Showing posts with label Philosophy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Philosophy. Show all posts

Why Richard Feynman was an avowed atheist

richard feynman science religion atheist physics nobel prize

Richard Feynman was a Nobel Prize winning American physicist who made fundamental contributions to quantum electrodynamics, a theory which explains the interaction between light and matter.

Feynman was more famous as a beloved teacher whose lectures helped a many graduate and undergraduate students discover their love for physics.

Throughout his life, Feynman was openly against the dogmas of faith. Richard asked difficult and sometimes provocative questions in the search of truth. Once Feynman was interrogated if he preferred being called an agnostic instead?

Feynman replied candidly: Agnostic for me would be trying to weasel out and sound a little nicer than I am about this. I call myself an atheist.

Despite being an atheist, Feynman would use the following analogy: One way to understand physics is to think that the gods are playing a great game, let's say a chess game, while we observe from the sidelines.

We do not know what the rules are of the game. But if we watch long enough, we may eventually catch on to a few of the rules. The rules are what we mean by fundamental physics.

Richard Feynman (1918-1988) was born to Lucille Feynman, a homemaker and Melville Feynman, a uniform sales manager. Feynman's parents were both from Jewish families but not religious in the slightest. By youth, Feynman described religion as a culture of faith and science as a culture of doubt. The two were incompatible.

In 1959, Feynman explained why he was an atheist. He said:

It doesn't seem to me that this fantastically marvelous universe, this tremendous range of time and space and different kinds of animals, and all the different planets, and all these atoms with all their motions, and so on, all this complicated thing can merely be a stage... that God can watch human beings struggle for good and evil — which is the view that religion has. The stage is too big for the drama.

Feynman always looked forward to science and religion dialogues. He was all for advocating an atheistic worldview. Following is an excerpt from 1964 lecture at Galileo symposium in Italy:

"The remark which I (Feynman) read somewhere, that science is all right as long as it doesn't attack religion. As long as it doesn't attack religion it need not be paid attention to and nobody has to learn anything. So it can be cut off from society except for its applications, and thus be isolated."

People love science for its results. While ignoring the process of careful reasoning, persistent questioning and investigating. The lack of courage and curiosity create a people who have no reason to want to know. To this, Feynman adds: I suggest, maybe correctly and perhaps wrongly, that we (scientists) are too polite.

Some people wrongly say, according to Feynman, that the laws of physics are God-like. God is always invented to explain those things that you do not understand. When you finally discover how something works, you get some laws which you're taking away from God and you don't need him anymore.

But you need God for the other mysteries, the question of life and death, for instance. God is associated with those things that you do not yet understand. Therefore I (Feynman) don't think that the laws can be considered to be like God because they have been figured out.

If the path of science is that of doubt, uncertainty and not knowing, how can one be clear of one's purpose in life?

Feynman says: Fall in love with some activity, and do it! Nobody ever figures out what life is all about and it doesn't matter. Explore the world. Nearly everything is really interesting if you go into it deeply enough.

There are many things I (Feynman) don't know anything about, such as whether it means anything to ask "Why are we here?" I might think about it a little bit, and if I can't figure it out then I go on to something else.

But I don't feel frightened by not knowing things, by being lost in the mysterious universe without having any purpose — which is the way it really is, as far as I can tell. Possibly. It doesn't frighten me. Thus, Richard Feynman was a lifelong atheist.

5 Poems Written By Famous Physicists

poems written by famous physicists poetry physics

Although they mostly employ mathematical language in order to describe nature...but from time to time, physicists cave in to poetry. In this post, you will read some of the best poems written by the most renowned physicists in the world.

Robert Oppenheimer

He was an American theoretical physicist who contributed to our understanding of atoms, black holes and quantum tunneling. He wrote the following poem describing his memories of New Mexico.

It was evening when we came to the river
With a low moon over the desert
That we had lost in the mountains, forgotten.
What with the cold and the sweating
And the ranges barring the sky.

And when we found it again...
In the dry hills down by the river,
Half withered, we had
The hot winds against us.

There were two palms by the landing;
The yuccas were flowering; there was
a light on the far shore, and tamarisks.
We waited a long time, in silence.

