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Richard P. Feynman
(11 May 1918 - 15 Feb 1988)

American theoretical physicist who was probably the most brilliant, influential, and iconoclastic figure in his field. His lifelong interest was in subatomic physics. In 1965, he shared the Nobel Prize in Physics for his work in quantum electrodynamics.


Richard P. Feynman Quotes on Knowledge (13 quotes)

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All things are made of atoms—little particles that move around in perpetual motion, attracting each other when they are a little distance apart, but repelling upon being squeezed into one another. In that one sentence ... there is an enormous amount of information about the world.
His suggestion that the most valuable information on scientific knowledge in a single sentence using the fewest words is to state the atomic hypothesis.
— Richard P. Feynman
Six Easy Pieces (1995), 4.
Science quotes on:  |  Atom (251)  |  Knowledge (1128)

But I don’t have to know an answer. I don’t feel frightened by not knowing things, by being lost in a mysterious universe within any purpose, which is the way it really is, so far as I can tell. It doesn’t frighten me.
— Richard P. Feynman
In Richard Feynman and Jeffrey Robbins (ed.), The Pleasure of Finding Things Out: The Best Short Works of Richard Feynman (1999), 25, last sentence of Chap. 1. The chapter, with the same title as the book, is an edited transcript of an interview with Feynman made for the BBC television program Horizon (1981).
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I can live with doubt and uncertainty. I think it’s much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers which might be wrong.
— Richard P. Feynman
From transcript of a BBC television program, 'The Pleasure of Finding Things Out' (1981). In Richard Phillips Feynman and Jeffrey Robbins (ed.), The Pleasure of Finding Things Out: the Best Short Works of Richard P. Feynman (2000), 24.
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I have approximate answers and possible beliefs in different degrees of certainty about different things, but I am not absolutely sure of anything, and of many things I don’t know anything about but I don’t have to know an answer.
— Richard P. Feynman
Interview, in BBC TV program, 'The Pleasure of Finding Things Out', Horizon (23 Nov 1981). As quoted in Caroline Baillie, Alice Pawley, Donna M. Riley, Engineering and Social Justice: In the University and Beyond (2012), 108.
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In this age of specialization men who thoroughly know one field are often incompetent to discuss another. … The old problems, such as the relation of science and religion, are still with us, and I believe present as difficult dilemmas as ever, but they are not often publicly discussed because of the limitations of specialization.
— Richard P. Feynman
Opening statement, in transcript of talk to the Caltech Lunch Forum (2 May 1956), 'The Relation of Science and Religion', collected in Richard Phillips Feynman and Jeffrey Robbins (ed.), The Pleasure of Finding Things Out: The Best Short Works of Richard P. Feynman (1999, 2005), 245-246.
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Richard P. Feynman quote: One of the ways of stopping science would be only to do experiments in the region where you know the l
One of the ways of stopping science would be only to do experiments in the region where you know the law. … In other words we are trying to prove ourselves wrong as quickly as possible, because only in that way can we find progress.
— Richard P. Feynman
In The Character of Physical Law (1965, 2001), 158.
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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. … What is the pattern, or the meaning, or the “why?” It does not do harm to the mystery to know a little about it. 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?
— Richard P. Feynman
In 'Astronomy', The Feynman Lectures on Physics (1961), Vol. 1, 3-6, footnote.
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The whole question of imagination in science is often misunderstood by people in other disciplines. ... They overlook the fact that whatever we are allowed to imagine in science must be consistent with everything else we know.
— Richard P. Feynman
In The Feynman Lectures in Physics (1964), Vol. 2, Lecture 20, p.20-10. As quoted by James Gleick in Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman (1992), 324.
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There are all kinds of interesting questions that come from a knowledge of science, which only adds to the excitement and mystery and awe of a flower.
— Richard P. Feynman
From interview by BBC TV in episode 'The Pleasure of Finding Things Out', Horizon (1981). Collected in Richard P. Feynman, 'The Making of a Scientist', What Do You Care What Other People Think?": Further Adventures of a Curious Character (2001), 11.
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We can’t define anything precisely. If we attempt to, we get into that paralysis of thought that comes to philosophers… one saying to the other: “You don’t know what you are talking about!” The second one says: “What do you mean by know? What do you mean by talking? What do you mean by you?
— Richard P. Feynman
In 'Motion', The Feynman Lectures on Physics (1961), Vol. 1, 8-2.
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[As a youth, fiddling in my home laboratory] I discovered a formula for the frequency of a resonant circuit which was 2π x sqrt(LC) where L is the inductance and C the capacitance of the circuit. And there was π, and where was the circle? … I still don’t quite know where that circle is, where that π comes from.
— Richard P. Feynman
From address to the National Science Teachers’ Association convention (Apr 1966), 'What Is Science?', collected in Richard Phillips Feynman and Jeffrey Robbins (ed.), The Pleasure of Finding Things Out: The Best Short Works of Richard P. Feynman (1999, 2005), 177.
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[In my early youth, walking with my father,] “See that bird?” he says. “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-long-tah, and in Japanese, it’s a Katano Tekeda. You can know the name of that 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 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.)
— Richard P. Feynman
In 'The Making of a Scientist', What Do You Care What Other People Think?": Further Adventures of a Curious Character (2001), 13-14.
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[To a man expecting a scientific proof of the impossibility of flying saucers] I might have said to him: “Listen, I mean that from my knowledge of the world that I see around me, I think that it is much more likely that the reports of flying saucers are the results of the known irrational characteristics of terrestrial intelligence than of the unknown rational efforts of extra-terrestrial intelligence.” It is just more likely, that is all. It is a good guess. And we always try to guess the most likely explanation, keeping in the back of the mind the fact that if it does not work we must discuss the other possibilities.
— Richard P. Feynman
In The Character of Physical Law (1965, 2001), 166.
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Carl Sagan Thumbnail In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. (1987) -- Carl Sagan
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