusion at the center of suns.
    3. Black Holes
    4. Dark Matter
    5. Dark Energy
    6. Darwinism
    7. Formation of the Solar System

    These are based on theories about something that has already happened. There are many experiments to be made on the apparatus involved in observing and measuring these things but the actual experiment? Not likely.

    But there is still observable data to provide evidence to support or undermine these theories. I think Feynman would still have required that the questions be addressed with a rigorous approach to the collected data.

    • #29
    • May 31, 2018, at 11:13 AM PDT
    • 5 likes
  30. Larry Koler Inactive

    MSJL (View Comment):

    Larry Koler (View Comment):

    There is no experimenting possible with some parts of science.

    We will never be able to run these experiments:

    1. The Big Bang
    2. Fusion at the center of suns.
    3. Black Holes
    4. Dark Matter
    5. Dark Energy
    6. Darwinism
    7. Formation of the Solar System

    These are based on theories about something that has already happened. There are many experiments to be made on the apparatus involved in observing and measuring these things but the actual experiment? Not likely.

    But there is still observable data to provide evidence to support or undermine these theories. I think Feynman would still have required that the questions be addressed with a rigorous approach to the collected data.

    The quote of Feynman’s (in the OP) had to do with experiments. That’s all I was pointing out. The part of modern science that can be experimented tends to have little controversy. The historical sciences are very different.

    • #30
    • May 31, 2018, at 12:29 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
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