Then we heard the oars creaking
And afterwards, I remember,
The boatman called us.
We did not look back at the mountains.

poems written by famous physicists poetry physics

Oppenheimer's friend, British physicist Paul Dirac, who hated poetry, quipped, "In science, one tries to tell people, something that no one ever knew before, in such a way as to be understood by everyone. But in poetry, it's the exact opposite!"

Paul Dirac

Ironically, Dirac wrote the following poem; quite full of gloom!

Age is, of course, a fever chill
That every physicist must fear.
He's better dead than living still
When once he's past his 30th year.

poems written by famous physicists poetry physics

He was a Nobel Prize winning physicist and this poem, which is attributed to him, shows his dedication towards physics. Dirac was a complicated character; in fact, Einstein described him as an awful balance between genius and madness.

Albert Einstein

Einstein had a great reverence for Baruch Spinoza, who was a Dutch philosopher of Portuguese origin, best-known for his conceptions of the self and the universe.

How much do I love that noble man,
More than I could tell with words!
I fear though he'll remain alone
With a holy halo of his own...

This poem was written by Einstein in 1920 in the honor of Spinoza. According to Spinoza, "What many people call God, few call the Laws of Physics."

Galileo Galilei

He was an Italian astronomer who is known to have broken the foundations of Aristotelian physics. Galileo discovered the law of inertia and made pioneering contributions to astronomy.

poems written by famous physicists poetry physics

He wrote the following appreciation poem for mathematics; a free verse.

Nature is written in this grand book
Which stands continually open
Before our eyes
But cannot be understood
Without first learning
To comprehend the language
In which it is written.

Without which
It is impossible..
To even understand a word
Without which
One is just wandering
In a dark labyrinth.

According to Galileo, this was a language whose words were composed with triangles, circles and other shapes. Clearly, his intention was to say, that without math, it is impossible to understand natural phenomena.

Richard Feynman

He was an American Nobel Prize winning physicist who contributed to our understanding of the interaction between light and matter.

Out of the cradle
Onto dry land
Here it is standing:
Atoms with consciousness;
Matter with curiosity.
Stands at the sea,
Wonders at wondering: I,
A universe of atoms
An atom in the universe.

In this poem, Feynman has demonstrated the great extent of his intellect and imagination. It shows the evolution of life from the oceans to land-walking creatures. It also shows that on an astronomical scale, his existence is meaningless; but on this scale, in which he's in, he himself is the universe!

James Maxwell

He was a Scottish physicist who unified the phenomena of electricity, magnetism and optics into one single framework. His work is considered equivalent to that of Einstein's.

The world may be utterly crazy
And life may be labour in vain;
But I'd rather be silly than lazy,
And would not quit life for its pain.

This poem was written by him in 1858 in a book titled, Segreto per esser felice, meaning, Secret to be happy. Maxwell was a great lover of Scottish poetry and wrote many of his own.

How To Teach Physics Like Richard Feynman

how to teach physics science teacher

Physics is a beautiful subject, apparent and applicable in the day-to-day life. The mysterious phenomena of nature have sparked human interest since time immemorial. But if the education system is unable to keep the curiosity alive then something must not be right.

In this post, you will learn how best to teach physics by using the IRADE technique, a teaching method of taking multiple approaches. It is based on American physicist Richard Feynman's philosophy: "The best way to teach is to be very chaotic, in the sense, that you use every possible way of doing it."


Narrate the history of the concept in a story-like format. How and why something being taught was discovered is a good way to start. Make use of humor whenever possible. This will take students on a ride and peak their interest. Then, define the concept with a bookish definition along with the equation associated with that concept.


Give at least three real-world examples of the concept. For example, suppose you are teaching the third law of motion. It is visible in many instances of life, such as while walking, jumping, swimming, recoiling of gun, rocket propulsion, etc.

how to teach physics science teacher

This is an important step because otherwise their understanding is merely bookish, that is, robotic in a sense. If students know examples, the next time they observe similar phenomena they will immediately recall the associated concept in physics.


Solve at least two numerical problems from the textbook. From the beginner level to the advanced. Make sure that students understand the approach. Accept questions from students if they have any doubts.


