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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not for everyone but a very amusing set of ramblings of a brilliant man
The book is a transcript of the three Danz lectures Feynman gave in 1963. The basic assertion (as the other reviewers have noted) is that scepticism is the only really sound frame of mind and the only way towards progress. On top of that, Feynman brings across his belief that there are two kinds of questions man faces, questions of science and those of ethics / morality...
Published on 16 Dec 2009 by AK

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20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Feynman on life, the universe, and everything
This short booklet is actually a typescript of a series of three John Danz lectures which professor Feynman delivered in April 1963 at the University of Washington. They show yet another of his many facets -- aside from the ingenious scientist, the wonderful science teacher and the hilarious storyteller -- one of an intellectual thinking of the interaction between the...
Published on 19 July 2000 by Primoz Peterlin


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20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Feynman on life, the universe, and everything, 19 July 2000
This short booklet is actually a typescript of a series of three John Danz lectures which professor Feynman delivered in April 1963 at the University of Washington. They show yet another of his many facets -- aside from the ingenious scientist, the wonderful science teacher and the hilarious storyteller -- one of an intellectual thinking of the interaction between the science and the society.

The thread that can be followed throughout the series of lectures is the value of scepticism. Scepticism and doubt kept science sane for centuries. After describing what he considers the essence of science, Feynman tries to answer several questions arising at the boundary between science and the society. Is there a conflict between science and religion? Can science be applied to moral and ethical questions? How can the inspirational value of religion be preserved when the belief in God is uncertain? In the last lecture, Feynman elaborates some abuses of statistics he encountered, like mixing up the probability with the possibility, a posteriori statistical reasoning etc.

The book will probably first and foremost attract Feynman devotees, who already have all the other books he has written and cannot miss one. The book also reflects some of the atmosphere of the cold war 60's, so it might be of some interest for those who either lived in that era or have some special historic interest in it. But aside from this, no collection of Feynman's papers published after his death has ever reached the mastership of books he actively prepared.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not for everyone but a very amusing set of ramblings of a brilliant man, 16 Dec 2009
By 
AK (London) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Meaning of it All (Paperback)
The book is a transcript of the three Danz lectures Feynman gave in 1963. The basic assertion (as the other reviewers have noted) is that scepticism is the only really sound frame of mind and the only way towards progress. On top of that, Feynman brings across his belief that there are two kinds of questions man faces, questions of science and those of ethics / morality and that the two are completely separate - i.e. scientific progress is amoral and whether the advances are used as a force for good or bad is a decision of the people using it.

The first two lectures are quite well organised and up to the point, the final one less so, which the author acknowledges straight away. In my opinion the key draw of this book is less the ideas expressed (I agree with the fundamental scepticism value presented) but just to enjoy it as if going to the lectures themselves. It provided excellent entertainment for me and for the enjoyment factor alone (irrespective of the good points it is making) it deserves 5 stars in my opinion.

If you have had active interaction with physicists or scientists more broadly and enjoyed it, this book will be a highly worthwhile and pleasant read. If you do not share the views of the author, I can well understand how the book could be a fairly vexing experience, since Feynman often rides roughshod over beliefs some people might hold dear - not per se denying them or the value / corectness of such beliefs but first expressing some scepticism and subsequently waving them away as completely irrelevant, in a style quite typical for all the successful scientists I have had the pleasure of encountering. He's simply not particularly concerned about what people will think of his beliefs.

The comparison might not be perfect but in some ways this book reminds me of the Dexter's laboratory cartoons, take some of it with a grain of salt and it's excellent fun. On a final note - a man who attempted to poison his tutor and got away with it without even the slightest blemish is quite likely to have a way with words ;)
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The master of science communication on uncertain gound, 31 May 2011
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This review is from: The Meaning of it All (Paperback)
This is a very short book from Feynman (~120 pages of actual text) and comprises of the transcripts of 3 lectures he gave in April 1963. They are as far removed from his technical lectures as can be imagined, so are easily accessible to the lay reader. The impression I got was that these lectures are Feynman trying to find his own mind, by talking out loud and seeing where the train of thought goes. In fact he admits that he covers all the key ground he wants to in the first two lectures, and these are noticeably more coherent than the last one, which takes up nearly half the book.

