Sunday, June 13, 2010

Fourteen Quotes by Richard Feynman

Tony Hey, who along with Patrick Walters has written the very best popular book introduction to Quantum Mechanics and its applications in the image below, was a student and protege of Richard Feynman's. What follows the image are the chapter headings, with wonderful quotes by Feynman, that introduce each.

1. Waves vs. Particles

" ... I think I can safely say that nobody understands quantum mechanics."

2. Heisenberg and Uncertainty

"A philosopher once said 'It is necessary for the very existence of science that the same conditions always produce the same results.' Well, they don't!"

3. Schrodinger and matter waves

"Where did we get that [equation] from? Nowhere, it is not possible to derive it from anything you know. It came out of the mind of Schrodinger."

4. Atoms and nuclei

"Atoms are completely impossible from the classical point of view."

5. Quantum tunneling

"It is possible in quantum mechanics to sneak quickly across a region which is illegal energetically."

6. Pauli and the elements

"It is the fact that the electrons cannot all get on top of each other that makes tables and everything else solid."

7. Quantum co-operation and superfluids

" ... there are certain situations in which the peculiarities of quantum mechanics can come out in a special way on a large scale."

8. Quantum jumps

"We always had a great deal of difficulty in understanding the world view that quantum mechanics represents. At least I do, because I'm an old enough man that I haven't got to the point that this stuff is obvious to me ... It has not yet become obvious to me that there is no real problem. I cannot define the real problem, therefore I suspect there is no real problem, but I'm not sure there is no real problem."

9. Quantum engineering

"What I want to talk about is the problem of manipulating and controlling things on a small scale ... It is staggeringly small world that is below. In the year 2000, when they look back at this age, they will wonder why it was not until the year 1960 that anybody began seriously to look in this direction."

10. Death of a star

"One of the most impressive discoveries was the origin of the energy of the stars, that makes them continue to burn. One of the men who discovered this was out with his girl friend the night after he realized that nuclear reactions must be going on in the stars in order to make them shine. She said, 'Look how pretty the stars shine!' He said, 'Yes, and right now I am the only man in the world who knows why they shine.' She merely laughed at him. She was not impressed with being out with the only man, who, at that moment, knew why the stars shine. Well it is sad to be alone, but that is the way of the world."

11. Feynman rules

"It is as though a bombardier flying low over a road suddenly sees three roads and it is only when two of them come together and disappear again that he realizes he has simply passed over a long switchback in a single road."

12. Weak photons and strong glue

"Now we are in a position in physics that is different from any other time in history (it's always different!). We have a theory ... so why can't we test the theory right away to see if it's right or wrong? Because what we have to do is calculate the consequences of the theory to test it. This time, the difficulty is this first step."

13. Afterward - quantum physics and science fiction

"You read too many novels!"

14. Epilogue

"A poet once said 'The whole universe is in a glass of wine.' We will probably never know in what sense he meant that, for poets do not write to be understood. But it is true that if we look at a glass closely enough we see the entire universe. There are the things of physics: the twisting liquid which evaporates depending on the wind and weather, the reflections in the glass, and our imagination adds the atoms. The glass is a distillation of the earth's rocks, and in its composition we see the secret of the universe's age, and the evolution of the stars. What strange array of chemicals are there in the wine? How did they come to be? There are the ferments, the enzymes, the substrates, and the products. There in wine is found the great generalization: all life is fermentation. Nobody can discover the chemistry of wine without discovering, as did Louis Pasteur, the cause of much disease. How vivid is the claret, pressing its existence into the consciousness that watches it! If our small minds, for some convenience, divide this glass of wine, this universe, into parts - physics, biology, geology, astronomy, psychology, and so on - remember that Nature does not know it! So let us put it all back together, not forgetting ultimately what it is for. Let it give us one more final pleasure: drink it and forget it all!"

What in the world is Richard Feynman doing? Click on the pic below to embiggen (Phil Plait taught me that word) and find out.

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