Sonderbooks Book Reviews by Sondra Eklund

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***The Meaning of It All

Thoughts of a Citizen-Scientist

by Richard P. Feynman

Reviewed February 5, 2005.
Helix Books (Addison-Wesley), Reading, Massachusetts, 1998.  133 pages.
Available at Sembach Library (500 FEY).

I was shelving a book on science and ran across this one.  Having enjoyed the bits of wisdom from Richard Feynman found in Feynman’s Rainbow, I decided to check it out.

This small book is a transcription of three lectures intended for a general audience which Feynman gave in 1963.  The lectures were titled, “The Uncertainty of Science,” “The Uncertainty of Values,” and “This Unscientific Age.”  The program at the front of the book summarizes the topics well:  “In the series, Dr. Feynman explores problems in the borderline between science and philosophy, religion, and society.”

The discussion is a bit dated in some of the examples (especially those dealing with Russia and Communism), but his philosophical thoughts are relevant for any age.  I like this discussion of doubt:

“Because we have the doubt, we then propose looking in new directions for new ideas.  The rate of the development of science is not the rate at which you make observations alone but, much more important, the rate at which you create new things to test.

“If we were not able or did not desire to look in any new direction, if we did not have a doubt or recognize ignorance, we would not get any new ideas.  There would be nothing worth checking, because we would know what is true. . . .  Scientists are used to this.  We know that it is consistent to be able to live and not know. . . .

“This freedom to doubt is an important matter in the sciences and, I believe, in other fields. . . .  I feel a responsibility to proclaim the value of this freedom and to teach that doubt is not to be feared, but that it is to be welcomed as the possibility of a new potential for human beings.  If you know that you are not sure, you have a chance to improve the situation.  I want to demand this freedom for future generations.”

Copyright © 2005 Sondra Eklund.  All rights reserved.

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