"In general we look for a new law by the following process.
First we guess it. Then we compare the consequences of the guess
to see what would be implied if this law that we guessed is right.
Then we compare the result of the computation to nature, with experiment
or experience, compare it directly with observation, to see if it
works. If it disagrees with experiment it is wrong. In that simple
statement is the key to science. It does not make any difference
how beautiful your guess is. It does not make any difference how
smart you are, who made the guess, or what his name is - if it disagrees
with experiment it is wrong."
He was against pseudosciences. While explaining
the underlying difference between real science and different forms
of pseudosciences he said: "It's a kind of scientific integrity,
a principle of scientific thought that corresponds to a kind of
utter honesty - a kind leaning over backwards.
For example, if you're doing an experiment, you
should report everything that you think might make it invalid not
only what you think is right about it: other causes that could possibly
explain your results; and things you thought of that you've eliminated
by some other experiment, and how they worked - to make sure the
other fellow can tell they have been eliminated.
Details that could throw doubt on your interpretation
must be given, if you know them. You must do the best you can -
if you know anything at all wrong, or possibly wrong - to explain
it. If you make a theory, for example, and advertise it, or put
it out, then you must also put down all the facts that disagree
with it, as well as those that agree with it."
Feynman put his views straight without mincing
words. He disliked when people used the language in a phoney way.
He could never appreciate philosophy and thought religion is nothing
but 'wishful thinking'. He never bothered with empty formalities.
Feynman lacked respect for authority. Some of the traits of Feynman's
personality were as summed up by General Donald Kutyna: "Feynman
had three things going for him. Number one, tremendous intellect,
and that was well known around the world. Second, integrity…..Third,
he brought this driving, desire to get to the bottom of any mystery.
No matter where it took him, he was going to get there, and he was
not deterred by any roadblocks in the way. He was a courageous guy,
and he wasn't afraid to say what he meant."
Richard Phillips Feynman was born on 11 May 1918
in Manhattan, USA. He was greatly influenced by his parents. Feynman's
father Melville Feynman encouraged his son's fascination with science
in all possible ways. While not pushing in any particular direction
his father would explain things about the way the world worked.
Melville taught his son at a very early age 'the difference between
knowing the name of something and knowing something'. To quote one
of Richard's oft-quoted anecdotes about his father:
'See that bird?' he say. 'It's a Spencer's warbler.
(I knew he didn't know the real name.) 'Well, in Italian, it's a
Chutto Lapittida. In Portuguese, it's a Bom da Peida. In Chinese
it's a Chung-Iong-tah, and in Japanese it's a Katano Takeda. You
can know the name of the 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. So let's look at the birds and see
what it's doing - that's what counts!
Since his childhood he developed a habit of not
taking anything for granted, to question everything, to go to the
bottom of any mysteries. Here again he was helped by his father.
Feynman later recalls that on being asked about the odd behaviour
of a ball left lying in a playing wagon, his father replied: "That,
nobody knows. The general principle is that things which are moving
tend to keep on moving, and things which are standing still tend
to stand still, unless you push them hard. This tendency is called
'inertia', but nobody knows why it's true."
What did he learn from his mother (Lucille Phillips)?
In Richard Feynman's words: "My mother tau9ht me that the highest
forms of understanding that we can achieve are laughter and human
Feynman was awarded Nobel Prize in Physics in 1965
with Julian Schwinger and Shinitro Tomonaga for their development
of quantum electrodynamics (QED), a theory describing the interaction
of charged subatomic particles within electric and magnetic fields.
QED combines quantum theory and relativity and asserts that charged
particles interact by the exchange of photons. The theory not only
describes all interactions involving photons and electrons but any
interaction between light (photons) and charged particles. Feynman
is best known for his invention of Feynman diagrams, which illustrate
the interaction between charged particles by the exchange of virtual
photons. "The diagrams", Feynman pointed out "were
intended to represent physical processes and the mathematical expression
used to describe them. Each diagram signified a mathematical expression.
Mathematical quantities were associated with points in space and
time." Feynman explained the superfluid behaviour of liquid
helium. When liquid helium is cooled below 2.2 degrees Kelvin it
behaved differently than the liquid helium above this temperature.
It behaves as superfluid. It can move through capillary tubes effortlessly
that is without experiencing any frictional resistance. It even
climbs up the walls of the container to escape through pores which
do not allow gas to pass through. He was a key figure in the Manhattan
Project to develop the atom bomb.
To consider Feynman simply as one of the greatest
physicists of this century would mean undermining his true achievements.
He was one of the greatest teachers that the 20th century ever produced.
The Feynman Lectures on Physics have inspired generations of students
worldwide and continue to do so. There is no parallel to it not
only in Physics but aJso in other disciplines of science. These
lectures described Feynman's approach to physics.
What made Feynman a great teacher? To quote David
Goodstein: "For Feynman, the lecture hall was a theater, and
the lecturer a performer, responsible for providing drama and fire
works as well as facts and figures. This was true regardless of
his audience, whether he was talking to undergraduates or graduate
students, to his colleagues or the general public."
His lectures were self-contained, they had a beginning,
a middle and an end. The lectures not only provided a great mass
of information, but also opportunity to go beyond the formal teaching.
In the long run what is the importance of Feynman's scientific achievements?
To quote David Goodstein: "His scientific contributions were
profound. They are not ordinary. They are not similar to other peoples".
He imposed his personality and his views on the world of science;
he reformulated quantum mechanics, he virtually reinvented it. And
gave it to us in a form that's still widely used throughout theoretical
physics, in every field.
Feynman died on 15 February 1988.
To know more about Richard Feynman one may look
up one or more of these books:
Richard Feynman by John Gribbin and Marry Gribbin,
Universities Press (India) Ltd., 1998; Surely You're Joking, Mr.
Feynman! by Richard Feynman & Ralph Leighton. ww. Norton, New
York, 1985; What Do You Care What Other People Think? by Richard
Feynman & Ralph Leighton, WW. Norton, New York, 1988; No Ordinary
Genius: The Illustrated Richard Feynman by Christopher Sykes (Editor),
W.W. Norton, New York, 1994; Genius: Richard Feynman and Modern
Physics by James Gleick, Pantheon, New York, 1992; The Beat of a
Different Drum by Jagdish Mehra, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1994;
The Feynman Lectures on Physics (3 Vols) by Richard Feynman, Robert
Leighton & Matthew Sands, Addison-Wesley Redding, Massachussets,
1963; OED: The Strange Theory of Light and Matter, by Richard Feynman,
Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1985; The Art of Richard
P. Feynman by Michelle Feynman, Gordon & Breach, Basel, 1995.