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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: 13.7 x 1 x 21 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 168 g
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #2,768,593 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

Product Description

From Amazon

In this series of lectures originally given in 1963, which remained unpublished during Richard Feynman's lifetime, the Nobel-winning physicist thinks aloud on several "meta"--questions of science. What is the nature of the tension between science and religious faith? Why does uncertainty play such a crucial role in the scientific imagination? Is this really a scientific age?

Marked by Feynman's characteristic combination of rationality and humor, these lectures provide an intimate glimpse at the man behind the legend. "In case you are beginning to believe," he says at the start of his final lecture, "that some of the things I said before are true because I am a scientist and according to the brochure that you get I won some awards and so forth, instead of your looking at the ideas themselves and judging them directly...I will get rid of that tonight. I dedicate this lecture to showing what ridiculous conclusions and rare statements such a man as myself can make." Rare, perhaps. Irreverent, sure. But ridiculous? Not even close. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

It requires an unusually strong intellect to remain relevant on a wide variety of social, religious and political issues after 35 years. Feynman, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist, had just such an intellect. Originally delivered as a three-part lecture series at the University of Washington in 1963, this collection touches on such far-ranging topics as the existence or nonexistence of God; the Constitution; and UFOs. At times, Feynman's comments seem uncannily prescient, as when he discusses the dumbing-down of media: "The whole idea that the average person is unintelligent is a very dangerous idea. Even if it's true, it shouldn't be dealt with the way it's dealt with," he says here. As readers of his previous works (Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman, etc.) know, Feynman, who died in 1988, was never one to shy away from strong opinions: "Incidentally, I must explain that because I am a scientist does not mean that I have not had contact with human beings," he explains. These memorable lectures confirm that Feynman's gift of insight extended from the subatomic world to the cosmic, and to the very human as well. BOMC featured selection.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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3.7 out of 5 stars

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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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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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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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