By Cory Doctorow at 6:22 pm Tue, Oct 4, 2011
Here's Richard Feynman monologing about the way that science creates new ways to appreciate the beauty of the world around us. Inspiring stuff, and the accompanying video is nicely apt.
Magnificent! Thank you BB.
I couldn’t have said it any more beautifully or succinctly. I’m okay with not knowing and unafraid of being wrong. At least for me, I find that to be a very peaceful way to exist.
Nice, but I’m a bit disappointed how he almost says what he wants to at 2:05 and then backs off, presumably out of fear of “offending” people.
Notice the “Part 1″ in the title? Go to Part 2 of the video for when he starts to go off on a massive, offensive rant. /s
[cow edit: Attention to all who just read this. I am being SARCASTIC. This is SARCASM. Maybe read my previous post above here and put it together next time]
uh… wat. what’s offensive about speaking truth to power? feynman’s analysis of authority figures vs. ordinary people is spot on.
we actually owe a tremendous debt to feynman’s father. imagine if his father was a religious man, or a sycophantic man… what a waste of intellect feynman would have been if he was not shown the light at an early age.
I was being sarcastic. I thought that would be obvious, but I forgot the fact that nutty people actually think/talk like that.
What are you offended by? That he’s not Catholic? I don’t get it.
Yes, he’s not Catholic so I’m offended. Thanks for playing.
I quite enjoyed part 2 – a quite reasonable view of power structures and authority figures.
More about faith than beauty, really.
I was really surprised to hear his voice sounding like that. Not what I had in my head when reading him.
Ha! That’s exactly what I was thinking. I always heard his voice as more high pitched and sharp, like . . . actually now that I’ve heard his actual voice I can’t remember what I heard in my mind.
1) I love Feyman’s voice! Something about it is so comfortingly familiar.
2) I want to give him so many hugs & high fives. Billions & billions, if you will.
then you’ll be delighted to know that there’s a whole series of him talking about all sorts of things. it’s all on youtube, the audio from the clip above was from it i’m pretty sure.
Well, that trumps the 6000 hugs that I was going to give him… :(
Beautiful video with beautiful thoughts.
Whole thing is clips from ‘pleasure of finding things out’, see:
Ten years ago, this was a closely-guarded secret hardly available to anyone. Two years ago, it was widely known and bloody hard to find, even online. Now it’s available to anyone, anywhere, at a moments notice. Wonderful!
I only wish the internet bothered to turn its eye to many other delightful things. hilbert’s geometry and the imagination is still impossible to find, physics:cinema classics is still wildly expensive and totally locked up, and youtube has TOTALLY undeveloped its future love affair with mr. wizard.
His videos are fantastic watching. I watch them often… his mirth and that smirk make my day.
Dat Goldmund track. I freaking love this stuff =D
Sometimes I try to convey the message of this video to friends and family, and I think I come off as sounding arrogant. It’s good to hear someone say it with conviction and kindness.
Majorly cool Fenyman quote:
“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?”
Some do speak of it. For example, Al Purdy’s ‘In the Early Cretaceous':
They came overnight
A hundred million years ago
The first flowers ever
A new thing under the sun
Invented by plants
It must have been around 7 a.m.
When a shrew-like mammal stumbled
Out of its dark burrow
And peered nearsightedly
At the first flower with
An expression close to amazement
And decided it wasn’t dangerous”
I, I, I, I, I, I, I,… let go of it in the end !
Although I shared into his experience and appreciate it’s beauty, power and the liberation it has to offer, there are other sources of marvelment then those, great as they are, that science brings about. That’s where he stops short, that’s what his friend was talking about, his negation of anything that he can’t rationally understand. It isl a pity that he can’t let go and see/imagine/feel beyond.
Sorry if I offended your god.
I think you Just Don’t Get It.
Feynman won the Nobel prize for intuitively puzzling out the bizarre mechanics of quantum electrodynamics, part of which was the Feynman sum over histories principle, a very counterintuitive but nonetheless true physical law that states that at the Planck scale, “particles” take every possible path from A to B.
