Feynman and the Trinity test

This post have been revamped in response to a perceptive comment. The old version is available here. In Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman, American physicist Richard Feynman speculates that he may have been the only person who watched the Trinity Test relatively directly, using a windshield to exclude ultraviolet light. Everyone else, he claims, was … Continue reading “Feynman and the Trinity test”

Feynman’s Challenger appendix

In the aftermath of the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster of 1986, a Presidential Commission was established to determine what went wrong. The most unusual member of the panel was almost certainly the physicist Richard Feynman, some of who’s books I have reviewed. Ultimately, his contribution proved to be controversial and was shifted into an annex … Continue reading “Feynman’s Challenger appendix”

Feynman on bad science

A serious section concludes Richard Feynman’s Surely You’re Joking, in which he denounces various forms of bad science. He talks about the pseudoscience of UFOs and reflexology, but also about problems with the work done by credible scientists, such as the bias towards publishing positive results and ignoring negative or inconclusive ones. He raises issues … Continue reading “Feynman on bad science”

Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!

This collection of Richard Feynman‘s autobiographical anecdotes is both charming and amusing. More than anything else, it conveys what a remarkable character he is, and what an astonishing variety of things he managed to do. Few Nobel Prize winning physicists can claim to have had a one man art show, learned to pick locks and … Continue readingSurely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!


Princeton established the Institute for Advanced Study in 1930 as a place where some of the world’s greatest minds could pursue their research without distractions like teaching and administrative tasks. Richard Feynman famously criticized the idea, saying: When I was at Princeton in the 1940s I could see what happened to those great minds at … Continue reading “Structurelessness”

Six Easy Pieces

In 1964, Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman gave a series of introductory lectures on physics to undergraduate students at CalTech. Six Easy Pieces is an abbreviated version, with six chapters on the essential elements of modern physics including atomic theory, conservation of energy, gravitation, quantum mechanics, and the relation of physics to other sciences. The … Continue readingSix Easy Pieces

But if Not

In 1967, Martin Luther King delivered a speech about civil disobedience, entitled “But if Not“. One passage from the speech – which was delivered at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta – seems quite relevant to climate change today, particularly when it comes to people who have a high degree of knowledge about the subject: … Continue reading “But if Not”

The Pleasure of Finding Things Out

Probably the most problematic thing about writing associated with Richard Feynman is repetition. Both his books and books about him tend to be at least quasi-biographical, and often feature the same stories, examples, explanations, and even bits of writing. The Pleasure of Finding Things Out certainly suffers from this flaw, at least for those who … Continue readingThe Pleasure of Finding Things Out

Sustainability as an intergenerational project

I think this quotation from Richard Feynman is rather wonderful: We are at the very beginning of time for the human race. It is not unreasonable that we grapple with problems. But there are tens of thousands of years in the future. Our responsibility is to do what we can, learn what we can, improve … Continue reading “Sustainability as an intergenerational project”