Visual demos are necessary for science teaching because they implant the concept in the mind of the learner. In the case of third law of motion, you could use balloon in a controlled propulsion activity.

how to teach physics science teacher

You may even start the lesson with demonstration (before narrating that history) or insert it in the middle somewhere. There is always at least one experiment for each physics concept. Try to find it on the internet and replicate in class if possible.


In the end, test your students (but make it fun, like a quiz). You may group them into teams and even give incentive to the winner. Students will look forward to this event and it will not only strengthen their understanding but also develop teamwork. You may also examine students more formally once this activity is done.

Summing up

Teaching is a noble profession but half-hearted teaching benefits no one. By using the IRADE technique, any science teacher can become a rock star for their students. More importantly, physics classes will not bore students like it used to before. So please share this post with a fellow science teacher.

Think Classically And Live Like A Quantum

simple living high thinking physics philosophy quantum

Written by Sakar Sharma, an IIT alumnus, for Wonders of Physics:

The textbook definition of physics is that it is a branch of science concerned with the properties of light and matter. Philosophy on the other hand deals with questions of the most general kind such as why do we respect the dead more than the living?

If however we combined these two we could do so much to transform the life of a common man. The very purpose of this article is to alter or at least influence human perception using the fundamentals of physics and philosophy.

Let's first look at the key difference between classical and quantum physics. The simplest way to do that would be to understand the nature of the particles. In classical physics, you may know, particles are distinguishable having their own identities and characteristics, meaning, that they could each be identified by their separate positions, velocities, momenta, so on.

On the contrary, in quantum physics, particles are indistinguishable from one another, that is, their physical properties like velocity or position, cannot be attributed to single particle but only to a group of particles. For example let's assume that in a system the probability of a particle having a particular velocity is sixty percent. This implies that out of 100 particles 60 have this velocity. In other words the individuality of the particle has been lost in the quantum world.

Now there is a saying all great men have lived by, "simple living, high thinking," and many who have practiced this principle in life have achieved greatness. However to be honest it has failed to derive a behaviour in the modern youth because it does not resonate with most of us. This is where the ideas from physics can come to help.

Modify the saying to, "think classical, stay quantum," and you will see it making sense. While dealing with the society behave like a quantum particle as if you are one among many. This will keep you grounded and stay humble for the rest of your life. But when on your own, think and plan, like a classical particle, in other words, preserve your individuality.

So to illustrate what it means, currently, we are all doing quite the opposite, which is, "think quantum, stay classical," and you see clearly that most people they think with herd-like mentality. They have not their own sense, logic or reason. They however prefer to live like classical particles with distinct and flashy lifestyles based around materialism.

This is probably why scientific temper is fading away from the world. Communal violence is easily brewed and also why fake news spread so fast. We must quickly learn to do what was taught by thinkers from every corner of the world, "think classical, stay quantum."

Tagore and Einstein Discuss Physics and Philosophy

einstein and tagore conversation on truth, beauty, music and duality

Rabindranath Tagore was an Indian polymath who became the first non-European to win the Nobel Prize in Literature for his profoundly sensitive, fresh and beautiful work, Gitanjali, in 1913.

He is also well known to have written the national anthems of Bangladesh and India as well as gave music to the national anthem of Sri Lanka. As a result, his influence, especially in the sub-continent, is going to live forever.

Similarly, Albert Einstein too received the most coveted prize in the year 1921 mainly for his explanation of the photoelectric effect. But he has become more famous for his theories of relativity and for the equation E=mc² meaning the equivalence of mass and energy. Einstein was not just a great scientist but also a man deeply involved in the matters of society and politics.

The two gentlemen decided to meet on July 14 (1930) in Berlin at Einstein’s place to talk about variety of things, ranging from the nature of reality to their individual tastes in music. Tagore in fact suggested that their conversation be recorded and put together in a book.

However, when they met, Tagore did not know sufficient German and Einstein’s English was too weak to converse with. Hence they had to bring interpreters for the meeting. Neither Tagore nor Einstein was happy with the recorded conversation as the translations had lost their charm. Therefore, they themselves corrected their own parts before making it public. The book was published titled, Science and the Indian tradition.

