Physics is like sex: sure, it may give some practical results, but that's not why we do it.
Richard Feynman was a giant of science, a physicist who worked on the atomic bomb, quantum mechanics, particle physics, and other projects and concepts that the majority of us can't begin to comprehend. But when we didn't understand Feynman's work, it wasn't for his lack of trying: one of his missions was to make difficult scientific concepts more understandable for everyday people. It's not every day that we want to listen to a science lecture… but Feynman made it fun.
Richard Feynman, Physicist. He was one of three winners of the Nobel Prize for Physics. (AP-Photo) 15.12.1965
Like a few other great scientists who have sought to popularize their fields and make them more accessible – Carl Sagan, Stephen Jay Gould and Neil deGrasse Tyson come to mind – Feynman combined intellectual brilliance with a great personality, making us want to listen and understand. On what would have been his 94th birthday, we're sharing a few of our favorite Feynman quotes.
There are 10^11 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.
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.
When it came time for me to give my talk on the subject, I started off by drawing an outline of the cat and began to name the various muscles. The other students in the class interrupt me: "We know all that!" "Oh," I say, "you do? Then no wonder I can catch up with you so fast after you've had four years of biology." They had wasted all their time memorizing stuff like that, when it could be looked up in fifteen minutes.
There is no harm in doubt and skepticism, for it is through these that new discoveries are made.
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.
Fall in love with some activity, and do it! Nobody ever figures out what life is all about, and it doesn't matter. Explore the world. Nearly everything is really interesting if you go into it deeply enough. Work as hard and as much as you want to on the things you like to do the best. Don't think about what you want to be, but what you want to do.
There's a lot more where those came from – and many hilarious anecdotes too long to recount here. If we've whetted your appetite for more Feynman, we recommend you start with one of his autobiographies – Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman! and What Do You Care What Other People Think? You'll learn as you laugh – just as Feynman would have wanted it.
Written by Linnea Crowther