Posts Tagged ‘Feynman’

This is a post I wrote in one of the orkut forums dedicated to Richard Feynman. The thread was “Who is better Einstein or Feynman“.


I just read through the whole thread. Some very good points have come out, and it gives a very firm ground for doing this comparison.

By the way, to those who are saying they cannot be compared, and comparing them is similar to comparing Nike shoes and Windows Vista, or Tendulkar and Anand – I think you are too less informed. Any 2 things can be compared. Even Nike shows and Vista – you just need to know the parameters on which you are comparing. You can convert any measurement into a standard set of units (like percentile or sigma) and do the comparisons, as long as you have same dimensions to measure the 2 things.

Coming back to the main question, since the author has not listed down the dimensions, we are free to choose. I am seeing a lot of comments saying Einstein did a more fundamental work than Feynman, and that he came before Feynman. This is a very vital point while comparing their accomplishments. Every scientist could only do advancements in theories using the starting point of his contemporary state of knowledge. If both were born in 1600 AD, maybe along with Newton, who could have created the Theory of Gravitation – something like this could have given us the answer we are looking for (while the “dimension” is accomplishment in physics). We give them all the known knowledge base and lock them in separate rooms and ask them to explain the same question – bingo! You have the result.

Just to give you all some examples of what Feynman stood for in his community of peers:

– Neils Bohr called Feynman in the middle of the night to get him to evaluate his calculations on a theoratical problem while they both were working for Manhattan Project. When Feynman asked Bohr’s son “Why me”, he got the answer that “My father could only trust you to stand up and say ‘well, you’re wrong’, because other people would simply keep on nodding their heads out of respect for him”. This was the “no nonsense, pure genius” of Feynman that was known around.

– Talking about deriving theories from more fundamental knowledge base, I don’t know how many of you have read The Lost Lectures of Feynman where just for the sheer fun of finding things out, he showed his students how the 3 Keplarian Laws for Planetary Motion can be derived out of pure geometrical aspects. It’s a fantastic derivation and one that undoubtedly shows what was Feynman’s capacity in terms of mathematical command.

– Along with theratical physics, he mastered many other disciplines (you could get a big list if you read Surely You Are Joking, and other articles about him. Compared to this Einstein’s focus had always remained physics.

– In terms of thinking things differently, they both score very high. Einstein’s idea of special relativity, and then evolution of thoughts towards general relativity; vs. Feynman’s Path Integrals and electrons travelling backwards in time: how can one tell which one is better in a single word? If someone has a very binary opinion, I am sure he does not understand one of those.

I am not going to score the 2 giants here – I was purely trying to put things into perspective here for the benefit of those more able to do the comparison. I am personally biased towards Feynman. But that’s my personal choice, and may not mean that I think he is better than Einstein. That way why are we not comparing Newton. Just as an anecdote: there was this maths problem that the entire European mathematical community was struggling with. One fine evening, Newton gets the news of this through post from a friend mathematician. He had just returned home from work, and thought of looking at the problem to see what the fuss was all about. A few hours, he gets up from his desk – the problem solved on the paper in front of him. That was Newton.

RamanujanAnd in the field of maths, someone mentioned Gauss was the greatest mathematician born on this planet. Have you heard of Ramanujan? Completely cut off from modern texts (modern at his time) of developments around the world, and stuck with some basic maths books at his disposal, he personally had worked out 300 years of mathematical development! Let me say it again – he derived ALL that was derived already in past 300 years ON HIS OWN from just the fundamentals. And some of his works were such that the “contemporary” mathematicians could not even think of (because of sheer complexity of calculations). This is what I call genius.


And I would like to add one more line in context with Feynman and his journey of original discovery… from the book Genius by James Gleick:

“Not even at Princeton, when he lectured to Einstein and Pauli, had Feynman stood before such a concentration of the great minds of his science. He had created a new quantum mechanics almost without reading the old.…”

The rest is history.



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WDYCWOPT-Page1A small note of correction – the reference from Richard Feynman‘s quote mentioned in the previous post Nature’s Beauty and Mind’s Perception was actually from his second biography book “What do you care what other people think?“, and not from the first one “Surely you’re joking, Mr Feynman“. A portion from the first page of the book in question is shown here, which also covers the section I was talking about.

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Just happened to come across this new piece of research in Digg.com. And memory raced back to the days of reading “Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman“. I still remember buying that book cheaper from one of the ill-fated bookstalls in the 1997 Kolkata Book Fair. It was sold cheap the day after the fire because of a little black spot in one corner of the back cover. And for me and a friend of mine, in those days when buying English paperbacks in Kolkata was a luxury still and we were students with little money and many choices, it was a boon. We heard about the book for sometimes, but couldn’t manage to find it in college libraries. And not having the cult-book for Feynman-fans was a shame. We engulfed the content within a few days (yes, we were slow readers!) and shrugged the shame off. And the mark of that one book is still visible, but ain’t that obvious, for all that its worth, we’re talking about Mr. Feynman!

He always talked about the beauty of nature and the pleasure of finding things out. His books and his articles (which were later compiled as some of the best-seller paperbacks) have demonstrated his way of thinking and analysis (with some leaps sometimes, which you’ll have to keep for genius physicists like him) quite a number of times. I still recall reading about how his father taught him about nature, the basics of physics, the way to analyse things and look beyond the obvious, and intrigued him to such extent that, before he was even a teenager, his fate was hopelessly sealed with science. And boy, wasn’t that a blessing for the rest of the world! The concept that immediately made me relate Feynman’s old memoirs with this digg reading was his statement about how a poet saw a flower – for its beauty alone, and how as a physicist he saw a flower – for appreciation not only for the beauty, but also for the beauties of the photo-chemical reactions and of the structures of complex molecules inside the flower which constructed the said “visible” beauty.

One can wonder why did it have to be beautiful? A complex molecule reacting with the light – refracting it, reflecting it, absorbing some parts of the spectral frequencies, and bouncing some parts off – why did it have to be such that was liked by human eyes? Strangely, now that I have typed the sentence above, the parts of the spectral frequencies reflected off by the flower happened to be the part that will be absorbed by our eyes and would be considered as nice color! How wonderful is the design of Nature! A set of mathematical models simulated by a computer resembles the way Nature constructs the snowflakes – again the beauty of physical, chemical, mathematical rules and ways unfold in front of our eyes as “beautiful” structures. Why do we love it? Why do we not hate it? Why do we love symmetry and parity? Why does an electrical signal running along our nerve-fibres create a sense of “beauty”, for that matter, when observing things with certain color, certain shape, and in context with certain other things (For example, if we see a ground of dark blue plants with black flowers – will we like it? On the other hand, if the plants were completely yellow, and flowers black – probably that would be more acceptable?), while creating a sense of “repulsion” for certain other combinations of the same?

Too many why’s – too less answers. I know some research has taken place / is taking place along these lines. Perhaps fields like A.I. and the Physics of Mind have to get married to get the world the final answers to these – perhaps the day will come when we will not only simulate the snowflake, but also an artificially intelligent response to the simulated design like: “You call it a snowflake? Seriously?”

digg story

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