In other words, Feynman, way back in the 1950’s, saw and imagined things that you never have and never will be capable of. He truly saw beyond the limitations of the human senses to see that the universe is stranger and more subtle than most people are capable of understanding.
And if you bother to read his “memoirs” it will be quite obvious that he felt intensely — the story of his first wife is one of the most heart-breaking love stories I’ve ever read.
I pity the fool
I have a constantly chattery and enquiring mind, but it doesn’t make me happy. I think he was just happy because he was having sex with everyone.
@IamInnocent:twitter : Did you watch the next bit where he said that he isn’t bothered by not knowing somehing? (That he’d like to know things, but would rather have no answers at all than ones which don’t fit?)
What he said is that he can’t understand why someone would say that understanding something more, should make it less beautiful than understanding it only poorly. That doesn’t mean that not understanding something makes it unappealing: he has the same senses as everyone else. Perhaps you’re claiming that he’s missing out on some sort of abstract beauty associated with being a mystic, some beauty of *not* finding things out; but then the mystics are also clearly missing out on the abstract beauty that come with deeply appreciating how things work together (not just imagining the idea vaguely, but actually *knowing*, and knowing how).
I’m not sure what god you’re talking about, but I wouldn’t worry too much about that. If you’re talking about Feynmann, you can relax: he’d dead, he didn’t hear you.
Yeah, I love what Feynman says, and it’s good to hear it again; but still I kind of hoped he’d break off to say “And will that guy on the damn piano just shut up a minute?”
Outer Banks at 3.55. I want to go back there again.
I love that Feynman. For any other Feyman lovers in the New York area, there’s an awesome event on Friday at the Bushwick Book Club: come meet graphic novelist Jim Ottaviani and enjoy a night of original music (ranging from the surreal to the spoofy to the sublime) written after reading the new comic book biography FEYNMAN. Goodbye Blue Monday, Brooklyn, 8pm, 100% free. There are lots of performers this time, (including Sweet Soubrette, Phoebe Kreutz, Preston Spurlock, Dan & Rachel, Joe Crow Ryan, Susan Hwang, Natti Vogel, Cobra Gold, Up Against The Wall String Band, and more), each with a new song inspired by the book. http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=207679125966426
Here’s the thing — he’s completely right. And many sects and dogmas over many millennia have acted opposite to what he’s saying.
But he’s not speaking of religion (though he thinks he is). Irreligious and areligious folk are just as dogmatic and insecure. It’s a human way to be. Feynman’s quest for truth reflected the kind of man he was and that he wanted to be. Ironically, people cling to his answers as faithfully as to those of any cleric.
In my view (and that of my faith), Truth is the goal. Whatever it is, wherever it may be. Closing your eyes and burying your head is never the right thing to do. As he said — it’s OK to be uncertain, to not have all the answers all at once, tied in a neat package.
This is why it mystifies me sometimes that many educated people are deeply, woefully ignorant of one of the core drivers of human society – organized religion. They leave it as children, or are taught to abhor it by parents who, themselves, often had no real understanding of it either. These agnostics (for they truly are without knowledge) nevertheless feel that they are wise to the scam.
I say that this is willful ignorance. I am of both worlds, and they work surprisingly well together. I say you have to be careful to find the correct flavor of both — there are incorrect scientists, and there are (deeply) incorrect religions. To say that all religions are incorrect, however, is tantamount to arguing that cold fusion and epicycles and nonrelativistic mechanics invalidated science forever.
Rejection of possible sources of Truth, as Feynman said, is unscientific. The gentle irony is that he had done so — not from malice, but from his upbringing, focus of interest, and experience.
That’s OK, though. He’s probably very interested in what he’s seeing now. :)
I am glad you are looking for truth, but don’t be so quick to deride those who have not found it where you think it is. Not being religious is not the same thing as not being ignorant of religion.
