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Paperback The Meaning of It All : Thoughts of A Citizen-Scientist Book

ISBN: 0465023940

ISBN13: 9780465023943

The Meaning of It All : Thoughts of A Citizen-Scientist

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Book Overview

Many appreciate Richard P. Feynman's contributions to twentieth-century physics, but few realize how engaged he was with the world around him--how deeply and thoughtfully he considered the religious, political, and social issues of his day. Now, a wonderful book--based on a previously unpublished, three-part public lecture he gave at the University of Washington in 1963--shows us this other side of Feynman, as he expounds on the inherent conflict...

Customer Reviews

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Important reading for anyone interested in science and religion

As always, Professor Feynman writes with humor and deep insight. While the lectures that make up this book were given in 1963, they are very relevant for the current conflict between religion and science. The titles of the three lectures tell it all - Uncertainty of Science, Uncertainty of Values, and This Unscientific Age. Science is uncertain and that is its great strength. It must be uncertain to accept new ideas. In contrast, any belief system based on faith must be certain in its beliefs. This is not to say that there is no place for religion. Science says nothing about morality or ethical behavior- subjects better left to religion. The last lecture focuses on our unscientific age, with examples of unscientific thinking and how this leads to erroneous conclusions, which are unfortunately widely accepted. This is a short book, so it is better to read it for yourself than to get my take on it. If you read it, I am sure that, regardless of your preconceived bias (in favor of science or religion), it will get you thinking; Feynman always does.

Thoughts of a Great Scientist

Richard Feynman was one of this century's greatest physicists. His accomplishments were to numerous to list completely. However, a partial accounting will help to inform the reader of this man's importance. Feynman was part of the famous (or infamous) Manhattan Project, which culminated in the first atomic bomb. He was a member of the expert panel that investigated the explosion of the space shuttle challenger. He taught at the California Institute of Technology. He received a Nobel prize for his work in quantum electrodynamics. He, in fact, changed the face of quantum electrodynamics. He played an important role in Quark theory. He created what were to be known as the Feynman diagrams. He won the Oersted Medal for teaching. He wrote textbooks, which are used in universities all over the country. He was a best selling author of popular works, such as Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman. He deciphered Mayan hieroglyphics. He was a talented drummer. He was a great story teller. He was a lover of games and tricks. He was a self taught safe cracker. He was a powerful lecturer. He was, above all, an endlessly curious fellow. This list can't even begin to note everything of importance that Feynman did, but it is a start. The Meaning of it All collects three lectures that Feynman gave in April of 1963, at the University of Washington. These lectures were presented over three nights. The lectures are, in order: 1. The Uncertainty of Science. 2. The Uncertainty of Values. 3. This Unscientific Age. The first two lectures can actually be viewed as one talk, broken into two parts. The third veers off in a different direction. Let us look at the essays on an individual basis. The first essay (or lecture, as it were), The Uncertainty of Science, begins with a simple definition of science. Feynman speaks plainly, and uses some repetition to drive his points home. He makes his ideas easily understandable. His definition will be easy to accept for most. Feynman discuses whether science can have ethical value. That is, can science be considered good or evil? He concludes that science is neither. It cannot be seen as having a moral value. What becomes of the technology science creates, and the ways science is used by people, can become evil, or it can become a force for good. But this has nothing to do with science. Science, it seems, is a process. A process in which we endeavor to better understand our world. Feynman attempts to address the problems of science. The chief problem, not only for science, but for knowledge in general, is that of certainty. Or rather, uncertainty. As anyone who has bothered to read Descartes knows: we can't be certain of anything (well, I can be certain that I exist; but the existence of the rest of humanity is open to question). Science cannot give us certainty. It can merely offer the best current explanation. Feynman doesn't see this as truly problematic, but merely as an integral part of the nature of science. Sci

He thinks this way too

I was so comforted by Feynman's genuine and open discussion on some major life issues -- science, religion, and politics. We all ask the same questions and yet, most of time, we withdrew from the process of obtaining the answers or getting closer to the final answers. His reflections encouraged me to discover more because there seems to be a "harmony" somewhere down the road for those three.

Feynman for president!

This book does not contain anything absolutely mind-bendingly awe-inspiring,to be sure. I readily concede that. However, what it does possess are the witty and many times insightful thoughts on Feynman on subjects as diverse as science, psychology (Note: if you are a psychologist I would not recommend this book....), politics and religion. Perhaps the most striking feature of this book is the humility that Feynman had. Here is a man who had in IQ that was off the scale, and yet he had the utter audacity to believe that he was no smarter than the rest of this. Whoa! Now that's not something you see everyday! I often have to smile when I think of Feynman in connection to other, far inferior scientists out there who truly believe themselves to have it "all figured out." It reminds me of the modesty of Socrates towards his many interlocutors. Many times, when scientists attempt to engage topics with which they are not familiar, their opinions come across as incoherent mutterings. Not so W/Feynman. For a person who seemed to have a genuine distaste for politics, F had some fairly insightful stuff to say (at least so I thought). This book is a can't miss for any and all admirers of Feynman, and would be a worthwhile excursion for those who are not familiar with this great man.

Feynman at his best as teacher, scientist, citizen.

This is Richard Feynman for the concerned layman. These three lectures, given in 1963, are Feynman's attempt to elucidate the proper role of science in the issues of the day. The first lecture discusses the value of skepticism and uncertainty in the field of science itself. The second lecture concerns what light the scientific method might shine on religious and political thought. The third, and most interesting, lecture is an extemporaneous talk on the 'unscientific age' of the 1960s. You may be surprised to discover how little things have changed since then. If you are a Feynman fan, or if you are concerned about the proper role of science and critical thinking in society, you will love this book. Well-written, non-technical, entertaining. A brilliant scientist displays a deep and abiding concern for social issues.
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