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The Meaning of it All (Allen Lane History) Paperback – 6 May 1999

3.9 out of 5 stars 15 customer reviews

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Paperback, 6 May 1999
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Product details

  • Paperback: 144 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd; New edition edition (6 May 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140276351
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140276350
  • Product Dimensions: 11.4 x 0.9 x 18.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 356,665 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

Product Description

Amazon Review

The Meaning of It All: Thoughts of a Citizen Scientist collects three previously unpublished lectures by Richard Feynman, who is probably the greatest populariser of physics in this century.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.

Customer Reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars
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Format: Paperback
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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By A Customer on 2 Mar. 2001
Format: Paperback
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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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
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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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.
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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.
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