Friday, November 2, 2007

The Pleasure of Finding Things Out

Some years ago I read a book titled The Pleasure of Finding Things Out, a collection of ramblings by Richard Feynman. This man's mind was brilliant and insightful, and this book captures something of that insight and of his inquisitive yet whimsical personality.

I see that it is now available on GoogleBooks. The Pleasure of Finding Things Out is well worth reading. It can also be found on for a reasonable price.

Below is an excerpt:

p. 110-111

"I believe that we should demand that people try in their own minds to obtain for themselves a more consistent picture of their own world; that they not permit themselves the luxury of having their brain cut in four pieces or two pieces even, and on one side they believe this and on the other side they believe that, but never try to compare the two points of view.

Because we have learned that, by trying to put the points of view that we have in our head together and comparing one to the other, we make some progress in understanding and appreciating where we are and what we are. And I believe that science has remained irrelevant because we wait until somebody asks us questions or until we are invited to give a speech on Einstein's theory to people who don't understand Newtonian mechanics, but we never are invited to give an attack on faith healing, or on astrology-on what is the scientific view of astrology today.

I think that we must mainly write some articles. Now what would happen? The person who believes in astrology will have to learn some astronomy. The person who believes in faith healing may have to learn some medicine, because of the arguments going back and forth; and some biology. In other words, it will be necessary that science become relevant. The remark which I read somewhere, that science is all right so long as it doesn't attack religion, was the clue that I needed to understand the problem.

As long as it doesn't attack religion it need not be paid attention to and nobody has to learn anything. So it can be cut off from modern society except for its applications, and thus be isolated. And then we have this terrible struggle to try to explain things to people who have no reason to want to know. But if they want to defend their own point of view, they will have to learn what yours is a little bit.

So I suggest, maybe incorrectly and perhaps wrongly, that we are too polite. There was in the past an era of conversation on these matters. It was felt by the church that Galileo's views attacked the Church. It is not felt by the Church today that the scientific views attack the Church. Nobody is worrying about it. Nobody attacks; I mean, nobody writes trying to explain the inconsistencies between theological views and the scientific views held by different people today-or even the inconsistencies sometimes held by the same scientists between his religious and scientific beliefs.

Now the next subject, and the last main subject that I want to talk about, is the one I really consider the most important and the most serious. And that has to do with the question of uncertainty and doubt. A scientist is never certain. We all know that. We know that all our statements are approximate statements with different degrees of certainty; that when a statement is made, the question is not whether it is true or false but rather how likely it is to be true or false.

"Does God exist?" "When put in the questional form, how likely is it?" It makes such a terrifying transformation of the religious point of view, and that is why the religious point of view is unscientific. We must discuss each question within the uncertainties that are allowed. And as evidence grows it increases the probability perhaps that some idea is right, or decreases it. But it never makes absolutely certain one way or the other. Now we have found that this is of paramount importance in order to progress. We absolutely must leave room for doubt or there is no progress and there is no learning. There is no learning without having to pose a question. And the question requires doubt. People search for certainty. But there is no certainty."