Brain Pickings

Richard Feynman Reveals the Key to Science in 63 Seconds


“If it disagrees with experiment, it is wrong.”

Richard Feynman — Nobel-winning physics icon, curiosity champion, graphic novel hero, bongo drummer, wager-maker, no ordinary genius — was born on May 11, 1918. To celebrate, here is one of Feynman’s most beloved classics, a 1964 lecture in which he distills with equal parts wit and wisdom the essence of the scientific method:

In general, we look for a new law by the following process: First we guess it; then we compute 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.

Here, Feynman corroborates beautifully what Stuart Firestein pinpointed nearly six decades later as the most important driver of science — ignorance, or the capacity to be wrong.

The excerpt comes from the 1993 PBS Feynman biography, The Best Mind Since Einstein, available below in its fascinating entirety.

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