In my extensive experience, it usually is. :) But I know there are those who have had deep and negative experiences as well. I think of those cases as being like people who are skeptical of doctors because they were damaged by an incompetent one.
To go into more detail — just as it is wearing to hear skepticism of particle physics from someone who can’t even begin to understand matrix multiplication (much less a Standard Model Lagrangian), it is also frustrating to hear about the logical and moral failings of religion *over and over again* from (frankly) moral infants.
Yes, an ab initio Creation isn’t real compatible with Big Bang/Guth/WMAP. So what? On and on — hundreds of issues that the Sky Fairy/Flying Spaghetti Monster crowd cite that merely demonstrate ignorance of the state of the art, as it were.
“don’t be so quick to deride those who have not found it where you think it is”
And there’s a bit of irony there… would you say the same to, say, a skeptic of anthropogenic global warming, or one of the folks that are all coming out of the woodwork with refutations of relativity?
If there is an independent, existing deity in operation, it seems that you’d find statements about that deity that are more correct, and some that were less so.
It’s not derision to update someone’s knowledge of the way of things.
I dunno, this stuff gets hard to talk about — what do we mean when we say “religion” for example? I’d say that “religion” refers to sociological institutions that try to normalize belief, in which case the very idea of religion contradicts your ideal of individuals questing for truth. That is, one can believe in God or gods or whatever without regard for any imprimatur granted by believing a particular (organized) religion’s official doctrine, and I think that would be consistent with what you’re saying — but I wouldn’t call that religion. I’d just call it belief.
I tend to think that people just end up talking past each other regarding truth, God, religion, whatever because of niceties like this — I’d say religion is unequivocally bad because the idea of “official truth” is contradictory — truth isn’t something that can be decreed by authority figures. Others who have emotional attachment to the word “religion” might object to such a statement even if they, like you probably, could understand and even agree with the reasoning behind the statement.
As far as this (unsupported, somewhat dubious) statement:
Irreligious and areligious folk are just as dogmatic and insecure.
You should have just linked directly here.
Yes, the XKCD is great. The snarky answer is here. This is kind of the Feynman view, in a sense… and I can’t say he’s not somewhat justified.
Official truth can indeed be declared by authority figures, if they have have direct knowledge. This is how you learn the sciences, for example… you learn the principle, and how to verify it. You do some cursory verification, and move on to the next thing.
Say, for argument, that someone really does regularly talk to a deity, and passes information along. You’re going to want to create a set of trusted channels around that source to keep the data flow from corrupting. Think of having journals and peer review as a loose analogy.
I say that religious and irreligious people are dogmatic and insecure because they are all human beings. I don’t think that confirmation bias or appeals to authority are anything like exclusive to any one group.
Official truth can indeed be declared by authority figures, if they have direct knowledge. This is how you learn the sciences, for example… you learn the principle, and how to verify it. You do some cursory verification, and move on to the next thing.
I think this is very precisely false. I learned the sciences by taking science classes and learning about the actual experiments and theoretical arguments that led scientists to believe what they now regard as being true (or true enough). I always have the option of taking a scientific authority figure at his word, but I am not constrained to do so. If the science is done correctly there should be a chain of inferential reasoning that I, assuming I have the acumen, wherewithal, and time, can follow beginning to end.
That’s not an argument from authority. That’s an authority making an argument that anyone cares to can follow. It’s not a pronouncement from on high.
Compare to the case of someone talking to a deity. There’s no chain to follow there, I have to take his word (or the word of the “trusted channel”) that he or she really is talking to a deity. It’s not really analogous to scientific reasoning where the only thing preventing me from understanding it beginning to end is laziness or disinterest. There’s a real leap of faith involved here, eg: how can I trust that a) this person is representing their experience accurately and b) this person’s experience actually represents reality?
The difference between science — the key, important difference — is that science depends on sharing methodologies so that people can independently confirm the results for themselves. In practice, few people do because people trust the system (maybe more than they should). But in principle, there is no secret, special scientific knowledge. The person talking to a deity — that person’s experiences can’t be independently confirmed.
