One of the most impressive discoveries was the origin of the energy of the stars, that makes them continue to burn. One of the men who discovered this was out with his girl friend the night after he realized that nuclear reactions must be going on in the stars in order to make them shine. She said “Look at how pretty the stars shine!” He said “Yes, and right now I am the only man in the world who knows why they shine.” She merely laughed at him. She was not impressed with being out with the only man who, at that moment, knew why stars shine. Well, it is sad to be alone, but that is the way it is in the world.
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.
The difference between “learning” and “learning” is important to understand.
Happy 94th Birthday, Richard Feynman!
Try as we might to invent a reasonable theory that can explain how a photon “makes up its mind” whether to go through glass or bounce back, it is impossible to predict which way a photon will go.
Philosophers have said that if the same circumstances don’t always produce the same results, predictions are impossible and science will collapse. Here is a circumstance—identical photons are always coming down in the same direction to the same piece of glass—that produces different results.
Richard Feynman [in QED: the strange theory of light and matter]
He continues with:
“We cannot predict whether a given photon will arrive at A or B. All we can predict is that out of 100 photons that come down, an average of 4 will be reflected by the front surface. Does this mean that physics, a science of great exactitude, has been reduced to calculating only the probability of an event, and not predicting exactly what will happen? Yes. That’s a retreat, but that’s the way it is: Nature permits us to calculate only probabilities. Yet science has not collapsed.”
Richard Feynman - on scientific method
Feynman really shines in this all-time classic video.
Of course, this is a must-watch video for many obvious reasons. There’s the genius, charm and humor of Richard Feynman. There’s that pleasant nostalgia of 1964 America when the world was black-and-white, although it was unfortunately that way in more ways than one. These were the days when lecture halls had ashtrays and you wore a suit when you went to see someone write on a chalkboard.
But there’s another, less obvious, reason to watch it. During a passage starting at 5:10, Feynman might have uttered the word “muggles” for the first time. He pronounces it a bit oddly, but it would explain his wizardry of physics, no?
- The Mace
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