Brain Pickings

The Miraculous in the Mundane: Richard Feynman Explains How Rubber Bands Work

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“The world is a dynamic mess of jiggling things, if you look at it right.”

When you see an ordinary rubber band stretched around and holding together a stack of stuff over a long period of time, you’re actually witnessing a miraculous force of physics at work — a perpetual pounding of the atoms as they struggle to hold these chains together against the outward push of the stack, vibrating with extraordinary vigor just to accomplish this seemingly mundane task. That peeling away of the mundane to reveal the magnificent is the greatest gift and most lasting legacy of Richard Feynmanchampion of scientific culture, graphic novel hero, crusader for integrity, secret artist. Indeed, it was this very talent that earned Feynman the moniker “the Great Explainer” and his lectures, eventually collected in The Feynman Lectures on Physics (public library), went on to become a cultural classic, brimming with his signature fusion of accessible, enthralling explanations of complex scientific phenomena and poignant meditations on the broader meaning of life.

In this short clip from the 1983 BBC series Fun to Imagine, Feynman unleashes his singular gift on the humble rubber band to illuminate its surprisingly awe-worthy embodiment of the laws of physics:

The world is a dynamic mess of jiggling things, if you look at it right.

Complement with Feynman on the key to science in 63 seconds, the one sentence to be passed on to the next generation and his little-known sketches, collected by his daughter.

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