Now, if the person talking to a deity merely confirms your own experiences with God or whatever, then sure, listen to your heart’s content. But giving that person authority to determine truth or falsehood without independent verification of the person’s means for doing so is anti-truth.
You continue to create constraints where none exist in org. rel. — for example, I am not constrained to believe anything as well. The trusted channel is not the authority figure until authenticated by individual communication with deity. That was the “other mechanism” — which is what makes it possible to pass along this experience. To eff the ineffable, perhaps.
I’ve spent a lot of time in graduate-level classes in the hard sciences. Apart from mathematics, which essentially verifies itself, there is very little in them that came from direct experimentation.
As you say, “I always have the option of taking a scientific authority figure at his word, but I am not constrained to do so. If the science is done correctly there should be a chain of inferential reasoning that I, assuming I have the acumen, wherewithal, and time, can follow beginning to end.”
And yet you often take the fellow at his word. There’s simply no time to rebuild FNAL or the SPS and redo the measurements. You lack the resources to build a cyclotron, or the time to do redo a longitudinal study of the effects of cell-phone radiation.
My experiment is similarly lengthy, and involves my life and that of my family. So far, it’s going well. In other words… by their fruits ye shall know them. If there’s anything I have verified individually and in detail in my decades of scientific training, it’s my religious beliefs. After all, they’re the thing that gets challenged the most often, and most vociferously.
Your arguments are, indeed, the poster child for my initial complaint — that the profoundly ignorant feel informed enough to critique religion because of their experience elsewhere.
Didn’t see this before my last post. Suffice to say, I think this comes almost entirely from me using the word “religion” differently from you do. I’m trying to make it clear that I don’t think belief in God is a terrible thing, just that taking some guy in a robe’s word on whether there’s a God and what God wants etc. is a terrible thing.
And even that’s not terrible in all cases, it just creates an opportunity for abuse. I’m just advocating examined belief, as I think you are too.
I also don’t think I’m profoundly ignorant regarding religion. I don’t think I’ve even given any indication of what I know or don’t know about it. Happy to talk about it if you’d point out what you think I’m missing.
Yep. It’s the whole “guy in a robe” thing that tips me off. :)
I concur that there are a number of guys in robes doing that schtick. I don’t subscribe to that model. I am much more interested in the prophets confirmed by personal communications with deity — the standard biblical model which has fallen so far out of fashion.
I have no doubt that you are aware of a reasonable religious spectrum. I have no doubt that you have correctly found fault with them. I may indeed have found some of the same faults. What I consider to be missing from your scope is the practice of religion — the real experiences that people have. Even as they (perhaps) believe things that are contradictory or wrong about their faith, they can’t deny what they have experienced. Even when they are hard-pressed to explain the contradictions.
I am less hard-pressed. I have the great luxury of not being asked to believe just a static book of scripture. I am not asked to give up the sciences by over-literal readings. I am also out of time to go on and on… but let’s just say that I get to verify things for myself, I have both static guidance and dynamic interpretation of that guidance, and have yet to run across anything in the scientific world that does not square (within reason) to science or its limitations.
So I hope to challenge the complacency of those who consider themselves well-versed in religion, and yet can’t claim what I do in the previous paragraph.
However, I withdraw the charge of profound ignorance. :) Sorry. Overshot. Sometimes subtle misinformation is more dangerous, though.
And there’s a bit of irony there… would you say the same to, say, a skeptic of anthropogenic global warming, or one of the folks that are all coming out of the woodwork with refutations of relativity?
Something that music teachers and grammar teachers always say that is also true for scientific discovery: you have to know the rules before you can break them.
You have to understand relativity before you can disprove it, and none of the “relativity refutations” I’ve seen have given any indication that the authors understood relativity.
Similarly, “AGW skeptics” don’t seem to have taken the time to understand what climate scientists are actually saying. (To be fair, many many doomsaying greenies are similarly ignorant of actual climate science.)