On truth and beauty

Einstein: Are truth and beauty independent of man?
Tagore: No.
Einstein: If there would be no human beings any more, would the Apollo of Belvedere no longer be beautiful?
Tagore: No.
Einstein: I agree with regard to this conception of beauty but not with regard to truth.
Tagore: Why not? Truth is realized only through man.
Einstein: I cannot prove if my conception is right but that is how I see it.
Tagore: We individuals approach truth through our own mistakes and blunders, through our accumulated experiences, through our illumined consciousness – how, otherwise, can we know the truth?

Einstein: I know not how to prove scientifically that truth must be conceived as truth and be independent of humanity; but I believe it firmly. I believe, for instance, that the Pythagorean theorem in geometry is independent of the existence of man. If there is a reality independent of man, I believe, there is also a truth relative to this reality.
Tagore: But truth must essentially be human otherwise whatever we individuals realize as true can never be called truth, at least the truth which is described as scientific and which only can be reached through the process of logic, in other words, by an organ of thoughts, which is human. The nature of truth which we are discussing is an appearance, that is to say, an illusion.
Einstein: The question is whether truth is independent of our consciousness. According to your conception, which may be the Indian conception, truth is not the illusion of the individual, but of humanity as a whole.
Tagore: What we call truth lies in the rational harmony between the subjective and objective aspects of reality, both of which belong to the personality of man. In any case, if there be any truth absolutely unrelated to humanity, then for us it is absolutely non-existing.

einstein and tagore conversation on truth, beauty, music and duality

Einstein: Then I'm more religious than you are!
Tagore: I believe more in the universal human spirit, in my own individual being. I never believed in any religious institution and practices whether it was Hinduism or Islam or Christianity. My religion is realized through the divinity of humanity and the humanity of god.

On duality

Tagore: I have been told that in the realm of infinitesimal atoms, chance has its play; the drama of existence is not absolutely predestined in character.
Einstein: The facts that make science tend toward this view do not say goodbye to causality. In the macro-world, there is order as well as predictability. However, in the minute world, like you said, the order is not perceptible.
Tagore: I find a parallel in human psychology. Our passions and desires are unruly but our character subdues these elements into a harmonious whole. Does something similar to this happen in the physical world? Are the particles rebellious and dynamic with individual impulses? And is there a principle in the bigger world which dominates them and puts them into an orderly organization?
Einstein: Even the particles are not without statistical order; atoms of radium will always maintain their specific order, now and ever onward, just as they have done all along. There is, therefore, a statistical order in the particles.
Tagore: That is beautiful. It is the constant harmony of chance and determination which makes nature eternally new and living.
Einstein: I believe that whatever we do or live for has its causality; it is good, however, that we cannot see through to it.

On music

Einstein: How’s the Indian music different from that in the west?
Tagore: The musical system in India is not so rigidly fixed as is the western music. We praise the composer for his genius in creating a foundation, but we expect from the player his own skill in the creation of variations of melodic flourish and ornamentation.
Einstein: That is only possible where there is a strong artistic tradition in music to guide the people’s mind. In Europe, music has come too far away from popular art and feeling and has become something like a secret art with conventions and traditions of its own.
Tagore: So you have to be absolutely obedient to this too complicated music.
Einstein: Can the Indian music be sung without words? Can one understand a song without words?
Tagore: Yes, we have songs with unmeaning words, sounds which just help to act as carriers of the notes. In India, the measure of a singer’s freedom is in his own creative personality. The singer is at liberty to add his own words to the song which he is singing.
Einstein: It requires a very high standard of art fully to realize the great idea in the original music, so that one can make variations upon it. In our country the variations are often prescribed. It seems that your music is much richer in structure than ours. Japanese music also seems to be so.

Tagore: I am deeply moved by the western music and I feel that it is great, that it is vast in its structure, and grand in its composition. Our own music touches me more deeply by its fundamental lyrical appeal. European music is epic in character; it has a broad background and is Gothic in its structure.
Einstein: Yes, yes, that is very true. When did you first hear European music?
Tagore: At seventeen, when I first came to Europe. I came to know it intimately, but even before that time I had heard European music in our own household. I had heard the music of Chopin and others at an early age.