He covers various topics, though the key themes are uncertainty and the limits of science. He does touch on some potentially incendiary ground such as religion and politics, though he always measured and reasonable, never resorting to polemicism or off-handed dismissal. There is some evidence of the threat presented by the Cold War in the lectures.

Feynman's virtue as a scientist is present throughout, as he is quick to put down the "argument from authority" though he doesn't quite name it as such. Probably of most interest to the modern reader is the interaction between science and religion. Here, Feynman takes a very reasonable and fair-minded approach, more akin to Stephen Jay Gould than the ranting polemic of Richard Dawkins. He is also quite firm in the belief that scientific methodology cannot rule on morality; that is, there are subjective things in this world that are beyond the reach of science.

At times, he does get close to waffling a little bit, and the fact the book is taken verbatim from his lectures means that he interrupts himself on more than a few occasions. The book certainly provides food for thought, and I would recommend it to anyone interested in the place of science in society. It is probably not the best introduction to Feynman and his work (for that, I would recommend Surely You're Joking, Mr Feynman) though for those familiar with this other work, this will be a valued addition to your RPF library.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A beginners guide to epistemology, 3 May 2008
By 
Andrew Dalby "ardalby" (oxford) - See all my reviews
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If you do not know what epistemology is and do not really want to know, but you want to be a scientist then you should read this book. It describes how a scientist thinks and what we know.

One review has said it rambles, but so do the minds of scientists. When you get a perfectly formed argument and lecture then you do not get what is really happening. You are expecting some completed finalised package. You expect an answer - the truth.

Everyday in science is a new discovery, a new wonder and you never know anything! When you present your work it looks complete, it looks convincing but a real scientist knows it is never quite there. That is the spirit of these lectures - they are not to teach they are to inspire and to give you a taste of unsanitised reality.
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24 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Assets not faults, 2 Mar 2001
By A Customer
To read the previous reviews I can not contradict many of the points made, the book may repeat itself, be disjointed slightly and in places vague. But it is these aspects of the book that I would consider assets rather than faults. Feynman was not only a physicist but a great teacher and I feel that this book emphasises this.It does not purely deliver opinions, but provokes questions. A physisict must be able to formulate their own opinions rather than be force-feed views like in many other books. This is Feynman's true talent, he says enough to establish guided thought in the reader without inflicting his opinions. I therefore feel that if the reader is willing to use their mind to truely consider the points made in this book then the rewards are infinite.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Not his best, 12 Aug 2014
This review is from: The Meaning of it All (Paperback)
Feynman's reputation as a great scientist, a brilliant mind and an excellent communicator has travelled before I pick up any of his books. This is unfortunately the first one of his that I read. It is unfortunate because I think this couldn't be one of his best. In these three lectures he rambles on with disjointed islands of brilliance which are not linked up to form a coherent whole. When I close the book, I struggle to say what exactly he has tried to say. Here is my attempt to summarise.

I think he is trying to convince reader of the value of a doubting mind and uncertainty, which lies in making progress in scientific development. He admits that science does not teach morals: "this power to do things carries with it no instructions on how to use it..." (p. 5); "The problem of moral values and ethical judgments is one into which science cannot enter..." (p.120). I think he tries to say that the value of science is not judged in morals. He likens science as a key which can open the gates of heaven of the gates of hell, and that key has its own value independent of which gates it is opening. "In a way [science] is a key to the gates of heaven, and the same key opens the gates of hell, and we do not have any instructions to which is which gate. Shall we throw away the key and never have a way to enter the gates of heaven? Or shall we struggle with the problem of which is the best way to use the key? That is, of course, a very serious question, but I think that we cannot deny the value of the key to the gates of heaven." (p.7)

Then he moves on to establish that there is a conflict between religion and science. How he defines religion here is this: "here I mean the everyday, ordinary, church-going kind of religion, not the elegant theology that belongs to it, but the way ordinary people believe, in a more or less conventional way, about their religion beliefs."(p. 35) (Do you find this definition clear? I don't.) I think what he is trying to say is that religion tends to encourage a closed and non-doubting mind, and a belief of certainty ("there were people who believed with absolute faith and absolute dogmatism in something (p.33)), which therefore comes into conflict with a scientific mind, which is to doubt and understand the uncertainty of our knowledge. His standpoint on this matter therefore: "I agree that science cannot disprove the existence of God." (p.36) "The result of this self-study or thinking, or whatever it is, often ends with a conclusion that is very close to certainty that there is a God. And it often ends, on the other hand, with the claim that it is almost certainly wrong to believe that there is a God." (p. 38) How this statement is not conflicting, I don't know.