In regards to the areligious and ignorance of religion…well, if the areligious really are ignorant of religion, then so are the vast majority of the religious. I’ve always thought it was a bit of a double standard to criticize disbelief through ignorance while ignoring the much more prevalent problem of belief through ignorance.
I remain skeptical of your skepticism.
“if the areligious really are ignorant of religion, then so are the vast majority of the religious”
Ever so true. :) Which makes them terrible proponents for the things they believe. It causes many of them enormous frustration that they can’t easily defend things they know to be true. Their belief derives from experience, but that’s hard to pass on. (There are other mechanisms, but that’s another topic)
Again, flip the argument (as any scientific thinker should do that automatically, by the way). I think your analogy to doomsday greenies is apropos here. If anything, they are much more interested in deference to authority, as long as it says things with which they agree.
“Similarly, “AGW skeptics” don’t seem to have taken the time to understand what climate scientists are actually saying.”
Many of them have, and have serious concerns. The majority are completely ignorant of the crucial details — much like my interlocutors regarding the validity of religion. And we come full circle.
I know that the Einstein haters are fruitcakes. Their underlying assumptions violate all kinds of known quantities. When some teenager comes to me with his new and wild theory about gravitational flux, I don’t stomp him — I just point out what kind of tests it will have to pass to be valid. Usually we can dispose of it right away. I know more of the rules.
When some poor schlub tells me that my Sky Fairy was disproven by (insert poorly understood measurement here) or that I should let go of my Bronze Age mysticism, I also know more of the rules. Many more of them. I’ve been discussing these topics with really sharp people (both for and against) for many years. I have a deep pool of experiences to draw on. That gets no respect, though. I am suddenly a deluded fanatic, and his bumper sticker-level slogan would have knocked me on my can if I weren’t closing my eyes.
For an example of such an unsupported slogan, I offer:
“I’d say religion is unequivocally bad because the idea of “official truth” is contradictory — truth isn’t something that can be decreed by authority figures.”
I didn’t support that particular “slogan” (it’s not a slogan, it’s an entirely candid expression of opinion) because it seemed to be essentially what you were saying — that people should seek truth on their own and not succumb to dogma. Again, this hinges on my probably idiosyncratic use of the word “religion” — I’d only use it to refer to organized religions, not to the beliefs of individuals even if those beliefs happen to be largely congruent with the worldviews offered by particular organized religions.
To be clear, I’m not saying that you believing in God is unequivocally bad. That is a belief, and from talking to you this little bit it is clear to me that yours is the kind of closely examined belief that I can respect without qualification. What I’m calling unequivocally bad is the practice of subordinating one’s private truths to an external institution that asserts (without justification) the privilege to pronounce on what is true or not.
I think I know your next point…people do the same thing with science. And I agree, hence my “(maybe more than they should)” comment in my last post. There’s a sociological facet of science contrasted to the methodological facet and the sociological facet, those real-world institutions that formalize qualifications and peer review and things like that, is susceptible to the same corrupting influences that have so often (but certainly not in all times and places) made organized religions forces for ignorance and suffering. The idea of believing something just because a scientist said so isn’t any more appealing to me than believing something because a priest said so.
Anyway, I’ve gotten a lot out of our little chat. Hope you could get something out of it too. I think maybe we’re not so far off in terms of the core values motivating our beliefs, but I think we express those values through very different vocabularies. Thanks for being more than reasonable since that is really the only way to cut through that kind of communication problem.
PS, Wiio’s Laws
“A very fundamental part of my soul is to doubt.”
Not brain. Not reason. Soul. The very unscientific essence of his being. Perfect.
He’s great! He is not afraid of the unknown, and knows that his consciousness/soul/aiua/whatever is the very core of the human lack of self-knowledge.
Also, I don’t really agree with this. While many of the ideas of advances physics can be derived from mathematical “first principles,” no one could have known what the correct mathematical theory was until someone actually did an experiment.