Characteristics of Physical Law

Despite numerous limitations, we human beings are able enough to study as well as appreciate the grandeur of the universe. Our great journey of determining scientific laws began as we understood the regular repetitions of the day and night, the annual cycle of seasons, the eclipses, the tides, the volcanoes, the rainbow and so on.

What is scientific law?

A scientific law is verbal or mathematical explanation that describes some phenomenon of the natural world. For example, Newton's law of gravity, which states that every particle attracts every other particle in the universe with a force directly proportional to the product of their masses and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between their centers. But the law itself does not explain why the phenomenon exists or what causes it: that is really the job of theory, in this case, Einstein's theory of general relativity.

The scientific law is factual and should not be confused with logical truth. For example, "boiling point of water is 100 degrees celsius" is a law whereas "every number has a double" is logical truth and not really a law.

Constant over space and time

The same laws which apply here on earth also apply to the rest of the universe. For example, Galileo's law of falling bodies was tested on the moon by astronaut David Scott in 1971.

This is simple and yet beautiful truth, that the laws of nature are universally valid. There are no laws of nature that hold just for the planet earth or the Andromeda Galaxy, for that matter.

In addition, the laws of nature do not change as time progresses. There is a joke which goes something like this, "Before Newton discovered gravity, all things could fly." That is so not the case; there are no laws of nature that hold just for the eighteenth century or just for the Mesozoic Era.

Same for animate and inanimate

The laws are same for living beings and for inanimate objects. There is no evidence yet that what goes on in living creatures is necessarily different, so far as the physical laws are concerned, from what goes on in non-living things.

For example, conservation of angular momentum is a fundamental law of nature. A rotating ballerina spins faster when drawing her arms in.

how are physical laws symmetrical?

Similarly, the earth and other planets revolving around the sun obey the law of conservation of angular momentum, which is why, when a planet is nearer to the Sun, the orbital speed increases and when it is farther away, it slows down.

Simple in nature

Eminent kiwi physicist Ernest Rutherford used to say, "it should be possible to explain the laws of physics to a barmaid." But even though the laws themselves are so simple, their implications are far and wide.

For example, Newton's third law of motion is simply, "for every action there is equal and opposite reaction", and yet it is noticeable in many instances of life such as in walking, swimming, recoiling of gun, and most importantly, rocket propulsion.

how are physical laws symmetrical?

Similarly, Newton's second law of motion is just, F=ma, but it made possible the industrial revolution. Steam engines, locomotives, factories, machines, all of it due to the mechanics set into motion by the second law of motion.

Same in uniform motion

If we have an experiment working in a certain way and then take the same apparatus, put it in a car, and move the whole car, plus all the relevant surroundings, at a uniform velocity in a straight line, then so far as the phenomena inside the car are concerned, there is no difference.

Unification of laws

Scottish physicist James Clerk Maxwell took a set of known experimental laws such as Faraday's Law, Ampere's Law and unified them into a symmetric coherent set of equations known as Maxwell's equations.

how are physical laws symmetrical?

Maxwell's equations are also laws just like the law of gravity. They govern the behavior of electric and magnetic fields. Also, light itself is an electromagnetic wave. Therefore, Maxwell's equations have in a way unified three separate phenomena, electricity, magnetism and optics, into one.

A similar type of unification occurred in the early part of the 20th century. The laws of conservation of energy and conservation of total mass were proven to be equivalent by German physicist Albert Einstein in a simple equation, E=mc^2.

These unifications are possible because the laws of physics are symmetrical in nature. Two or more distinctly appearing natural phenomena appear to be governed by just one simple law. Thus, one day, we may be able to find an ultimate law of physics that may explain everything.

Renowned American physicist Richard Feynman had famously said, "God is always invented to explain those things that you do not understand."

Throughout history, man has credited god for this or that phenomena. For example, early Greeks believed that lightning was a weapon of Zeus. Now, when you finally discover how something works, you get some laws which you're taking away from god; you don't need god anymore.

Thus, "what one man calls god, another calls the laws of physics," or in other words, to have an understanding of the physical laws is in a way a liberation from all superstition.

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