Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘Richard Feynman’

01 JANUARY, 2013

Ode to a Flower: Richard Feynman’s Famous Monologue on Knowledge and Mystery, Animated

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“The science knowledge only adds to the excitement, the mystery and the awe of a flower.”

Richard Feynmanchampion of scientific culture, graphic novel hero, crusader for integrity, holder of the key to science, adviser of future generations, bongo player, no ordinary genius. In this fantastic animated adaptation of an excerpt from Christopher Sykes’s celebrated 1981 BBC documentary about Feynman, The Pleasure of Finding Things Out — which gave us the great physicist’s timeless words on beauty, honors, and curiosity and his fascinating explanation of where trees actually come fromFraser Davidson captures in stunning motion graphics Feynman’s short, sublime soliloquy on why knowledge enriches life rather than detracting from its mystery, the best thing since that animated adaptation of Carl Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot.

The message at the heart of Feynman’s monologue — to celebrate the beauty of the mysterious, embrace the unfamiliar, and life the questions — is beautiful mantra on which to center the new year.

I have a friend who’s an artist and has sometimes taken a view which I don’t agree with very well. He’ll hold up a flower and say “look how beautiful it is,” and I’ll agree. Then he says “I as an artist can see how beautiful this is but you as a scientist take this all apart and it becomes a dull thing,” and I think that he’s kind of nutty. First of all, the beauty that he sees is available to other people and to me too, I believe…

I can appreciate the beauty of a flower. At the same time, I see much more about the flower than he sees. I could imagine the cells in there, the complicated actions inside, which also have a beauty. I mean it’s not just beauty at this dimension, at one centimeter; there’s also beauty at smaller dimensions, the inner structure, also the processes. The fact that the colors in the flower evolved in order to attract insects to pollinate it is interesting; it means that insects can see the color. It adds a question: does this aesthetic sense also exist in the lower forms? Why is it aesthetic? All kinds of interesting questions which the science knowledge only adds to the excitement, the mystery and the awe of a flower. It only adds. I don’t understand how it subtracts.

Complement with Feynman on the importance of the unknown in science and culture.

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27 SEPTEMBER, 2012

Richard Feynman Explains Where Trees Actually Come From and How Fire Works

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How the light and heat of the sun made their way into your fireplace.

We’ve already seen that trees can be powerful purveyors of philosophy, keepers of deep time, and visual metaphors for evolution — but where do they actually come from?

There’s a reason Richard Feynmanchampion of scientific culture, graphic novel hero, crusader for integrity, holder of the key to science, adviser of future generations — earned himself the moniker “The Great Explainer.” In this short clip from BBC’s 1983 series Fun to Imagine, Feynman explains where trees actually come from the air and why the light and heat emanating from a burning fire are in fact the light and heat of the sun, “stored sun” that made its way into the fireplace via the substance of the tree:

Is this the second most astounding fact about the universe, or what?

Krulwich Wonders

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11 SEPTEMBER, 2012

Richard Feynman On The One Sentence To Be Passed On To The Next Generation

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“In that one sentence, you will see, there is an enormous amount of information about the world, if just a little imagination and thinking are applied.”

The great Richard Feynmanchampion of scientific culture, graphic novel hero, crusader for integrity, holder of the key to science — may have earned himself the moniker “the Great Explainer,” but when Caltech invited him to take over the introductory course in physics in 1961, they took an enormous chance on a theoretical physicist with no particular interest in students. What resulted, however, was nothing short of magic — his lectures went on to become a cultural classic, blending remarkably articulate explanations of science with poignant meditations on life’s most profound questions, and were eventually collected in The Feynman Lectures on Physics (public library).

From the very beginning of his first-ever lecture comes this timeless gem (mentioned in Daniel Bor’s excellent The Ravenous Brain) that set the tone for both Feynman’s academic contribution and his broader cultural legacy:

If, in some cataclysm, all of scientific knowledge were to be destroyed, and only one sentence passed on to the next generation of creatures, what statement would contain the most information in the fewest words? I believe it is the atomic hypothesis that 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, you will see, there is an enormous amount of information about the world, if just a little imagination and thinking are applied.

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