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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 Theory (10 quotes)

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A good theoretical physicist today might find it useful to have a wide range of physical viewpoints and mathematical expressions of the same theory (for example, of quantum electrodynamics) available to him. This may be asking too much of one man. Then new students should as a class have this. If every individual student follows the same current fashion in expressing and thinking about electrodynamics or field theory, then the variety of hypotheses being generated to understand strong interactions, say, is limited. Perhaps rightly so, for possibly the chance is high that the truth lies in the fashionable direction. But, on the off-chance that it is in another direction—a direction obvious from an unfashionable view of field theory—who will find it?
— Richard P. Feynman
In his Nobel Prize Lecture (11 Dec 1965), 'The Development of the Space-Time View of Quantum Electrodynamics'. Collected in Stig Lundqvist, Nobel Lectures: Physics, 1963-1970 (1998), 177.
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As usual, nature’s imagination far surpasses our own, as we have seen from the other theories which are subtle and deep.
— Richard P. Feynman
In The Character of Physical Law (1965, 2001), 162.
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Every theoretical physicist who is any good knows six or seven different theoretical representations for exactly the same physics. He knows that they are all equivalent, and that nobody is ever going to be able to decide which one is right at that level, but he keeps them in his head, hoping that they will give him different ideas for guessing.
— Richard P. Feynman
In The Character of Physical Law (1965, 2001), 168.
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If there is something very slightly wrong in our definition of the theories, then the full mathematical rigor may convert these errors into ridiculous conclusions.
— Richard P. Feynman
Feynman Lectures on Gravitation, edited by Brian Hatfield (2002), 21.
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It doesn’t matter how beautiful your theory is, it doesn’t matter how smart you are. If it doesn’t agree with experiment, it’s wrong.
— Richard P. Feynman
…...
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It is going to be necessary that everything that happens in a finite volume of space and time would have to be analyzable with a finite number of logical operations. The present theory of physics is not that way, apparently. It allows space to go down into infinitesimal distances, wavelengths to get infinitely great, terms to be summed in infinite order, and so forth; and therefore, if this proposition [that physics is computer-simulatable] is right, physical law is wrong.
— Richard P. Feynman
International Journal of Theoretical Physics (1982), 21 Nos. 6-7, 468. Quoted in Brian Rotman, Mathematics as Sign (2000), 82.
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Professor Bethe … is a man who has this characteristic: If there’s a good experimental number you’ve got to figure it out from theory. So, he forced the quantum electrodynamics of the day to give him an answer [for the experimentally measured Lamb-shift of hydrogen], … and thus, made the most important discovery in the history of the theory of quantum electrodynamics. He worked this out on the train from Ithaca, New York to Schenectady.
— Richard P. Feynman
Bethe calculated, what Lamb had experimentally just measured, for the separation of the 2S½ and 2P½ of hydrogen. Both theory and measurement yielded about one thousand megacycles for the Lamb-shift. Feynman was at the time associated with Bethe at Cornell. In Feynman’s Nobel Prize Lecture (11 Dec 1965), 'The Development of the Space-Time View of Quantum Electrodynamics'. Collected in Stig Lundqvist, Nobel Lectures: Physics, 1963-1970 (1998), 170.
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Shortly after electrons were discovered it was thought that atoms were like little solar systems, made up of a … nucleus and electrons, which went around in “orbits,” much like the planets … around the sun. If you think that’s the way atoms are, then you’re back in 1910.
— Richard P. Feynman
In QED: The Strange Theory of Light and Matter (1985, 2006), 84.
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That was the beginning, and the idea seemed so obvious to me and so elegant that I fell deeply in love with it. And, like falling in love with a woman, it is only possible if you do not know much about her, so you cannot see her faults. The faults will become apparent later, but after the love is strong enough to hold you to her. So, I was held to this theory, in spite of all difficulties, by my youthful enthusiasm.
— Richard P. Feynman
Expressing how his work on quantum electrodynamics began with an original idea. In his Nobel Prize Lecture (11 Dec 1965), 'The Development of the Space-Time View of Quantum Electrodynamics'. Collected in Stig Lundqvist, Nobel Lectures: Physics, 1963-1970 (1998), 157.
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The theoretical broadening which comes from having many humanities subjects on the campus is offset by the general dopiness of the people who study these things and by the Department of Home Economics.
— Richard P. Feynman
Letter to Robert Bacher (6 Apr 1950), as quoted in James Gleick, Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman (1992), 278.
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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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