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The Meaning Of It All: Thoughts Of A Citizen-scientist Paperback – Oct 7 1999


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 144 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books (Oct. 7 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0738201669
  • ISBN-13: 978-0738201665
  • Product Dimensions: 21.1 x 13.8 x 1 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 168 g
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #2,594,820 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents


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By Xilowen on Feb. 18 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
What a great read. Such a shame that modern thinking has degraded so much. I encourage everyone to read the book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Stuart Winer on June 18 2004
Format: Paperback
Richard Feynman is widely regarded as one of a handful of distinct geniuses of physics of the last century and perhaps the most famous and charismatic in his field, second only to Einstein.
I have to be honest to admit that I can barely read most of his scientific work. I'm just not that smart. But he was also humorous and wise and this book is more about his general belief system and other matters.
Even his prose is not easy reading. His sentences are so long and complex and so well-constructed that the reader feels like he's swimming on the surface of the deepest part of the ocean. Whole lectures feel perfectly designed and complete, all in a curious, Woody Allen, Jewish persona.
I actually believe and follow his worldview, which was roughly analagous to Einstein's.
They were Secular Humanists. They believed that God if he exists, only manifests in a very distant, abstract sense. Both were loathe to accept specific religious views.
It is Feynman's view that science rejects the type of absolute certainty at the core of most mainstream religious views of the world. Interestingly, he includes Soviet Communism as a type of religion, which is understandable when you think about it.
Much of this book is really about the intersection of science and philosophy. He asks: how do we justify right and wrong and other human standards in a world without such a self-invented reward-and-punishment system.
This is surely one of the questions for the ages, one that Feynman clearly believes is beyond the inherent limits of the scientific worldview. He believed that the flaw was inherent in human makeup, and that the solution was also there - not in the science but in the application.
His example was: why is there no water system in the slums of Rio?
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Format: Hardcover
Although this book is probably the more socially significant of the two, I prefer the light heartedness of Surely You're Joking. This book is a series of collected lectures, so the Feynman that is presented here is the public Feynman, not private, enthusiast, who comes through so brilliantly in the almost stream of consciousness style of writing in Surely You're Joking.
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Format: Paperback
Feynman has given us a fine mess to deal with here. Reading the book requires ones whole being in order to be able to concentrate on and actually understand what he is trying to convey to us in these three lectures. On one side, the things he talks about in, I guess, his own particular way are down right raw in their articulation. On the other side, some things he talks about are, to me at least, brilliant deductions deriving from his observations of the world we're living in. Not all of which I can fully agree with though. I only wish I had paid more attention in my physics classes and read more on the parts of physics Feynman played a major role in during his life, because then I feel I would have been able to deduct for myself where some of his ideas in the present book are coming from. The editors of the book have obviously left Feynman's use of language in tact, which might well be a pro, but I also think one should have been there inside the lecture room with Feynman doing his thing in order to appreciate his genius fully. The present book's three lectures give a glimps, and nothing more, of what the author was all about when venturing outside his beloved field of physics. A tough nut to crack when starting to read, but a delight once one gets the hang of his down-to-earth use of language. Reading some of his other books, as well as some of the books written about him, might be of help in figuring out what he must have been like in person and what his vision on life was. This book by itself cannot do the trick and might even dissuade some generally interested people to read more on Feynman, which would be a true shame.
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Format: Paperback
Richard Feynman was, as evidenced by his Nobel Peace Prize in physics, a fantastically talented physicist. He was also, as evidenced by his Oersted Medal for Teaching, a very gifted educator. The Meaning of it All, a transcription of three lectures delivered at the University of Washington in 1963, provides an interesting window on his unusual combination of these two very different talents.
This is no treatise on physics but is instead Feynman given free reign to express his views on the applicability of science to other areas of society. In fact, the title is a bit misleading and implies a grander scope than is actually covered. The actual lecture series was titled "A Scientist Looks at Society" and I suspect Feynman would have preferred this more prosaic but accurate title for this posthumously published book.
The three lectures were titled "The Uncertainty of Science," "The Uncertainty of Values" and "This Unscientific Age." The organization and quality of the three lectures is uneven, but for the most part they all shine with Feynman's clear thinking and sparkling wit. By way of example, here is what he said during his introductory remarks:
"New in this difficult business of talking about the impact of one field on those of another, I shall start at the end that I know. I do know about science. I know its ideas and its methods, its attitudes toward knowledge, the sources of its progress, its mental discipline. And therefore, in this first lecture, I shall talk about the science that I know, and I shall leave the more ridiculous of my statements for the next two lectures, at which, I assume, the general law is that the audiences will be smaller.
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