The Meaning of it All (Allen Lane History) Paperback – 6 May 1999
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The Meaning of It All: Thoughts of a Citizen Scientist collects three previously unpublished lectures by Richard Feynman, who is probably the greatest populariser of physics in this century. There is plenty of scientific illumination here for the general reader, and more remarkably, some fantastic ruminations on the relationships among science, religion, politics, and everyday life. Feynman is especially sensitive to the relationships between scientific scepticism, faithful doubt and ideological flexibility. These lectures have been transcribed verbatim, so they sometimes ramble and repeat themselves. But this slim volume has wisdom and wit on every page: it is a truly erudite and edifying meditation on Dostoevsky's observation that "There lies more faith in honest doubt, believe me, than in half the creeds". --Michael Joseph Gross
About the Author
'He is everything you want and expect a scientist to be: charming, sceptical, funny, blindingly intelligent ... confirms one's suspicion that Feynman was probably the coolest scientist who ever lived' Guardian One of the world's greatest theoretical physicists and a Nobel laureate, Richard Feynman was also a man who fell, often jumped, into adventure. An artist, safe-cracker, practical joker and storyteller, his life was a series of combustible combinations made possible by his unique mixture of high intelligence, unquenchable curiosity and eternal scepticism.
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Top Customer Reviews
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.
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.
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.Read more ›
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.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Most readers will be attracted to this small book by the name of Richard Feynman. They will be disappointed. Read morePublished 16 months ago by Mac McAleer
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... Read morePublished 18 months ago by Luke Williams
Brilliant for all, the master with a sense of humour and a great teacher.Published on 15 Aug. 2014 by Ms. A. J. Airey
Feynman's reputation as a great scientist, a brilliant mind and an excellent communicator has travelled before I pick up any of his books. Read morePublished on 12 Aug. 2014 by Penguin
The first two lectures are classical Feynman but, as he admits, he had run out of ideas for the third one. Read morePublished on 23 April 2014 by David M.
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. Read morePublished on 14 Feb. 2014 by plasticspannah
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... Read morePublished on 14 Jun. 2013 by Turi Cane