Which is not to say that the theory was developed because of the experiments. Rather, the theory is accepted because of the experiments. Scientific pedagogy tends to hide the mess of well-developed, intuitive, predictive, but ultimately incorrect theories that did not agree with the experiments.
What I am saying is that short of the mathematics, there’s very little experiment you do as you work through Jackson. Did you build waveguides as part of your homework? Was I shortchanged?
The mathematics are an experiment in and of themselves, and allow well-founded steps through the morass you correctly mention.We accept each step of the training based on the statements of instructors that the math correctly corresponds to the real world.Once properly trained, we go and fool with it ourselves. And that is where we see whether relativity really does work experimentally if we work at LHC, for example. Or whether QM really works if we are fooling with quantum cryptography. That is the payoff. To give you a translation in practical religious terms, this is where faith becomes knowledge.
The real point I want to make regarding this topic is that trusted authority structures underpin all of the scientific world. Our ability to internalize through belief (or lightly suspended disbelief) underpins our ability to catch up and verify. It’s an excellent shortcut.
You seem to be saying scientific pedagogy is distinct from the practice of science.
Agreed. The practice of science, as you even seem to suggest describing what happens when you’re “properly trained,” is much more empirically motivated than the pedagogy — which, after all, only concentrates on the stuff that is consistent with the empirical data. You do seem to have been short-changed, though: I was installing and working with the radio telescope at my school as an undergrad. Small school, maybe you were at a big university?
Then you say that authority structures “underpin all of the scientific world.”
If we’re talking about science as a body of knowledge, then that is true. If we’re talking about science as a bunch of sociological institutions formalizing the practice of information gathering, still true. If you’re talking about science in the abstract as a method of discovery, I simply disagree. If this was so, no one would ever disprove old theories, which as Kuhn argues, don’t seem to get overthrown until their advocates literally die of old age. To the extent that authority has a role in science, it seems to be to hold back the acquisition of new knowledge. (This is not a bad thing, it ensures that new theories will be superior in some ways to old theories rather than merely being different.)
Science at its most pure is individual engagement with the world. Sure, scientific knowledge can be handed down through authorities, but the thing that makes scientific knowledge special relative to other kinds of knowledge is that it doesn’t have to be.
“Excellent shortcut” is a fine way to put it. No one has the time to learn everything. But the thing that makes science special is that, in principle, one could understand it all.
Anyway, this is getting into abstruse philosophy of science stuff. Maybe we have some core disagreements somewhere in that rat’s nest, but I don’t think we’re going to be able to get to the bottom of it in a BB comments page. Thanks for your time, I really have enjoyed our conversation.
“You do seem to have been short-changed, though: I was installing and working with the radio telescope at my school as an undergrad. Small school, maybe you were at a big university?”
I seem to have failed to be clear. I did plenty of experimental work as an undergrad and graduate (instrumentation proof of concept for a Mars rover and LHC), but I didn’t verify every result of every class I took. That was the point I was trying to make.
“No one has the time to learn everything. But the thing that makes science special is that, in principle, one could understand it all.”
I think this applies to all true things. Science is one approach. The power of science is its ability to communicate that understanding precisely, and to cut away many of the human fallacies and approximations that are necessary for dealing with truly complex systems.
He is right, understanding the physical world only illuminates. There is another dimension to humans that he does not speak of, whether it was because the argument was simpler in his era or because he was ignorant of it I do not know at this time. That is the complexity of culture and what the Germans have delightfully named the Zeitgeist – our propensity to share understanding through symbols some underlying message about humanity and what we are. I think that organised religion has hijacked this space and made it a tool of political power, but its still an impulse we are naturally drawn to. Maybe we will have a scientific understanding of that one day but for now we are still driven by the instinct for it. Religion is rightly under huge attack for its irrationality but the human psyche will one day find a happy way to use this mental space. Meanwhile his message about understanding the mechanism of the universe only enhances our appreciation of the world and our existance. It is still an excellent truth.
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