Paul Dirac versus Richard Feynman

While Richard Feynman idolized Paul Dirac, they disagreed on many things in science. They won the Nobel prize in physics but had different views.
dirac verus feynman physics

Feynman and Dirac, two great physicists who made invaluable contribution to quantum mechanics and Nobel prize winners, were poles apart.

While Richard Feynman idolized Paul Dirac, they disagreed on many things. One remembers Dirac as an extremely shy person, who hesitated to speak. Feynman, on the contrary, was a chatty man whose anecdotes spread contagious laughter.

Dirac won the Nobel prize for correctly predicting the existence of anti-matter. Three decades later, Feynman won the coveted prize for his work with elementary particles.

Both physicists had a very distinct view of science. Dirac was inclined towards mathematics and considered beauty in one's equations to be important. While Feynman preferred the equation to stand the test of experiment.

Feynman said - Physics is not mathematics. Mathematics is not physics. One helps the other.

Dirac was of the view - It is more important to have beauty in one's equations than to have them fit experiment.

You can say that in this regard Feynman and Dirac were rivals as they say "Raibaru" in Japanese. They did not seem to agree on this one thing.

Yet, as a young man Feynman idolized Dirac. He said - 

Dirac made a breakthrough, a new method of doing physics. He had the courage to simply guess at the form of an equation, and to try to interpret it afterwards.

This equation is now called Dirac equation. It is a beautiful, small equation that predicts counterpart of matter, anti-matter. In 1932, Paul Dirac was recognized by Nobel prize in physics for his work.

Later on, Feynman's views changed.

Being a mathematical physicist, Dirac was of the view that if an equation has beauty, then one must be working correctly, on the right path. Feynman disagreed that beauty is paramount, but he still remained a Dirac fanboy.

Feynman's evolved thought was

No matter how beautiful an equation is, no matter who made the equation or how genius he was, if it disagrees with experiment, it is wrong!

In 1962, the two great minds Feynman and Dirac met at a science conference.

dirac feynman rivalry physics

Feynman a chatty fellow talked at length while a meek old man Dirac listened quietly. In the end, Dirac blurted out a question - I have an equation. Do you have one too?

Earlier in 1948, Feynman had invented a diagram to pictorially represent the interaction of subatomic particles. For this simplification work, Feynman won the Nobel prize in 1965. It is then interesting to note that both scientists won the Nobel prize in physics for proposing a simple solution.

One key takeaway from this story is that it takes courage to challenge your idol. Feynman admired Dirac all his life, but it was not wrong for him to disagree with his hero once in a while. Isn't that how science progresses? When great minds collide?

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