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3.9 out of 5 stars
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on 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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on 2 March 2001
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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VINE VOICEon 3 May 2008
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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on 31 May 2011
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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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 16 December 2009
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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on 4 March 2015
Richard Feynman was a great physicist and intellectual. This book publishes some of his lectures from the 1960s; he does have somewhat of a rambling nature which can be a little irritating at times, but nonetheless his perceptive intelligence still comes through. This is more of an analytical assessment of how science should be applied in everyday life rather than 'The Meaning of it All'.
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on 14 February 2014
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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Most readers will be attracted to this small book by the name of Richard Feynman. They will be disappointed. This book was not published until 10 years after Richard Feynman's death. They waited because Richard Feynman himself did not want this book published. Richard Feynman gave a series of three lectures* in 1963. The lectures are transcribed from an audio recording and do not seem to have much editing. Thus they read strangely in places.

The lectures are reproduced in this book as: "The Uncertainty of Science" about the scientific method, "The Uncertainty of Values" about science and religion and "This Unscientific Age" containing miscellaneous observations. Richard Feynman was a Nobel laureate in Physics with a reputation as a great scientist, great communicator and a nice guy. These lecturers were aimed at a general public with little or no science background. They also show their age, being given in America in the middle of the Cold War. Although they were given in early 1963, the swinging sixties had not yet started and the feeling of the 1950s had not fully been left behind.

* These were the John Danz lectures given at the University of Washington, Seattle, in April 1963. The lecture series was originally called "A Scientist Looks at Society", which is a better title than that used for this book. Looking at the University of Washington Press website (see Comment), many of the John Danz lectures are listed as formerly or currently in print. This does not include these lectures by Richard Feynman.
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on 4 July 2000
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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on 14 June 2013
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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