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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 Science (22 quotes)

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A philosopher once said, ‘It is necessary for the very existence of science that the same conditions always produce the same results’. Well, they don’t!
— Richard P. Feynman
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But the real glory of science is that we can find a way of thinking such that the law is evident.
— Richard P. Feynman
The Feynman Lectures on Physics (1965), Vol. 1, 26-3. In Carver A. Mead, Collective Electrodynamics: Quantum Foundations of Electromagnetism (2002), 1.
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First you guess. Don’t laugh, this is the most important step. Then you compute the consequences. Compare the consequences to experience. If it disagrees with experience, the guess is wrong. In that simple statement is the key to science. It doesn’t matter how beautiful your guess is or how smart you are or what your name is. If it disagrees with experience, it’s wrong. That’s all there is to it.
— Richard P. Feynman
Quoted in Florentin Smarandache, V. Christianto, Multi-Valued Logic, Neutrosophy, and Schrodinger Equation? (2006), 73, but without any primary source. If you know it, please contact the Webmaster.
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Happy Birthday Mrs Chown! Tell your son to stop trying to fill your head with science—for to fill your heart with love is enough. Richard P. Feynman (the man you watched on BBC Horizon).
— Richard P. Feynman
Note to the mother of Marcus Chown. Reproduced in Christopher Simon Sykes, No Ordinary Genius: The Illustrated Richard Feynman (1996), 161. Chown's mother, though usually disinterested in science, had given close attention to a 1981 BBC Horizon science documentary that profiled Feynman. This was Feynman’s own choice of a birthday message, although Chown (then a physics graduate student at Caltech) had anticipated that the scientist would have helped him interest his mother in scientific things. Marcus Chown was a radio astronomer at Caltech and is now a writer and broadcaster.
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If science is to progress, what we need is the ability to experiment, honesty in reporting results—the results must be reported without somebody saying what they would like the results to have been—and finally—an important thing—the intelligence to interpret the results.
— Richard P. Feynman
In The Character of Physical Law (1965, 2001), 148.
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If you thought that science was certain well, that is just an error on your part.
— Richard P. Feynman
…...
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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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Is no one inspired by our present picture of the universe? This value of science remains unsung by singers: you are reduced to hearing not a song or poem, but an evening lecture about it. This is not yet a scientific age.
Perhaps one of the reasons for this silence is that you have to know how to read music. For instance, the scientific article may say, “The radioactive phosphorus content of the cerebrum of the rat decreases to one-half in a period of two weeks.” Now what does that mean?
It means that phosphorus that is in the brain of a rat—and also in mine, and yours—is not the same phosphorus as it was two weeks ago. It means the atoms that are in the brain are being replaced: the ones that were there before have gone away.
So what is this mind of ours: what are these atoms with consciousness? Last week’s potatoes! They now can remember what was going on in my mind a year ago—a mind which has long ago been replaced. To note that the thing I call my individuality is only a pattern or dance, that is what it means when one discovers how long it takes for the atoms of the brain to be replaced by other atoms. The atoms come into my brain, dance a dance, and then go out—there are always new atoms, but always doing the same dance, remembering what the dance was yesterday.
— Richard P. Feynman
'What do You Care What Other People Think?' Further Adventures of a Curious Character (1988), 244.
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One of the greatest experimental scientists of the time who was really doing something, William Harvey, said that what Bacon said science was, was the science that a lord-chancellor would do. He [Bacon] spoke of making observations, but omitted the vital factor of judgment about what to observe and what to pay attention to.
— Richard P. Feynman
From address (1966) at the 14th Annual Convention of the National Science Teachers Association, New York City, printed in 'What is science?', The Physics Teacher (1969), 7, No. 6, 321.
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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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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 piece of glass—that produces different results. 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 P. Feynman
QED: The Strange Theory of Light and Matter (1985), 19.
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Philosophers say a great deal about what is absolutely necessary for science, and it is always, so far as one can see, rather naive, and probably wrong.
— Richard P. Feynman
…...
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Philosophy of Science is about as much use to scientists as ornithology is to birds.
— Richard P. Feynman
Attributed. Frequently quoted, but primary source is lacking. For example, Steven Weinberg quoted it in a talk at the Tercentenary Celebration of Newton's Principia, 'Newtonianism, Reductionism and the Art of Congressional Testimony' (See Nature (3 Dec 1987), 330, No. 6147, 433). Weinberg states “I’ve heard the remark (although I forget the source).” Any attribution to Stephen Weinberg is thus incorrect, although it appears thus in, for example, the Oxford Dictionary of Scientific Quotations. Other sources most often attribute the subject quote to Richard Feynman, though still without a documented source. So Webmaster moved the quote from the Weinberg page to this Feynman page 1 Jul 2015. If you know a primary source, please contact Webmaster.
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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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Religion is a culture of faith; science is a culture of doubt.
— Richard P. Feynman
…...
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Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts.
— 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), 187.
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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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The world looks so different after learning science. For example, trees are made of air, primarily. When they are burned, they go back to air, and in the flaming heat is released the flaming heat of the sun which was bound in to convert the air into tree, and in the ash is the small remnant of the part which did not come from air, that came from the solid earth, instead. These are beautiful things, and the content of science is wonderfully full of them. They are very inspiring, and they can be used to inspire others.
— Richard P. Feynman
From address (1966) at the 14th Annual Convention of the National Science Teachers Association, New York City, printed in 'What is science?', The Physics Teacher (1969), 7, No. 6, 320.
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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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There’s Nature and she’s going to come out the way She is. So therefore when we go to investigate we shouldn’t predecide what it is we’re looking for only to find out more about it. Now you ask: “Why do you try to find out more about it?” If you began your investigation to get an answer to some deep philosophical question, you may be wrong. It may be that you can’t get an answer to that particular question just by finding out more about the character of Nature. But that’s not my interest in science; my interest in science is to simply find out about the world and the more I find out the better it is, I like to find out...
— Richard P. Feynman
…...
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We are not talking about what to teach; we are talking about what science is. It is not science to know how to change Centigrade to Fahrenheit. It’s necessary, but it is not exactly science.
— 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), 179.
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What of the future of this adventure? What will happen ultimately? We are going along guessing the laws; how many laws are we going to have to guess? I do not know. Some of my colleagues say that this fundamental aspect of our science will go on; but I think there will certainly not be perpetual novelty, say for a thousand years. This thing cannot keep on going so that we are always going to discover more and more new laws … It is like the discovery of America—you only discover it once. The age in which we live is the age in which we are discovering the fundamental laws of nature, and that day will never come again. Of course in the future there will be other interests … but there will not be the same things that we are doing now … There will be a degeneration of ideas, just like the degeneration that great explorers feel is occurring when tourists begin moving in on a territory.
— Richard P. Feynman
In The Character of Physical Law (1965, 1994), 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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