The third lecture is the loosest of all in structure, covering a wide variety of anecdotes, e.g. how advertisement often insults our intelligence, how unscientific it is in politics, the misuse of statistics, the mix up of possibility and probability in our thinking. He concludes, "I recognise this encyclical as the beginning, possibly, of a new future where we forget, perhaps, about the theories of why we believe things as long as we ultimately in the end, as far as action is concerned, believe the same thing. (To agree on the course of action, don't we need to at least a set of moral rules through which we make collective decisions? Is it really satisfactory not to probe into why or even what? Is he asking other disciplines not to keep asking questions and seek to make progress?)

It may be pompous for me to say this about a great mind, but I don't find Feynman's arguments water tight on the issues he tries to address in these three lectures. There may be uncertainty of our knowledge but we can believe that an absolute truth exists with certainty, without which there will be no anchor point for any scientific search. Second by his own admission, there is a clearly boundary of science for there are realms that science cannot enter. The case in point is moral and ethical issues. If this is so, we must admit that science needs other disciplines to complement it - it in itself does not provide all answers for humanity. If one is after a holistic view, science on its own is incomplete. Third, it is proper to admit that science does not prescribe how to use the knowledge it produces through its endeavour. But I think it is irresponsible for the scientists to have no opinion of it, as the power they unleash could be huge and may have even vast impact on mankind. If their results affect us, then it makes it our business too, does it not? Not only that where to seek such moral guideline is unanswered, Feynman even seems to suggest implicitly that such moral guideline will only restrain scientific progress, which he seems to enshrine as unquestionably good. Even if morals do restrain scientific progress, is it a price worth paying for the well-being of a society? Yes, the scientific unknown may be exciting, but scientists also hold responsibility for all who will be affected and not just to satisfy their own intellectual curiosity. Feynman does not seem to acknowledge such responsibility or that such responsibility lies with others.

Finally Feynman believes that there is a conflict between religion and science. But I don't think he understands Christian faith, which is not about everyday, ordinary church-going folks. Faith is not something that we can see and understand with our endeavour, our mind, our eyes alone. "For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of A SOUND MIND" (2 Timonthy, 1:7, NKJV, added emphasis) and, I believe, the meaning of it all too.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Some of his views on the larger questions of life, 14 Feb 2014
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Some of his views, at that time, on the issues of meaning, if any, in the human experience and whether the scientific method of looking for answers has any part to play in that. Interesting, But, as this book is either taken from transcripts or recordings of him speaking in three lectures, it can seem a bit rambling at times and not, I'm sure, how he would have written it in a more formal presentation.

He also looks at how belief (religious or otherwise) can beneficially nurture social cohesion, thus leading to a climate in which enquiry can prosper and the uncovering of truth can proceed, even though that might well invalidate the belief which previously prevailed. Thus he sees value in such belief, even if temporary.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Somewhat disjointed, but a thought-provoking read., 4 July 2000
By A Customer
This book undoubtedly suffers from not being a unified work but rather the text of a series of lectures given by Feynman; his thoughts span a wide range of areas, concentrating on the relationship between science and society and public perceptions of science. Feynman doesn't pretend to be an expert on many of the topics he addresses; the book merely outlines some of his perspectives on the world, and as such is a worthwhile read.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Not quite the usual Feynman standard, 23 April 2014
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This review is from: The Meaning of it All (Paperback)
The first two lectures are classical Feynman but, as he admits, he had run out of ideas for the third one. This consists of a collection of anecdotes and rambles somewhat without making a clear point. On the other hand, anything written by Feynman is worth reading.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Feynman is a great author, 14 Jun 2013
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R.P. Feynman, genius, physicist and Nobel laureate, is a must read for everyone interested in physics, but beyond that, even if a self-proclaimed hater of "arm-chair philosophy", he has to be considered one of the great thinkers of 20th century, and a great communicator and teacher as well. This book is small but deep, a very good read anyway.
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The Meaning of it All by Richard P Feynman (Paperback - 6 Sep 2007)
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