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Feynman’s legacy — quantum originality

Much has been written about Richard Feynman. Many tributes and books. Feynman wrote some books as well. But the inspiration for this post is an exhibit promoted for Caltech’s 82nd Annual Seminar Day and Reunion Weekend May 16 – 19, 2019.

The Mind’s Eye: Richard Feynman in Word & Image
In work and play, Richard Feynman was a distinctively visual thinker. The Caltech Archives is telling the story of Feynman’s life and physics by exhibiting the notes and artwork through which he shared his vision. Highlights include the diagrams with which Feynman developed his Nobel Prize-winning physics, as well as lecture notes, sketches, and photographs. The exhibit also includes a new virtual reality experience which brings Feynman’s playful spirit to life with one of his favorite autobiographical stories.
Beckman Institute, Beckman Museum, Room 131

And Interesting Engineeering published an article yesterday on Feynman, “An Odd Physicist: What Is Feynman’s Legacy?” (March 9, 2019). The article contains a couple of photos and YouTube videos (and lots of ads) and references to lectures and books.

Richard Phillips Feynman (1918-1988) was one of the most brilliant and original physicists of the 20th century. With an extraordinary intuition, he always sought to address the problems of physics in a different way than others.

Feynman’s technique illustrates his mood quite well. All his colleagues wrote long mathematical formulas whereas Richard Feynman drew, literally, the physical processes that he wanted to study, from which the calculations can be easily made with precise rules.

Currently, the use of Feynman diagrams or the variants of these diagrams is the standard procedure for calculations in the field of physics.

How Feynman approached a topic in physics (among other things) was fascinating. I saw him do this one or twice at Hughes Aircraft when I worked there. I’ve become quite interested in what it means to think like a physicist.

Although Feynman made a great effort to find simple and clear explanations for the students, the most who benefited were the Ph.D. students, professors, and scientists who attended his course because he used a brilliant way to illustrate by example how to think and reason in physics.

If we leave all of Feynman’s aspects aside, his originality is basically his biggest legacy to humanity and future generations.

The laws of physics can often be formulated in many ways, different at first glance until with certain mathematical work; they are shown to be identical. Feynman said that this is a mysterious fact that nobody understands and saw a reflection of the simplicity of nature.

In physics lab at Caltech in the early years of the “red book” The Feynman Lectures on Physics class, we did the double-slit experiment (not the “dim” beam version, as I recall). 

With his pragmatic style, Feynman always entered directly into the heart of the issue, into the audience, and the audience could grasp the problem posed.

A good example of this is when we talk about quantum physics. The whole mystery of quantum can be summed up in the wave/corpuscle duality, and the double-slit experiment contains the basic ingredients for discussing it.

As Feynman stated in The Feynman Lectures on Physics:

In this chapter we shall tackle immediately the basic element of the mysterious behavior in its most strange form. We choose to examine a phenomenon which is impossible, absolutely impossible, to explain in any classical way, and which has in it the heart of quantum mechanics. In reality, it contains the only mystery. We cannot make the mystery go away by “explaining” how it works. We will just tell you how it works. In telling you how it works we will have told you about the basic peculiarities of all quantum mechanics. — The Feynman Lectures on Physics, vol III, p. 1-1 (1965).

Other posts which reference Feynman:

Point particles RIP

Infinity and beyond … under the rug

Virtual attraction

Sisyphean hierarchy

EM jumble

“Our main concentration will not be on how clever we are to have found the Law of Gravitation all out, but on how clever nature is to pay attention to it.” — Richard Feynman, The Character of Physical Law